Six on Saturday #41 (April 6, 2019)

A brief return to winter this week kept me busy covering the tender new growth of terrestrial orchids every evening to protect them from frost.  Then, of course, I had to uncover them before going to work in the morning.  It looks as though we may have seen the last freeze, though, and the temperature is forecast to be 80 F (26.6 C) on Monday.

Here are six plants whose flowers didn’t mind the cold (or were protected in the greenhouse)

1. Ficaria verna ‘Brazen Hussy’ (lesser celandine)

Ficaria-verna_Brazen-Hussey

Purchasing this plant a year ago may have been a mistake.  It was labeled Ranunculus ficaria at the nursery, and I didn’t realize that the little spring ephemeral with dark purple foliage was actually a cultivar of Ficaria verna,  the invasive pest with green leaves that I have seen covering river banks in Pennsylvania.  However, ‘Brazen Hussy’ has thus far shown no inclination to self-pollinate, and the flowerbed in my garden lacks the moving water that helps F. verna spread so aggressively on floodplains.  If it manifests any invasive inclinations, it will go straight to the landfill (won’t risk the compost heap), but until them I’m reluctant to do away with it.  The shiny, almost metallic flowers go so well with the dark foliage of this cultivar.

2. Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss)

Brunnera

I most commonly see the variegated clone ‘Jack Frost’ for sale around here, but this seed grown plant has plain green leaves.  My wife loves blue flowers, so plain leaves or not, this is an obvious plant to include in the garden.

3. Tulipa whittallii

Tulipa-whittalliiTulipa-whittallii2

For the last couple of years, I have been experimenting with species tulips that may prove to be more heat tolerant than most of the hybrids.  Tulipa clusiana var chrysantha was recommended for our climate, and it looks as though it will do well–the bulbs I planted in 2017 have multiplied and will be flowering in a week or two.  It’s still too early to know how Tulipa whittallii will do. On the strength of one bulb catalog that said this is one of the most heat tolerant species, I planted a dozen bulbs last autumn.  The flowers are certainly eye catching. They close up tight each evening and only open up for a few hours in the afternoon (which doesn’t seem a very good way to attract pollinators), but the intense orange color makes the wait worthwhile.  I hope they stick around for a good many years.

4.  Narcissus Quail (and an enormous pile of mulch)

Quail

Narcissus ‘Quail’ is a jonquilla hybrid that produces two or three flowers per inflorescence.  I’m not sure if I like it.  The flowers are a somewhat squashed together, so their shape is lost in a large blob of yellow.

The mulch is 16 cubic yards of ground hardwood (with a generous proportion of eastern red cedar, judging by the smell).  A couple of inches of mulch spread on the flowerbeds every other year suppresses weeds, adds organic material, and most importantly, reduces the need to water.  Although I irrigate new plants until their roots are established, my goal is to have the garden survive on rain alone.

5. Euphorbia horombensis

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In the greenhouse, this is the season for Euphorbia horombensis to produce its brick red cyathophylls, but its spiny armament is impressive all year round.  E. horombensis is listed as endangered on the IUCN red list, primarily due to habitat degradation and over-collection, but artificially propagated seedlings are reasonably common (and reasonably priced) from a few nurseries that specialize in propagating succulent plants.

Euphorbia-horombensis2

The inflorescences of E. horombensis are covered with sticky sap which traps small insects (in this case, a flying ant).  I’m not sure what purpose the sap serves, but it seems odd that a plant would trap potential pollinators.

Euphorbia-horombensis3

6. Paphiopedilum delenatii var. vinicolor

delenatii-vinicolorAnd finally, a first-bloom seedling of Paphiopedilum delenatii var vinicolor, a recent addition to my slipper orchid collection.

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 #40 (March 16, 2019)

pseudonarcissus1
Naturalized daffodils (Narcissus) beside the old chimney

Compared to the last few years, this winter has been wet but very mild.  The winter storms that brought record cold to the Midwest didn’t make it this far south, and our low temperature was 17-18 F (-8 C), a full 10-15 degrees warmer than the lows during the past three or four winters.  There is still the possibility of frost, or even another hard freeze, but spring seems well under way.

1-3.  Various Narcissus

At this time of year, the dominant color is the bright yellow of Narcissus.  The old heirloom bulbs that are naturalized throughout the woods at the sites of old cabins or farmhouses have almost finished flowering, but beside the old chimney a few of the plants are still in decent shape.  These classic daffodils have a bright yellow corona and paler yellow petals that are slightly twisted like propellers.

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In my garden, I have some that came from a friend who lives in a century-old farmhouse.  They appear identical to the plants beside the old chimney, and I suspect they are all a form of Narcissus pseudonarcissus.

Narcissus are one of the few plants that I can grow outside the deer fence, so I have been attempting to naturalize several varieties along our side of the lane.  Rabbits and deer won’t touch them, not even to experimentally nip off the flower buds as they do to so many other supposedly noxious flowers.

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The swept-back petals of Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ come from its parent N. cyclamineus. I planted these bulbs last autumn.
tete-a-tete
Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’ is another dwarf N. cyclamineus hybrid.  It often has two or three flowers per inflorescence.
trumpet
I planted about fifty of these large trumpets several years ago, but only half a dozen remain.  The survivors are in lean soil that dries well during the summer, while the dead ones were in rich organic soil where a mulch pile had rotted down. Similar clones do very well elsewhere in the garden, but usually in heavy clay with minimal organic matter.

Update:  Yes, that’s four Narcissus, not three.  I never claimed to be good at mathematics.

4. Anemone coronaria ‘The Governor’

The_Governor-closedThe_Governor-open

Last autumn I planted ten Anemone coronaria tubers, and they have been growing slowly through the winter.  Most are still in bud, but one precocious plant has been blooming for several weeks.  That is, a single flower has been opening and closing, depending on the temperature and sunlight, for several weeks.  I am really impressed by the longevity of the flower, but it remains to be seen whether the plants will persist over the summer and how they will do during colder winters.

5. Hippeastrum ‘Ruby Star’

Ruby-star

In the greenhouse, the enormous, but short-lived, flowers of Hippeastrum ‘Ruby Star’ were open this week.  H. ‘Ruby Star’ is a hybrid of H. papilio x (H. vittatum x H. cybister) which seems to be a natural winter grower.  When not recovering from shipping, it flowers after the foliage has matured and goes dormant by mid summer.

6.  Paphiopedilum hirsutissimum buds.  A long wait…

Paph-hirsutissimum
One half-open flower and one bud with the petals just starting to emerge.

Some orchid flowers seem to appear suddenly out of nowhere, but others really make you wait.  There seems to be a definite correlation between the amount of time that a flower takes to develop and its longevity, .  The south Asian slipper orchids, Paphiopedilum, are some of the slowest.  It can take months for an inflorescence to emerge from among the leaves and slowly elongate, and then the buds open over the course of a week or more.  When these P. hirsutissimum buds are completely open, I can reasonably expect the flowers to remain in good shape for six to eight weeks, perhaps longer.

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 #39, February 23, 2019

It’s hard to believe that it has been three months since I last managed to get a Six on Saturday post together. The past week has been gloomy and wet outside, so here are six plants that are currently flowering in my greenhouse.

1. Paphiopedilum Fanaticum

fanaticum1

Paphiopedilum x fanaticum is the natural hybrid of Paphiopedilum malipoense and P. micranthum.  When the same cross is produced in cultivation, the plants are designated Paphiopedilum Fanaticum.  This isn’t the greatest photo–light levels were low, and the flower is still opening–but I think you can see that the plant is aptly named.  Anyone who is subject to orchidelirium will likely be a fanatic for Paph. Fanaticum.

2. Epidendrum cf. schlechterianum

Epi_schlechterianum

E. schlechterianum is miniature orchid found from Costa Rica to northern South America (Peru, Colombia, Brazil).  Alternatively, E. schlechterianum grows only in Panama, and a group of closely related species–E. congestum, E. congestioides, E. oxynanodes, E. schizoclinandrium, E. serruliferum, and E. uleinanodes–are found elsewhere.  It all depends on which botanist you believe.  In any case, this is a bizarre little plant with flowers that are almost the same color and texture as the semi-succulent leaves that cover its creeping stems.  It grows well mounted on a chunk of treefern fiber and watered once or twice a week.

3. Dendrobium speciosum var. pedunculatum

Dendrobium1Dendrobium2

Some forms of the Australian Dendrobium speciosum grow so large that a forklift is required to move them, but D. speciosum var. pedunculatum is a dwarf variety.  My plant has been growing happily in a 4-inch (10 cm) diameter terracotta pot for the past five years, and its pseudobulbs are only slightly larger than my thumb.  In summer, it lives outside in almost full sun.  In winter, I keep it in the brightest end of the greenhouse and reduce watering to once every two or three weeks.

4. Utricularia sandersonii (Sanderson’s bladderwort)

Utricularia_sandersonii

Although its flowers look vaguely orchid-like, Utricularia sandersonii is a terrestrial bladderwort, a carnivorous member of the family Lentibulariaceae native to South Africa.  It grows in saturated soils, where its underground bladder traps can capture and digest protists or rotifers that are small enough to swim between the soil grains.  The leaves of U. sandersonii are a couple of millimeters long, and the flower, which looks a bit like a long-tailed rabbit (or maybe a bilby), is about 1 cm from top to bottom.

I grow U. sandersonii in a small pot sitting in water almost up to the surface of the soil (a mix of peat and silica sand).  After a few years, it forms a thick tangle of stolons and starts to deteriorate, perhaps because the supply of protists or trace elements in the soil has been exhausted.  At that point, propagation is simply a matter of tearing off a chunk of soil/stolons and using it to inoculate a new pot of soil.

5.  Hippeastrum striatum

Hippeastrum_striatum

H. striatum is a smallish species from southern Brazil.  Its bulbs, leaves, and flowers are all much smaller than the big hybrid hippeastrums that are sold as “Amaryllis” at Christmas time, and I think it is better suited to cultivation in pots.

6. Cyrtanthus (species?  hybrid?)

Cyrtanthus

This plant grew from seed that I purchased as Cyrtanthus stenanthus, but it appears to have been mislabeled.  It seems to want grow in winter/spring and goes dormant in hot weather.

Six on Saturday is hosted by The Propagator.  Head over there to see his Six for this week and to find links to the blogs of other participants.

First Narcissus

narcissus_cantabricus

Even in the dead of winter, a North Carolina garden isn’t completely dormant.  Birds are busy visiting the feeders during the day, and at night we can hear the barred owls calling to each other.  The local coyotes have also been noisy lately, and a couple of nights ago eldest offspring heard a harsh screaming that didn’t sound like a fox.  We are reasonably sure that it was a bobcat.  Among the flower beds, Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’ is still blooming, and the buds of Edgeworthia chrysantha are swelling.  The green foliage of winter growing bulbs like Lycoris radiata and Scilla peruviana add a little color to otherwise barren mulch, and today, the first Narcissus of the year is blooming.

Narcissus cantabricus is a miniature “hoop petticoat” narcissus native to southern Spain, Morocco, and Algeria.  As with most bulbs purchased from big bulb vendors, I can’t be certain that this plant doesn’t have some hybrid genes, but it generally matches the description of the species and blooms very early as expected.  The plant is tiny–certainly not a spectacular specimen that draws the eye across the garden–but it is a promise of good things to come.  The garden should have various Narcissus species and hybrids blooming most weeks from now until the last Narcissus poeticus fades in late April or early May.

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.

grotesque1

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:

grotesque2

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?