Six on Saturday #48 (September 28, 2019)

We’re almost a week past the autumnal equinox, but it still feels like summer.  Temperatures are running about ten degrees F above normal, and we haven’t had measurable rain since August.  The soil is bone dry, and leaves are starting to dry up instead of changing color properly.  There’s a chance of a shower tonight, but the forecast for the next week is more of the same: bright sun and mid 80s-90s F until Friday at least.

1. Epiphyllum oxypetalum (queen of the night)

Epiphyllum1
Bud opening at 2100.
Epiphyllum2
Fully open at 2215
Epiphyllum3
Collapsing at 0700 the next morning

The large, fragrant flowers of E. oxypetalum, an epiphytic cactus from southern Mexico and Guatemala, open at night and fade by the next morning.  I was pleased with this solitary bloom, but when I posted a picture on Facebook, a friend told me that his plant had more than 40 flowers!

2. Spiranthes odorata?  (ladies’ tresses)

Spiranthes

I think this is S. odorata, but I’m really not sure how to distinguish that species from S. cernua.  Paul Martin Brown [1] says that there is considerable gene-flow between S. cernua and other Spiranthes species, so maybe a definite I.D. is impossible. Either way, I like the flowers.  These little orchids don’t seem to be very long-lived, but they seed around and sprout in the pots of various bog plants.  This one volunteered in a pot of Gentiana autumnalis.

3.  Diospyros virginiana (American persimmon)

persimmon1

persimmon2

About nine years ago, I transplanted some root suckers from a large persimmon planted by my wife’s grandparents in Pennsylvania, probably in the 1940s.  The transplants have finally given us some fruit, which is seedy but delicious.  These are the first of the harvest, and we’ll be picking more as they become soft enough to eat.  You do NOT want to sample an American persimmon that isn’t fully ripe.  They are unbelievably astringent.

4.  Hedychium coccineum ‘Applecourt’

Hedychium applecourt

I thought I had already featured this hardy ornamental ginger, but I can’t find it in any past blog posts.  The flowers lack the fragrance of H. coronarium, but I am a sucker for bright orange.  In previous years, it has given me one flush of flowers at the tail end of summer, but this year the clump has finally grown large enough to flower on and off for months.

5. Colchicum ‘Innocence’

Colchicum innocence

This is a white flowered clone of the sterile hybrid Colchicum byzantinus.  My colchicums have struggled this year, probably due to the high temperatures and lack of rain in autumn thus far, and many have not yet poked their noses above the soil.

6. Salvia elegans (pineapple sage)

Salvia_elegans

S. elegans is usually grown as an annual north of zone 8, but my plants survived last winter.  Another sign that climate zones are shifting north, I suppose.  This species gives me attractive foliage on a neat shrub-like form for most of the spring and summer, and then it flowers just in time for the autumn migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird.

The propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

Reference

1. Brown, P.M. (2004).  Wild Orchids of the Southeastern United States North of Peninsular Florida.  University Press of Florida, Gainsville, Florida.

Late summer orchids

Encyclia_atrorubens1
Encyclia atrorubens ‘Littlefrog Princess’

In cultivation, most tropical orchids flower in late winter and spring, so the end of summer into early autumn is generally the quietest season for orchid growers.  With carefully chosen plants, however, an orchid collection is never entirely without flowers.  Here are two Encyclia species that produce gorgeous flowers in August and September, just when my greenhouse is looking most barren.

Encyclia atrorubens is from oak forests in Oaxaca and Guerrero states in Mexico.   Carl Withner reported that he saw it growing in the moutains near Acapulco [1].  In my greenhouse, new growth begins in the summer, and the plant flowers on immature pseudobulbs.  It seems susceptible to rot, so I grow it very dry in a terracotta pot with large chunks of scoria (red lava rock). It blooms well when the new growths and roots extend over the edge of the pot.

The flowers have very dark pigment, and the leaves become flushed with red/purple in bright light, but the flower stems are always a clear grassy green.  The contrast between stem and flower is exceptionally beautiful, and against a green background the dark flowers seem to float unattached.

Enc_dichroma
Encyclia dichroma

Encyclia dichroma grows on rocky outcrops under fairly arid conditions in the Brazilian state of Bahia.  The plants have elongated, cone-shaped pseudobulbs with rigid leaves  and grow well bright and dry with plenty of air movement.  Give it more light than you would a typical cattleya alliance plant.

Withner [2] says that plants in nature bloom in the Brazilian spring (September/October in the southern hemisphere) but in early summer in cultivation.  However, my plant consistently blooms in September at the same time as E. atrorubens.  A hybrid of the two might be interesting.

References

1. Withner, C.L. (1998). The Cattleyas and their Relatives: Volume V. Brassavola, Encyclia, and Other Genera of Mexico and Central America.  Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

2. Withner, C.L. (2000). The Cattleyas and their Relatives: Volume VI. The South American Encyclia Species.  Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

Behria tenuiflora: cultural enigma

Behria tenuiflora

Generally, by the time I have had a plant for a couple of years, I am fairly sure of what it needs to grow and bloom successfully.  Either that, or I have killed it and am sure of what was not successful. Behria tenuiflora is currently flowering for the first time in my collection, and not only do I not have any idea what induced it to flower, I’m not really sure what caused it to grow.

B. tenuiflora is a small bulb native to the southern end of the Baja California peninsula.  It was once included in the onion family, Alliaceae, but more recently has been classified in the Themidaceae, a small family of bulbous plants from Mexico and the southern United States [1].  Its closest relative is the Mexican Bessera elegans (see entry 2 of Six on Saturday #8), which is commonly available from the big bulb vendors and seems relatively easy to grow as a potted plant in this climate.  On the basis of my success with Bessera elegans, I leapt at the chance to purchase a seed-grown corm of Behria tenuiflora from Telos Rare Bulbs in 2016.

Based on what I had read about the plant, I expected it to be a summer grower–its habitat supposedly receives most of its rain in the summer monsoon–and its growth in 2016 supported that supposition.  It started growing later than my Bessera plants and went dormant later, but it definitely grew in late summer.  However, it did not bloom that year.

In 2017, it didn’t sprout, and at the end of the summer I unpotted it, expecting to find it dead.  Instead, the corm seemed perfectly healthy, just dormant.  The same thing happened in 2018.  In winter 2018-2019, I tried giving it a few light waterings to see if it wanted to be a winter grower.  No, it didn’t.

This summer, I put it outside yet again.   Surprisingly, a single cylindrical leaf sprouted in July, and it has now rewarded me with its bright, candy-like flowers.  Judging by their shape and color, they are surely pollinated by hummingbirds.

I am not certain what caused it to grow and bloom this year.  My best guess–and this is only a guess–is that the growth is a response to moving it from a terracotta pot to a plastic pot this spring.  Behria tenuiflora comes from an arid environment with irregular rain, so I had assumed that it would grow best in soil that dried rapidly.  But perhaps it is adapted to remain dormant after intermittent showers and to grow only when significant rainfall occurs and the soil will likely remain moist long enough for the plant to complete its growth cycle.  The more constant moisture in a plastic pot might be what it needed in order to break dormancy.

I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens next year.

Reference

Gándara, E., Sosa, V., and León De La Luz, J. (2009).  Morphological and Molecular evidence in the delimination of Behria and Bessera, two genera of the Milla complex (Themidaceae). Bol. Soc. Bot. Méx. 85: 113-124

 

Paphiopedilum Lady Isabel: hybrid history

Paph_Lady-Isabel

Paphiopedilum Lady Isabel is a fantastic old lady’s slipper hybrid, a cross of two of the largest species in the genus.  Its parents, Paphiopedilum rothschildianum and P. stonei are both narrow endemics found in the wild only on Borneo.  P. rothschildianum grows at a couple of sites on the slopes of Mount Kinabalu, while P. stonei inhabits limestone cliffs near Kuching in southwest Sarawak.  Given their physical similarity and natural habitat, it seems likely that the two species shared a common ancestor in the not too distant past, and P. Lady Isabel can be thought of as reuniting two divergent genetic lineages.

I generally prefer to grow orchid species, rather than hybrids, because I find that a good bit of the fun of this hobby lies in learning about the origins of the plants, their ecology and evolutionary history.  Those details are lost in complex hybrids that mix highly divergent species and are consciously designed for floral display rather than adapted to a distinct habitat and pollinator.  However, the human history associated with some old hybrids can substitute for natural history, and primary hybrids like P. Lady Isabel retain enough features of the original species to make them interesting to me.

When investigating the history of a hybrid orchid, my first stop is always the website of the Royal Horticultural Society, the current custodian of the orchid hybrid register (“Sander’s List”). The online International Orchid Register tells me that the cross of P. rothschildianum x P. stonei was registered as Lady Isabel by someone named “Statter” in 1897.  That date alone is impressive.  P. stonei was introduced into cultivation in 1860, but P. rothschildianum not until 1887 [1].  That means that Mr. Statter managed to bloom a cross of these two notoriously slow growing species just ten years after one of the parents first reached England. Lewis Knudson didn’t publish his method for asymbiotic germination of orchid seed on sterile agar until 1921, so at the time P. Lady Isabel was registered, producing new orchid hybrids was a matter of sprinkling seed at the base of a parent plant and hoping that the correct symbiotic fungus was present in the potting mix.  Seedling yields were not high.

Searching on Google reveals that “Statter” was Thomas Statter, Esq., who lived at Stand Hall near Manchester.  His extensive collection of orchids was featured in the October 1894 issue of Orchid Review [2], and both P. rothschildianum and P. stonei are mentioned in the article under the earlier genus name Cypripedium.  Statter’s father, also named Thomas, was also an orchid enthusiast, and the name Thomas Statter appears numerous times in issues of The Gardeners’ Chronicle and Orchid Review from the late 1800s.

As an aside, isn’t it fantastic that we can search and read gardening magazines from the 1800s online?

Sadly, it seems that Statter fell on hard times a few years later, and the April 29, 1905 issue of the Llandudno Advertiser reported on bankruptcy proceedings.  Orchids are mentioned as part of his remaining assets.

What the RHS database doesn’t tell me is the meaning of the name “Lady Isabel.”  Perhaps the hybrid is named after some flower of the late Victorian aristocracy, but who?  One possibility is Lady Isobel Stanley, daughter of the 16th Earl of Derby and one of the first women to play ice hockey.   Thomas Statter the elder and his father Robert Statter were land agents for the Earls of Derby, so there is a connection between the Statters and Stanleys.  If the orchid was named for Lady Isobel, it seems that a spelling error has crept into the Orchid Register, but I found one early reference (possibly the earliest, judging by the September 1897 date) in the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society [3] which renders the hybrid name as “Lady Isobel”.  Statter had previously registered Paphiopedilum Lord Derby in 1895, so it is plausible that he would name a plant after a female member of the family.   Cattleya Countess of Derby was registered by a different orchid grower in 1896, suggesting that the family had some connection to orchids and horticulture.

One final note: that Orchid Review column from 1894 also mentions that the collections of both Thomas Statters were cared for by a Mr. Robert Johnson.  I wonder how much of the credit for P. Lady Isabel should go to him, rather than Thos. Statter.  A number of other gardeners are well known in orchid history and were recognized by their contemporaries.  If we look back at the parents of Paphiopedilum Lady Isabel, we see that P. rothschildianum was named after Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild–banker, politician, art collector, and horticulturalist–one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Victorian England.  But P. stonei was named after Robert Stone, who was the gardener of the orchid enthusiast John Day.

Update 8/28/2019: 

I emailed Julian Shaw, the current Orchid Registrar at RHS, to ask if he had any insight into my hypothesis about the naming of P. Lady Isabel.  He replied that after some additional research, he has concluded that the plant was indeed named after Lady Isobel Stanley and has changed the spelling to “Lady Isobel” in the hybrid register.

Among other things, he told me that Thomas Statter was a member of the RHS Orchid Committee starting in 1895.  That presumably affects the reliability of the 1897 reference to “Lady Isobel” that I noted above [3], because it occurred in the notes of the Orchid Committee.

References

1. Hennessy, E.F. and Hedge, T.A. (1989) The Slipper Orchids, Acorn Books, Randburg, R.S.A.

2. anonymous (1894). The Stand Hall Collection.  The Orchid Review  11(22): 291-293.

3.  Veitch, H.J., Chair (1897).  Orchid Committee, September 7, 1897.  Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 21: clxxxii.

Six on Saturday #47 (August 24, 2019)

The first two plants in this Six on Saturday post bloomed in early August, after S.O.S #46, but I thought they were worth including even though they aren’t flowering today.  The remaining four plants are currently in bloom.

1. Rhododendron prunifolium (plum-leaf azalea)

Rhodo_prunifolium

Rhododendron prunifolium is one of the latest-blooming of the North American deciduous azaleas. With its flowers tucked in among leaves, I think it looks more subdued and elegant than the flamboyant species that bloom on bare branches early in the spring.  Very rare in the wild, it is native only to a small region of Alabama and Georgia along the Chattahoochee River.

2. Lycoris x rosea ‘Neon Nights’

Lycoris_rosea

This cross of Lycoris radiata and L. sprengeri blooms at about the same time as my L. radiata var. pumila plants.  The photo doesn’t exaggerate the intensity of its color.

3. Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed)

Asclepias incarnata-2

Despite its common name, Asclepias incarnata grows reasonably well in regular garden soil.  It doesn’t seem to be as long-lived as Asclepias tuberosa, though.  This is probably a third-generation seedling, and the first generation of plants that I grew are all long dead.

4. Gentiana andrewsii (closed bottle gentian)

Gentiana_andrewsii

Gentiana andrewsii is one of the more bizarre flowers in my garden.  It is native to the northeastern and midwestern states and Canada but seems to do reasonably well in the NC piedmont.  The flower never opens and is pollinated by bees that are strong enough to force their way inside.  If I don’t do some weeding soon, these plants will be choked out by invasive Duchesnea indica (mock strawberry) that are invading the flower bed from a nearby lawn*

*lawn, meaning green weeds that can survive being mowed.

5. Barnadia japonica (Japanese squill)

Scilla_scilloides

I really don’t remember planting this little bulb among the cactus and agaves that surround our wellhead.  I do have a small clump of bulbs elsewhere in the garden, so I wonder if a squirrel transplanted this one.

6. Calanthe reflexa

Calanthe_reflexa

Well, this was a disappointment.  Calanthe reflexa has miniscule flowers, and the color of this clone is an insipid pale violet. About the only thing that makes it worthy of growing is its blooming season–months after all the other hardy Calanthe species and hybrids have finished flowering.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.