Six on Saturday #16, November 4, 2017

Oddly, I actually have more blooming in the garden today than I did for last week’s Six on Saturday.  In fact, I had to pick and choose, and eventually decided to leave Moraea polystachya for another time.

Yesterday’s high temperature was 81 F (27 C).  We still have not had frost, although the long term forecast hints at lows in the mid 30s by the end of the week.  After that, we could easily bounce back into the 70s or low 80s–or have a hard freeze.  Autumn in North Carolina.

Anyway, on to the Six:

1. Scilla madeirensis (Giant Madeira squill)


Scilla madeirensis, as its name suggests, is native to the island of Maderia in the Atlantic Ocean.  The large, dark purple bulbs grow exposed at the surface, so it makes an interesting display even when dormant.  I grow three bulbs in a large terracotta pot.  They bake in the greenhouse over the summer and start growing as the weather cools off in October.  I keep them growing outdoors as long as possible and move them back into the greenhouse only when frost is certain.  I can’t claim to have mastered this species.  This year, only one of the bulbs flowered, and it has fewer flowers than last year.  Also, the pedicels are almost the same color as the flowers this year.  Usually, they are stark white which contrasts very nicely with the bluish purple flowers

Until a few years ago, S. madeirensis was almost impossible to obtain and very expensive when available.  Now, however, bulbs grown in vast numbers in Israel are available every autumn from mail-order bulb vendors.

2. Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’


My only camellia.  I really ought to put in some more under the trees, because camellias do so well in North Carolina.  Older gardens around here are often full of them, and with a mix of sasanqua and japonica types, one can have flowers for much of the winter.

3.  Fatsia japonica


For many years, I had Fatsia japonica mentally filed under “Evergreen Shrub, subtype: boring.”  Then, I saw one in bloom at J.C. Raulston Arboretum and was amazed by the spherical flowers that look like some sort of miniature naval mine.  So, now I have one in my garden.  The leaves are still boring, but the flowers are cool.  Wasps love them too.

4-6. autumn foliage

Last week, I photographed trees that are growing naturally on our property, so for this week, here are some of the woody shrubs and trees that I have planted.

Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’ (witch alder)

One of my favorite shrubs for its licorice-scented spring flowers, pest-free foliage, and spectacular autumn color.  I have planted a row along the path leading to our front door and another row in front of the greenhouse.

Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’ (Japanese persimmon)

‘Fuyu’ only gave us two persimmons this year, but the autumn color is spectacular–almost fluorescent.

Asimina triloba (pawpaw)

A. triloba is a piedmont native, but the trees in my garden I grew from seed.  This is a ten-year-old seedling.  2017 was the first year I had two different clones blooming at the same time, but the tiny pawpaws fell off after a few weeks.  I’m hopeful that 2018 will be the year I finally get some fruit.

That’s all for this week.  As always, head on over to The Propagator to see his Six and those of other participating blogs.

Hippeastrum aulicum

Hippeastrum aulicum ‘Quiririm’ — a seedling plant from parents originally collected in São Paulo State.

November is the blooming season of one of my favorite tropical plants: Hippeastrum aulicum, the Lily of the Palace*.  H. aulicum is a large amaryllid from southern Brazil and Paraguay.  It is closely related to the Hippeastrum hybrids (usually labeled “Amaryllis”) that are sold around Christmas time, but with one major difference.  The hybrids are derived primarily from Andean species that grow in the ground, while H. aulicum is an epiphyte, growing on the surface of rocks and in large trees.  The website of the Pacific Bulb Society has some pictures of H. aulicum growing on branches in its natural habitat.

H_aulicum-Benedito Novo
Hippeastrum aulicum ‘Benedito Novo’ — a seedling from parents originally collected in Santa Catarina State

Another difference between H. aulicum and the Andean-derived hybrids is their annual growth cycles.  Hybrids are usually purchased for forcing winter blooms, but after a couple of seasons in cultivation, they revert to an annual cycle where they bloom in early spring, grow through the spring and summer, and go dormant in autumn.  To bloom again the next year, they require a cool, dry winter rest.  In contrast, H. aulicum blooms in autumn, grows through the winter, and goes dormant in summer.  My plants spend the summer outside, so they never remain dry for long periods, even when dormant.  They are soaked by summer thunderstorms, and when there is no rain I water them once or twice a week.  When nights start getting cooler in late September or early October, they begin to grow again.  Inflorescences come first, but new leaves usually sprout before the flowers open.  Once autumn nights drop into the upper 40s (8-10 C), I move the plants into the greenhouse for the winter.

Hippeastrum aulicum — a plant with no locality information purchased from Telos Rare Bulbs

The flowers of my H. aulicum plants differ mainly in the width of the sepals and petals.  All are a strong, bright red with darker flares extending from a green patch at the center of the flower.  The three sepals are roughly the same size, but the lower petal is generally narrower than the two upper petals, making the flower bilaterally symmetric.  The inflorescence generally carries only two flowers, but a healthy bulb can produce two inflorescences with buds that open at the same time.  When the flowers first open, the anthers are a beautiful purple until they fold to expose the pollen.

H_aulicum-Benedito Novo-closeup
Purple anthers of a freshly opened flower

Seed of H. aulicum is occasionally available from online vendors, and seedlings are easy to grow.  The papery seeds of H. aulicum, like those of many amaryllids, can be floated in a jar of water covered with cling film until they sprout and then planted in individual pots.  This method is particularly useful if you are uncertain what percentage of the rather short-lived seed is viable.

Hippeastrum seeds floating

For H. aulicum, I use a very open, free-draining mix of roughly one part commercial potting soil to two parts stalite (permatill).  The roots of H. aulicum seem more tolerant of “terrestrial” mixes than those of another epiphytic Hippeastrum, H. calyptratum, but I don’t want to tempt fate.  When planting sprouted seeds, I make a hole for the root with a pencil or bamboo skewer, gently press the seed onto the soil surface, and cover it with a thin layer of gravel or permatill.  Hippeastrums are susceptible to several viruses that are common in cultivation, so I always use new pots.  Growers of hybrid Hippeastrums are often encouraged to plant the bulbs partially raised above the soil to discourage rot, but H. aulicum seedlings will naturally produce exposed bulbs.

Four-year-old seed-grown bulbs, approximately 11 cm diameter.

The majority of my seed-grown H. aulicum have bloomed three years after germination.


*I haven’t been able to discover why H. aulicum received this slightly over-the-top common name. Does anyone know?