Veltheimia capensis

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The larger of my two Veltheimia capensis bulbs

Happy holidays to all of this blog’s readers and, more specifically, Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate tomorrow.

Blooming in my greenhouse, just in time to decorate a table in somewhat nontraditional fashion, are two bulbs of Veltheimia capensis, the sand lily.   Veltheimia is a genus in the Hyacinthaceae (hyacinth family) consisting of two species native to South Africa. V. capensis grows in arid habitat from the southern and southwestern Cape northwards to Namibia.  The second species, V. bracteata (forest lily) grows in the eastern cape.

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My smaller bulb has more yellow at the flower tips.

V. capensis has a large bulb that often grows partially exposed.  In my greenhouse, the plants do well in terracotta pots with the neck and about 1/4 of the bulb above the surface of a well-drained mix of sand, stalite, and a little commercial potting soil.  The grey-green glaucous leaves frequently have undulate or crisped margins, adding to their beauty, but in common with some other winter-growing South African bulbs, the foliage has a tendency to wilt in hot sun.  V. capensis doesn’t want to grow in shade, though, so the trick is to give it as much light as possible while keeping the foliage cool.  During the summer, after the foliage dies back, I keep the bulbs bone dry.

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Veltheimia bracteata

While V. capensis has glaucous foliage, presumably for protection in direct sunlight, V. bracteata has shiny green foliage.  The leaves of both species often have undulate or crisped margins. Compared to its sister species, V. bracteata seems to be more tolerant of shade and moisture during the summer.

The flowers of both species are variable, and hybrids have also been produced in cultivation, adding to the range of colors.  The extensive yellow color at the tips of the flowers on my smaller V. capensis makes me wonder if it is of hybrid origin.

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Clusia orthoneura, or The Plant That Ate the Greenhouse

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Clusia orthoneura flower

Half the fun of trading or giving away plant cuttings and divisions is seeing what other people can do with the same plants that I grow.  For the past ten years, I have been growing Clusia orthoneura, a strange epiphytic shrub from South America.  My plant resides in a 14″ terracotta bulb pan and is a semi-bonsai.  Every year, I put it outside for the summer, where its branches sprout aerial roots that reach the ground and dig in by the end of the summer.  Each autumn, I cut back those roots and much of the new foliage, so it will fit back into my greenhouse.  As a result, it remains almost the same size from year to year.

About five years ago, I rooted a small cutting and gave it to John Stanton, owner of the Orchid Trail nursery in Morrisville, NC.  John put the cutting in an 8″ diameter pot, and sat it on one of his greenhouse benches.  In the large commercial greenhouse, it wasn’t moved every year, and roots that grew down through the bench weren’t disturbed.  Also, John is an exceptionally good grower.

Earlier this week I stopped by the Orchid Trail in search of a particular slipper orchid species, and John showed me his Clusia.

The plant rises about six feet above the greenhouse bench and is equally wide.

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Under the greenhouse bench, the roots resemble those of a mangrove or a strangler fig.

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The pot is still visible, but most of the plant’s bulk completely bypasses it.  At this point, the pot could be cut away without bothering the plant at all.

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It’s almost unrecognizable as the same species as the stunted little thing in my greenhouse.

Sea myrtle

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Baccharis halimifolia in Durham County today.

Sea myrtle (Baccharis halimifolia) is one of the most striking native shrubs in the NC piedmont at this time of year.  Its fuzzy white seed heads are a common sight beside lakes, in unmown fields, and along roads, where its tolerance for salt is a definite advantage.  B. halimifolia is a member of the Asteraceae, the daisy family, although the family resemblance is difficult to see at first glance.  It’s a woody shrub, instead of a forb, and its inflorescences lack the colorful ray flowers that give the showier members of the family their horticultural value.  However, the white plumes attached to the seeds make the plant look as though it is covered with snow and more than make up for the lack of color.

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I’m surprised that sea myrtle isn’t used more often as a garden shrub for seasonal interest.   Though I have previously criticized the groundskeepers on the campus where I work, I have to admit they have done a good job incorporating some volunteer B. halimifolia into the landscape.  By removing the lower branches, they have exposed the twisted trunks and turned the plants into very interesting specimens.

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The only defects of B. halimifolia from a horticultural point of view seem to be its brittle wood and its production of huge quantities of airborne seeds.  Many horticulturally valuable shrubs are also brittle (e.g. my Hypericum frondosum, which snapped under snow this winter), so that doesn’t seem to be a fatal flaw.  More problematic is its tendency to become weedy.  It is apparently invasive in southern Europe and Australia.  Perhaps it would be best to grow it only in its native range.

Abomination

While visiting a local home improvement store today, I took a look at the garden section to see what grotesqueries the plant wholesalers have cooked up lately.  They did not disappoint.  I am, by now, inured to things like paper flowers glued to cacti or Phalaenopsis orchids with dyed blooms–If you desperately need a cheap grafted cactus, you can pick off the fake flowers, and when the garish dye fades, you’ll have a reasonably nice white-flowered Phal hybrid.

But today’s offerings…Shudder.

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How about a Hippeastrum bulb dipped in wax?  Judging by the label, the flower is a big red tetraploid, probably ‘Red Lion,’ and someone has obviously thought, “Hmm, that’s a very striking flower, how can we make it look worse?”  The answer was to dip the bulb in wax even more brightly colored than the flower, so that the inflorescence will emerge from something the right size and color to choke Snow White.  And speaking of snow, what goes better with a subtropical flower than a coating of fake snow?

According to the label, the wax means that you don’t have to water the bulb at all.  It also means that the bulb won’t be able to grow roots, and is doomed to the trash can as soon as the flowers fade.

What’s that you say?  “A waxed bulb the color of Rudolph’s nose is pretty bad, but this is the land of inflatable snowmen and nativity scenes with Santa Claus adoring the baby Jesus.  A certain lack of taste is expected during the holidays.  Don’t you have anything worse?”

I do:

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I actually picked up a couple of these to see if they were made of plastic.  Nope, they’re real.  Someone has dipped a variety of cacti and some Gasteraloe hybrids in paint.  You can choose fluorescent red, blue, or a particularly nasty shade of blue-green.  The painted leaf tips of the Gasteraloes are already shriveling, but the plants might eventually recover as new leaves emerge. The cacti are surely doomed.  They’ve been completely covered, and I’m reminded of that scene in Goldfinger where Bond’s latest amour dies after being coated with gold paint.

Why?  Why would anyone do this?  Who would buy it?

Pine barren gentian

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Gentiana autumnalis flowers have an interesting habit of closing up every evening and then reopening the next morning..  Foliage is thin and grassy.  The broad leaf visible at top left belongs to a weedy Viola.

Gentiana autumnalis, the pine barren gentian, is a lovely autumn to early winter flowering wildflower of the eastern coastal plain. It is native to moist, open pine woods from southern New Jersey to Georgia.  In North Carolina, I have seen it blooming in longleaf pine savannna in Croatan National Forest.  Like many of the plants in that ecosystem, it is dependent on fire.  When fire is suppressed, growth of woody shrubs and deciduous trees soon chokes out the gentians, along with the orchids and carnivorous plants that grow in the same habitat.

My plant was purchased from the North Carolina Botanical Garden seven or eight years ago.  I grow it in a mix of sand and peat in an 8″ (20 cm) diameter plastic pot sitting in a saucer of rain water. I give the plant very little fertilizer, and it blooms reliably in early November.

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