Autumn in the mountains of North Carolina is all about apples, but here in the piedmont, autumn means persimmons. I sometimes forage for the little native persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) that grow wild in the local woods, but collecting them requires perfect timing. Pick them too soon–before they are completely ripe and soft–and they are unbelievably astringent. Wait just a little too long, and they all vanish. Piles of scat filled with hard, flat seeds indicate where they all go. Raccoons and opossums like persimmons just as much as I do.
Because they are harvested when mushy, American persimmons are better used for cooking than for eating out of hand. We use them in soft persimmon cookies and rich persimmon pudding. If I’m going to eat a fresh persimmon, I much prefer Diospyros kaki ‘Fuyu’, a non-astringent variety of the Asian persimmon. The fruit of our little ‘Fuyu’ tree can be eaten when hard and crisp like an apple. It can also be left to soften for cooking, although it never develops the complexity of flavor of the little wild persimmons.
D. kaki ‘Fuyu’ has been a carefree garden plant thus far. No insect pests have bothered the leaves or fruit. Squirrels, raccoons, and opossums don’t seem to be attracted to the fruit, either, unlike our blackberries and figs, which often disappear a couple of days before I think they’re ready to harvest. Fruit is produced without pollination, and although the non-pollinated persimmons have a tendency to abort, those that do ripen are generally seedless. Occasional seedy persimmons might indicate cross-pollination by a male D. virginiana tree growing at the edge of my garden.
Even in years when very few fruits make it to maturity, the tree ends the growing season with a spectacular show of flaming orange foliage.
Here are some more plants on their way to my greenhouse for the winter. I previously photographed some of my Pachypodium plants and gave cultural suggestions in Six on Saturday #3. Those photos, taken in July of last year, showed leafy plants. Here in October, most of my pachypodiums have already shed their leaves and are dormant. Flower buds will start to emerge in late winter to early spring, and fresh new leaves will follow.
All of the species shown here are from Madagascar
1. Pachypodium eburneum
Pachypodium eburneum is a very compact species with strongly compressed branches and relatively short inflorescences. In that sense, it is somewhat like a less extreme version of P. brevicaule. While P. brevicaule has soft spines, however, the thick spines of P. eburneum are hard and sharp. Very old P. eburneum have a lumpy, irregular form, but this plant (eleven years old, grown from seed) is still nicely symmetrical. The flowers of P. eburneum are white or pale yellow.
2. Pachypodium rosulatum var. gracilius
Pachypodium rosulatum is a very variable species that some botanists (and many horticulturalists) split into a complex of several closely related species. Here, I’ll follow Dylan Burge  in considering this and the following plants to be variants of one species.
P. rosulatum gracilus is distinguished by its dense, very fine spines. It generally has a bottle-shaped or globular trunk. Flowers are small and bright yellow. This is a seventeen-year old plant, grown from seed.
3. Pachypodium rosulatum (near Tôlanaro)
This P. rosulatum variant, which appears to be undescribed, supposedly comes from the vicinity of Tôlanaro (Ft. Dauphin) in southern Madagascar. It has large yellow flowers and very sharp spines that are stronger than those of var. gracilius. This plant was purchased as a small artificially propagated seedling in 2008.
4. Pachypodium rosulatum var. makayense
Like Pachypodum rosulatum var. bicolor, P. rosulatum var. makayense has bicolored yellow and white flowers. At least under greenhouse conditions, var. makayense seems to be more compact than var. bicolor. It is also more difficult to grow, and I have lost a number of seedlings to root rot. This plant is eleven years old, grown from seed.
5. Pachypodium rosulatum var. cactipes
Pachypodium rosulatum var cactipes has fine, acicular spines, rather like those of var. gracilus, but in var. cactipes they are more widely spaced on long branches. The plant shown above was purchased as a small seedling from Arid Lands in 1999. It has the longest flowering season of any of my pachypodiums, producing yellow flowers successively over more than a month in mid to late spring.
The plant shown below also seems to be var. cactipes. It is the “super branching form” sold for many year by Highland Succulents in Ohio. I bought this plant in 2000.
6. Pachypodium windsorii
Pachypodum windsorii has bright red flowers in the spring. The plant above, a 1997 purchase from Glasshouse Works nursery, is the parent of the seedling below. Shortly after germination, I deliberately damaged the apical meristem of this seedling, and it responded by branching. Usually pachypodiums branch after flowering for the first time, and the trunk is expanded only below the first branch. In this seedling, each of the four basal branches is developing a swollen base, giving it the appearance of four plants fused together. I think it will make a really nice specimen in ten or fifteen years.
The nights have started cooling off, so it is time move my tropical plants back into the greenhouse before we have our first frost. I thought I’d snap some pictures of a few interesting specimens before I put them away for the winter.
At first glance Adenia globosa looks distinctly alien–definitely more so than the hybrid Paphiopedilums that they invariably seemed to use as stand-ins for alien flora on old Star Trek The Next Generation episodes. When examined more closely, however, its anatomy starts to make sense. Adenia is a genus in the Passifloraceae, the passion flower family, and like our native Passiflora incarnata (maypop), many Adenia species are leafy vines with tendrils that help them to climb other plants. A. globosa has evolved in the arid savannas of east Africa, so its features reflect that history.
The base of the plant is swollen into a more or less globular trunk to store water.
With no need to climb other plants, the stems are rigidly erect or arching, and the tendrils have been modified into stout thorns to protect the plant (and its stored water) from herbivores. New stems have a single, tiny leaf under each thorn. The leaves soon fall, so the majority of photosynthesis is carried out by the stems, which are less subject to water loss than large leaves would be.
Old stems develop a glaucous coating that probably serves to further protect them from sunburn and water loss.
A. globosa seems reasonably easy to maintain, given warm temperatures, bright light, and very well drained potting media, but growth is very slow. My plant has just about doubled in size over the past seventeen years. Some succulents (e.g. Pachypodium) develop the best form and character when underpotted, but Adenia seem to grow fastest when somewhat overpotted. Some growers have had good luck using large tubs or raised beds to get plants to the desired size before moving them to smaller display pots, but great care must be taken not to over-water when using large pots.
A. globosa is dioecious, so separate male and female plants are required for seed production. My plant has never flowered, so even if I had a second specimen, seeds would be entirely hypothetical. Cuttings will root relatively easily and slooooowly produce a swollen trunk. Patience is definitely required for all aspects of A. globosa cultivation.
Most of the pictures this week are really Six on (last) Saturday, because they were taken a week ago at the autumn open-house of Montrose, Nancy Goodwin’s garden in Hillsborough, North Carolina. See here for my pictures from last autumn.
The final picture was taken yesterday, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Michael.
1. Costus species
Costus are related to ginger but have been separated out of the Zingiberaceae into their own family, Costaceae. I made a beeline for this plant the past couple of times I visited Montrose, because I have never seen one growing in the NC piedmont before. This time, Nancy let me in on the secret: She digs it up every autumn and stores the rhizome in her house, so it isn’t as hardy as I hoped. Still, our summers are clearly long enough and the soil warm enough for it to get established and flower. Might be worth trying one of these days.
2. Double-flowered Colchicum
This might be Colchicum ‘Waterlily’, but without a tag I can’t be sure. Montrose is famous for its bulb plantings, and two of the three plants that I picked up at the sales table were also bulbs (in the broad sense): a huge Hymenocallis that might be H. ‘Tropical Giant’ and a seedling Cyclamen mirabile. The third plant I bought was Primula sieboldii.
3. Abelmoschus species
A beautiful Hibiscus relative with fuzzy buds. I wish the plants in Montrose Garden were labeled. I suspect this is Abelmoschus manihot, but don’t quote me on that.
4. Brugmansia (angel’s trumpet)
South American Brugmansia are surprisingly hardy in the piedmont. My plant of Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’ has survived three or four years outdoors and is currently about seven feet tall. This yellow flowered clone, perhaps ‘Charles Grimaldi’, has been growing below a couple of large eastern red cedars at Montrose for longer than that.
5. Salvia oxyphora (fuzzy Bolivian sage)
I hesitated to post this photo, because it is another bright pink/red flower that blows out the sensor of my iPhone camera and is almost always overexposed. But S. oxyphora is so fantastic and furry that I couldn’t resist. My sole attempt to grow this species failed, but perhaps I haven’t found the correct spot for a plant that must surely be right at the edge of its hardiness zone in the piedmont.
6. Fallen oak (Quercus species).
Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle like a bomb. By the time it crossed our area, it was downgraded to a weak tropical storm, but it still did plenty of damage to trees sitting in soil saturated by the remnants of Hurricane Florence just a few weeks ago. This beautiful oak on our neighbors’ property was uprooted and dropped across our lane, blocking access. By the time I got home from work, the neighborhood chain saw gang was hard at work clearing the road.
For more Six on Saturday, head on over to the Propagator’s blog. Take a look at his Six and then see the comments section for links to other blogs.
Yesterday morning, as I ambled up the driveway to close the deer gate, I stumbled across a species that I have wanted to see for the past forty years, ever since I first read about it in the old Golden Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: an eastern hognose snake.
Like about 30% of the hognose snakes in the piedmont area , it was melanistic, with jet black scales showing none of the brown camouflage markings of the typical color form. At first glance, it looked like an unusually short and stout black rat snake, but then I noticed the distinctive upturned snout that gives the eastern hognose its common name.
The eastern hognose is one of the most interesting and unusual snakes in North America. Why? First, hognose snakes feed almost exclusively on amphibians, primarily toads, so they are resistant to the bufotoxins exuded by their prey. When threatened, toads inflate with air, but hognose snakes have the tools to deal with this defense mechanism: enlarged rear fangs and a mild venom. Some sources suggest that the venom anesthetizes toads, causing them to deflate, while others indicate that hognose snakes “pop” inflated toads with their fangs. Perhaps both are true.
The hognose snake’s second claim to fame is its truly spectacular behavioral repertoire. When threatened, a hognose will first puff up, hiss loudly, and spread its neck like a little cobra. The snake that I found showed us this behavior when I lifted it into a bucket to carry it away from the road to a safer spot in the garden.
By the time the kids and I deposited the snake next to a large pile of rotting logs and some good undergrowth, it apparently felt sufficiently threatened to perform its most famous routine. Writhing dramatically, it rolled over and then went limp with its mouth gaping and tongue hanging out.
It held this pose for about a minute before spoiling the effect by popping its head up to have a look around.
Deciding that we had disturbed the snake enough, we went away.
Palmer, W.M., and Braswell, A.L., 1995, Reptiles of North Carolina, University of North Carolina Press.