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.

Six on Saturday #65 (April 10, 2021)

We are currently in the middle of the annual Pollen Apocalypse week as the local pines, oaks, and hickories make the case that they, not humans, are the dominant species in the piedmont. The week’s activities have included eating cetirizine like candy, finally being glad that we can wear masks everywhere, and hoping that the person behind me in line just has allergies and not a particularly virulent case of Covid-19. Up next, the traditional reading of poems by WWI soldiers about mustard gas attacks.

It’s Saturday, so here are six things in the garden.

1. Claytonia virginica (Virginia springbeauty)

Picture of Claytonia flowers

This was totally unexpected. Claytonia virginica is a native woodland wildflower which blooms early in the spring before the deciduous trees leaf out and then quickly goes dormant. This one appeared spontaneously in the middle of one of my full-sun flowerbeds. I have never noticed the species growing in our woods, so I’m really not sure where the seed came from.

2. Tulipa turkestanica?

picture of a miniature tulip

Another surprise. Last autumn, I planted some more bulbs of Tulipa sylvestris (photo 1) and Tulipa whittallii (photo 3) to expand existing plantings. This must have been mixed in. The flowers are miniscule, barely 3 cm across. After looking at all the other tulips sold by the bulb vendor and searching the web, my best guess is that it is Tulipa turkestanica.

3. Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’

Tulipa_Little-Beauty

Another miniature tulip living up to its name. The flowers of this little plant are almost flush with the foliage. Various references disagree about whether this is a selected clone of Tulipa humilis or a hybrid with T. humilis ancestry. I planted these last year, so although it is reputed to be a good choice for warm climates, it remains to be seen whether it will perennialize as well as T. clusiana var. chrysantha (photos 5 and 6), T. whittallii, and T. sylvestris.

4. Narcissus ‘Starlight Sensation’

Starlight-sensation

Last autumn, I interspersed some of these bulbs among the existing drift of Narcissus ‘Tête-à-tête’ (photo 4) that runs along the lane at the edge of our property. I was hoping for a mix of yellow and white flowers, but I miscalculated the blooming season of the two clones. Instead, I have early yellow and later white. I suppose extending the flowering season is a different kind of success.

5. Iris bucharica

Iris_bucharica

Another recent planting. Iris bucharica is from Afghanistan and needs a dry dormancy in late summer, so I have planted the bulbs in the hottest and driest spots in the garden. It remains to be seen if it will survive our summer thunderstorms and humidity. The foliage is very odd–more like a Tradescantia or daylily than the typical sword-like leaves of the genus.

6. Narcissus ‘Golden Bells

a photo of Narcissus 'Golden Bells'

These guys get better every year.

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.

Six on Saturday #64 (March 13, 2021)

What a difference a few weeks makes. This week has been brightly sunny, and the high temperature was about 80 F (26.5 C). The spring bulbs and hellebores are nearing their peak, the garden is perfumed by Edgeworthia chrysantha, Lonicera fragrantissima, and Osmanthus fragrans, and the fence lizards are skittering about in the leaf litter.

1. Cypripedium formosanum (Formosan lady’s slipper orchid)

Cyp_formosanum

After three years, my C. formosanum is still going strong. I think this year’s flower is the nicest so far. The plant is in an 8-inch diameter pot with a mix of composted wood chips, peat, and stalite. It lives outside under shade cloth in summer and spends the winter on the floor of the greenhouse, near the cold draught from the imperfectly sealed swamp cooler.

2. Hellebore flowers

Hellebore flowers floating in a dish

The pure white flowers at center left and 5 o’clock are Helleborus niger. The large reddish flower at 10 o’clock is Helleborus x iburgensis ‘Anna’s Red’. The others are all seed-grown Helleborus x hybridus.

3. Narcissus ‘Odoratus’

Narcissus_odoratus

This is a dwarf tazetta Narcissus. According to various web sources, it was discovered somewhere on the Isles of Scilly by the horticulturalist Alec Gray. To my nose it is only faintly fragrant, despite the cultivar name.

4. Narcissus x odorus (Campernelle)

Campernelle

Narcissus x odorus is a centuries-old hybrid of N. jonquilla x N. pseudonarcissus. It has been grown in North Carolina since the colonial period. The blue-green foliage in the foreground is Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha (see photo 2 here).

5. Cackleberries

eggses

The tiny dinosaurs have started laying, and between the five of them, we are averaging about four eggs a day! The very pale blue-gray eggses are from Hühnchen and Kuritsa. Dark brown with darker speckles is from Pollo, large brown from Kylling, and small, light brown from Frango.

6. Vegetable seedlings

A picture of Cypripedium formosanum

I handle the ornamental perennials, but vegetables are my wife’s domain–she’ll have more than a dozen different varieties of Asian greens and kale, along with tomatoes, malabar spinach, spigariello, lettuce, and a few annual flowers ready to plant out next month. The glow from her new LED grow lights makes our house look like something out of “The Amityville Horror” at night, but the seedlings seem to love it.

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.

Giant Peruvian daffodil

Paramongaia1
Paramongaia weberbaueri

eBay can be a wonderful source for rare and unusual plants, but there’s always a chance you won’t get what you expect. I bought this plant in 2014, and it arrived as a small dormant bulb with no distinguishing characteristics. It could have been almost anything, and I had to wait 6 1/2 years to find out if I got an excellent deal on a very rare bulb, or paid way too much for a mislabeled Narcissus. In this case, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because the plant was as advertised.

Paramongaia weberbaueri is, despite its common name, not a daffodil. It is in the same family as daffodils, the Amaryllidaceae,, but while daffodils are native to the Mediterranean region, Paramongaia is from South America–specifically western Peru, where it grows in the rain shadow of the Andes. There are apparently two forms of the species, a high altitude form which grows and flowers in summer, and a winter-growing lowland form. My plant is obviously the winter-growing form. I keep it in a bright spot in the greenhouse year-round (minimum winter temperature 60 F, 15 C; summer maximum 93 F, 34 C). During winter I water at least once a week, or more frequently if the soil dries out. Then I leave it completely dry, no watering whatsoever, all summer long. Presumably, the humidity in the greenhouse is sufficient to keep the bulb from desiccating while dormant.

The flower bud developed relatively slowly for an Amaryllid and lasted just under a week in good condition. The fragrance was wonderful.

So far, my plant has shown no tendency to produce offsets. The anthers failed to produce pollen–or dried up prematurely, I’m not sure which. In any case, I was unable to self-pollinate the flower.

Paramongaia2
Paramongaia weberbaueri, whole plant with juvenile Homo sapiens to show scale.

Outside and inside

Here are two plants that have almost nothing in common, except that they both flower in late November.

Crocus cartwrightianus var. albus

Crocus cartwrightianus is a small autumn-flowering bulb that is native to mainland Greece and the Cyclades. It is a fertile diploid species and is thought to be the wild ancestor of the sterile triploid Crocus sativus, the cultivated saffron crocus. The typical color form is purple, but I love the contrast of the bright orange stigma with the sepals and petals of this white-flowered variety. C. cartwrightianus grows fairly well in this climate, but the flowers are often damaged by slugs when we have a warm, humid autumn.

Paphiopedilum fairrieanum

While C. cartwrightianus is flowering outside, Paphiopedilum fairrieanum is flowering inside my greenhouse. P. fairrieanum is native to the foothills of the Himalayas in northeast India and Bhutan, where it experiences a summer-monsoon climate. To mimic these natural conditions in cultivation, it should be kept warm and watered well in summer and then given a cooler, drier rest in winter, when temperatures can drop as low as 45-50 F (7-10 C). In my greenhouse, the thermostat is set to 60 F, and the plant probably doesn’t experience temperatures below 55 F (13 C).

With its small, slightly nodding flowers and delicately down-swept petals, P. fairrieanum has an elfin or fairy-like quality that has intrigued orchid growers since its discovery in the mid-1800s. You might think that the species name alludes in some way to the plant’s appearance, but in fact, the species was named after a Mr. Fairrie who flowered the plant that John Lindley used for his species description in 1857.