Midwinter flowers

Yes, I know that in the United States the winter solstice is considered the first day of winter, but you can’t convince me that the shortest, darkest day of the year isn’t midwinter. My garden, which today sat under low grey clouds, is at its lowest ebb, but in my greenhouse there are at least a few flowers to brighten the gloom. Here are three:

Paphiopedilum gratrixianum

Paph_gratrixianum

P. gratrixianum is one of the plain-leaf slipper orchid species that have glossy, rather elegant flowers, one per inflorescence. It is closely related to P. villosum (Photo 6 here) which is also flowering this week.

Sinningia bullata

Sinningia_bullata1

S. bullata was described in 2010 from material collected in Santa Catarina, Brazil, surprisingly recent for such a striking plant. Its species name refers to the bullate (blistered) foliage, but the bright flowers are what draw the eye at this time of year. Unlike many Sinningia species which require a dry winter dormancy, S. bullata seems to grow year-round. New stems sprout from the tuber almost immediately after the old ones die back, and even when not in flower the plant is attractive for its neat foliage with an attractive texture up top and soft woolly indumentum underneath.

Sinningia_bullata2

Columnea microcalyx (syn. C. gloriosa)

Columnea_microcalyx2

Like S. bullata, C. microcalyx is a member of the Gesneriaceae, the african violet family. This species is an epiphyte from Central America, and its long, trailing stems are best managed in a hanging basket. My plant, started from a cutting about 18 months ago, is covered in buds and will probably look spectacular in about 4-6 weeks, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture of one of the first flowers to open. This species is usually labeled C. gloriosa in cultivation, but Kew considers that name to be a later synonym.

Columnea_microcalyx3Columnea_microcalyx1

Six on Saturday #68 (12/4/2021)

It has been almost six months, more than a full season of change, since my last Six on Saturday post! Our first freeze was on November 14, so despite the fact that it is 70 F (21 C) outside this afternoon, the garden is in its winter form.

1-5. memento mori and the promise of rebirth

Magnolia-macrophylla_autumn

Fallen leaves of Magnolia macrophylla (bigleaf magnolia). The oak leaf at center gives a sense of scale.

Musa-velutina_freeze

The stems and fruit of Musa velutina (pink banana) do not tolerate any frost, but the rhizomes will sleep peacefully under the soil until next year.

Vernonia_seeds

The fluffy seed heads of Vernonia glauca (broadleaf ironweed; see picture #3 here) are why this plant is close to becoming a weed in my garden..

Iris-domestica_seeds

At this time of year, it’s easy to see why Iris domestica has the common name “blackberry lily”. See #6 here for flowers.

Allium-tuberosum seeds

Allium tuberosum (garlic chives) is ready to take over the vegetable garden.

6. Winter greens in the vegetable bins

winter-greens

Not everything in the garden is dead.

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

Back from the dead

Sinningia helleri--photograph of white flowers and red bracts
The lovely white flowers and contrasting red bracts of Sinningia helleri

This plant has a really cool backstory.

Sinningia helleri is the type species of the genus Sinningia. That is, it is the species that forms the basis for the genus, serves as a reference for any other species to be included in the genus, and remains permanently attached to the genus name in any taxonomic revisions. It’s a little awkward when the type species of an extant genus is extinct.

S. helleri was described in 1825 and was grown in Victorian and Edwardian plant collections, but it eventually died out in cultivation. The final image of a cultivated S. helleri plant was published in 1907, and it seems likely that the last cultivated plants died during fuel shortages and bombing raids in World War I and II. All attempts to find more plants in their natural habitat near Rio de Janeiro failed, and the species was considered extinct, both in cultivation and in the wild.

Photo of Sinningia helleri flowers

Then, in 2015, a Swiss botanist decided to crowdsource one last search for the species. He posted a couple of old pictures of S. helleri to an online forum for Brazilian plant identification–the botanical equivalent of a missing person flyer. A month later, he received a response from a Brazilian botanist. She had realized that a photograph she took in 2008 of an old railway embankment included several plants that resembled S. helleri. Returning to the site, she confirmed that they were indeed the missing species.

Drama ensued. The embankment was slated to be cleared when the old railroad was converted into a bicycle park, and although endangered species receive legal protection, no one bothers to put extinct species on endangered species lists. The plants were still alive only because clearing had been briefly delayed due to a rock fall.

The plants were eventually protected, a small amount of seed was collected and distributed to growers in Brazil and the USA, and six years later, I have the opportunity to grow my own S. helleri.

I started with a small packet of seed that I scattered on the surface of a 2-inch pot filled with a 1:1 mix of commercial potting soil and perlite. In December 2020, the pot went into a sealed 10-gallon aquarium under LED grow lights, together with a mix of other gesneriad species. Two seeds germinated in late January 2021, and the seedlings grew relatively quickly. In May 2021, I repotted the seedlings, the largest into a 5-inch pot, and the smaller into a 3-inch pot. Both plants are currently flowering.

For more details on the discovery and rediscovery of S. helleri, see Gesneriads: the journal for gesneriad growers 66(1-2), 2016.

Sinningia helleri plant habit

Six on Saturday #67 (June 26, 2021)

The weather has been quite mild this summer, with relatively few days topping 90 F (32 C), but the color in the garden is certainly heating up. Our big patch of Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’ is almost blinding in the sun, but it has a lot of competition. Here are some of the hot flowers in the garden this week.

1. Canna indica “Musifolia” (Indian Shot)

Flowers of Canna indica "Musifolia"

I grew this from seed received as Canna musifolia, but Kew says that name is a later synonym of the widespread and variable species C. indica. The mother plant was >8 feet tall, but this seedling is blooming at barely 3 feet tall. I only recently transplanted it out of a pot, so I am hoping that it will grow bigger in the ground. Many of the modern Canna hybrids have flowers that are big, shapeless blobs of color, so I really like the small, orchid-like flowers on this plant. The red-edged foliage is also lovely, but unfortunately Japanese beetles like it too. The common name of this species comes from the resemblance of its hard, round seeds to shotgun pellets or musket balls.

2. Tithonia rotundifolia (Mexican Sunflower)

Flower of Tithonia rotundifolia

We don’t grow many annuals, but who can resist this color? We started a batch of these guys from seed under lights and planted them out about a month ago.

3. Achillea “Paprika”

Flowers of Achillea Paprika

This is a very common perennial available from most garden centers in the summer, but it is well worth growing nevertheless. It has a tendency to flop over, but the stems soon start growing upwards again. It is often sold as a cultivar of Achillea millefolium (common yarrow) but is actually derived from the Galaxy series of hybrids which originate from crosses of A. millefolium and A. x Taygetea

4. Echinacea ‘Sombrero Sangrita’

Flowers of Echinacea Sombrero Sangrita

Some of the modern Echinacea hybrids are really impressive. This cultivar has intense red flowers on compact, upright stems, worlds away from the dusty purple and rangy stems of wild type E. purpurea.

5. Lilum ‘Forever Susan’

Flowers of Lilium 'Forever Susan'

This Asiatic Lily is a lot shorter than I expected; it’s less than 2 feet tall. We got a bag of bulbs this spring, and I’m glad I planted them at the front of the flowerbeds. They’d never be seen behind tall Cannas or Crinums.

6. Sinningia tubiflora

Flowers of Sinningia tubiflora

Do we need to cool off a little? Sinningia tubiflora–a gesneriad species from northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay–has surprisingly large white flowers. Their tubular shape and lemony fragrance in the evening surely point to pollination by moths. The underground tubers, like those of several other Sinningia species and hybrids, are winter hardy in the NC piedmont.

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

Paintbrush lily

Inflorescence of Scadoxus puniceus

This is exciting! After about six years in the ground, my Scadoxus puniceus has finally decided to flower. I was afraid that I wouldn’t get it to see it in full bloom: The day after I noticed a bud emerging from the mulch, the temperature dropped to 28 F (-2.2 C), so I surrounded it with bubble-wrap and covered it with a large plastic pot. That seemed to be sufficient insulation, because a couple of weeks later I have this beautiful orange inflorescence. The many small flowers are surrounded by petal-like spathes, giving it the appearance of a large single bloom.

Scadoxus puniceus is an African member of the Amaryllidaceae, the daffodil family, so it is not a true lily. Its range in the wild extends from Western Cape Province in South Africa northwards to Tanzania, with disjunct populations in Ethiopia [1}. Given its tropical and subtropical native habitat, it is somewhat surprising that it has done so well in my garden. It has survived temperatures as low as 5.5 F (-14.7 C) when buried under a thick layer of mulch, and despite its reported preference for a dry winter dormancy, it grows in clay that stays wet all winter long.

I suspect it took so long to flower because it is heavily shaded in summer by a large American beautyberry bush (Callicarpa americana). Last year, I planted a couple of young plants in sunnier spots. They survived the winter but are still too small to flower. Maybe next year.

Reference

1. Duncan, G., Jeppe, B., and Voight, L. (2016)  The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa, Umdaus Press, Pretoria, South Africa.