Way down yonder

pawpaw

Finally, finally, I have managed to collect some pawpaws from my seed-grown trees before the pesky opossums, raccoons, or squirrels got to them. As commonly described, they tasted vaguely like a mix of mango and banana but were softer and creamier than either. The photo above was taken immediately after harvesting–the pawpaws were slightly soft when pressed, but their skin was still green. They continued to ripen after picking, and over a couple of days became softer, slightly more yellowish, and more delicious.

The pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) is a member of the mostly tropical Annonaceae which also includes the soursop, custard apple, and cherimoya. The native range of A. triloba is almost entirely within the borders of the United States, from the Mississippi valley to Atlantic coast, with only a small extension into southern Ontario. The trees have a long history of cultivation in the eastern and midwestern U.S., but fruit is almost never seen in shops. Quite apart from the problem of transporting and storing the soft and short-lived fruit, it is difficult to produce in commercial quantities. The flowers of A. triloba have color and smell that indicates pollination by flies or beetles, but because they flower early in spring when the weather is still cold, pollination is often inefficient. Supposedly some people hang road-killed animals or dead fish from the branches of their trees to attract more pollinators and increase the chance of setting fruit. Adding to the difficulty, fruit set generally requires cross-pollination between two genetically distinct trees, and A. triloba tends to spread by suckers into multi-trunk patches of a single clone.

pawpaw_flower
pawpaw flower in mid-April

Four of my trees were grown from seed that I obtained from a friend in 2007. To add more genetic diversity, I also purchased one additional seedling from the local farmers market. The trees started flowering about eight years ago, and for the past three or four years they have produced a few fruit which always vanished in late summer, shortly before I thought they were ready to harvest. This year, I watched the fruit obsessively and harvested as soon as I realized that one had disappeared.

Over the last few years, the trees have also started to sucker, so I am well on my way to having a pawpaw patch, just like in the song.

pawpaw_tree

Six on Saturday #59 (August 1, 2020)

This week’s Six on Saturday includes a couple of native species, an unusual vegetable, a cute little bulb from South Africa, a classic Victorian hybrid, and a greenhouse orchid that is really very nasty.

1. Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis

Bulbophyllum-phalaenopsis

This is not an orchid for growing on your windowsill or decorating your table at a dinner party.  If you think that the flowers of Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis look a bit like rotting meat covered with yellowish maggots, I can assure you that they smell exactly the way they look.  B. phalaenopsis is pollinated by flies looking for a place to lay their eggs, but if the fly is fooled by the ersatz carrion, the maggots will starve.

2. Canna ‘Ehemannii’

canna-ehemannii

C. ‘Ehemannii’ is an old Victorian hybrid of C. iridiflora crossed with (probably) C. indica, and it has inherited its drooping inflorescence from C. iridiflora.  Several modern C. iridiflora hybrids, including Canna ‘Orange Crush’ failed to survive the winter in my garden, but this plant, which I received from Bittster of Sorta Like Suburbia fame, has survived two winters so far.  I’m glad, because I adore the intense magenta color that is so very different than any other canna in my garden.

3. Sabatia species

Sabatia

This pretty little native wildflower often shows up at the edge of my lawn (i.e. the patch of weeds and moss that survive being mowed).  I think it is Sabatia angularis (rosepink), a widespread annual, but I am not certain.

4. Eucomis vandermerwei

Eucomis-vandermerwei

E. vandermerwei, from South Africa, is one of the smallest of the pineapple lilies. Along with E. zambesiaca, it seems to be resistant to the wilting exhibited by many other Eucomis in hot sunlight, making it a good choice for a North Carolina garden.

5. Allium cernuum (nodding onion)

Allium-cernuum

The nodding onion has a very wide native range, spanning the United States from Atlantic to Pacific.  In North Carolina its distribution is spotty, and although it has been reported from this county, my plants were purchased from the North Carolina Botanical Garden.  Leaves and flowers are edible but strong tasting.  I prefer to eat garlic chives.

6. Melothria scabra (Mexican sour gherkin, cucamelon)

Melothria_scabra

First fruit from from a plant that we bought on a whim from a veggie seedling rack this spring.  The plant looks almost identical to the weedy Melothria pendula but its fruit are better tasting.  I could probably have left these to get a bit bigger, but then I’d risk losing them to the tree rats.

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.

Lady Hooker and Mr. Stone

Paph_hookerae1
Paphiopedilum hookerae

Currently blooming in my greenhouse: two slipper orchids from Borneo whose specific epithets are closely tied to the world of Victorian botany and horticulture.

Paph_hookerae2
P. hookerae foliage

Paphiopedilum hookerae is noted for the striking beauty of its tessellated foliage and extremely long inflorescence bearing a single glossy flower in rich purple and cool green. Scientific names that end in “ae” often commemorate women, and in this case the woman was Maria Hooker (née Turner).  As far as I can tell, Lady Hooker was not noted for direct botanical contributions, but she was the daughter, wife, and mother of botanists.  Her husband, Sir William Jackson Hooker was Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 1841 until his death in 1865, two years after P. hookerae was described.  Her son, Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, was a close friend of Charles Darwin.  He served on HMS Erebus during the Ross expedition to Antarctica, collected plants in the Himalayas and western United States, and succeeded his father as Director of RBG Kew in 1865.

Paph_stonei
Paphiopedilum stonei.  Sadly, by the time the third bud finished opening, these flowers had been disfigured by an infestation of aphids

Paphiopedilum stonei is a much larger species than P. hookerae.  It has unmarked leaves that can be up to 2 feet long, and an inflorescence bearing 3-5 large flowers with strap-like petals.  P. stonei is notoriously slow-growing and it is one of the Paphiopedilum species that never seem to show their best in photographs.  In life, the flowers are impressive and elegant, while in pictures they often appear awkward and a little grotesque.

P. stonei was described by William Jackson Hooker, and he named it in honor of a gardener–but not just any gardener.  Robert Stone was the gardener who maintained the collection of John Day, an orchid enthusiast most famous for his thousands of paintings illustrating orchid species.  John Day owned the first plants of P. stonei imported into England, and those plants, cared for by Robert Stone, served as the basis for the species description published by Hooker in 1862.

In addition to its own considerable horticultural merits, P. stonei is noteworthy as a parent of the beautiful hybrid Paphiopedilum Lady Isobel, whose name and history I have previously discussed.

Six on Saturday #58 (July 4, 2020)

Happy Independence Day to all readers from the U.S.A.  As befits the Fourth of July, today is forecast to be hot and humid, with the highest temperatures so far this year.  It seems we have finally left the prolonged period of cool, wet weather and have entered a more typical summer weather pattern with highs in the low to mid 90s (32-35 C) and occasional thunderstorms

1. Sinningia araneosa

Sinningia_areneosa

Several of the Brazilian sinningias have proven winter hardy in my garden, but with only a single plant, I haven’t been willing to test this little beauty.  I currently grow it in a plastic pot, exposed to full sun outdoors in summer and with a dry winter dormancy in the greenhouse.

2. Sinningia ‘Towering Inferno’

Sinningia_Blazing-Inferno

And here is one of the hardy varieties that grow well in the open garden.  Sinningia ‘Towering Inferno’ is a complex hybrid that probably incorporates genes from S. aggregata, S. sulcata, S. tubiflora, and S. warmingii.  Hummingbirds love the flowers, for obvious reasons.

3.  Hemerocallis citrina

IMG_8993

Hemerocallis citrina (syn. H. altissima) is a very tall daylily species, perhaps the tallest, with inflorescences about 6 feet (1.8 m) long.  The flowers open before sunset, are strongly fragrant all evening, and collapse before dawn.  Perhaps it should be called a nightlily?

4.  Hemerocallis ‘Free Wheelin’

IMG_8920

H. ‘Free Wheelin’ is an interesting spider daylily hybrid with enormous flowers, 9-10 inches (~24 cm) wide even with the curled tepals.  I have never seen anything like it before.  My young plant had only one inflorescence this year, so only a single flower at a time.  Hopefully it will be bigger next year.

5.  Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’

IMG_8905

‘Lucifer’ is an absolutely gorgeous plant when in bloom, but think hard about where you want to grow it.  The corms multiply rapidly underground and are almost impossible to remove completely, so once planted in a flower bed, it will be there forever.

6. Kniphofia ‘Lola’ (red hot poker)

Kniphophia_Lola

Kniphofia flowers are more than a little bit garish, but this large form looks pretty good in a “hot colors” bed mixed with other bright red and orange flowers.  In their native South Africa, the large Kniphofia species are pollinated by sunbirds, so it isn’t surprising that in North Carolina they attract hummingbirds.  Some websites indicate that ‘Lola’ is a cultivar of K. uvaria.

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 #57 (June 20, 2020)

Is it Saturday again?  Here are six plants that are currently flowering.

1. Amorpha canescens (leadplant)

Amorpha-canescens

This is a plant that rewards close inspection.  Its purple flowers with golden yellow stamens are gorgeous, but tiny.  A. canescens is native to the central United States, from Minnesota and North Dakota to Texas.  I grow it a sunny, dry location near our rosemary bush.

2. Canna ‘Lucifer’

Canna-Lucifer

The somewhat dull orange-red flowers of ‘Lucifer’ can’t hold a candle to Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’, but ‘Lucifer is probably much better suited to small gardens.  It is a miniature, standing only 3 feet high with inflorescence (90-100 cm), less than half the height of ‘Flaming Kabobs’.  I am growing it in somewhat poor, dry soil, but it has proven to be a tough little plant and has slowly spread into a clump about four feet wide.

3.  Habranthus tubispathus var. texensis (Texas copperlily)

Habranthus -texensis

This is a rather nice weed.  Seed must have drifted from some potted bulbs, and now a little Habranthus is blooming right at the edge of our driveway.  H. tubispathus has a disjunct range in southern South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the gulf coast of the United States.  It seems likely that it was originally native to Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, but was introduced to other areas by early Spanish explorers and settlers.

4. Lonicera sempervirens (coral honeysuckle)–again.

Lonicera-sempervirens

Although some selected cultivars of our native L. sempervirens flower on and off for much of the summer, this wild vine at the edge of my garden usually blooms only in April.  I suspect it has been induced to flower again by the unusually cool and wet weather we have been having.

5. Buddleja davidii (butterfly bush)

Buddleja-davidii

I’m keeping a watchful eye on this plant.  It volunteered in the garden and has the potential to become quite invasive in our climate, but so far I have not found any more seedlings.  I keep it around, despite its large size and ungainly branches, because butterflies adore the flowers.  Some years, it is completely smothered in several species of swallowtail butterflies, but this year there are hardly any around.  I wonder if the wet weather is to blame.

6.  Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bailmer’ (Endless Summer Hydrangea)

Endless-Summer

I have shown this plant before, but it is blooming particularly well this year.  Gardeners generally think that blue flowers occur when H. macrophylla is grown in acidic soil and pink flowers in neutral or alkaline soil, but the situation is a bit more complex, depending on availability of aluminum ions and the amount of phosphate in the soil.  Having blue and pink flowers on the same plant, and even on the same branches, should probably tell me something about my soil chemistry, but I have no idea what.

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.