A few minutes ago, I went outside to take some trash to the garbage bin. I was wearing a headlamp, so the leaf litter under the trees appeared to be liberally sprinkled with tiny jewels. I often notice these beautiful little sparkles of light when I am out after dark. They are the eyes of insects and spiders reflecting the light of my headlamp, and they’re not visible if I use a handheld flashlight. I suppose that the light from the flashlight isn’t reflected back at the correct angle.
A few of the sparkles are moths, but the vast majority are wolf spiders, with an occasional fishing spider in the mix. During the day, they hide away in the leaf litter or down in burrows, but at night they sit motionless on the surface, waiting for prey to wander past.
There are many of them. Very many. Some of them are big. And hairy.
After missing several weeks due to traveling, I’m back with Six on Saturday. As always, check The Propagator’s blog for links to other garden bloggers who are also posting their six.
1. Lycoris radiata var. pumila (hurricane lily, red spider lily)
Hurricane lilies (really amaryllids, not true lilies) are so named because because they bloom in late summer–hurricane season in the southeastern United States. The classic heirloom bulb of southern gardens is Lycoris radiata var. radiata, a sterile triploid introduced from Japan in the mid 1800s. It blooms in late August, and my bulbs are still slumbering underground. L. radiata var. pumila is a fertile diploid, presumably the original wild type form native to China. For some reason, these plants consistently bloom a few weeks earlier than the triploids.
L. radiata is one of the winter-foliage Lycoris. Shortly after blooming it produces a rosette of leaves that persist all winter, dying back in late spring. Since the plant grows in winter, it is less hardy than the spring-foliage types like those I discussed in a previous Six on Saturday, and I’m not sure it would do well much further north than North Carolina.
2. Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)
After dry weather for most of July, August has been quite wet, and the rain has induced several rain lily species to bloom. This is Zephyranthes candida, originally from southern South America but now more widely naturalized. Superficially, it resembles a smaller version of the piedmont nativeZ. atamasco, but while Z. atamasco blooms in spring, Z. candida–like many tropical Zephyranthes–blooms in summer a few days after rain.
3. Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)
Lobelia cardinalis is native to the piedmont and can sometimes be found growing in sun or part shade along creeks or beside ponds. Hummingbirds absolutely love the flowers. These are volunteer plants originating from very tiny seed that drifted from a plant that I put in a flowerbed about twenty feet away. After several years, I now have about a dozen blooming plants. The best ones have taken root in wet soil at the point where the foundation and gutter drains empty, down-slope from the house. I have been thinking about building a pond or bog garden there, but for now it is just a wilderness of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium viminium), interspersed with these shocking red spikes.
Last week, while we were on holiday in eastern Maine, I saw some wild plants blooming along a stream close to the Canadian border, about 600 miles (965 km) north of my garden in North Carolina. I find it interesting that the plants in both locations bloom at exactly the same time, despite the longer growing season and warmer temperatures here in the south.
4. Hedychium coronarium (white butterfly ginger)
This ginger from the foothills of the himalayas is probably the hardiest and most vigorous ornamental ginger for cultivation in the NC piedmont. The stems grow about 6′ (1.8 m) tall, and the fragrance of the flowers is amazing. Unlike my cannas, which look pretty ratty after being chewed on all summer long by Japanese beetles and canna leaf roller caterpillars, the foliage of this H. coronarium is always pristine.
5. Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’
After my paternal grandfather retired, he grew fuchsias in his garden and greenhouse in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I wanted to remember grandpa by growing them in my garden too, but most fuchsias expire from the heat before spring is half over in North Carolina. This Japanese hybrid, which was advertised as heat tolerant, seems to be the real deal. I bought it in April 2016, so it has now survived two NC summers and continues to bloom even when the days are in the 90s (32-37 C) and nights don’t drop below 70 (21 C). It might survive the winter outside in a sheltered spot, but not wanting to risk it, I grow it in a hanging pot and keep it in the greenhouse in cold weather.
6. Lilium formosanum (Formosa lily)
Most L. formosanum bulbs produce a single stem topped with four or five flowers, but this plant has branched and re-branched to produce a large cluster of flowers. The stems are slightly flattened and wider than usual, so I think it may be abnormal fasciation (cresting).
I started with two bulbs about eight years ago, but every year I scatter seed around, and now there are flowering plants throughout the garden.
6b. flower crab spider (Thomisidae)
While trying to decide which photo of L. formosanum to use, I realized that I had inadvertently photographed a little white crab spider that was hiding inside one of the lily flowers. Some species can change color to match the flower they are sitting on and are capable of capturing quite large prey. I’m not sure if she would be strong enough to tackle one of the big sphinx moths that pollinate L. formosanum, but I have seen similar spiders ambush and consume swallowtail butterflies
A sign that we are definitely in late summer, inching inexorably towards autumn: yellow garden spiders (Argiope aurantia) have started to spin their webs among the flower beds. Every year, they seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere, but I suppose they have been present all spring and summer and have finally become large enough for me to notice. They are still not full size and will grow noticeably bigger and fatter in the next month.
They seem to love to spin their webs in the lantana bushes, where they capture many butterflies.
Sometimes they catch bigger prey.
One morning last September, I noticed that the cats were intent on something squeaking pathetically in a large Lantana ‘Miss Huff’. It was a hummingbird trapped in the web of a very large garden spider. In this somewhat blurry photo, the spider is at the top of the frame, slowly descending her web towards the trapped bird.
At first I thought that I was too late and the bird had already been bitten, because when I pulled it from the web, it just lay quivering in the palm of my hand.
I was trying to decide if I needed to administer the coup de grâce, when I realized that the bird was immobilized by a few strands of almost invisible spider silk. After I carefully removed the threads from its wings and tail, it sat up in my hand and then zoomed away into the trees.
If you have a strong stomach, a web search will turn up photos of less fortunate hummers, so if you have a hummingbird feeder or plants that attract them, it might be a good idea to relocate garden spiders that build their webs to close to the flight paths.
I was traveling last weekend and failed to post a Six on Saturday, so this week I’ll start with a plant that bloomed on the day we left town. Everything else is current.
The last fortnight has been hot and dry. According to the min-max thermometer on our shaded screen porch, the high temperature while we were away was 98.5 F (36.9 C), and I think most days were well above 90 F (32.2 C). A kind friend watered our vegetables, but the rest of the garden was starting to look either wilted or crispy. In the past 36 hours, we finally got some rain, in the form of two brief thunder storms that dropped about 3/4″ (2 cm), so I won’t need to run around with a watering can today.
1. Lycoris longituba (white surprise lily)
Lycoris is an Asian genus of the Amaryllidaceae, and these long-lived bulbs have been a cherished part of southeastern gardens since the red-flowered L. radiata arrived on a ship that docked at New Bern, North Carolina in 1854. All Lycoris bloom in late summer to autumn on leafless inflorescences that spring up and flower in just a few days–hence their common name, surprise lily. In my garden, the heirloom variety of L. radiata is the last to bloom, and L. longituba is the first. I photographed these on July 14, just before leaving for the airport.
Lycoris plants produce their leaves either in late autumn or early spring and go dormant in late spring. L. longituba is one of spring foliage types, which tend to be hardier than the species that produce leaves on late September or October. In this climate it is a little precocious, and often starts growing when we have a few warm days in January.
Incidentally, the variegated foliage behind the L. longituba flowers is a hardy ginger, Zingiber mioga ‘Nakafu’
L. squamigera is the most commonly cultivated member of the genus, and it is probably better suited to a slightly cooler climate than we have in North Carolina. It is a sterile natural hybrid of uncertain origin, although L. longituba may be one of the parents. In my garden, it blooms a week or two after L. longituba.
L. squamigera is often mistaken for Amaryllis belladona which also shares the common name “naked lady,” but the two plants have very different requirements. L. squamigera wants cold winters and hot summers, while A. belladonna requires a Mediterranean climate with cool winter rain and temperatures above freezing.
3. Boophone disticha
I didn’t really expect this plant to bloom for a few more years, so I was pleasantly surprised to find buds when I arrived home last Sunday.
B. disticha is a South African member of the Amaryllidaceae. The large conical bulbs grow almost entirely above ground but are protected by highly toxic sap. This plant came to me as a small seedling in 2013, and the bulb is currently about 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) diameter. With care, it could ultimately grow to about three times that size and outlive me.
B. disticha grows in both summer- and winter-rainfall regions of South Africa. My two plants usually go dormant in early spring and then start growing again in July or August.
4. Musa velutina (pink banana)
I have been growing this ornamental banana in my garden for fourteen years. It freezes to the ground each winter, but our summers are long enough for the new growths to bloom and produce bunches of little pink bananas. When fully ripe, the bananas peel themselves, but most years the first frost arrives before they get to that stage. They’re edible, sort of, but so full of seeds that it is hardly worth the effort. Here you can see how the inflorescence produces successive clusters of yellow flower buds protected by hot pink bracts that peel back when the flowers are ready to open. A banana forms at the base of each flower as it fades, so the oldest fruit are at the bottom of the inflorescence and youngest are at the top.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds often visit the fresh flowers, and on several occasions I have seen them bathing in little puddles of rainwater collected on top of a leaf.
5. Narceus sp. (Narceus americanus/annularis complex, American giant millipede)
After the rain, this morning is cool (75 F, 24 C), grey, and damp. Just the weather that a big millipede enjoys. This fellow was climbing the wall beside our front door. There are two closely related and ill-defined species in eastern North America. They aren’t as big as some millipedes I have seen in the tropics, but they are still impressively larger than the tiny millipedes that swarm through the leaf litter.
Its legs tickle.
6. Phaseolus vulgaris (yin yang bean)
We call these beans orca eggs, because they are colored like miniature killer whales. I managed to ruin last-years crop by storing them in a plastic bag before they were fully dry. This year, I’ll be more careful and keep them in a paper bag when they have thoroughly dried.