Six on Saturday #5

I was traveling last weekend and failed to post a Six on Saturday, so this week I’ll start with a plant that bloomed on the day we left town.  Everything else is current.

The last fortnight has been hot and dry.  According to the min-max thermometer on our shaded screen porch, the high temperature while we were away was 98.5 F (36.9 C), and I think most days were well above 90 F (32.2 C).  A kind friend watered our vegetables, but the rest of the garden was starting to look either wilted or crispy.  In the past 36 hours, we finally got some rain, in the form of two brief thunder storms that dropped about 3/4″ (2 cm), so I won’t need to run around with a watering can today.

1. Lycoris longituba (white surprise lily)

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Lycoris longituba

Lycoris is an Asian genus of the Amaryllidaceae, and these long-lived bulbs have been a cherished part of southeastern gardens since the red-flowered L. radiata arrived on a ship that docked at New Bern, North Carolina in 1854.  All Lycoris bloom in late summer to autumn on leafless inflorescences that spring up and flower in just a few days–hence their common name, surprise lily. In my garden, the heirloom variety of L. radiata is the last to bloom, and L. longituba is the first.  I photographed these on July 14, just before leaving for the airport.

Lycoris plants produce their leaves either in late autumn or early spring and go dormant in late spring.  L. longituba is one of spring foliage types, which tend to be hardier than the species that produce leaves on late September or October.  In this climate it is a little precocious, and often starts growing when we have a few warm days in January.

Incidentally, the variegated foliage behind the L. longituba flowers is a hardy ginger, Zingiber mioga ‘Nakafu’

2. Lycoris squamigera (surprise lily, naked ladies)

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Lycoris squamigera

L. squamigera is the most commonly cultivated member of the genus, and it is probably better suited to a slightly cooler climate than we have in North Carolina.  It is a sterile natural hybrid of uncertain origin, although L. longituba may be one of the parents.  In my garden, it blooms a week or two after L. longituba.

L. squamigera is often mistaken for Amaryllis belladona which also shares the common name “naked lady,” but the two plants have very different requirements.  L. squamigera wants cold winters and hot summers, while A. belladonna requires a Mediterranean climate with cool winter rain and temperatures above freezing.

3. Boophone disticha

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Boophone disticha

I didn’t really expect this plant to bloom for a few more years, so I was pleasantly surprised to find buds when I arrived home last Sunday.

B. disticha is a South African member of the Amaryllidaceae.  The large conical bulbs grow almost entirely above ground but are protected by highly toxic sap.   This plant came to me as a small seedling in 2013, and the bulb is currently about 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) diameter.  With care, it could ultimately grow to about three times that size and outlive me.

B. disticha grows in both summer- and winter-rainfall regions of South Africa.  My two plants usually go dormant in early spring and then start growing again in July or August.

4. Musa velutina (pink banana)

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Musa velutina inflorescence

I have been growing this ornamental banana in my garden for fourteen years.  It freezes to the ground each winter, but our summers are long enough for the new growths to bloom and produce bunches of little pink bananas.  When fully ripe, the bananas peel themselves, but most years the first frost arrives before they get to that stage.  They’re edible, sort of, but so full of seeds that it is hardly worth the effort.  Here you can see how the inflorescence produces successive clusters of yellow flower buds protected by hot pink bracts that peel back when the flowers are ready to open. A banana forms at the base of each flower as it fades, so the oldest fruit are at the bottom of the inflorescence and youngest are at the top.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds often visit the fresh flowers, and on several occasions I have seen them bathing in little puddles of rainwater collected on top of a leaf.

5. Narceus sp. (Narceus americanus/annularis complex, American giant millipede)

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Narceus species

After the rain, this morning is cool (75 F, 24 C), grey, and damp.  Just the weather that a big millipede enjoys.  This fellow was climbing the wall beside our front door.  There are two closely related and ill-defined species in eastern North America.  They aren’t as big as some millipedes I have seen in the tropics, but they are still impressively larger than the tiny millipedes that swarm through the leaf litter.

Its legs tickle.

6. Phaseolus vulgaris (yin yang bean)

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Freshly picked Yin Yang beans

We call these beans orca eggs, because they are colored like miniature killer whales.  I managed to ruin last-years crop by storing them in a plastic bag before they were fully dry.  This year, I’ll be more careful and keep them in a paper bag when they have thoroughly dried.

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First bloom: Gladiolus saundersii

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Gladiolus saundersii flower

One plant in a batch of about a dozen Gladiolus saundersii seedlings is blooming for the first time, approximately two and a half years from germination.  The inflorescence only has one flower open at a time, but I find the swept-back petals and white speckles quite pleasing.  Definitely a keeper.

After finding the orange Gladiolus dalenii growing in the woods and becoming aware that not all glads look like the big frilly hybrids, I started a search for other South African species that would be hardy in my garden.  Some species I ruled out, because they are winter growers that require mild, wet winters and dry summers.  Others are summer growers but would not tolerate our winter cold.  G. saundersii seemed an excellent candidate, because it is a summer grower that comes from high altitude in the Drakensberg escarpment where it experiences freezing temperatures and snow during the winter.  The only question was whether it would tolerate hot days and warm nights in summer, but so far, so good.

The blooming plant is surprisingly small, and the wiry inflorescence only reaches about two feet tall.  I had expected it to be bigger, and perhaps it will grow larger as it matures.  If not, it will still be a very appealing plant.  I’ll just have to move the plants from their current location at the edge of the garden to a spot at the front of a flowerbed.

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another angle

Six on Saturday #4

It has been hot and muggy this week, with highs in the mid 90s (~35 C).  Because of the high humidity, there was heavy dew at night, and the moisture brought out Percy Shelley, one of the garden’s resident box turtles, early on Wednesday morning.  A high point of my week was watching him stalk and eat an enormous leopard slug (although turtle vs. slug didn’t  make for a very exciting pursuit).  I also fed him a tomato before he disappeared back into the undergrowth–everyone needs protein and veggies for a balanced diet.

Anyway, another week has come and gone, so it is time for “Six on Saturday.”  Lots of insects this week.  Also, check out The Propagator for links to other garden bloggers who are participating.

1.  Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’

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Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’

The color of these flowers is incredibly intense and saturated, and I love the way that they stand up on tall spikes.  This canna came from the Yucca Do nursery in Texas, just before they went out of business, but the same clone is now being offered by Plant Delights.

2.  Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’ (white nettle-leaved mullein)

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Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’

You can see the yellow-flowered form of this species in Six on Saturday #2.

3.  Oncopeltus fasciatus (large milkweed bug)

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Oncopeltus fasciatus mating

When my son was just a little guy, he came running into the house one evening and breathlessly informed me that there were two-headed bugs on the butterfly weed.  His first lesson on the birds and the bees (and the bugs) followed.

These two are on a seed follicle of Asclepias tuberosa.  They feed on the immature seeds.  Nymphs of the same species can be seen here.

4. Labidomera clivicollis (milkweed leaf beetle)

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Labidomera clivicollis on Asclepias tuberosa

I’m fascinated by the way that both the milkweed bug and the milkweed leaf beetle have evolved virtually the same color scheme to warn predators that it’s not a good idea to eat insects which feed on toxic milkweed.  Most people are familiar with Batesian mimicry, in which a harmless species gains protection from predators by mimicking a venomous or toxic species (e.g. scarlet king snake mimicking the venomous coral snake).  The similarity of milkweed bugs and beetles is an example of Müllerian mimicry in which two toxic species that have common predators use the same warning signals.  A predator that encounters one species will learn to avoid the other as well.

5.  Passiflora incarnata (maypop) with Popillia japonica (Japanese beetle) and very tiny ants

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Passiflora incarnata

The native Passiflora incarnata is basically a weed in my garden, but such a beautiful one.  It spreads by underground stolons and has a tendency to completely cover small shrubs.  However, the vines are very easy to pull up, so I just yank them when they get out of control and leave a few to get big so that I can enjoy the flowers.  The fruit is theoretically edible, but it is insipid compared to the cultivated tropical passionfruit.

Unfortunately, Japanese beetles are eating most of the flowers right now.  It will be a couple more weeks before the adult beetles lay their eggs and die, and we are free of this pest until next June.

6.  Hemerocallis ‘August Flame’ with Battus philenor (pipevine swallowtail butterfly)

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Hemerocallis ‘August Flame’

The butterfly is sure there is still a bit of nectar left down there…somewhere…if it can just reach…

Six on Saturday #3: Pachypodium

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Pachypodium horombense

I thought for today’s Six on Saturday I’d stick with a single theme.  I haven’t photographed many plants from the greenhouse lately, so here are six specimens from my little collection of pachypodiums.

I started growing pachypodiums on the windowsill of my student apartment, long before I had any outside space to garden, and some of the plants have been with me for more than twenty years.  These days, they spend the winter in the greenhouse and sit on shelves on our deck during the summer.  My wife keeps making noises about wanting to reclaim the deck for human activities, so at some point I suppose I need to build some benches in a sunny spot (that isn’t already a flower bed) and move the pachypodiums (and minibog pots, and citrus trees) there.

Cactus and succulent growers, in common with bonsai growers, value plants that give the appearance of great age and have the form of wild plants.  With some plants (e.g. semi-succulent trees such as Boswellia and Bursera) it is very difficult to replicate the effects of decades of wind, sun, and drought, so unfortunately there is still a market in wild-collected plants.  Pachypodiums, fortunately, are fairly simple to grow from seed, and even small seedlings are very charismatic.  If grown hard, they will produce a reasonable facsimile of a wild specimen in 5-10 years.

“Hard” in this context means growing the plants in bright light, as close to full sun as you can manage, in small pots with restricted fertilizer.  It is very important to keep the plants in consistently bright light when in growth.  Once the shrubby forms etiolate, it’s all over.  The signs of less-than-ideal-light levels will be visible for decades.

Some of my plants have, perhaps, been grown too hard.  The reponsibilities of family, job, home ownership, and a growing outdoor garden have resulted in some neglect of the pachypodiums.  Some of these plants are years overdue for repotting and are starting to show it.  Maybe this blog posting will inspire me to take care of them better.

So, without further ado…

1.  Pachypodium horombense

As seen at the top of this page, P. horombense is a shrubby species with stout spines that comes from southern Madagascar.  Relatively large, bright yellow flowers with an inflated corolla tube are produced on a long inflorescence in spring.  I purchased this plant as a small seedling in 1999.

2.  Pachypodium bicolor

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Pachypodium bicolor

Another shrubby species, this one from central Madagascar, that has yellow flowers with a white throat.  I photographed the flowers for my very first blog posting.  This plant was also purchased as a small seedling in 1999.

3.  Pachypodium brevicaule

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Pachypodium brevicaule

I purchased this plant as a pea-sized seedling in 1996.  My second-largest plant is seventeen years old and about half its size.  Offspring of the two old plants are ten years old and various sizes.

P. brevicaule is basically a shrubby species with the branches telescoped down until they form rosettes of leaves.  The inflorescence is also shortened, and the bright yellow flowers are produced more erratically than in the other Madagascan species. In old specimens, the branches form small bumps, giving the plant a lumpy appearance, and when leafless it resembles a chunk of quartz rock.

P. brevicaule grows slowly and a cursory scan of google images will, sadly, show many large specimens that were certainly dug from the wild.  Ironically, this is one of the easiest to grow from seed into a “wild-looking” specimen, although you do need patience.  The compact form is under very strong genetic control, so it is less likely to etiolate in less than perfect light.

Since it is hard to see much of this plant when it has leaves, I’ll cheat and show you another photo taken in 2013 when it was a bit smaller.  Consider this Photo 3b:

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Pachypodium brevicaule flowering

4.  Pachypodium (eburneum x bicolor).

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Pachypodium eburneum x Pachypodium bicolor

This is my own hybrid, a ten-year old plant grown from seed.  The pollen parent was the P. bicolor shown above.  The morphology of the plant is strongly influenced by P. eburneum, but the flowers have the white throat of P. bicolor.

5.  Pachypodium inopinatum

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Pachypodium inopinatum

A white flowered species from north central Madagascar.  I purchased this plant as a one or two-year old seedling in 1999.  In wild Pachypodium specimens, the old spines often erode away, leaving the swollen stem smooth. The same process is occurring in this cultivated plant.

6. Pachypodium ambongense

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Pachypodium ambongense

In form, this species is intermediate between the shrubby, generally yellow flowered species and the tree-like, generally white-flowered species.  It is from northern Madagascar and has white, narrowly tubular flowers in autumn and winter.  Purchased as a small seedling in 1998.

Second #6.  Pachypodium saundersii

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Pachypodium saundersii

I know this is Six on Saturday, but I can’t resist.  This was my first Pachypodium, grown from seed that I planted in September, 1996.  P. saundersii is from South Africa and has white flowers, flushed with purple pigment, in the autumn.  This big guy is starting to look a little sad.  Needs repotting and some fertilizer, I think.

There are more pachypodiums that I want to show you.  Maybe another Six on Saturday?