Six on Saturday #6

After missing several weeks due to traveling, I’m back with Six on Saturday.  As always, check The Propagator’s blog for links to other garden bloggers who are also posting their six.

1. Lycoris radiata var. pumila (hurricane lily, red spider lily)

Lycoris radiata
Lycoris radiata var. pumila

Hurricane lilies (really amaryllids, not true lilies) are so named because because they bloom in late summer–hurricane season in the southeastern United States.  The classic heirloom bulb of southern gardens is Lycoris radiata var. radiata, a sterile triploid introduced from Japan in the mid 1800s.  It blooms in late August, and my bulbs are still slumbering underground.  L. radiata var. pumila is a fertile diploid, presumably the original wild type form native to China.  For some reason, these plants consistently bloom a few weeks earlier than the triploids.

L. radiata is one of the winter-foliage Lycoris.  Shortly after blooming it produces a rosette of leaves that persist all winter, dying back in late spring.  Since the plant grows in winter, it is less hardy than the spring-foliage types like those I discussed in a previous Six on Saturday, and I’m not sure it would do well much further north than North Carolina.

2.  Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)

Zephyranthes candida
Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)

After dry weather for most of July, August has been quite wet, and the rain has induced several rain lily species to bloom.  This is Zephyranthes candida, originally from southern South America but now more widely naturalized.  Superficially, it resembles a smaller version of the piedmont native Z. atamasco, but while Z. atamasco blooms in spring, Z. candida–like many tropical Zephyranthes–blooms in summer a few days after rain.

3.  Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)

Lobelia cardinalis
Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis is native to the piedmont and can sometimes be found growing in sun or part shade along creeks or beside ponds.  Hummingbirds absolutely love the flowers.  These are volunteer plants originating from very tiny seed that drifted from a plant that I put in a flowerbed about twenty feet away.  After several years, I now have about a dozen blooming plants.  The best ones have taken root in wet soil at the point where the foundation and gutter drains empty, down-slope from the house.  I have been thinking about building a pond or bog garden there, but for now it is just a wilderness of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium viminium), interspersed with these shocking red spikes.

Last week, while we were on holiday in eastern Maine, I saw some wild plants blooming along a stream close to the Canadian border, about 600 miles (965 km) north of my garden in North Carolina.  I find it interesting that the plants in both locations bloom at exactly the same time, despite the longer growing season and warmer temperatures here in the south.

4. Hedychium coronarium (white butterfly ginger)

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Hedychium coronarium

This ginger from the foothills of the himalayas is probably the hardiest and most vigorous ornamental ginger for cultivation in the NC piedmont.  The stems grow about 6′ (1.8 m) tall, and the fragrance of the flowers is amazing.  Unlike my cannas, which look pretty ratty after being chewed on all summer long by Japanese beetles and canna leaf roller caterpillars, the foliage of this H. coronarium is always pristine.

5.  Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’

Fuchsia 'Sanihanf'
Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’

After my paternal grandfather retired, he grew fuchsias in his garden and greenhouse in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I wanted to remember grandpa by growing them in my garden too, but most fuchsias expire from the heat before spring is half over in North Carolina.  This Japanese hybrid, which was advertised as heat tolerant, seems to be the real deal.  I bought it in April 2016, so it has now survived two NC summers and continues to bloom even when the days are in the 90s (32-37 C) and nights don’t drop below 70 (21 C).  It might survive the winter outside in a sheltered spot, but not wanting to risk it, I grow it in a hanging pot and keep it in the greenhouse in cold weather.

6. Lilium formosanum (Formosa lily)

Lilium formosanum

Most L. formosanum bulbs produce a single stem topped with four or five flowers, but this plant has branched and re-branched to produce a large cluster of flowers.  The stems are slightly flattened and wider than usual, so I think it may be abnormal fasciation (cresting).

I started with two bulbs about eight years ago, but every year I scatter seed around, and now there are flowering plants throughout the garden.

6b.  flower crab spider (Thomisidae)

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Crab spider, perhaps Misumenoides formosipes,  in ambush

While trying to decide which photo of L. formosanum to use, I realized that I had inadvertently photographed a little white crab spider that was hiding inside one of the lily flowers.  Some species can change color to match the flower they are sitting on and are capable of capturing quite large prey.  I’m not sure if she would be strong enough to tackle one of the big sphinx moths that pollinate L. formosanum, but I have seen similar spiders ambush and consume swallowtail butterflies

 

Spiderlilies

Sometimes you grow a plant for three years, and it finally decides to bloom just as you are going out of town for a week.

As we were rushing around making last minute preparations to leave for the airport, I noticed these buds emerging from a northern spiderlily bulb (Hymenocallis occidentalis).

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Although Hymenocallis are tough, long lived bulbs, their flowers subscribe to the philosophy “live fast, die young.”  I was convinced that by the time we got home, I’d find nothing but a wilting inflorescence topped by shriveled, brownish tissue.  A cold front that dropped the temperature below 90 F may have helped to prolong the life of the flowers, because when we arrived home yesterday I found that the blooms weren’t completely senescent.  They had sustained significant damage from heavy rain, but I think you can still appreciate the fireworks-like quality of the mass of spidery flowers.

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The genus Hymenocallis ranges from the southeastern United States to northern South America, and as its common name suggests, H. occidentalis is the northernmost species, growing from northern Florida to eastern Texas and up the Mississippi valley as far as southern Illinois and Indiana.  H. occidentalis often grows in moist woodland, so it is probably one of the best members of the genus for garden cultivation, particularly in the north.  Other U.S. species grow in wetlands or rivers as emergent water plants and would probably require a pond or bog garden.

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Coastal Carolina spiderlily (Hymenocallis crassifolia) blooming in late May
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I found these H. crassifolia plants growing in the Lumber river in southeastern North Carolina, near the South Carolina state line.

Some of the Mexican or Caribbean species (e.g. H. ‘Tropical Giant’) grow well in regular garden conditions and are fairly hardy if planted deep and mulched well.  In my garden, I also grow the Mexican species H. pimana and H. ‘New Lion’, a plant of uncertain identity (species or hybrid?) originating from a garden in somewhere in Nuevo León, Mexico.  Because its flowers open sequentially, it blooms over a longer period than H. occidentalis but is not so spectacular.

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Hymenocallis ‘New Lion’

I also grow H. traubii, a miniature wetland species native to Florida, in a pot that I sit in a tray of water.  It seems to produce only two flowers per inflorescence, but they are large for the size of the plant.

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Hymenocallis traubii blooming in a 6″ (15 cm) diameter pot

Moth-pollinated Hymenocallis flowers are fragrant and, as you can see from these photos, invariably white.  The genus gets its scientific name, which means ‘beautiful membrane’, from the tissue that connects the base of the stamens.  This cup varies in size from species to species and is shared by Ismene, a genus of closely related bulbs from Peru.  Ismene and Hymenocallis are distinguished primarily by their foliage.  In Hymenocallis, the leaves are arranged in a simple rosette, while in Ismene, the leaf bases are clasped together to form a pseudostem.  Also, Hymenocallis flowers tend to face up, while Ismene flowers are held horizontally, facing out.

Two old primary hybrids of Ismene are readily available from bulb vendors in the Spring:  Ismene ‘Sulphur Queen’ and Ismene x festalis.  Both are large plants that grow well in 5-gallon or larger nursery pots, and I. x festalis, at least, is reliably hardy in my garden.  I have been growing I. ‘Sulphur Queen’ in a pot, but I think by the end of this year I’ll finally have enough bulbs to try a few in the ground.

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Ismene ‘Sulphur Queen’. The strongly fragrant flowers of this hybrid open pale yellow and fade to cream because of the genetic influence of one of its parents, the bright yellow Ismene amancaes.

Some I. x festalis clones have a tendency to split, producing many small bulbs, instead of flowering.  It’s worth seeking out I. x festalis ‘Zwanenburg’, which is a reliable bloomer.

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Ismene x festalis ‘Zwanenburg’ in the garden

Update:  August 20, 2017

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Hymenocallis occidentalis grown in part shade with Iris tectorum and Aquilegia canadensis

One week after the first H. occidentalis bulb bloomed, a second is flowering.  I planted this bulb in a more shady spot, because I wasn’t sure how much sun H. occidentalis needed.  As you can see, it has fewer flowers than the one planted in full sun, but I was able to get a picture of fresh, undamaged blooms.  My impression is that H. occidentalis has larger flowers than my other Hymenocallis, but I’ll need to make measurements of other plants next year to be sure

 

Six on Saturday #5

I was traveling last weekend and failed to post a Six on Saturday, so this week I’ll start with a plant that bloomed on the day we left town.  Everything else is current.

The last fortnight has been hot and dry.  According to the min-max thermometer on our shaded screen porch, the high temperature while we were away was 98.5 F (36.9 C), and I think most days were well above 90 F (32.2 C).  A kind friend watered our vegetables, but the rest of the garden was starting to look either wilted or crispy.  In the past 36 hours, we finally got some rain, in the form of two brief thunder storms that dropped about 3/4″ (2 cm), so I won’t need to run around with a watering can today.

1. Lycoris longituba (white surprise lily)

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Lycoris longituba

Lycoris is an Asian genus of the Amaryllidaceae, and these long-lived bulbs have been a cherished part of southeastern gardens since the red-flowered L. radiata arrived on a ship that docked at New Bern, North Carolina in 1854.  All Lycoris bloom in late summer to autumn on leafless inflorescences that spring up and flower in just a few days–hence their common name, surprise lily. In my garden, the heirloom variety of L. radiata is the last to bloom, and L. longituba is the first.  I photographed these on July 14, just before leaving for the airport.

Lycoris plants produce their leaves either in late autumn or early spring and go dormant in late spring.  L. longituba is one of spring foliage types, which tend to be hardier than the species that produce leaves on late September or October.  In this climate it is a little precocious, and often starts growing when we have a few warm days in January.

Incidentally, the variegated foliage behind the L. longituba flowers is a hardy ginger, Zingiber mioga ‘Nakafu’

2. Lycoris squamigera (surprise lily, naked ladies)

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Lycoris squamigera

L. squamigera is the most commonly cultivated member of the genus, and it is probably better suited to a slightly cooler climate than we have in North Carolina.  It is a sterile natural hybrid of uncertain origin, although L. longituba may be one of the parents.  In my garden, it blooms a week or two after L. longituba.

L. squamigera is often mistaken for Amaryllis belladona which also shares the common name “naked lady,” but the two plants have very different requirements.  L. squamigera wants cold winters and hot summers, while A. belladonna requires a Mediterranean climate with cool winter rain and temperatures above freezing.

3. Boophone disticha

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Boophone disticha

I didn’t really expect this plant to bloom for a few more years, so I was pleasantly surprised to find buds when I arrived home last Sunday.

B. disticha is a South African member of the Amaryllidaceae.  The large conical bulbs grow almost entirely above ground but are protected by highly toxic sap.   This plant came to me as a small seedling in 2013, and the bulb is currently about 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) diameter.  With care, it could ultimately grow to about three times that size and outlive me.

B. disticha grows in both summer- and winter-rainfall regions of South Africa.  My two plants usually go dormant in early spring and then start growing again in July or August.

4. Musa velutina (pink banana)

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Musa velutina inflorescence

I have been growing this ornamental banana in my garden for fourteen years.  It freezes to the ground each winter, but our summers are long enough for the new growths to bloom and produce bunches of little pink bananas.  When fully ripe, the bananas peel themselves, but most years the first frost arrives before they get to that stage.  They’re edible, sort of, but so full of seeds that it is hardly worth the effort.  Here you can see how the inflorescence produces successive clusters of yellow flower buds protected by hot pink bracts that peel back when the flowers are ready to open. A banana forms at the base of each flower as it fades, so the oldest fruit are at the bottom of the inflorescence and youngest are at the top.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds often visit the fresh flowers, and on several occasions I have seen them bathing in little puddles of rainwater collected on top of a leaf.

5. Narceus sp. (Narceus americanus/annularis complex, American giant millipede)

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Narceus species

After the rain, this morning is cool (75 F, 24 C), grey, and damp.  Just the weather that a big millipede enjoys.  This fellow was climbing the wall beside our front door.  There are two closely related and ill-defined species in eastern North America.  They aren’t as big as some millipedes I have seen in the tropics, but they are still impressively larger than the tiny millipedes that swarm through the leaf litter.

Its legs tickle.

6. Phaseolus vulgaris (yin yang bean)

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Freshly picked Yin Yang beans

We call these beans orca eggs, because they are colored like miniature killer whales.  I managed to ruin last-years crop by storing them in a plastic bag before they were fully dry.  This year, I’ll be more careful and keep them in a paper bag when they have thoroughly dried.

First bloom: Gladiolus saundersii

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Gladiolus saundersii flower

One plant in a batch of about a dozen Gladiolus saundersii seedlings is blooming for the first time, approximately two and a half years from germination.  The inflorescence only has one flower open at a time, but I find the swept-back petals and white speckles quite pleasing.  Definitely a keeper.

After finding the orange Gladiolus dalenii growing in the woods and becoming aware that not all glads look like the big frilly hybrids, I started a search for other South African species that would be hardy in my garden.  Some species I ruled out, because they are winter growers that require mild, wet winters and dry summers.  Others are summer growers but would not tolerate our winter cold.  G. saundersii seemed an excellent candidate, because it is a summer grower that comes from high altitude in the Drakensberg escarpment where it experiences freezing temperatures and snow during the winter.  The only question was whether it would tolerate hot days and warm nights in summer, but so far, so good.

The blooming plant is surprisingly small, and the wiry inflorescence only reaches about two feet tall.  I had expected it to be bigger, and perhaps it will grow larger as it matures.  If not, it will still be a very appealing plant.  I’ll just have to move the plants from their current location at the edge of the garden to a spot at the front of a flowerbed.

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another angle

Gloriosa superba

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Gloriosa superba blooming in my garden after over-wintering in the ground.

When a plant has a name like Gloriosa superba, you expect something special, and this plant does not disappoint.  It is surely one of the most beautiful of all flowers, with its upturned petals in various shades of red, orange, and yellow that give it the common name of flame lily.  G. superba is native to much of southern and tropical Africa and tropical Asia, and I have been surprised to discover that it is reliably hardy in my piedmont garden. My batch of seed-grown plants are currently blooming, both in a large pot and (as seen above) in a sunny, fairly dry flower bed.

G. superba is a deciduous vine which grows from elongated underground tubers.  The leaves have twining tendrils at their tips that allow the vine to scramble up and over other plants or to cling to a trellis.

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Gloriosa leaf tip

The vines grow rapidly during the spring and put on a wonderful show over a fairly long period during the summer.

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Gloriosa superba climbing our deer fence

In the autumn, the vines die back, and the plant goes dormant for the winter.  In the garden, the dormant tubers seem to be able to tolerate some moisture, although the soil should probably be well drained.  In pots, they can be stored completely dry.  Sometimes I remove the tubers from their pots and store them all winter long in a paper bag.  I have also left some in a large pot of dry soil, unwatered for five months.  The tubers don’t seem to care either way.

Although its common name is flame lily, G. superba is a member of the Colchicaceae, not the Liliaceae.  However, the form of its flower is very similar to that of many true lilies.  For instance, this Lilium leichtlinii flower also has upswept petals with a ring of anthers below:

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Lilium leichtlinii, a Japanese lily species that is also blooming in my garden this week

I suspect that the similar morphology reflects adaptation of both plants to pollination by butterflies.  An odd aspect of the floral anatomy of G. superba is the angle at which the style attaches to the bottom of the flower:

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Note the style bent up at an acute angle from the ovary at the bottom of this G. superba flower.  As the blossoms age, the yellow markings on the petals turn red.

Some lilies have curving styles, but I’m not aware of any that bend to this extent.  Consequently, the flower can only be pollinated by a butterfly approaching from one side.  The flower is basically radially symmetric and has anthers pointing in all directions, but there doesn’t seem to be anything to guide a pollinator to the stigma.  The style does generally point away from the stem, though, and perhaps that is sufficient to get the stigma into the flight path of the pollinators.

Kew suggests that G. superba may also be pollinated by sunbirds, but I’m not sure how plausible that is.  Most sunbirds perch to feed on nectar, and a sunbird clinging to the stem of the Gloriosa vine or its support plant would be on the wrong side of the flower to effect pollination.  An alternative explanation is that sunbirds visit G. superba to seek insect prey [1].

G. superba tubers are readily available in the spring from bulb vendors, but when I grew plants from purchased tubers, color break in the flowers suggested that they were virused.  I subsequently obtained some virus-free seed and found it fairly easy to germinate.  The first seedlings bloomed two years from germination.  The plants have the potential to become invasive weeds in mild climates, so be careful about planting them out in the garden.

One final word of warning:  G. superba produces an array of potentially lethal alkaloids, including colchicine, and all parts of the plant are highly toxic.  Avoid contact with the sap, don’t allow children to pick the flowers, and keep pets that might chew on leaves away from the plants.  The tubers are particularly poisonous, so don’t store them with your sweet potatoes, OK?

Reference

  1.  Cheke, RA, Mann, CF, Allen, R (2001)  Sunbirds:  A Guide to the Sunbirds, Flowerpeckers, Spiderhunters, and Sugarbirds of the World, Christopher Helm Publishers, London, page 314.