Lady’s slipper orchids

This is the blooming season for the two species of lady’s slipper orchids that are native to the North Carolina piedmont.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go out searching for them this year, but I have been lucky enough to see and photograph both species in past years.

Cypripedium acuale (pink lady’s slipper, moccasin flower)

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Cypripedium acaule blooming in late April

C. acaule is definitely the most common of the two species in the piedmont.  The plants are tolerant of varied moisture levels, and their main requirement is for very acidic soil.  They often grow in fairly dry pine woods, but I have also seen plants in mixed deciduous forest.

Blooming-size plants usually produce a pair of pleated leaves that sit flat on the ground and are easy to recognize even when the plant isn’t flowering:

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Having said that C. acaule leaves are easy to identify, I sure hope I haven’t misidentified this plant that I photographed in late summer in eastern Maine.

A good place to see C. acaule in the Triangle area is William B. Umstead State Park.  I’ve seen plants blooming along the trail near the Reedy Creek Entrance.

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens (greater yellow lady’s slipper)

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Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens blooming at an undisclosed location in Durham County, late April, 2016

C. parviflorum var. pubescens is quite rare in the piedmont, and I have only seen plants at one location.  They were growing among Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) on a fairly steep hillside in deciduous forest dominated by beeches, oaks, and tulip poplars.

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Habitat of C. parviflorum var. pubescens.  The plants were growing near the top of the slope.
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Another flower

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Because C. parviflorum var. pubescens is rare and is one of the native plants most likely to be poached by unscrupulous plant collectors, I don’t feel comfortable publishing the location of this population on the internet.  Thanks for understanding.  If I know you in real life, you can ask me in person.

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Squirrels! Again.

The word of the day is “drey“, which means a nest of twigs and dry leaves built by a squirrel, usually in the fork of a tree.  And where do the twigs come from?  One of our local tree rats has taken a liking to the Cleyera japonica shrubs growing on the north side of our house.

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This is what they should look like:

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To add insult to injury, the squirrel doesn’t use the branches to build a proper drey in a tree.  Instead, it climbs up on the roof and shoves them under the solar hot water panels.  So, every couple of days, I have to haul out the ladder and scramble up to the peak of the roof to remove a new nest.  The C. japonica branches are usually mixed with twigs sheared off my beloved Tamukeyama lace-leaf Japanese maple.

The local hawks really need to start pulling their weight. They seem to prefer picking off birds at our feeder instead of hunting squirrels on the roof.

Effing tree rats.

Six on Saturday #26, April 21, 2018

Spring is proceeding as it should, and I am fairly sure that we are beyond the last frost.  Spring bulbs are winding down, and summer perennials are starting to poke their heads above the mulch.  It’s time for another Six on Saturday.

1. Kaempferia rotunda  (Asian crocus)

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No, I don’t know why such a beautiful little ginger has such a silly common name.  The fantastic flowers look more like orchids than crocuses, and the common name for the genus as a whole, peacock ginger, seems more fitting.  K. rotunda doesn’t have the incredible patterned foliage of some other Kaempferia species, but the flowers more than make up for that lack.

According to Scott Ogden in Garden Bulbs for the South (Timber Press), K. rotunda is hardy “south of a line from Austin to Charleston.” I live about 300 miles north of that line, so my K. rotunda will remain in a pot, at least until the rhizome can be divided so that I have a second plant to experiment with.

2. Lonicera sempervirens (coral honeysuckle)

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Our native coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, is a much more civilized plant than the horribly invasive Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica).  It grows vigorously but not rampantly, and is far less likely to strangle young trees.  It does lack the fragrance of L. japonica, but that is to be expected of a plant pollinated by hummingbirds.  Along with Aquilegia canadensis, spring-blooming L. sempervirens provides the first food for the hummers when they arrive after their winter holiday in Central America.

This is a wild vine growing at the edge of  my garden, but selected cultivars are readily available from nurseries and garden centers.  For my money, the best is L. sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’, a red clone that reblooms all summer long.  I used to have ‘Major Wheeler’ and ‘John Clayton’, a reblooming yellow clone, climbing a pergola together.  Unfortunately, pine voles ate the roots of the ‘Major Wheeler’, leaving the stems dangling in the air.  The ‘John Clayton’ is still growing, but hummingbirds seem to prefer the wild red-flowered vines.

3. Narcissus poeticus (pheasant’s eye)

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Narcissus poeticus is the final daffodil to bloom in my garden.  It has been a good run this year. Beginning with the first Narcissus pseudonarcissus in February, there has been a daffodil blooming almost every day, and the pheasant’s eyes will take us up to almost the beginning of May.

4.  Trillium species

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I bought this pedicellate trillium with pale yellow flowers as T. vaseyi, a normally red-flowered species.  There do seem to be pale flowered forms of T. vaseyi, but the way that this plant holds its flowers well above the leaves suggests that it is a different species. Could it be Trillium erectum, or a hybrid thereof?

Edited to add:  A member of the Carolina Flora group on Facebook suggests that this is Trillium sulcatum forma albolutescens.

5.  Halesia tetraptera (mountain silverbell, carolina silverbell)

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Halesia tetraptera is native to North Carolina, but primarily the western mountain counties.  At any other time of year, this beautiful little tree would be a star of the garden, but unfortunately it blooms at exactly the same time as Cornus florida and just can’t compete with the dogwoods’ flower power.

6.  Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud)

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This last photo is a cheat–the tree is growing in the parking lot at my workplace, not in my garden–but I wanted to show you the bizarre flowers.  C. canadensis commonly produces flowers from woody lumps on its trunk and major branches, a phenomenon called “cauliflory”, but this tree had many more flowers on its trunk than is typical.  It is a very large, old specimen and is starting to bloom a couple of weeks later than most of the wild trees in the vicinity. Perhaps it is a selected cultivar of geographically remote origin.

That’s all for this week.  You know the drill:  for more Six on Saturday head over to The Propagator, where you will find collected links to other garden blogs.  Every week, there are more participants, so you can see what is blooming all over the world.

Cynorkis angustipetala (with a guest appearance by Platanthera ciliaris)

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Cynorkis angustipetala flowering in my greenhouse

This terrestrial orchid has a confused and confusing nomenclatural history (see wikipedia), but it is a beautiful and relatively easy subject for the warm greenhouse or, possibly, a sunny windowsill.

Cynorkis angustipetala is from Madagascar and is a member of the subtribe Habenariinae, which also includes our native Platanthera orchids:

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Platanthera ciliaris (yellow fringed orchid) flowering beside a road in Pender County, North Carolina.  The overall morphology of the inflorescence and individual flowers is similar to that of C. angustipetala, but the highly fringed labellum gives a different impression.

In common with most of the tropical Habenariinae, C. angustipetala requires a dry winter dormancy when the foliage completely dies away, and the plant consists of a sausage-shaped tuber buried in the potting mix.  C. angustifolia is one of the earliest of this group to break dormancy, and it will often start growing before I begin watering in the spring.  My plants are currently blooming,  while their relatives Habenaria rhodocheila and Pecteilis hawkesiana have yet to reveal whether they survived this year’s dormancy.

Potting mix can either be long fibered sphagnum or (my favorite) a 50/50 mix of sphagnum peat moss and perlite.  Beware of perlite that has added fertilizer, because most terrestrial orchids react poorly to over-fertilization.  In case any manufacturers read this:  Hey!  Stop putting fertilizer in perlite!  The whole point of perlite is that it is inert.

Keep the mix constantly moist from early April until the foliage starts to yellow, probably in September or October, and do not water at all over the winter.  If you are concerned about accidentally watering the pot (or over-drying the tuber in low humidity), you can seal the pot in a ziploc bag. Store the bag indoors in a dark place, because direct sunlight will cook the enclosed tubers.

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Notice the whitish nectar spurs at the back of the C. angustipetala flowers that indicate pollination by sphinx moths or butterflies.  The P. ciliaris shown above also has long spurs and is pollinated by butterflies.

Public display of affection?

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eastern fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus)

The high contrast makes it difficult to see, but the lizard in the foreground is a mature male in his blue-bellied breeding colors.  I’m not sure if the other is a female or an immature male,  so this could be an amorous encounter or an aggressive one.  Either way, they were too intent on each other to pay any attention to the giant human pointing an iphone camera at them.