As of last Saturday, I thought that I’d be reduced to doing a “Six on Saturday” focused on weeds this weekend. But during the week some very interesting surprise lilies (Lycoris) lived up to their name, and I noticed some other flowers that I had overlooked in the garden and greenhouse. I still think a post on weeds isn’t a bad idea, but I can’t resist showing you these flowers today.
(As always, visit Six on Saturday’s host The Propagator to see his Six and links to those of other participants.)
1. Lycoris radiata var. radiata (hurricane lily, red spider lily)
A question for the photo geeks out there: what is it about red flowers that makes them so difficult to photograph? Other colors are fine, but with red flowers I frequently end up with an oversaturated blur unless the lighting is just right. To get this image, I had to manually set the camera to decrease contrast and saturation, but now it looks a little more pink and washed out than it really should.
Anyway, L. radiata var radiata is the sterile triploid form that has been kicking around southern gardens since the 1840s. I can’t really tell any difference between this and the fertile diploid L. radiata var. pumila, except that var. pumila will set seed and blooms about three weeks earlier.
2. Lycoris aurea (golden spider lily)
Lycoris aurea is a tropical/subtropical species native to southern China and Indochina , so its winter-growing foliage will not tolerate more than a few degrees below freezing. I grow it in a 5 gallon (19 liter) plastic nursery pot, outdoors until first frost and then in a cool corner of the greenhouse. When it goes dormant in spring, I leave it in the greenhouse so it experiences consistently warm, humid conditions, and I give it an occasional splash of water so that it doesn’t get too dry. This year, I put it back outside right around September 1, and it produced this inflorescence after a good soaking rain.
For temperate climates, the closely related  but much hardier L. chinensis is a better choice if you want a yellow Lycoris. I have two in the garden, but they haven’t bloomed yet.
Lycoris x albiflora…A white Lycoris hybrid
A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Until a few days ago, I was perfectly happy calling this plant Lycoris x albiflora, the label it carried from an online bulb vendor several years ago. Then I read a 2014 paper by Shude Shi and colleagues  that digs into the phylogeny and evolution of Lycoris species. Based on their DNA sequencing, they conclude that L. x albiflora is a natural hybrid of L. sprengeri x L. chinensis. That’s fine, except that those two species both produce their leaves in early spring. My plant produces its leaves in winter, like L. radiata. Its flowers also look like a pale version of L. radiata, so I wonder if it might actually be L. straminea (L. chinensis x L. radiata var. pumila according to Shi et al.).
Adding to my confusion, there are apparently other studies (which I haven’t yet tracked down) suggesting that L. x albiflora is actually L. radiata x L. aurea. That’s more plausible. It would be consistent with the growth habit of my plant, and L. x elsiae, a hybrid of these same two parents, looks a lot like my plant. Confirmation of my plant’s ID would probably require DNA analysis, so I suppose it will remain “white Lycoris hybrid.”
Regardless of its true identity, its pale color points to some interesting genetic interactions. All of its putative parents are brightly colored: red (L. radiata), yellow (L. chinensis or L. aurea), or pink (L. sprengeri). I would assume that genes from one parent species are capable of suppressing the primary pigment in the other parent. Something similar occurs among lady slipper orchids, where crossing the pink Paphiopedilum delenatii with bright yellow P. armeniacum produces P. Armeni White.
4. Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’ (oxblood lily)
Another poor quality photo of a gorgeous red flower. The tag tells you most of what you need to know about this little amaryllid. R. bifida ‘Hill Country Red’ is an heirloom bulb introduced into Texas by Peter Henry Oberwetter of Austin sometime after the U.S. Civil War . Like Lycoris radiata, it produces its grassy foliage after flowering in autumn and goes dormant in spring.
5. Abutilon ‘Orange Hot Lava’
I wouldn’t have believed that an Abutilon would be hardy in our climate, but a couple of years ago, I saw the Brazilian species Abutilon megapotamicum growing outdoors at J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. With that encouragement, I planted one in my garden last year, and it came through the winter’s snow and cold with flying colors. This year, I am trying a couple of A. megapotamicum hybrids, of which ‘Orange Hot Lava’ is my favorite. ‘Orange Hot Lava’ has a more upright growth habit than A. megapotamicum, and I love the darker veining on the flowers (which it has been producing non-stop since early spring). Hopefully it will prove to be as hardy as its parent.
6. Trichoglottis atropurpurea
And finally, to round out the six for this week, an orchid from the greenhouse. T. atropurpurea (syn. T. brachiata) is an epiphyte from the Philippines which sprouts thick roots and long-lasting flowers at random intervals among its short, leathery leaves. I grow my plant in an empty clay pot with a wire pot hanger helping to support the slowly vining stems. Check out the amazing white fur on the hot pink lip!
1. Flora of China in eFloras (2008): http://www.efloras.org/
2. Shi, S., Sun, Y., Wei, L., Lei, X., Cameron, K.M., Fu, C. (2014) Plastid DNA sequence data help to clarify phylogenetic relationships and reticulate evolution in Lycoris (Amaryllidaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 176: 115-126.
3. Ogden, S. (2007). Garden Bulbs for the South, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.