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)
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)
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
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)
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)
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)
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.