Woodland orchids

At the south end of my garden is a roughly rectangular flowerbed, approximately 15 x 22 ft (4.5 x 6.7 m), shaded by a mature dogwood tree (Cornus florida). The dogwood bed catches rainwater running off the lawn, so unlike most of the shaded areas in the garden, the soil is fairly moist. It has also been enriched with organic material, the legacy my past attempts to grow vegetables there (hint: veggies don’t grow well in shade). About four years ago, I started turning the dogwood bed into a shade garden planted primarily with woodland perennials from North America and those regions of Asia that have a climate similar to the piedmont. Pride of place in my somewhat haphazard planting scheme goes to orchids, most of which bloom in spring.

Calanthe

Chinese, Korean, and Japanese members of the genus Calanthe are some of the best orchids for shady piedmont gardens. They have beautiful flowers, tolerate transplanting well, and although they prefer moist, well drained soil, they are remarkably drought resistant when necessary. Their new growth is somewhat tender, but they do not seem to be as badly damaged by late frost as some other Asian orchids such as Bletilla striata.

Hardy Calanthe species and hybrids are rarely offered by specialist orchid nurseries, but they are sometimes sold by nurseries specializing in woodland perennials. I have planted four species (C. striata, C. tricarinata, C. discolor, and C. reflexa) and two hybrids (C. Takane and C. ‘Kojima Red’). C. tricarinata is currently in bud, and C. reflexa blooms later in the summer. The other plants are all flowering now.

Calanthe discolor

Calanthe discolor2
Calanthe discolor

Calanthe discolor is generally considered one of the hardiest Calanthe species. Its natural range includes Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese prefecture, and it is often rated for growing in USDA zone 6. It’s not a particularly colorful orchid, but it has a neat and tidy appearance. My plant, purchased from Montrose Garden, has pale green sepals and petals, but dark brown clones perhaps offer better contrast with the white lip. When dumped out of its pot, the plant fell apart into several divisions. I planted them separately, and they are multiplying rapidly, with each division producing several new pseudobulbs.

I really like the Japanese name for C. discolor: ebine, “shrimp root.”

Calanthe_striata3
Calanthe striata

I previously featured C. striata under its synonym C. sieboldii. C. kawakamii is also considered a synonym for this species, although the Taiwanese plants with that label may prove to be less hardy than the Japanese plants labeled C. sieboldii.

C. striata is a significantly larger plant than C. discolor, with many-flowered inflorescences standing ~22 inches (56 cm) high. It has proven very vigorous in my garden; the plant had two inflorescences in spring 2017 and six this year.

Calanthe_Takane

Calathe_Takane2
Calanthe Takane

Calanthe Takane, the hybrid of C. discolor and C. striata occurs naturally in Japan and has also been produced in cultivation. It is intermediate in size between its two parents and variable in color. I really like this clone with its yellow lip from C. striata and its sepals and petals darkened to orange by the influence of C. discolor. C. Takane supposedly benefits from hybrid vigor, but my plant produces a single new growth each year and shows no inclination to multiply like its parent species.

Calanthe_Kojima-Red
Calanthe ‘Kojima Red’

‘Kojima Red’ seems to be an informal name, not a registered grex. Its parentage includes Calanthe discolor, C. striata, C. tricarinata, and C. aristulifera. Although richly colored, the flowers are barely the size of C. discolor.  I think I prefer the species and C. Takane.

Update, May 11, 2019:

Calanthe_tricarinata1
Calanthe tricarinata

In flower and plant size, Calanthe tricarinata is roughly equivalent to C. discolor and ‘Kojima Red’.  The flowers nod, so a viewer mostly sees their backs.   I have to tilt them up to get a good look at the lip.  The flower supposedly resembles a monkey’s face.  I can’t see it..

Cypripedium

North Carolina is home to about 70 orchid species and natural hybrids, but most of the really attractive plants grow in sunny habitat in the mountains or coastal plain. The majority of orchids in the piedmont woods have little whitish or greenish flowers that would only appeal to a confirmed orchidoholic. The exceptions are our two native lady’s slipper orchids, Cypripedium acaule (pink lady’s slipper, moccasin flower) and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens (large yellow lady’s slipper). I have previously discussed the wild populations of these species that grow nearby.

C. acaule is notoriously difficult to transplant and grow in the garden long-term, but C. parviflorum var. pubescens is generally considered to be one of the easiest lady’s slippers to cultivate. For years, I have itched to add one of the latter to my garden. Last autumn I splurged and bought a blooming-size plant.

Cyp_pubescens
Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens

Cyp_pubescens1

I expected to get a single-growth division that might give me one flower this year. Instead, the plant has produced five flowers on four new growths. I’m not sure if I’ll be able keep it going long term–a potential complication is that although the species is native to the NC piedmont, most of the plants in cultivation probably originate from more northern populations–but the size and vigor of this particular plant surely gives me a head start.

Cyppubescens2
Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens

This actually isn’t my first attempt to grow C. parviflorum. Long, long ago, when I lived in Michigan, I kept a seedling of Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin in a pot on my windowsill. This northern variety did remarkably well in the relatively cool climate of Ann Arbor, steadily increasing in size and reliably producing small but highly fragrant flowers.  Unfortunately, it really did not appreciate the move from Michigan to North Carolina. One hot summer it went dormant early and never sprouted the next spring.

cyp_parviflorum1
My late, lamented Cypripedium parviflorum var makasin in 2001.  I loved the dark, corkscrew petals, and it was ideal for growing in a small pot. The flower’s pouch was only about the size of my thumbnail.

About fifteen years later, I’m trying another Cypripedium species in a pot:  the Taiwanese Cypripedium formosanum.

Cyp_formosanum1
Cypripedium formosanum

I originally planned to plant this C. formosanum in the dogwood bed, but several sources suggested that it has a tendency to start growing in late winter and is badly damaged by frost. I decided it would be safest to grow it in a pot, at least until it is large enough to divide, even though it may be tricky to keep the roots cool in mid-summer.

Six on Saturday #43 (April 27, 2019

This week, Six on Saturday is a doubleheader.  In addition to this miscellaneous S.O.S., I also have a post describing six woodland orchids.

The storms last Friday evening (April 19) were a reminder of how local–and how unfair–our weather can be, particularly during the warmer months.  A strong band of storms moved through in the late afternoon, and I was anxious about the possibility of hail and tree-destroying wind.  In the end, we had about half an inch of rain, no hail, and no wind damage. It was a different story just five miles away, where an EF2 tornado touched down.  A member of the local orchid society lives in its path.  He lost many mature hardwood trees, including  a massive hickory that came down on his orchid greenhouse and another that punched a hole in a 1000-gallon propane tank.  With so many old trees down, his woods won’t fully recover in our lifetimes.

I am grateful that I still have a garden to photograph:

1. Rhododendron species

Rhododendron_sp
These flowers aren’t looking their best after heavy rain

I have lost the tag for this plant and can’t remember if it is R. canescens (piedmont azalea) or R. periclymenoides (pinxter flower).  Both are native to North Carolina, but R. periclymenoides is widespread in the piedmont forest, while R. canescens is found only in a few coastal plain counties (despite its common name).

Does anyone know how to tell the two species apart?

2. Rhododendron flammeum ‘Red Inferno’ (Oconee azalea)

Rhodo_flammeum

The common name for this species should be flame azalea, but that name gets applied to Rhodonendron calendulaceum instead .  The cultivar name doesn’t lie, though.  R. flammeum is one of those species that nurseries sell as “native,” even though its actual native range consists of a few counties in Georgia and South Carolina, hundreds of miles from North Carolina.

3. Emerging leaf of Ligularia japonica ‘Chinese Dragon’

Ligularia-leaf1

I did a double-take when I saw this bizarre structure.  Somehow, I have never before noticed how odd the leaves of ‘Chinese Dragon’ look before they spread open.

Ligularia-leaf2

I love everything about this plant and have previously featured it in Six on Saturday #2 and #21.  I am pleased that it has produced a few volunteer seedlings which have inherited the deeply cut foliage.

4. Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon’s seal)

Polygonatum_biflorum

Our little native Solomon’s seal grows wild in scattered locations around our property, usually in dry soil under deciduous trees. The best colonies seem to be under hickory trees. Hickories produce toxic juglone, albeit in smaller quantities than the infamous black walnut, so perhaps the Solomon’s seal have less competition from other plants in those locations. If you are trying to find juglone-resistant plants to grow under a black walnut, Polygonatum species might be worth trying.

5. Polygonatum humile (dwarf Solomon’s seal)

Polygonatum_humile

Polygonatum humile, a species from east Asia (China, Korea, Japan) grows well in our climate. These are under a dogwood tree. They stand only 5 inches (13 cm) tall and have none of the arching grace of the larger species. They’re cute, though.

6. Fritillaria imperialis (crown imperial)

Fritillaria_imperialis

This plant, framed by a huge old patch of Lycoris squamigera, was blooming in my mother-in-law’s garden in Pennsylvania on Easter Sunday.  I have tried growing F. imperialis several times without success.  Occasionally, the bulbs produce some sickly, stunted foliage for a year or two, but they never flower.  Perhaps we have the wrong soil or climate.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

Six on Saturday #42 (April 13, 2019)

This week, daytime temperatures have consistently reached the 70s to low 80s (~22-27 C), and spring is proceeding at full force. The dominant color in my garden is moving from yellow to red as the Narcissus wind down and wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and azaleas take over. As the soil warms, new growth is emerging from subtropical bulbs like Crinum, Hippeastrum, and Scadoxus. Overhead, dogwoods are covered with white flowers, and delicate green leaves are emerging on the deciduous forest trees.

1.  Pollen

Pollen1
Clouds of pine pollen made North Carolina look like something out of a Wilfred Owen poem this week.

With all this new growth comes pollen, and this year’s pine and oak pollen storm has been particularly intense. Photos of the “pollenpocalypse” taken on Monday made it into the New York Times and CNN, but the pollen count actually peaked on Wednesday. That morning, I drove to work through murky yellow haze as clouds of pollen billowed out of the pine trees, and cars on the highway were followed by swirling trails of yellow dust. It was like a desert sandstorm composed entirely of allergenic protein. I am so thankful for Cetirizine.

Pollen2

Pollen3
Pollen floating on the lake beside my workplace.  This much pollen must add a significant nitrogen spike to the water when it rots.  I wonder what it contributes to my flowerbeds

In the garden, the grass was greenish yellow. The mulched flowerbeds were greenish yellow. The paths were greenish yellow. The sunlight was greenish yellow. It was like living in a dirty aquarium. Luckily, thunderstorms throughout the week temporarily cleared the air and allowed me to photograph flowers without a dusty yellow shroud.

Pollen4
My car’s windshield when I left work on Wednesday

2. Tulipa clusiana var chrysantha

Tulipa_chrysantha

Tulipa_chrysantha2

This species was featured in Six on Saturday #25 (Picture 4). A year later, the individual bulbs that I planted in autumn 2017 have multiplied into small clumps, and every stem is topped with a flower. After two years it is still early days, but I am becoming increasingly confident that these little tulips will successfully naturalize and become permanent fixtures in my garden.

3. Fritillaria meleagris (snake’s head fritillary)

Fritillaria_meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris has been less successful than T. clusiana. Over the past five years, the plants have been slowly disappearing, although those that remain still flower reliably. I think my mistake was planting them in a bed that is hot and dry in summer. I have since learned that these bulbs like to grow in cool, moist meadows. They aren’t expensive, so this autumn it might be time to buy some more and plant them where they’ll have more water.

4. Narcissus ‘Golden Bells’

Narcissus_Golden-Bells

This is almost the last of the Narcissus. Only N. poeticus still remains to flower this year, and those will be blooming in just a few days. N. ‘Golden Bells’ is a very vigorous cultivar, or possibly a hybrid, of N. bulbocodium, the hoop-petticoat Narcissus. It produces its wiry foliage in late winter and then waits so long to produce buds that every year I think that I have somehow missed the flowers.

5. Kerria japonica

Kerria_japonica

Having said that the dominant color is moving towards red, I see that I still have a lot of yellow-flowered plants in this week’s six. Kerria japonica is most often seen in its double-flowered ‘Pleniflora’ form with blooms that look like little yellow pom-poms. I much prefer this wild type with flowers that clearly show its membership in the rose family.

6. Arisaema sikokianum and Arisaema thunburgii subsp. urushima

sikokianum
Arisaema sikokianum
Arisaema_thunbergii
Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urushima

Two Asian jack-in-the-pulpits (or should that be jacks-in-the-pulpit?) are already blooming as our native Arisaema triphyllum are just breaking the surface of the soil. With the spadix modified into a club (A. sikokianum) or a whip-like tendril (A. thunbergii urushima), these species give you a some idea of the diversity in the genus.

There is so much going on in the garden this week, that I can’t resist one more photo.

Second 6. Maggots? Pupae?

Seemannia-rhizome

Actually, these are the dormant rhizomes of Seemannia nematanthodes (see #5). They’re just a tiny fraction of the number that I have exhumed from the bone-dry soil of pots stored in the crawl space of our house all winter. A few will go back into a pot with fresh soil, while the rest will be planted out in various flowerbeds.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

Six on Saturday #41 (April 6, 2019)

A brief return to winter this week kept me busy covering the tender new growth of terrestrial orchids every evening to protect them from frost.  Then, of course, I had to uncover them before going to work in the morning.  It looks as though we may have seen the last freeze, though, and the temperature is forecast to be 80 F (26.6 C) on Monday.

Here are six plants whose flowers didn’t mind the cold (or were protected in the greenhouse)

1. Ficaria verna ‘Brazen Hussy’ (lesser celandine)

Ficaria-verna_Brazen-Hussey

Purchasing this plant a year ago may have been a mistake.  It was labeled Ranunculus ficaria at the nursery, and I didn’t realize that the little spring ephemeral with dark purple foliage was actually a cultivar of Ficaria verna,  the invasive pest with green leaves that I have seen covering river banks in Pennsylvania.  However, ‘Brazen Hussy’ has thus far shown no inclination to self-pollinate, and the flowerbed in my garden lacks the moving water that helps F. verna spread so aggressively on floodplains.  If it manifests any invasive inclinations, it will go straight to the landfill (won’t risk the compost heap), but until them I’m reluctant to do away with it.  The shiny, almost metallic flowers go so well with the dark foliage of this cultivar.

2. Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss)

Brunnera

I most commonly see the variegated clone ‘Jack Frost’ for sale around here, but this seed grown plant has plain green leaves.  My wife loves blue flowers, so plain leaves or not, this is an obvious plant to include in the garden.

3. Tulipa whittallii

Tulipa-whittalliiTulipa-whittallii2

For the last couple of years, I have been experimenting with species tulips that may prove to be more heat tolerant than most of the hybrids.  Tulipa clusiana var chrysantha was recommended for our climate, and it looks as though it will do well–the bulbs I planted in 2017 have multiplied and will be flowering in a week or two.  It’s still too early to know how Tulipa whittallii will do. On the strength of one bulb catalog that said this is one of the most heat tolerant species, I planted a dozen bulbs last autumn.  The flowers are certainly eye catching. They close up tight each evening and only open up for a few hours in the afternoon (which doesn’t seem a very good way to attract pollinators), but the intense orange color makes the wait worthwhile.  I hope they stick around for a good many years.

4.  Narcissus Quail (and an enormous pile of mulch)

Quail

Narcissus ‘Quail’ is a jonquilla hybrid that produces two or three flowers per inflorescence.  I’m not sure if I like it.  The flowers are a somewhat squashed together, so their shape is lost in a large blob of yellow.

The mulch is 16 cubic yards of ground hardwood (with a generous proportion of eastern red cedar, judging by the smell).  A couple of inches of mulch spread on the flowerbeds every other year suppresses weeds, adds organic material, and most importantly, reduces the need to water.  Although I irrigate new plants until their roots are established, my goal is to have the garden survive on rain alone.

5. Euphorbia horombensis

IMG_1348(1)

In the greenhouse, this is the season for Euphorbia horombensis to produce its brick red cyathophylls, but its spiny armament is impressive all year round.  E. horombensis is listed as endangered on the IUCN red list, primarily due to habitat degradation and over-collection, but artificially propagated seedlings are reasonably common (and reasonably priced) from a few nurseries that specialize in propagating succulent plants.

Euphorbia-horombensis2

The inflorescences of E. horombensis are covered with sticky sap which traps small insects (in this case, a flying ant).  I’m not sure what purpose the sap serves, but it seems odd that a plant would trap potential pollinators.

Euphorbia-horombensis3

6. Paphiopedilum delenatii var. vinicolor

delenatii-vinicolorAnd finally, a first-bloom seedling of Paphiopedilum delenatii var vinicolor, a recent addition to my slipper orchid collection.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.