Six on Saturday #70 (April 23, 2022)

Now that spring is well under way, it is a little easier to find interesting pictures for a Six on Saturday post. Here are five from the outdoor garden and one from the greenhouse.

1. Trillium grandiflorum (great white trillium)

photo of Trillium grandiflorum

Trilliums are, notoriously, very slow to grow from seed or from rhizome divisions. It seems that someone must have mastered the procedure on a commercial scale, though, because mass produced rhizomes have started showing up in garden centers beside the spring bulbs. The packages come from the Netherlands, which probably precludes the possibility that they are wild-collected. I have tried boxes from Durham Garden Center and Costco which both claimed to contain Trillium grandiflorum (white) and Trillium erectum (red). The packages from Costco actually contained Trillium luteum and a red-flowered sessile species, but the box from Durham Garden Center seems to be correct.

2. Trillum luteum (yellow trillium)

photo of Trillium luteum

I planted this species in 2010 or 2011 and featured it once before in 2018. In rich soil, it would probably be a large clump by now. In very poor dry soil under pine and oak trees, it only has two stems, but they return faithfully every spring. Since it spends much of the year hidden under ground, I have left a small eastern red cedar seedling to help mark its location.

3. Clematis ochroleuca (curlyheads)

photo of Clematis ochroleuca

I could have sworn that I had already shown this native plant, but I can’t find it in a search of the blog. In any case, C. ochroleuca, is somewhat unusual for a Clematis, growing as a clump of short, upright stems rather than as a vine. The small flowers and fuzzy stems have a certain understated elegance, but it is the seeds, which look like heads of curly golden hair, that are the main reason for giving it space in the perennial border. I’ll have to remember to photograph them later this year.

4. Taraxacum pseudoroseum (pink dandelion)

photo of Taraxacum pseudoroseum

I wanted to grow some dandelions intentionally for chicken treats and occasional salad greens , and I thought that this would be more interesting than the standard yellow flowers that pop up in the lawn. So far, the pink color has been very faint, most noticeable when the flower first opens, but I think the overall effect is very attractive. My wife has included a second species, Taraxacum albidum (Japanese white dandelion) in her seed trays this year, and the first two seedlings were visible this morning.

5. Tulipa linifolia

photo of Tulipa linifolia flower

After several years of testing, I am convinced that a number of the smaller tulip species (Tulipa clusiana, T. whittalii, T. sylvestris, and T. linifolia) grow well in our climate. Unfortunately, rodents love to eat the bulbs, and this year about 90% of my tulips vanished. There was a concomitant increase in the number of pine vole tunnels in the flowerbeds, so I am fairly sure who the culprits are. The survivors, like this T. linifolia, are the ones that were planted in soil amended with permatill or in naturally gravelly soil.

6. Columnea schiedeana

photo of Columnea schiedeana flowers

Columnea schiedeana is an epiphytic gesneriad from Mexico. The hummingbird-pollinated flowers have fairly standard shape for a Columnea, but the color is amazing–each one looks hand-painted.

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.

First bloom: Eucrosia eucrosioides

Eucrosia_eucrosioides1
Eucrosia eucrosioides, first flowers from a bulb purchased in 2016

Just as the Cyrtanthus falcatus inflorescence was fading, I noticed that another tropical bulb was in bud for the first time. Eucrosia eucrosiodes is from arid scrubland in southwestern Ecuador and northern Peru. In its flower structure, leaf shape, and cultural requirements, it resembles its close relatives Eucrosia mirabilis and Eucrosia aurantiaca. I grow E. eucrosioides almost exactly the same way I grow those two species, with plenty of heat, water, and sun in summer and a warm dry rest in winter. Like its relatives, E. eucrosioides is strongly hysteranthous–that is, it flowers at the end of the dry dormant period, before new leaves are produced, so a naked inflorescence sprouts from what appears to be an empty pot.

Like E. mirabilis and E. aurantiaca bulbs, E. eucrosioides bulbs show no inclination to offset and must be grown from seed. E. mirabilis can be self-pollinated and produces viable seed, but E. aurantiaca seems to be self-sterile. I’m not sure yet whether E. eucrosioides will be self-fertile, but I have a second clone which has not yet flowered. If I can manage to flower both at the same time, perhaps an outcross will be a possibility sometime in the future.

The genus name of this plant makes perfect sense–Eucrosia means “beautiful fringe”, referring to the elongated stamens–but its species name is a little odd. In botanical Latin, the suffix -oides means “like” or “resembling”, so Eucrosia eucrosioides would be “the Eucrosia that resembles a Eucrosia.”

Eucrosia_eucrosioides2

First bloom: Cyrtanthus falcatus

Cyrtanthus-falcatus1
Unusually pale Cyrtanthus falcatus flowers. The “shepherd’s crook” curve at the top of the inflorescence is a distinctive characteristic of this species.

Cyrtanthus falcatus is a large amaryllid from South Africa. Its species name comes from its sickle-shaped leaves which recall the falcata sword favored by ancient Iberian tribes (think of a Gurkha kukri for a modern equivalent). Its flowers and its bulbs, which grow exposed at the surface, are roughly the same size and shape as those of C. obliquus which I have previously discussed, but I have found it much more difficult to flower than the latter species. After first flowering in 2017, my C. obliquus has continued to bloom every year, but this is the first inflorescence on a mature C. falcatus that I have been growing since 2014. The difference is probably due to C. obliquus being better suited to spending the winter in my heated greenhouse. C. obliquus is a lowland species, found from sea level to 1300 m in the eastern Cape northwards to KwaZulu-Natal. C. falcatus, while it also grows in KwaZulu-Natal, is a highland species found from 1100-1900 m on the Drakensberg escarpment [1]. Consequently, C. falcatus probably requires colder winter temperatures to initiate spring flowering.

Cyrtanthus-falcatus2
Sunbird’s-eye view of the flowers

I grow both plants outside in full sun during the summer and move them to the greenhouse in autumn. I bring the C. obliquus into the greenhouse before nights drop much below 50 F (10 C), but I leave the C. falcatus outside until the first frost is forecast. Although C. obliquus spends the winter on a greenhouse bench among tropical plants, I put the pot of C. falcatus on the floor where it is cooler. Usually, the plant has already dropped all its leaves and is dormant before it goes into the greenhouse. The pot remains dry all winter, and I start to water again only when I see new leaves sprouting, usually in March. The pot goes back outside in April, as soon as possible after the last frost. This winter, I put the pot right beside the greenhouse door to give it the coolest (but still above freezing) temperatures possible. That may be what finally induced flowering.

The large tubular flowers and sturdy inflorescence of C. falcatus probably indicate that it, like C. obliquus, is pollinated by sunbirds. Since birds generally prefer flowers in shades of orange and red, I was surprised by the green flowers of my plant. Most photos online do show orange flowers, but the species is apparently quite variable and green flowers are within the range of color reported for the species [1]. Since I already have C. obliquus and several smaller Cyrtanthus species that are orange, I am quite pleased with the unusual color of my C. falcatus.

Reference

  1. Duncan, G., Jeppe, B., and Voight, L. (2016)  The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa, Umdaus Press, Pretoria, South Africa.
Cyrtanthus-falcatus_whole plant
Whole plant, showing the above-ground bulbs

Six on Saturday #69 (February 12, 2022)

Rabbit_damage
Winter foliage of Scilla peruviana eaten to the ground by an eastern cottontail.

I’m taking a break from the Encyclia series for a quick Six on Saturday post. The North Carolina Random Winter Weather Generator has given us sun with a predicted high of 71 F (21.7 C) for today. But don’t worry, a mix of cold rain and snow is forecast for tomorrow.

January has been quite cold, so there isn’t much going on in the outdoor garden yet apart a few Cyclamen and Helleborus flowers. A quick walk around revealed that a rabbit has squeezed under the fence and is mowing down all the fresh young foliage of spring bulbs that aren’t completely toxic. Unfortunately (for the rabbit), I haven’t had much luck with box traps, so if I can’t locate the hole and block it when the rabbit is outside the fence, the solution to the problem may involve firearms…

Moving on…since most of the blooming action is still in the greenhouse, that’s where we’ll be for this week’s Six:

1. Calanthe hybrid

Calanthe_hybrid
An unlabeled tropical Calanthe hybrid

The very first cultivated orchid hybrid, registered in 1858, was Calanthe Dominii, a cross of two tropical Calanthe species. More recently, this type of Calanthe seems to have gone out of fashion, and plants are surprisingly hard to find. I bought this plant out-of-bloom when the Orchid Trail Nursery was shutting down, so I am quite pleased to see it has very dark, wine-red flowers. I have previously featured some of the hardy Calanthe species and hybrids which have underground pseudobulbs and are more-or-less evergreen, but the tropical varieties like this one have large above-ground pseudobulbs and are deciduous, flowering when leafless at the end of a completely dry winter dormancy.

2. Columnea microcalyx (syn. C. gloriosa)

Columnea_microcalyx2
Columnea microcalyx flowers are starting to droop and fade, but new buds are still growing on new stems higher up.

The Columnea plant that I illustrated on December 21 is still flowering and probably will continue for at least a few more weeks. Of the various Columnea species and hybrids that I have tried growing, this is definitely the most vigorous and the most tolerant of summer heat.

3. Sinningia macrostachya

Sinningia macrostachya

Another of the Brazilian Sinningia species, this one grown from a cutting rather than seed. It has bright flowers at the beginning of the growing period, neat and tidy foliage, and a large tuber growing at the soil surface. What’s not to like? Grow it like a tropical succulent: full sun, warm temperatures, and a dry winter dormancy.

4. Dendrobium antennatum (green antelope orchid)

Dendrobium_antennatum

Dendrobium antennatum is from sea level in New Guinea, so it wants constantly warm growing conditions. When happy, it rewards the grower with interesting flowers that are long-lasting (>6 weeks) and have a honey-like fragrance. When I started growing orchids almost 30 years ago, this was one of the first species I tried. It thrived under lights in the living room of my apartment and flowered year-round, but eventually I gave it away when it grew too large. This more recent purchase isn’t doing quite so well in a cooler greenhouse, but it still flowers for most of the year. The plant (not shown here) has lime-green foliage on 1-2′ tall cane-like pseudobulbs. The inflorescences grow horizontally from leaf axils near the top of previous years’ pseudobulbs.

5. Paphiopedilum (Lippewunder x Acclamation)

Paph_hybrid

Paphiopedilum hybrids of this type are called “bulldogs”, because the most famous is Paphiopedilum Winston Churchill, or “toads”, because they are often ugly. This one isn’t too bad looking in my opinion, but it lacks the very broad petals that usually give bulldog flowers the saucer-like appearance beloved of orchid judges.

6. Sphyrospermum buxifolium

Sphyrospermum

S. buxifolium is one of neotropical epiphytic “blueberries”. It’s flowers aren’t as spectacular as some of its relatives (see here and photo #4 here), but the reddish new leaves have their own understated beauty.

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.

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