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.
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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.

Six on Saturday #25, April 14, 2018

Spring has really gathered steam over the past week, and for the first time in a couple of months, I had to select from among a wide array of flowers for this Six on Saturday.

This week, I’ll start in the greenhouse and then move outside.

1.  Phalaenopsis mannii

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The range of this small Phalaenopsis species extends from Assam to Vietnam and southern China.  In common with some other Phal species, you should never cut the inflorescences when the spring/summer flowering season is finished.  The old inflorescences will remain green through the winter and will produce new flower buds the next year.  At the same time, new inflorescences will sprout, so as the plant gets older you’ll have more and more flowers each year.

2.  Vireya hybrids (two for one)

Vireyas are a group of Rhododendron species from the old-world tropics, with the greatest diversity New Guinea, Borneo, Sulawesi, Sumatra, and the Philippines.  The majority of species are from high elevation, so they prefer mild temperatures and do not appreciate the warm summer nights in North Carolina.  In the USA, most vireya growers are on the west coast and Hawaii.

I have had long-term success with a few heat-tolerant vireyas whose ancestors come from lower elevations They do not tolerate frost, so in North Carolina they are definitely greenhouse plants.  I’ve been growing these two plants since 2004.

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Rhododendron jasminiflorum x (viriosum x jasminiflorum).  The pink color is a mix of the white R. jasminiflorum and red R. viriosum, but the long, tubular flower shape is all R. jasminiflorum.  This plant came from the late Bill Moyles, a well known vireya grower and hybridizer from Oakland, CA.
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This  complex hybrid with peachy flowers is another Bill Moyles cross. It is Rhododendron (Felinda x (aurigeranum x Dr. Hermann Sleumer)) x javanicum.   R. Felinda is ((phaeopeplum x viriosum) x leucogigas), and R. Dr. Hermann Sleumer is (phaeopeplum x zoelleri).

3. Ornithogalum dubium

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Ornithogalum dubium is commonly sold by supermarkets and hardware stores as a throw-away flowering plant in late winter.  Most people will probably treat them like cut flowers and toss the pot when the foliage starts to yellow.  To keep the plants for another year, store the dormant bulbs dry and warm (or even hot) over the summer.  Occasionally, bulbs will fail to sprout in autumn.  As long as they remain firm, give them occasional water through the winter and then another hot dry summer.  Often, they will sprout after the second dormancy.  I have maintained these for five years, so there’s definitely no need to buy a new pot full every year.

And now, outside for the remaining three plants this week…

4.  Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha

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Tulipa clusiana is reputed to be the best perennial tulip for the southeast.  I first saw them blooming in Coker Arboretum at the University of North Carolina and was thrilled to find that they are very inexpensive from internet bulb vendors.

T. clusiana var. chrysantha flowers open in mid-morning and close back into tight buds in late afternoon.  Although they have been flowering all week, I have seen only the orange buds when leaving the house and returning from work.  Today was the first time I saw the bright yellow open flowers.

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5.  Saruma henryi 

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The fuzzy stems of Saruma henryi are just starting to emerge from the mulch, and the first flower is still wrinkled.  S. henryi is related to Asarum, hence its genus name.   Saruma is an anagram of Asarum.  Those crazy botanists…

6.  Scilla peruviana

Scilla-peruviana

Despite the name, Scilla peruviana is from the Mediterranean–Portugal, Spain, and southern Italy–not South America.  The large bulbs produce their leaves in autumn, remain green all winter, and flower in spring.  When I planted the bulbs last autumn, I wasn’t sure if they would survive outside, but they tolerated 3.2 F (-16 C) with only minor damage to the leaf tips.

To see what’s growing in gardens all around the world, head to The Propagator for his Six on Saturday and links to those of other garden bloggers.

Six on Saturday #24, April 7, 2018

We’re now in that liminal time when every frost could be the last, but we won’t know for sure until several more weeks have passed.  Yesterday was about 75 F (24 C), but snow is possible tonight.

In the woods, native redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and invasive Wisteria sinensis are in full bloom, and the dogwoods (Cornus florida) are just getting started.  In the garden, the first azalea flowers are opening, but most color still comes from spring bulbs.

Here’s what was going on in the garden and greenhouse this week.

1. Tulipa sylvestris (Woodland tulip)

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Last autumn, I planted some bulbs of Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha and Tulipa sylvestrisT. clusiana is supposed to be one of the best tulips for naturalizing in this climate, but I’m not sure how T. sylvestris will do long-term.  It’s possible that this floral show will be a one-time event if T. sylvestris doesn’t tolerate heat and humidity.

2.  Narcissus willkommii

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Another new addition to the garden.  N. willkommii is one of the smallest Narcissus species, so I have planted it more as a curiosity than as a major player in the spring flower beds.  I scattered the bulbs at the edge of a few beds and in dry soil under some hickory trees where they won’t be smothered by more robust plants.  The only other things growing around them are some Cyclamen hederifolium that will be going dormant soon.

3. Trillium luteum

Trillium_luteum

Along the woodland path, a single T. luteum has persisted for the past seven years in soil that is really too dry and infertile for most woodland wildflowers.  I have a tendency to forget about spring ephemerals during the large portion of the year when they are invisible, so the little red cedar seedling makes a convenient marker when the trillium is dormant.

4.  Rhyncholaelia digbyana

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In this season–when the sun is rising higher in the sky, but the deciduous trees are still leafless–the greenhouse sees the most intense light of the year.  Not surprisingly, this is the blooming season of Rhyncholaelia digbyana, a central American species that requires intense light and hot, dry conditions for best growth.  My two plants are grown at the brightest end of the greenhouse in small terracotta pots with chunks of scoria and aliflor as the growing medium.

R. digbyana is one of the basic genetic building blocks of cattleya hybrids, and its fantastic, deeply incised labellum is the source of the large, frilly lip beloved of hybridizers.  The flowers also have a pleasant lemony fragrance.  Unfortunately, R. digbyana usually produces only one short-lived flower per growth, and those traits are also inherited.

5.  Sarcoglottis sceptrodes

Sarcoglottis

A terrestrial orchid from central America.  I think the flowers look like the heads of sauropod dinosaurs.

6.  Enanthleya Bob Gasko

enanthleya

This hybrid is (Guarianthe aurantiaca x Encyclia incumbens) x (Cattleya harpophylla x Cattleya neokautskyi), so three of its four grandparents have bright orange flowers.  Vegetatively, it is intermediate between a Guarianthe and an Encylia, with cigar-shaped pseudobulbs that flush red in bright light and two stiff leaves on each pseudobulb.

For more Six on Saturday, navigate to The Propagator.  See his participant’s guide if you want to post your own.

Salamanders

“Newts, Jeeves.  Mr. Fink-Nottle has a strong newt complex.  You must have heard of newts.  Those little sort of lizard things that charge about in ponds.”  –P.G. Wodehouse, Right Ho, Jeeves.

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an eft’s eye view of the driveway

So far,  I have written posts on garden snakes, turtles, frogs, and toads, so I still need to do lizards and salamanders for full herpetological coverage.  One Forest Fragment just wrote about salamanders, inspiring me to do the same.

The southeastern United States harbors more salamander species than anywhere else in the world, but most of that diversity is found in the southern Appalachians.  The piedmont area, where I live, is relatively depauperate, and of the roughly fifty salamander species native to North Carolina, I have found only four on our property.

Eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens)

Eastern newts have a fairly complex life cycle.  They begin as aquatic larvae with external gills, but after growing legs they leave the water and typically spend several years as a non-breeding terrestrial “red eft” (see photo above).  Eventually, an eft’s orange or red color fades to olive green (though still with bright red spots), and it returns to the water as a breeding adult newt.  To add to this complexity, some adults return to the land when the breeding season is finished, while others stay in the water.  Adopting the opposite strategy, newts in some southeastern localities skip the eft stage and remain in the water their entire lives [1].

I see red efts in the garden with some regularity, usually after rain, but I have not found any adult newts in the nearby creek or woodland pools.  Presumably there must be a breeding pond somewhere nearby, but red efts can wander a considerable distance (miles?) during their years as a terrestrial salamander.

Marbled salamander (Ambystoma opacum)

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Crossing the driveway on a rainy night

I suspect that marbled salamanders are the most common salamander species in the garden and surrounding woods.  In common with other mole salamander species, marbled salamanders spend most of their time underground, but I have seen more individuals of this species than all the other salamanders combined.

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a pair of marbled salamanders that I found together under a rotten log

Across the lane from our property, the local creek forms a muddy oxbow that holds water even when the creek stops flowing in late summer.  This pond is full of dead leaves and live Ambystoma larvae.  Most are probably larval marbled salamanders, but some may be offspring of the next species.

Spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

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I have only found one spotted salamander since we moved to this location eleven years ago.  It was under a rotten log in the woods adjacent to the garden proper–the same log, in fact, that previously harbored the two marbled salamanders shown above.  Since spotted salamanders, like their marbled cousins, spend most of their lives underground, they may be more common than it would appear.

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Spotted salamanders can reach an impressive size.  This one was 7.5 inches (19 cm) long, nose to tail tip.

Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera)

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Two-lined salamanders and the related three-lined salamanders (Eurycea guttolineata) are common under rocks in the creek bed, but for some reason, this one relocated to my compost bin. I suppose that the bin provides a moist, dark habitat full of small invertebrate prey, but to reach it the salamander had to navigate several hundred feet of dry pine woods–an impressive journey for a lungless salamander that relies on keeping its skin moist to breathe.

Reference

1.  Mitchell, J., and Gibbons, W. (2010).  Salamanders of the Southeast.  University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA.