Paphiopedilum lowii

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Paphiopedilum lowii

Paphiopedilum lowii is generally considered to be one of the easiest of the multifloral tropical slipper orchids to grow and bloom, and it is frequently used in breeding to add bright colors and ease of culture to the resulting hybrids.  Unlike some Paphiopedilum species which grow only on the slopes of a single mountain, P. lowii is native to penisular Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, and Sulawesi.  That wide range and the resulting genetic diversity may explain the color of my P. lowii plant.

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Photo taken on April 7

This particular plant result from a cross of parents that were both heterozygous for ‘alba’ flowers–that is, they carried a recessive mutation that results in unpigmented flowers.  The offspring of that cross have been widely distributed, and the expectation was that 75% would have normally colored flowers and 25% would have alba flowers.  Instead, it seems that the flowers exhibit a range of color, from dark to quite pale, but no alba flowers have resulted.  This is a fairly pale plant, and when I saw it on the nursery bench it almost glowed next to its darker siblings with chocolate pouches and lots of pigment in the dorsal sepal.

The lack of alba flowers in the cross suggests that the two parents carried mutations in two different genes.  This occurs frequently when alba specimens of two different species are hybridized, but to occur in a cross of the same species suggests that the parents were genetically distinct–perhaps a consequence of the species’ wide range.  The variation in depth of color might also be a consequence of crossing cultivated plants that originated from different wild populations.  A commenter in this discussion points out that the color of P. lowii varies among different populations, with paler flowers coming from Sarawak.

But that’s enough geekery.  Here’s one last photo to reinforce one of the best reasons to grow slipper orchids.  The flowers that I photographed in early April, several weeks after they opened, are just starting to fade at the end of May.

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Photo taken on May 19.

And the flowers of the Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum that I photographed in March are still going strong.

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Six on Saturday #45 (May 18, 2019)

The forecast for today is 91 F (32.8 C), and if we reach that temperature it will be the first time we have broken 90 F this year. May 15 is the average date of the first 90 degree day, so we are right on schedule.

1. Herbertia lahue subsp. lahue

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Herbertia lahue has three subspecies–H. lahue lahue, H. lahue amoena, and H. lahue caerulea–and a really odd distribution pattern. The first two subspecies are native to Argentina and Chile, while H. lahue caerulea (prairie nymph) grows along the gulf coast of the United States. This odd disjunct range is shared by several other bulbs and may indicate very early introduction of South American plants to Spanish colonies in North America.

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The flowers of H. lahue, like those of many irids, are very short lived, and the small stature of the plant makes them easy to overlook. Last year, I found a few seed capsules but didn’t see any flowers. This year, I missed the first flush of flowers, as indicated by the green capsule in the foreground, but I happened to walk past the plant just in time for the second flush.

Similar to its larger relatives Cypella herbertii and Cypella coelestis, H. lahue is remarkably cold hardy for a South American plant. It produces its tiny iris-like leaves in winter and goes dormant in early summer.

2. Penstemon murrayanus (scarlet beardtongue)

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This fantastic Penstemon grows naturally in scattered localities in east Texas, Arkansas, and Louisiana. I like the bizarre perfoliate leaves almost as much as the bright orange-red flowers. It’s not difficult to guess the pollinator–hummingbirds, of course.

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I planted a seedling last May, so this is the first time it has flowered in my garden. Hopefully it will produce seed after self-pollination. Penstemon digitalis (photo 5 of SoS #29) is blooming on the other side to the house, so I suppose hybridization is possible. It’s probably unlikely, though. The white flowers of P. digitalis are pollinated by bees, not hummingbirds.

3. Borago officinalis (borage)

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I don’t usually grow annuals, but I’ll make an exception for borage with its fuzzy buds and beautiful blue flowers. It’s one of the traditional garnishes for a Pimm’s No. 1 Cup…and now I’m getting thirsty.

4. Ocimum kilimandscharicum x O. basilicum (African blue basil)

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I picked this up at the Durham farmer’s market simply because we like to try different types of basil in the kitchen. I had no idea that it was such an interesting plant. African blue basil is a sterile hybrid of culinary basil (O. basilicum) and camphor basil (O. kilimandscharicum), If the second species epithet reminds you of “Kilimanjaro,” you’re not wrong. O. kilimandscharicum is native to east Africa. Unlike the the usual culinary basil varieties, which is easy to grow from seed, African blue basil must be propagated from cuttings. Apparently, it roots easily, flowers almost constantly, and is reliably perennial, though not frost hardy.

My wife thinks the African blue basil smells like regular sweet (Genovese) basil, but I detect a definite camphor fragrance that is presumably inherited from O.  kilimandscharicum.

5. Lonicera sempervirens forma sulphurea ‘John Clayton’

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‘John Clayton’ is, as you can see, a yellow clone of our usually red-flowered native coral honeysuckle (see photo 2 of SoS #26). It was originally planted on this pergola together with red L. sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’, but the voles ate ‘Major Wheeler.’ Hummingbirds and this gardener agree that red clones of L. sempervirens are better, but ‘John Clayton’ is growing and blooming so vigorously that I haven’t the heart to remove it and start over..

6. Teucrium marum (cat thyme) and Felis catus (moggie)

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Bly the cat and his sister Neem both really enjoy visiting the Teucrium marum that is growing in dry sandy soil beside the gravel path leading to my greenhouse. These pictures also illustrate how we let Bly go out in the garden without endangering the local lizards and birds (and without Bly becoming a snack for the coyotes). He tolerates the harness well, as long as the human trails along behind him rather than trying to lead him.

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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 #44 (May 11, 2019)

Another Saturday, another six plants in the garden or greenhouse.

1. Vaccinium sp.

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This native species grows mainly under the deciduous trees at the north end of our property. I think it may be Vaccineum stamineum (deerberry), but V. stamineum reportedly grows 3-6 feet (1-2 m) tall. These plants form low, slowly spreading clumps no more than 1 foot tall (~30 cm) and usually less.

A second dwarf Vaccineum species, perhaps V. tenellum (narrowleaf blueberry) grows interspersed with the putative deerberry (see the first image here).

2. Tradescantia x Andersoniana cultivars (hybrid spiderworts).

Tradescantia x Andersoniana plants are hybrids of several North American spiderwort species. Given sufficient moisture, they grow well in partial shade to full sun and bloom beautifully from early May until well into June. The flowers are some of the best reasons for an early morning walk through the garden when it is still cool and wet with dew. Individual flowers are very short lived and usually collapse by early afternoon–or before noon on hot sunny days–but more flowers are open the next morning.  Bees and hoverflies love them.

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Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’

Tradescantia ‘Sweet Kate’, with its striking chartreuse foliage, is probably the most commonly available cultivar. The leaves of my plant seem to become more green later in the year–perhaps a response to increasing night temperatures?

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Tradescantia ‘Concord Grape’?

Last year, a local nursery received a large shipment of Tradescantia ‘Concord Grape’ plants which showed some variability in flower color. I picked one with the brightest magenta flowers for maximum contrast with the blue-green foliage.

I find these plants to be very difficult to photograph satisfactorily with a digital camera.  The flowers are usually over-saturated, and the color balance is often subtly wrong.

3. Amsonia tabernaemontana (eastern bluestar)

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This member of the dogbane family (Apocynaceae) is a true piedmont native.  I grew it from seed obtained from the NC Botanical Garden seed distribution program.  The flowers are a very pale blue.

4. Calanthe tricarinata (monkey orchid)

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C. tricarinata finally bloomed, so now I can add it as an update to the Woodland Orchids post.  The flower of this species supposedly resembles a monkey.  I can’t see it.

5. Paphiopedilum niveum

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In the greenhouse, a miniature slipper orchid.  Paphiopedilum niveum grows on limestone in Thailand and peninsular Malaysia.  It is the easiest of the Brachypetalum paphs to grow, being much less susceptible to rot than its relatives like P. bellatulum or P. godefroyae.  My plant was purchased as a young seedling from the old Oak Hill Gardens nursery in Chicago, and it has been producing its cute little flowers every May or June since 2003.

6. Encyclia fowliei

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Encyclia fowliei is a pretty little epiphytic orchid from Bahia, Brazil which was described as recently as 1989.  I have two plants: one purchased for beaucoup d’argent when the species was difficult to find in cultivation, and a second purchased for pocket change a few years later when H & R Nurseries in Hawaii started selling vast quantities of seedlings.

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.

Eyed elater

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This evening, as I was walking around the garden to see what I could see, I found one of my favorite North Carolina beetles.  This is Alaus oculatus, the eyed elater or eastern eyed click beetle.

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Click beetles are named for their defense mechanism:  a hinge in the thorax can be flexed rapidly,  propelling the insect high into the air with a loud click.  The smaller species are often quick to click, and it is always amusing to watch one jump and spin across the floor away from a bemused cat.

A. oculatus is the largest North American click beetle, and in my experience they rarely click unless seriously harassed.  When prodded, they seem to prefer folding in their legs and antennae to present a would-be predator with a hard carapace topped with those two threatening eye spots.  Perhaps the elongated body with disproportionately large “eyes” resembles the head of snake.

I sometimes stumble across the larvae of A. oculatus when investigating rotten logs for interesting fauna.  They are predators of other beetle grubs and look a bit like large flattened mealworms with menacing pincers.

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