Eucrosia mirabilis

A couple of horticultural rules of thumb:

1. If an orchid is named after the Rothschild family, it is sure to have spectacular flowers.  cf. Vanda Rothschildiana, Paphiopedilum rothschildianum, Eurychone rothschildiana, Bulbophyllum rothschildianum.

2.  If a plant’s species epithet is some variation on “mirabilis” or “mirabile,” it is probably something special.  After all, “mirabilis” means wondrous, amazing.

Eucrosia mirabilis, blooming now in my greenhouse, lives up to its name.

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Eucrosia mirabilis inflorescence

E. mirabilis is a member of the Amaryllidaceae from South America.  Its sepals and petals are fairly small and a dull yellowish green color, and if that’s all there was to the flowers, it wouldn’t be worth growing.  But as you can see, the extremely elongated stamens and pistil are what make the flower amazing.  All of the flowers on an inflorescence open at the same time, giving the appearance of a large mop or head with long white hair.  The effect is very dramatic.

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Flowers just starting to open.  The folded stamens and pistil emerge limp and wrinkled, and slowly expand over several days.

The May 1, 2006 issue Curtis’s Botanical Magazine gives a good description of the ecology of E. mirabilis and its history in cultivation [1].  The species was described 1869 with notes indicating that it was from Peru, and it seems to have remained in cultivation until the 1870s–there is an herbarium record at Kew from 1876.  It was then lost for more than 100 years, and in 1997 was declared extinct by IUCN.  Surprisingly, researchers in Ecuador (not Peru) rediscovered the species in the same year that it was declared extinct, and seed, probably originating from Ecuadorian plants, entered cultivation in the late 1990s.

In nature, E. mirabilis grows on rocky hillsides among Opuntia cactus (prickly pear), so it needs bright light and very well drained soil.  I attempt to replicate this habitat by growing the bulb in an 8″ diameter terracotta pot with a well-drained mix of sand, permatill, and a little commercial potting soil.  During the spring and summer, I grow it outdoors in full sun, and it produces a pair of large, paddle-shaped leaves.  When the leaves start to wither in early autumn, I move it into the greenhouse for several months of warm, dry dormancy.  My plant always flowers in December or January, consistent the bloominng season in the wild, but plants in England are reported to bloom in April and May [1].  It is completely leafless while flowering, and the long inflorescence emerging from an apparently empty pot adds to the bizarre appearance.

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My bulb has shown no inclination to form offsets, so I suspect it must be propagated by seed.  Luckily, the plant is self fertile, and I have several second generation seedlings coming along.  I have donated extra seed to the Pacific Bulb Society seed exchange,  and I’ll probably be sending more to the SX in a couple of months.

Reference

Matthew, B. and Lewis, G. (2006).  557. Eucrosia mirabilis (Amaryllidaceae).  Curtis’s Botanical Magazine 23:157-164.

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