Dinner with a friend

turtle-grape 1

I ran across (i.e. almost stepped on) this box turtle near the garden shed two evenings in a row.  Yesterday, I offered him some Sun Gold tomatoes, which he ignored.  This evening, I gave him some muscadine grapes, and he seemed to enjoy them very much.

turtle-grape 3


Muscadines are also one of my favorite fruits, so we have that in common.

turtle-grape 4

I think this is our old friend Percy Shelley, but I can’t be sure.  It wasn’t until after he ambled off into the woods and I went inside to download the photos that I discovered all my other pictures of Percy were taken from his right side.  What I can see of the scutes along his back seems to match, though.

turtle-grape 2

Six on Saturday #9

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)

Lycoris radiata var radiata

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

Lycoris aurea is a tropical/subtropical species native to southern China and Indochina [1], 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 [2] 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.

3.  Lycoris x albiflora…A white Lycoris hybrid

Who am I, really?

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 [2] 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 [3].  Like Lycoris radiata, it produces its grassy foliage after flowering in autumn and goes dormant in spring.

5. Abutilon ‘Orange Hot Lava’

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

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.

Smells like autumn (and winter…and early spring)

Today, the high temperature was about 75 F (24 C), and the humidity was lower than it has been in weeks, if not months.  It feels like autumn, so when I got home from work, I wasn’t entirely surprised to find the entire garden filled with a sweet perfume reminiscent of apricots.  My tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) is blooming.

The tiny yellowish flowers of Osmanthus fragrans

O. fragrans blooms in the autumn, during warm spells in winter, and in spring.  In fact, about the only time that it is unlikely to flower is during the middle of summer.  Although the flowers aren’t much to look at, a single shrub can perfume a huge area.

I bought an inexpensive little O. fragrans in a 4″ pot about fifteen years ago.  For the first five or six years, I grew it in a succession of pots and tubs, keeping it in the greenhouse during the winter so that I could enjoy its fragrance.  Eventually, it grew too large to haul around easily, so I planted it on the east side of the house where it is protected from the cold west winds that blow in winter.  It is now about eight feet tall.  Flower buds and young leaves are occasionally frozen by very cold weather, but once the new growth has hardened off, it is untroubled by our winters.  The plant has never been bothered by insects, fungus, or bacterial diseases, even in the hottest, most humid weather.

First bloom: Cyrtanthus obliquus

Cyrtanthus obliquus (Knysna lily, Umathaga)

This week, a Cyrtanthus obliquus bulb that I purchased in July 2013 is flowering for the first time in my collection.

With its large tubular flowers, glaucous foliage, and onion-sized bulbs growing exposed at the surface, C. obliquus is one of the most impressive species of the genus Cyrtanthus (Amaryllidaceae). It hails from southeastern Africa in a region extending from the southern Cape to just north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, where it often grows on rock outcrops among various succulent plants [1].


C. obliquus is evergreen, and in my collection it seems to grow slowly year-round, producing one or two new leaves at irregular intervals while old leaves senesce at about the same rate.  In winter, it sits in the sunniest part of the greenhouse (minimum temp 60 F, 15.5 C), and in summer it goes outside in full sun.  I water it a couple of times a week in summer if the weather is dry.  I give it less water in winter but do not allow it to remain bone dry for long periods.


  1. Duncan, G., Jeppe, B., and Voight, L. (2016)  The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa, Umdaus Press, Pretoria, South Africa.

Six on Saturday #8

The garden is definitely not looking its best right now.    Two holiday trips this summer, a frantically busy time at work, the beginning of the new school year for the kids, and, finally, a quick jaunt down to South Carolina to view the total eclipse have all caused me to neglect weeding, pruning, and mowing.

total eclipse
Total eclipse, as seen from the vicinity of Greenville, South Carolina

The Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum), horsenettles (Solanum carolinense), and creeping cucumber (Melothria pendula) have all taken advantage of the situation and are doing their best to smother my flower beds.  I had to scrounge around to find six attractive plants for Six on Saturday this week, and it might have been easier to do six weeds.  Hmm, perhaps next week.

In any event, here are six plants blooming now.  Check out the Propagator’s blog to see what other garden bloggers chose for Six on Saturday.

1. Bessera elegans (coral drops)

B_elegans red
Bessara elegans, common orange-red form
B_elegans Purple
Bessera elegans, purple form

B. elegans is a beautiful, dainty member of the onion family (Alliaceae) from Mexico.  It requires a dry winter dormancy so is best suited to container growing in the eastern U.S.  The red flowers are the common form available inexpensively from the large bulb vendors, and the purple form came from a small specialty grower on eBay.  This is a flower that repays close inspection. Seen from above, they are bright and cheerful, but not particularly striking.  Only when examined from underneath do they reveal their intricate markings and beautifully colored pollen.  In the red form, the style is a lovely, contrasting purple color.

update 9/15/2019–Current classification places Bessera in the Themidaceae, a family of former Alliaceae members that are native to the southwestern United States and Mexico.

2. Clusia orthoneura (porcelain flower)

Clusia orthoneura

This is a very strange epiphytic shrub from South America that I have been growing as a semi-bonsai in a 14″ terracotta bulb pan since 2008.  It has leathery, semi-succulent leaves and long aerial roots sprouting from its branches, which makes it look a little like a small mangrove.  The downward-facing flowers are incredibly thick and waxy and look as though they should last forever, but in fact, they only last a day before turning brown and dropping off.

3.  Salvia ‘Amistad’

Salvia ‘Amistad’

S. ‘Amistad’ is supposedly a primary hybrid of S. guaranitica and S. gesneriiflora.  It seems to be only marginally hardy here; of two specimens that I planted last year, only one survived the winter, and it has grown only a single stem.  Plants are readily available from local nurseries, though, and the color is so lovely that I’d be willing to plant it as an annual every year if necessary.

4.  Salvia guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’

S-Black and Blue
Salvia ‘Black and Blue’

This plant, on the other hand, is almost too hardy.  It spreads rampantly, but the stems are reasonably easy to pull out of the ground, together with its big tubers.  It is attractive to hummingbirds and blooms non-stop from spring until first frost.

5.  Lobelia puberula (downy lobelia)

Lobelia puberula with stiltgrass in the background

This little native wildflower self-seeds in shady spots all over the garden.  It is growing beside L. cardinalis, but I haven’t seen any evidence of hybridization.

6.  Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ (contorted trifoliate orange)

Poncirus ‘Flying Dragon’ fruit

P. trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ is at its best in winter, when the falling leaves reveal its skeleton of twisted branches and vicious, hooked spines, but the fruit are pretty in late summer and autumn.  They are also pleasantly fragrant, though it is annoying when they drop and I have to crawl around collecting them as the spines of the mother plant catch my shirt and dig into my back.  If I don’t get them all, I end up with a carpet of seedlings, but I always feel bad about throwing them away.  They’re far too bitter and seedy to eat, but supposedly you can use them for marmalade or, with lots of sugar, for orangeade.  Maybe this year…