Six on Saturday #67 (June 26, 2021)

The weather has been quite mild this summer, with relatively few days topping 90 F (32 C), but the color in the garden is certainly heating up. Our big patch of Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’ is almost blinding in the sun, but it has a lot of competition. Here are some of the hot flowers in the garden this week.

1. Canna indica “Musifolia” (Indian Shot)

Flowers of Canna indica "Musifolia"

I grew this from seed received as Canna musifolia, but Kew says that name is a later synonym of the widespread and variable species C. indica. The mother plant was >8 feet tall, but this seedling is blooming at barely 3 feet tall. I only recently transplanted it out of a pot, so I am hoping that it will grow bigger in the ground. Many of the modern Canna hybrids have flowers that are big, shapeless blobs of color, so I really like the small, orchid-like flowers on this plant. The red-edged foliage is also lovely, but unfortunately Japanese beetles like it too. The common name of this species comes from the resemblance of its hard, round seeds to shotgun pellets or musket balls.

2. Tithonia rotundifolia (Mexican Sunflower)

Flower of Tithonia rotundifolia

We don’t grow many annuals, but who can resist this color? We started a batch of these guys from seed under lights and planted them out about a month ago.

3. Achillea “Paprika”

Flowers of Achillea Paprika

This is a very common perennial available from most garden centers in the summer, but it is well worth growing nevertheless. It has a tendency to flop over, but the stems soon start growing upwards again. It is often sold as a cultivar of Achillea millefolium (common yarrow) but is actually derived from the Galaxy series of hybrids which originate from crosses of A. millefolium and A. x Taygetea

4. Echinacea ‘Sombrero Sangrita’

Flowers of Echinacea Sombrero Sangrita

Some of the modern Echinacea hybrids are really impressive. This cultivar has intense red flowers on compact, upright stems, worlds away from the dusty purple and rangy stems of wild type E. purpurea.

5. Lilum ‘Forever Susan’

Flowers of Lilium 'Forever Susan'

This Asiatic Lily is a lot shorter than I expected; it’s less than 2 feet tall. We got a bag of bulbs this spring, and I’m glad I planted them at the front of the flowerbeds. They’d never be seen behind tall Cannas or Crinums.

6. Sinningia tubiflora

Flowers of Sinningia tubiflora

Do we need to cool off a little? Sinningia tubiflora–a gesneriad species from northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay–has surprisingly large white flowers. Their tubular shape and lemony fragrance in the evening surely point to pollination by moths. The underground tubers, like those of several other Sinningia species and hybrids, are winter hardy in the NC piedmont.

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

Rhododendron ‘Princess Alexandra’

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Rhododendron ‘Princess Alexandra’ is a vireya (tropical rhododendron) cultivar, the result of a backcross between the very first vireya hybrid, Rhododendron ‘Princess Royal’ (R. jasminiflorum x R. javanicum), and its parent R. jasminiflorum. It was registered by the famous nursery of J. Veitch & Sons in 1865, from which we can deduce that it was named in honor of Princess Alexandra of Denmark who had married Prince Albert Edward, the future King Edward VII, two years earlier.

Some plants remain consistently popular, while others go in and out of style. Vireyas definitely fall in the latter category. R. jasminiflorum flowered in England for the first time in 1849, and over the next fifty years or so, several hundred vireya hybrids were registered, mostly by the Veitch nurseries. Along with orchids and other tropical plants, vireyas graced the conservatories of the Victorian upper class, but their popularity was eventually eclipsed by hardier Rhododendron species which didn’t need an expensive heated greenhouse. It wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that an influx of newly discovered species made vireyas and their hybridization popular again. This second wave of cultivation occurred in places where vireyas could be grown outside–New Zealand, Australia, coastal California, Hawaii–and hybridizers focused on species from the mountains of Malesia (the biogeographic region encompassing Peninsular Malaysia, the Malay Archipelago, and New Guinea) that thrived in cool, but not freezing, weather.

In the the years between the first and second periods of vireya popularity, two world wars and a great depression wiped out many of the old collections of tropical plants, and fewer than ten of the Victorian hybrids survive today. I find it amazing that the R. ‘Princess Alexandra’ in my greenhouse is essentially the same plant that grew in the Veitch nurseries. It has been propagated by cuttings and traded among enthusiasts for more than 150 years.

I love to grow vireyas, but unfortunately most vireyas don’t love North Carolina. Although vireyas come from the tropics, most species grow at high altitude, up to and even above the tree line. The montane species–and hybrids dominated by those species–are weakened by our long, hot summers and tend to die suddenly after a few years. I have the best long-term success with the relatively few species that grow naturally a lower altitudes, and it is exactly those species, plants like R. jasminiflorum and R. javanicum, that are the parents of the Veitch hybrids. I’d love to grow more of the old survivors, if only I could find them.

So, if anyone knows where I can obtain cuttings of Rhododendron ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ or R. ‘Triumphans’ in the United States, please let me know.

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