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?

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Griffinia liboniana

Griffinia

This cute minature amaryllid comes from the sadly fragmented Mata Atlântica (Atlantic Forest) in southern Brazil.  According to Kew, there are twenty-two Griffinia species, but G liboniana is easily distinguished by the white spots on its foliage.

The plant is on roughly the same scale as Eithea blumenavia, and half a dozen bulbs will grow comfortably in a 6″ (15 cm) pot.  I grow G. liboniana in a cool, shady spot in my greenhouse, but it would probably do just as well on a windowsill.

Hurricane lily

Lycoris radiata radiata

While we wait to see what impact Hurricane Florence will have in our part of the piedmont, here is an appropriate flower.  Lycoris radiata var. radiata goes by various common names, including surprise lily and red spider lily, but I prefer hurricane lily.  These bulbs consistently bloom about ten days later than my other L. radiata var. radiata, suggesting that they’re a distinct clone.

The golden surprise lilies

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Lycoris chinensis blooming this week

This week, Lycoris chinensis is blooming for the first time in the garden.  The golden flowers are very similar to those of L. aurea, and both species go by the common name of golden surprise lily.  Don’t mix them up, though, particularly if you live north of the gulf coast.  L. chinensis is one of the species that produce foliage in the spring, and it is reported to be hardy to at least zone 6.  Subtropical L. aurea is the most tender of all Lycoris species.  Its winter foliage will only tolerate a few degrees of frost, and although the bulbs can survive in the piedmont, loss of foliage in freezing temperatures will weaken the plant and prevent flowering.  Unfortunately, L. aurea is commonly available and often sold to unsuspecting customers in inappropriate climates, while L. chinensis can be difficult to obtain.

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Lycoris aurea

 

Lycoris hybrids

We’re at about the mid-point of Lycoris season in my garden.  L. longituba, L. squamigera, and the early L. radiata var. pumila have finished flowering.  L. radiata var radiata and L. x albiflora are still a couple of weeks from blooming. This week, it was the turn of two very interesting hybrids.

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Lycoris ‘Satsumhiryu’

Lycoris ‘Satsumhiryu’ is probably the most intensely colored Lycoris in my collection.  Its fairly large flowers are an incredible, saturated red-purple color with metallic blue highlights.  I haven’t been able to find much information on this Japanese hybrid, but judging by the flower color and shape, its parentage surely includes Lycoris radiata and Lycoris sprengeri.

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Mystery Lycoris

In late 2013, I purchased a bulb of the common, pink Lycoris squamigera from a well-known nursery in the Raleigh area.  The foliage produced in the spring of 2014 was consistent with L. squamigera, but when the plant bloomed in August, 2014, I had quite a surprise.  Instead of being pink, the flowers have a yellow base color overlaid with reddish pigment. Darker stripes decorate the backs of the sepals and petals.

The amount of red pigment seems quite variable, depending on the age of the flowers and the amount of sun they receive.  Sometimes pale yellow predominates:

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Mystery Lycoris in 2014

And sometimes the red/orange pigment is very strong.

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Mystery Lycoris in 2015

I contacted the nursery owner, thinking that perhaps tags had been switched, but he didn’t recognize the plant.  His best guess was that it arrived incognito in a shipment of L. squamigera bulbs from Holland, although how such a striking plant ended up among L. squamigera is a mystery.  The closest match I have found is L. x chejuensis, a natural hybrid involving L. chinensis (yellow) and L. sanguinea (orange).  To see L. x chejuensis, scroll to the bottom of this Japanese Lycoris website.  Perhaps my plant is a garden hybrid of the same parents, but if so, who made the cross and how did it end up in a batch of L. squamigera?

Whatever its identity really is, I really hit the jackpot with this bulb.