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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
And sometimes the red/orange pigment is very strong.
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.
Mercer Botanical Gardens are located north of downtown Houston, very close to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. I had visited the gardens once before, about seventeen years ago, but remembered very little, so during our recent trip to Houston, I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance.
I had forgotten about Hurricane Harvey. During the flooding last year, the gardens were submerged under eight feet of muddy, polluted water. Clearly the floods did a lot of damage, and just as clearly the gardens employees and volunteers have been working very hard to repair the damage. This article from the Houston Chronicle describes the devastation, and a google image search will show you what the gardens once were. These six pictures will give you a little taste of what the gardens are now, and a hint of what they will be again.
1. Dead palm tree
Some of the garden grounds were still closed off, and in the open areas damaged plants were still visible. After the flooding, last winter included an unusually prolonged cold spell in the Houston area, which probably did not help the tender palms. Virtually all of those that were still alive had damaged fronds, but that damage is temporary. I’m not sure if this palm tree was left in the ground because the staff had been overwhelmed, or if they were waiting to see if it might resprout.
2. Zephyranthes (rain lilies)
Many of the plants that seemed to be in the best conditions were tropical bulbs and rhizomes, particularly those that tolerate wet soil (crinum, gingers, etc). Presumably, these plants resisted being washed away by the flood, and any top damage was easily replaced. I saw an enormous clump of Hymenocallis caribaea, unfortunately not blooming, that was in prime condition, but the best flowers were on these unlabeled Zephyranthes. They were blooming all by themselves in a rock garden area that appeared to have been recently renovated but not yet replanted.
3-5. Tropical shrubs and trees
Although many of the beds are thus far, still fairly barren, splashes of color from vigrous perennials and fast growing tropical trees and shrubs hint at how spectacular the gardens will be again in a few years.
6. Anolis sagrei (brown anole)
The gardens were swarming with little brown anoles. A. sagrei is native to Cuba and the Bahamas, and it is an invasive species in the southeastern U.S. where it often replaces the native Anolis carolinensis (green anole). My parents’ garden south of Houston still has green anoles, but I didn’t see a single native lizard at Mercer.
So, that’s Six on Saturday and a very brief look at Mercer as it is now. For more Six on Saturday, head over to the blog of The Propagator, who started this weekly exercise and collects links from other participants.
With a range extending from South Africa northwards to Eritrea , Crinum macowanii is one of the most widespread Crinum species in Africa. The plants in my collection were bred from specimens originating in Zambia.
The slightly glaucous leaves of this Zambian form have attractive undulate margins, and although the inflorescence is relatively short, it emerges from the side of the bulb and is not obscured by the foliage. The flowers are short-lived, like those of most crinums, but powerfully fragrant. My large bulb produces several inflorescences in succession, usually in June.
I planted the bulb about eight inches deep and cover it with several inches of mulch after the foliage freezes off. That seems to be all the winter protection it needs, even though it is planted in soil that remains quite wet in winter. The bulb does not seem to offset, but flowers are self-fertile. Seedlings have grown well, retaining some green leaves through much of the winter in the greenhouse. My largest seedlings are currently about two years old, and I’d guess they’re about two more years from blooming.
In areas too cold for growing it in the ground, this is probably a reasonable candidate for cultivation in a large pot or tub. When I purchased my first bulb, it bloomed in an 8-inch diameter pot and survived the winter completely dry, stored in the crawl space. However, the leaves have been much larger and inflorescences more numerous since I planted it out in a flower bed.
1. Duncan, G., Jeppe, B., and Voight, L. (2016) The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa, Umdaus Press, Pretoria, South Africa.