Six on Saturday #14

We haven’t had any cold weather yet, so the plants currently flowering are a mix of autumn stalwarts (Conoclinium, Symphiotrichum, Solidago), tropicals that will continue blooming until frost (Canna, Musa velutina, Abutilon), and a few confused spring bloomers or reblooming plants (Aquilegia, Rhododendron, Hydrangea).  For this Six on Saturday, I have selected things that I haven’t shown you before.

1. Phallus ravenelii (Ravenel’s stinkhorn)

stinkhorn

The past week has been dampish and warm.  We didn’t get enough rain to really soak the soil, but it was sufficient to wake up a stinkhorn.  These rude fellows appear in spring and autumn, and they smell as bad as their common name suggests.  This one seems to have been munched by a slug or snail during the night, so you can see the honeycomb structure of the stalk.

And yes, the genus name means exactly what you think it does.

2. Symphiotrichum oblongifolium ‘Fanny’ (Fanny’s aster)

Fanny_aster

Not much to say about Fanny’s aster.  It’s a very common autumn flower around here, because it is disease free, drought tolerant, and reliably floriferous.  The species is only just native to North Carolina, with records from one western county according to USDA.  Nancy Goodwin at Montrose Garden has mastered the art of pruning them at just the right time, so she gets perfect mounds of flowers.  My plants tend towards more of a sprawling mess.

3. Rosa ‘Nastarana’ (Persian musk rose)

Rosa_Nastarana

This climbing rose supposedly came from a garden in Iran, sometime during the late 1800s.  I bought it because I am attracted to any plant that reminds me of places where I lived as a child–though I seem to recall that most of the roses we saw in Iranian gardens, like those at the Tomb of Hafez, were red.

I keep it, because it has wonderful fragrance, blooms much of the year, and is resistant to the blackspot fungus that bedevils roses in this climate.

4. Aquilegia canadensis (wild columbine)

Aquilegia

Well, this is odd.  Of the many hundreds of wild columbines that I have grown in the past fifteen years, I have never before had one bloom in the autumn.

5. Rhododendron stenopetalum ‘Linearifolium’ (spider azalea)

spider_azalea

This selected form of a Japanese species is not the most spectacular of azaleas, but its long thin leaves and matching flowers are certainly interesting.  It’s the sort of thing you walk past without really noticing, but then a few moments later, you think “what was that?” and turn around to have another look.

My plant blooms in spring and fairly often reblooms in autumn.

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

Endless summer

I much prefer lacecap hydrangeas, but this mophead stays in the garden because of its ability to bloom on new wood.  Even if a late freeze kills all the old wood, the new growths bloom in early summer and sometimes rebloom in autumn.

That’s it for this Saturday.  This afternoon’s project will be to haul all of my pachypodiums back into the greenhouse for the winter.  While I’m doing that you can head over to The Propagator’s blog for more Six on Saturday.  If you are interested in participating, see his guide.

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Self-peeling bananas

musa_1
Ripe bananas of Musa velutina

At the end of July, I featured the inflorescence of Musa velutina as a “Six on Saturday” photo.  Two and a half months later, the fuzzy little pink bananas are fully ripe, and as is their wont, they have started to spontaneously peel.  I suppose that in their natural habitat, this peeling must attract animals that eat the bananas and distribute the large black seeds, but here in North Carolina the local wildlife doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.  At some point, I’ll pull them off and compost them before they get too mushy and start attracting fruit flies.  They’re supposedly delicious when fully ripe, but I haven’t bothered–too much effort to work around the very hard seeds.  If I want exotic little bananas, the local Asian supermarket has miniature “Thai bananas” which can be eaten without risking a cracked tooth.

Musa velutina, the pink banana, is apparently native to northeastern India.  Given its cold tolerance, I would guess that it comes from relatively high altitude in the Himalayan foothills, but I haven’t been able to confirm that supposition. It is fully hardy in North Carolina and doesn’t require the burlap wrapping or wire-mesh cages stuffed with dry leaves that some people use to protect the pseudostems of their “hardy” bananas during the winter.  That sounds too much like hard work to me.  All M. velutina requires is a fresh layer of mulch every couple of years.  The pseudostems freeze, but new ones sprout from the underground rhizome in spring and will flower in a single growing season in this climate.  My plants have survived a minimum temperature of 5.5 F (-14.7 C), but the cold weather never lasts long enough to freeze the soil to the depth of the rhizomes.

M. velutina is a relatively small banana species with a pseudostem up to about 5′ (1.5 m) tall and the leaves adding perhaps another 3′ (~1 m) to its maximum height.  Each stem only blooms once before dying, but they are replaced by new stems that sprout as the old ones mature.  My plants started growing early this spring, so the second generation of stems appeared at midsummer and are now starting to flower:

Musa_3

These bananas won’t have time to ripen before they are killed by frost, but when freezing temperatures threaten, I sometimes cut the unripe stalks for an interesting arrangement in a heavy vase.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, M. velutina grows to a maximum spread of 1.5 m wide. Ha, I say.  Ha ha!  Perhaps if you are growing it in a concrete pot exactly 1.5 m wide that will be its ultimate spread.  In a garden bed, it will spread quite a bit more than that.  Here’s my little patch of M. velutina grown from a single stem:

musa_2

Although the fruit doesn’t have much culinary value, those big leaves are excellent for making Thai-style banana leaf-wrapped grilled fish.  I’m also planning to cut some for a friend to use in his family’s recipe for banana leaf tamales.

About a month from now, after the first frost, any leftover leaves and the dead stems will go in the compost bin.  The stems and leaves have long fibers that resist decay, so they need to be chopped up fairly small before composting, or they make a slimy, ropy mess.  Once, I tried to simultaneously chop frost-killed stems and dig them into a vegetable garden with a rototiller.  I won’t make that mistake again.  It was a nasty, smelly job trying to unwind the fibers tangled round the axle and clogging the tiller blades.

Six on Saturday #13: Montrose Garden

Montrose Garden is a beautiful private garden, the life’s work of Nancy Goodwin, in Hillsborough North Carolina (see also this old New York Times story).  Once or twice a year, Nancy opens the garden and has a plant sale.  The open house was today, so the kids and I were there just after the gate opened at 10:00.

Our first stop was, of course, the sales area.  The children helped to pick out plants, and we came away with Calanthe discolor, Kniphophia ‘Lola’, Orostachys erubescens, Orostachys japonica, and a couple of white-flowered Cyclamen hederifolium. Then, we went to see the gardens.

Last year at the open house, the flowerbeds were filled with colchicum flowers.  We didn’t see many today, and I wonder if the lack of rain over the past six weeks has delayed their flowering.  The soil seemed very hard and dry in the flowerbeds, but there was still plenty of color from drought tolerant plants.

1. In the Metasequoia Garden

Metasequoia garden

During the 1980s, Nancy Goodwin ran a mail-order nursery out of Montrose.  The Montrose Nursery was known for its garden propagated hardy cyclamens at a time when many nurseries were still selling wild-collected tubers, and Nancy has planted huge drifts of Cyclamen hederifolium and other species on the wooded slopes leading down to the Eno River.  Sadly, the woods were closed today, but there were still plenty of cyclamens to be seen elsewhere in the garden.  Here, they are flowering with Sterbergia lutea (autumn daffodil) under two large Metasequoia glyptostroboides (dawn redwoods).

2. Looking towards the lath house

IMG_2368

On the right, Eldest Offspring is trying to photograph a monarch butterfly.

3.  Monarch butterfly on red Dahlia (photo by Eldest Offspring)

monarch

4.  Incarvillea arguta (Himalayan gloxinia)

Incarvillea

5.  Cuphea llavea (Bat-faced cuphea)

cuphea

I suspect this one is moved into the greenhouse in cold weather.  I don’t think it would survive our winter in the ground.

6. Magnolia macrophylla (big leaf magnolia)

Magnolia

With its perfectly domed shape, this is one of the best M. macrophylla I have ever seen

While I go outside and try to decide where this morning’s purchases should be planted (and whether I’ll need a pickaxe to get through the desiccated clay), why don’t you visit some other garden blogs participating in “Six on Saturday.”  Check out The Propagator for his six and for links to other blogs.

(Hoping for rain this week)

Better late than never

Brugmansia-white
Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’

In 2015, I bought a Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ in a 3″ pot.  Brugmansias are only marginally hardy in zone 7, so I planted it on the sheltered east side of the house.  Unfortunately, the soil there is very lean and dry, so although the plant survived the winter, it only grew about a foot tall and shed all its leaves by mid-summer.

This spring, I dug it up and moved it to a a flower bed with richer soil that catches much of the rain that runs off the lawn.  Once its roots were established, it responded by sprouting up to about 5′ tall.  I have been expecting flowers since midsummer, and the plant has finally decided to oblige.

Surprise!  It isn’t Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ after all. The flowers are white, not yellow, so this must be Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’, which is also sold by the same nursery.  I’m surprised, because the nursery in question is usually pretty good about correctly labeling their plants.  Possibly a customer pulled a tag and then put it back in the wrong pot.

The average date of first frost around here is October 23*, so hopefully I’ll have a couple more weeks of flowers.  There are certainly plenty of buds.  The stems will surely freeze back to the ground this winter, but if I mulch the roots well, I’m cautiously optimistic that the plant will grow faster next year and start blooming earlier.

*That’s the historic average for 1951-1980.  My impression is that during the past decade, we have usually been frost-free until after Hallowe’en.

Six on Saturday #12: Nepenthes

While watering plants in my greenhouse today, I noticed that my Nepenthes burbidgeae x platychila has produced its first upper pitcher.  I snapped a picture and then decided I’d stick to a single theme for today’s Six on Saturday.  This isn’t the best time of year for Nepenthes, but I was able to find five more pitchers in reasonable shape.

For those who are unfamiliar with the genus, Nepenthes are carnivorous plants, large scrambling vines native to a broad region extending from Madagascar to Australia.  The greatest diversity of species is in southeast Asia: the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.  Nepenthes leaves are modified into ornate pitcher traps that capture and digest insects (and occasionally small vertebrates).  This prey provides nitrogen that is lacking in the nutrient-poor soil in which Nepenthes grow.

With the exception of a few finicky, species, most Nepenthes are reasonably easy to grow in well-drained, acidic potting mixes that are low in nitrogen.  Most growers use combinations of long-fiber sphagnum moss, peat, perlite, and fir bark.  I also include stalite in my mix, because most of the perlite available in local garden centers is contaminated with slow-release fertilizer (WHY do manufacturers insist on adding fertilizer to a product whose main selling point is that it adds aeration without affecting other soil parameters???!!!???).

To pitcher well, Nepenthes need high humidity, so they are usually grown in greenhouses or large terrariums.  However, I successfully grew Nepenthes graciliflora and Nepenthes x Ventrata on a windowsill in my student apartment twenty years ago.  Temperature requirements vary depending on the altitude at which the plants originate.  Most of my plants originate from moderate altitudes and look best in spring, when the greenhouse is around 86-88 F (30 C) during the day and 60 F (15.5 C) at night.  Lowlanders suffer in winter unless I hang them high in the greenhouse, and highlanders tend to die after a couple of summers.

In the greenhouse, the plants catch their own prey, primarily cockroaches, wasps, and ants, that I supplement with crushed snails.  I learned from sad experience that slugs can glide right out of the pitchers and settle down in the pot.  I never fertilize the roots, although some growers swear by cold coffee.

Anyway, here are six Nepenthes.  For more of Six on Saturday, see the Propagator’s blog.

1.  Nepenthes burbidgeae x platychila (upper pitcher)

playchila x burbidgeae

This is a primary hybrid of two species renowned for their colorful peristomes (the slippery collar around the mouth of the pitcher).  Most Nepenthes produce two types of pitchers.  Squat lower pitchers sit on or near the ground and often have wings that crawling insects can climb.  Upper pitchers, as seen here, are usually more funnel shaped and hang high in the branches to catch flying insects.

One of the odd quirks of Nepenthes is that male and female flowers appear on different plants, and at least in cultivation, males outnumber females.  Consequently, it is difficult to propagate species by seed, and many artificially propagated plants are hybrids.  Species are usually propagated by tissue culture, and some species are represented in cultivation by only a handful of clones.

2. Nepenthes maxima, Gunung Lumut, Sulawesi (lower pitcher)

maxima-large form

N. maxima is a very variable species.  I have one clone that produces pitchers about the length of my index finger, but this one has lower pitchers almost a foot long.

3. Nepenthes maxima x aristolochioides (lower pitcher)

aristolochiioides x maxima

One parent of this plant is the large N. maxima clone shown above.  The other parent is a dwarf highland species that requires cool temperatures.  The hybrid seems much more tolerant and has done well in my greenhouse for several years.

Here is an upper pitcher that I photographed last spring:

aristolochioides x maxima-upper

I have since pruned the vine, so it will be a year or so before I see more uppers.

4.  Nepenthes graciliflora

graciliflora

N. graciliflora is a very vigorous and easy to grow species from the Philippines.  This was one of the first Nepenthes that I grew, and it has traveled with me for about twenty years.  Every few years, it starts to get woody and overgrown, so I root a couple of fresh cuttings from the tip of the vine and establish a new plant.

5.  Nepenthes rafflesiana (lower pitcher)

rafflesiana

A large lowland species from Borneo, Sumatra, and penisular Malaysia.  As seen here, the squat lowers have wide wings.  Where the peristome rises to the lid, it has sharp teeth.  To keep my N. rafflesiana warm in winter, I hang it up near the roof, at the end closest to the heater.

6. Nepenthes ampullaria (red form)

ampullaria

N. ampullaria grows in the same habitat as N. rafflesiana, with which it produces the natural hybrid N. x hookeriana.  This species has squat little pitchers with small lids and wide open mouths.  Analysis of the “necromass” in N. ampullaria pitchers has shown that it is primarily plant debris, so this species may be vegetarian or “detritivorous” instead of carnivorous (see: Bohn and Federle (2004), Insect aquaplaning: Nepenthes pitcher plants capture prey with the peristome, a fully wettable water-lubricated anisotropic surface.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101: 14138-14143).

N. ampullaria rarely produces upper pitchers in cultivation, but in addition to the usual lower pitchers, it also produces rosettes of ground pitchers which appear directly from the soil surrounding the base of the vines.  My young plant has just started growing its first rosette, but the ground pitchers aren’t full size yet.