A genetic oddity

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Chimeric flowers of Canna ‘Yellow King Humbert’, also known as Canna ‘Cleopatra’

After a week of feverish preparation, Hurricane Florence has arrived in North Carolina.  Initial forecasts suggested that the storm would pass right over my garden, but according to the current track, it will follow a wide arc around our area, reserving its full fury for the coastal plain and North Carolina/South Carolina border.  So far, we’ve had nothing more than than some blustery wind and about 2 inches of rain, and the only damage has been a couple of stems of Canna ‘Yellow King Humbert’ that blew over.

Which gives me a segue into a post I have been meaning to complete for most of the summer…

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Canna ‘Yellow King Humbert’ is one of the more unusual plants in my garden, a genetic oddity that is widely available from commercial nurseries (often under the later synonym, Canna ‘Cleopatra’).  This heirloom Canna was first described in the late 1920s as a sport of Canna ‘Roi Humbert’, a bronze-leaved clone with large red flowers.  The sport was described as having green leaves with yellow flowers spotted with red/orange.

It’s not clear to me if the original Canna ‘Yellow King Humbert’ sport was a chimera, a plant containing cells with two distinct genotypes, but chimerism seems to be its major selling point today.  The plants are a mixture of  cells of ‘Yellow King Humbert’ and cells corresponding to the original ‘Roi Humbert.’  The foliage is split into sectors of green and bronze in varying proportions.

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Each bronze leaf sector is connected to the rhizome by a strip of pigmented tissue that has grown from the chimeric meristem.  When the bronze cells extend into the inflorescence, red flowers are produced.  Green cells produce the yellow flowers.  The same inflorescence can produce both red and yellow flowers, or individual flowers can be split between the two colors.

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Red and yellow flowers on separate branches of the same inflorescence

To grow your own chimeric Canna, search for ‘Yellow King Humbert’ or ‘Cleopatra,’ but beware that Canna ‘Cleopatre’ is a completely different clone.  Also be aware that some of the ‘Yellow King Humbert’ for sale seem to be the stabilized yellow form, or a different but similar clone.  Most of the plants sold as Canna ‘Cleopatra’ do seem to be the chimera, but it is probably worth confirming before buying.  The nursery from which I obtained my plant recommends pulling up and discarding any all-green stems to retain the chimeric traits.  I’m not sure if that’s necessary, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.

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Hurricane lily

Lycoris radiata radiata

While we wait to see what impact Hurricane Florence will have in our part of the piedmont, here is an appropriate flower.  Lycoris radiata var. radiata goes by various common names, including surprise lily and red spider lily, but I prefer hurricane lily.  These bulbs consistently bloom about ten days later than my other L. radiata var. radiata, suggesting that they’re a distinct clone.

The golden surprise lilies

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Lycoris chinensis blooming this week

This week, Lycoris chinensis is blooming for the first time in the garden.  The golden flowers are very similar to those of L. aurea, and both species go by the common name of golden surprise lily.  Don’t mix them up, though, particularly if you live north of the gulf coast.  L. chinensis is one of the species that produce foliage in the spring, and it is reported to be hardy to at least zone 6.  Subtropical L. aurea is the most tender of all Lycoris species.  Its winter foliage will only tolerate a few degrees of frost, and although the bulbs can survive in the piedmont, loss of foliage in freezing temperatures will weaken the plant and prevent flowering.  Unfortunately, L. aurea is commonly available and often sold to unsuspecting customers in inappropriate climates, while L. chinensis can be difficult to obtain.

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Lycoris aurea

 

Fasciated Lilium formosanum

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Fasciated Lilium formosanum with 18 flowers on a single stem

Lilium formosanum, a species from Taiwan, is one of the best lily species for piedmont gardens.  It thrives in our hot and humid summers, producing large, fragrant trumpet flowers in August, and seems immune to most of the common garden pests (though emerging stems are occasionally nibbled by rabbits in early spring). It spreads slowly by seed without becoming a pest.

Back in June, I mentioned a fasciated specimen of L. formosanum that is growing in my garden.  Fasciated plants, if they bloom, often have overcrowded inflorescences bearing dwarfed flowers, but when this L. formosanum finally bloomed, it had eighteen flowers which were normal size and nicely spread out.  The abnormally thickened stem supported them without staking, and the hundreds of miniaturized leaves looked more like fur than the usual widely spaced foliage.

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Fasciated L. formosanum, side view

The fasciated plant bloomed at 95 cm tall (150+ cm for normal plants) and had eighteen flowers (1-5, normal).  The stem was 12 cm across at the widest point (1 cm, normal) with leaves 6-12 cm long and 0.5 cm wide (15-18 cm long, 1 cm wide, normal).  Although fasciation in lilies is often temporary, reverting to normal growth in subsequent years, this plant also showed some characteristics suggestive of fasciation last year.  I have some hope that it will continue to grow in this manner in the future.

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A clump of normal L. formosanum stems

Lycoris hybrids

We’re at about the mid-point of Lycoris season in my garden.  L. longituba, L. squamigera, and the early L. radiata var. pumila have finished flowering.  L. radiata var radiata and L. x albiflora are still a couple of weeks from blooming. This week, it was the turn of two very interesting hybrids.

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Lycoris ‘Satsumhiryu’

Lycoris ‘Satsumhiryu’ is probably the most intensely colored Lycoris in my collection.  Its fairly large flowers are an incredible, saturated red-purple color with metallic blue highlights.  I haven’t been able to find much information on this Japanese hybrid, but judging by the flower color and shape, its parentage surely includes Lycoris radiata and Lycoris sprengeri.

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Mystery Lycoris

In late 2013, I purchased a bulb of the common, pink Lycoris squamigera from a well-known nursery in the Raleigh area.  The foliage produced in the spring of 2014 was consistent with L. squamigera, but when the plant bloomed in August, 2014, I had quite a surprise.  Instead of being pink, the flowers have a yellow base color overlaid with reddish pigment. Darker stripes decorate the backs of the sepals and petals.

The amount of red pigment seems quite variable, depending on the age of the flowers and the amount of sun they receive.  Sometimes pale yellow predominates:

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Mystery Lycoris in 2014

And sometimes the red/orange pigment is very strong.

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Mystery Lycoris in 2015

I contacted the nursery owner, thinking that perhaps tags had been switched, but he didn’t recognize the plant.  His best guess was that it arrived incognito in a shipment of L. squamigera bulbs from Holland, although how such a striking plant ended up among L. squamigera is a mystery.  The closest match I have found is L. x chejuensis, a natural hybrid involving L. chinensis (yellow) and L. sanguinea (orange).  To see L. x chejuensis, scroll to the bottom of this Japanese Lycoris website.  Perhaps my plant is a garden hybrid of the same parents, but if so, who made the cross and how did it end up in a batch of L. squamigera?

Whatever its identity really is, I really hit the jackpot with this bulb.