This is one of the prizes of my bulb collection. Gladiolus equitans is a dwarf species from South Africa, one of the many interesting geophytes that grow in the arid Namaqualand region (see my post on Brunsvigia namaquana for another). Its leathery leaves are about six inches long (15-16 cm), and the flowering plant stands less than a foot tall (~30 cm). The flowers are only about 1″ (2.5 cm) across, but their bright colors demand attention. Although each flower is short-lived, the inflorescence continues to produce flowers sequentially for a couple of weeks.
Unlike some of the larger summer-growing Gladiolus, G. equitans would never survive the winter outside in North Carolina. This is definitely a plant for a greenhouse, sun room, or cool sunny windowsill. I grow mine in a small terra-cotta pot with a fast draining mix of stalite, sand, and a little commercial potting mix. It’s watered several times a week from early October until the corms start to go dormant in March, then left dry for the rest of the spring and summer.
Down at the creek, the upland chorus frogs, accompanied by a few spring peepers, have started their mating songs. The chorus frogs sound like hundreds of people rapidly running their thumbnails along the teeth of hundreds of plastic combs, while the peepers produce a bell-like chiming, impressively loud for such a small frog.
We don’t have any permanent water in the garden (a pond is definitely on the “to do” list but never seems to arrive at “start now”), but both species spend time here when they aren’t busy calling for a mate. A third visitor to the garden, the northern cricket frog, will start calling later in the spring and continue into early summer. Its call sounds like someone clicking little pebbles together.
As I was edging a flowerbed on Saturday afternoon, a flash of movement caught my eye. It almost looked like a small grasshopper or cricket, but I thought it was a bit early and cold for those insects. When I got down on my hands and knees to peer at the mulch, I discovered a tiny cricket frog, so small that it could sit comfortably on my thumbnail.
Adults of all three species are about an inch (~2.5 cm) long. I usually find chorus frogs and cricket frogs on the ground, but peepers often climb in taller plants. Occasionally they get into the greenhouse, and I always remove them when I can. They’d be little more than a light snack for the Nepenthes pitcher plants, and I have seen tree frogs injure themselves jumping onto spiny Pachypodium.
If you garden in the piedmont, you can encourage these little frogs by not using insecticides and fungicides that could be absorbed through their skin or contaminate the water that they need for breeding. Undisturbed leaf litter and, perhaps, a small area of unmown grass make will make good hunting grounds for the frogs, and a small pond (without fish) or trough is always appreciated.
Here are a few more pictures of these frogs that I have taken over the past few years:
And here is a relevant passage from a novel I read recently. Clearly the author has spent some time considering the peeper:
Spring peepers, the noisiest frog per half inch that Dag knew of, had taken up their earsplitting chorus in the farm’s woodlot and pond when he rounded the corner of the barn to make his bedtime patrol. He stopped short when Whit called unexpectedly over the racket “Wait up, Dag!”
His tent-brother, a lantern swinging from his hand, fell in beside him. Whit cocked his head, listening to the peepers. “Maybe I could stuff cotton in my ears tonight. I’m sure glad I didn’t have to court Berry by squatting with my naked tail in a puddle and screaming for hours till she took pity on me.”
Dag choked on a laugh. “You just had to put that picture in my head, didn’t you? Maybe that’s why the lady peepers pick their mates. To shut them up.”
–Lois McMaster Bujold, Horizon (The Sharing Knife, Vol. 4)
After a frigid start to the year, we seem to have entered a warmer weather pattern. Temperatures on Thursday and Friday reached the mid to upper 70s (~25 C). Today is 46 (8 C), but the next week will be back in the 60s and 70s. Early spring bulbs and a few perennials have suddenly started to flower, but I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last cold weather for this winter.
Perfectly timed for the beginning of Lent, the first Helleborus x hybridus flowers have opened. This plant was part of a mixed batch of seedlings given to us by one of my wife’s colleagues who has them naturalized in her woods. Most of the others have white flowers and are still in bud.
3. Dwarf Iris
A small Iris whose name has been lost in the mists of time. The scattered corms bloom reliably every year, but the flowers have an unfortunate tendency to flop over.
4. Yellow daffodils (Narcissus hybrid)
Cheap and cheerful. These are growing through the remains of last year’s Conoclinium coelestinum stems that I haven’t gotten around to cleaning up.
5. Scilla sibirica (Siberian squill)
Despite the name, this species is native to the Caucasus and Turkey, not Siberia.
6. Trichocentrum splendidum
In the greenhouse, a large Oncidium relative from Guatemala is flowering. T. splendidum has rigid, succulent leaves often compared to mule ears. In late winter, as the intensity of the sunlight increases, they become suffused with dark red pigment, and shortly thereafter a 4′ (1.2 m) inflorescence rapidly grows straight up. The flowers are each about 3″ across and last two to three weeks.
For more ‘Six On Saturday,’ get thee to The Propagator. After enjoying his post, check out the comments for links to other participants.
Butterworts, genus Pinguicula, are carnivorous plants that trap and digest small insects with slimy secretions produced by glands covering the surface of their leaves. The plants are capable of absorbing nitrogen from the digested prey, allowing them to grow under nutrient-poor conditions such as peat bogs or, as in the case of the species illustrated above, seasonally wet seeps on exposed, bare rock (habitat photos here).
The Pinguicula species native to North Carolina are relatively small plants with leaf rosettes only a couple of inches across, but P. gigantea can grow to the size of a large dinner plate. Its native habitat is in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, but the plants adapt well to cultivation. They’re particularly useful for controlling the fungus gnats that can infest the soil of potted house plants, and in my greenhouse they have also trapped flies and small cockroaches.
In addition to their usefulness as pest control, P. gigantea plants also produce lovely flowers, pale purple with a darker edge to each petal.
Mexico is home to many beautiful species of butterworts which can be quite tricky to grow. Most of the species require a definite dry dormancy, during which they produce smaller, more succulent non-carnivorous leaves in a tighter rosette (see the smaller plants in upper left of the first photograph, above). If watered too much (or at all) while dormant, they are likely to rot. During the summer, they like to remain moist, but many of the rock-growing species require an inorganic mix and will rot if grown a soil- or peat-based mix. I have grown many Mexican Pinguicula species at various times, but P. gigantea is one of only a few species that I have been able to maintain for more than a couple of years.
P. gigantea does have a winter dormancy, but it is less extreme than some of the other species. Leaf size decreases only slightly, and the plants are tolerant of year-round moisture. Instead of a mineral-based mix, I grow my P. gigantea in pure long-fiber sphagnum moss. Or, more accurately, I grow them on sphagnum. The thin, rather feeble-looking white roots spread across the surface of the moss and among the mat of dead leaves that slowly builds up, rather than penetrating deeply into the pot.
Propagation of this and other butterwort species is easy. The somewhat brittle leaves detach easily from the rosette, and if placed on moist sphagnum, perhaps in a plastic bag to keep humidity high, will reliably produce a few plantlets at the broken base of the leaf.
The landscapers groundskeepers at my workplace just finished pruning a hedge of witch alders, thus ruining their naturally elegant form and guaranteeing that they won’t bloom this year.
Witch alders (Fothergilla gardenii, Fothergilla major, Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’) are native shrubs that reward the gardener with licorice-scented flowers in spring, attractive foliage in summer, and bright color in autumn. Blooming is their first act after winter dormancy, so the flowers are borne on the stems that grew the previous year. By cutting the plants now, the groundskeepers have sheared off all of the flower buds that would have covered the plants with beautiful white flowers about two months from now.
Fothergilla also tend to branch after blooming, so the new growth emerging from these cuts will consist of straight stems with long internodes and few branches. By the end of summer, these plants will probably have put on as much height, if not more, than they would have if left unpruned. Where they have been cut at the same level several years in a row, they are starting to develop unsightly knobby growths that are wider than the stems below.
In situations where limiting height is a requirement, try planting the dwarf F. gardenii, not the much taller F. major or their hybrid ‘Mt. Airy’. And if you really must prune a witch alder, do it immediately after the the spring flowering. It is probably best to carefully remove individual branches to maintain the informal appearance of the bush instead of just cutting straight across the top. Really, apart from formal boxwood hedges, does anything look good when sheared square like the poor plants above?