Renanthera imschootiana

Ren_imschootiana1

Depending on how I do the math, I have been waiting to see these flowers for eight years, or just over twenty five years.  Back in the mid 1990s, when I first started growing orchids, I purchased a seedling of Renanthera imschootiana ‘Saigon’ x self to grow under fluorescent lights in my student apartment in Michigan.  Orchid growers will recognize that it was a poor choice for my growing area; Renanthera species and hybrids require high humidity and very bright light–up to full tropical sun.  After a few years, I came to the same realization and sold the plant to make room for something I had a chance of flowering.

Fast forward to about 2005.  I now lived in North Carolina and had a greenhouse where I could give large orchids much brighter light and higher humidity.  I still loved red flowers, and the very rare R. imschootiana has a certain mystique. I decided to try growing the species again

But I couldn’t find a plant to buy.  This isn’t uncommon if you go searching for one particular orchid.  There are about 28,000 orchid species and hundreds of thousands of registered hybrids, so only a tiny fraction are in commercial production at any time.  Someone flasks a batch of seedlings, and that species is available for sale until they run out.  Then, the species may be virtually unobtainable, unless you know a grower who will give you a division, until someone else produces a new batch of seedlings.

Finally, in 2012, I purchased a seedling of R. imschootiana ‘Newberry’ x ‘Saigon’ from Carter and Holmes Orchids.  That one of the parents of the new seedling was the same as the parent of my old seedling probably speaks to the small gene pool of cultivated plants in the U.S. (Carter and Holmes doesn’t seem to have plants for sale any more, but I see that seedlings are available from Santa Barbara Orchid Estate).

So, about the plant:  R. imschootiana is a relatively small species in terms of leaf-span, although it can grow tall with time.  It is basically a slow-motion vine, taking ten years to grow the distance that a honeysuckle vine could grow in a week, but it eventually grows long enough to need support.  Roots and inflorescences grow from the leaf axils at random intervals along the main stem which occasionally branches.  My plant is potted in a 4″ terracotta pot filled with large chunks of scoria (red lava rock).  When it got top heavy, I put the 4″ pot in a 6″ pot, and roots have filled the space between the pots.  The vining stems are supported by several stiff wires.

Ren_imschootiana3

After a few years in my greenhouse, the plant sprouted a stem that resembled an inflorescence, but instead of flowers it produced a single terminal keiki (plantlet).  The next year, the same thing happened, and the year after.  Many of the Renanthera species and hybrids more common in cultivation are lowland tropicals that grow well in a warm greenhouse, but R. imschootiana is from higher elevation (Assam, northern Indochina, Yunnan) and is noted for tolerating winter temperatures near freezing. Suspecting that the plant was too comfortable with a minimum temperature of 60 F in my greenhouse, I left it outside during the autumn of 2018 until temperatures dropped to near freezing.  I then put the plant on the floor of the greenhouse near the door and reduced watering so that it stayed cool and dry for much of the winter.  Whenever the weather was dry and above freezing, I put it back outside again.  Result: nothing.  Last winter, I just left the plant on a bench in a sunny part of the greenhouse and watered it along with all the other orchids.  Result:  four inflorescences.

So, ~1995-2020 = 25 years.  2012-2020 = 8 years.  Either span is a long time to wait.  I just wish I knew what induced the plant to flower this year.

Ren_imschootiana2

Six on Saturday #53 (April 18, 2020)

This week started with the screech of a tornado warning emanating from every iphone in the house. We scrambled out of bed, turned on the TV, and saw that the putative tornado was a few miles southwest of us, tracking northeast.  Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, we got the kids up and took shelter with the spiders in the crawl space.   Luckily, the storm broke apart before reaching us, so after a few minutes we were able to go back in for breakfast, a little soggy from the rain but otherwise unscathed.  Strong winds the rest of the day stripped most of the remaining flowers off the dogwoods but did no other damage to the garden.

After the storm on Monday, the rest of the week has been sunny and dry, though cool–we flirted with frost on Wednesday and Thursday morning, but even the volunteer tomato seedlings that are sprouting in the vegetable beds were unaffected.

1. Myrmecocattleya Memoria Louise Fuchs

M_mem_Louise_Fuchs

In the greenhouse, Myrmecocattleya Memoria Louise Fuchs is perfuming the air.  This orchid is a primary hybrid of Myrmecophila tibicinis, famous for its hollow pseudobulbs inhabited by ant colonies, and Cattleya bicolor, a very tall and spindly Brazilian biofoliate species.  This particular plant is actually the product of self-pollinating a first generation Myc. Memoria Louise Fuchs, but under the rules of orchid nomenclature, it retains the same grex name. Its pseudobulbs are relatively short and stout, like those of its Myrmecophila parent, while genes from C. bicolor have shortened the inflorescence.  Both species tend to have clustered flowers, but this plant has inherited fragrance and rich purple color from C. bicolor, and nicely crisped petals from M. tibicinis.  All in all, a good result of hybridizer’s efforts.

M_mem_Louise_Fuchs2

2. Rhododendron cf. periclymenoides

R_periclymenoides

I featured this deciduous azalea in a Six on Saturday last April, but the flowers then were not at their best.  I am almost sure that it is R. periclymenoides, the native pinxter flower.  I now have a second plant on the other side of the house–an R. alabamense that I purchased from a reputable source last autumn has also bloomed out as R. periclymenoides.

3. Rhododendron austrinum (Florida flame azalea)

R_austrinum1

Another North American deciduous azalea. This plant was in one of my earliest blog postings, but it is so lovely I couldn’t resist showing it again. The early butterflies love it.

R_austrinum 2

4. red azaleas

Wolfpack Red

Next up, two evergreen azalea hybrids.  Above is Rhododendron ‘Wolfpack Red’, one of the CarLa hybrids resulting from a collaboration between horticulture departments at North Carolina State University and Louisiana State University.  This clone is named for the NC State Wolfpack, whose colors are red, white, and black (but predominantly red).

Below is an unlabeled hybrid that I bought several years ago at Costco.  I really like the color of this plant–its red is at the orange end of the spectrum, unlike most red azaleas which have hints of pink or magenta.  I may try propagating it this year, but my success rate with Rhododendron cuttings is not high.  Maybe air layering would be better?

Red_Azalea

5. Narcissus ‘Thalia’

Narcissus_Thalia

Narcissus ‘Thalia’ is a century-old hybrid that was recommended by Scott Ogden in Garden Bulbs for the South (Timber Press).  This is my first year growing it, but I really like the gently nodding white flowers.  I hope it comes back next year.

6. Epimedium ‘Stoplights’

Epimedium_stoplights

I keep falling for pictures of spidery Epimediums in garden catalogs, and when they bloom I am always surprised by how tiny they are and how brief the flowering season is.  This one is no exception.

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 #51 (January 25, 2020)

There still isn’t a lot going on in either the garden or the greenhouse, but by carefully hoarding interesting sights, I have managed to scrape together the first Six on Saturday of the year.  1-3 are in the greenhouse, 4-6 outside.

1. Paphiopedilum liemianum (mottled leaf form).

Paph_liemianum1

Although I have four or five slipper orchids in bud, this is one of only two that are currently flowering.  It’s hardly surprising that  P. liemianum, from northern Sumatra, is flowering now, because it flowers almost constantly.  It’s one of the sequential flowering species of section Cochlopetalum, and it is a great choice if you have only a small orchid collection.  The inflorescences produce one flower after another, each one opening around the time that the old one drops.  By the time an inflorescence is exhausted, a new growth has usually matured and is ready to flower.

Typically, P. liemianum has plain green leaves, but this clone has an attractive mottled pattern.  Its flower is fairly small and poorly shaped compared to some of the line-bred forms that are available, making me suspect that the parent plant was selected for breeding primarily on the basis of its unusual foliage.

Paph_liemianum2

The other slipper currently in bloom is Paphiopedilum villosum, which I featured in November.  Paph flowers last a looooong time.

2.  Monolena primuliflora

Monolena1

Monolena2

This unusual plant grows as an epiphyte or terrestrial in rainforest from Costa Rica to southern Peru and adjacent Brazil.  The flowers, while pretty, last less than a day, but the seed capsules are almost as attractive as the flowers and are significantly longer lived.  The thickened rhizome suggests a plant that can tolerate some drought, but looks can be deceiving.  The plants wilt and shrivel rapidly if the soil dries out.

Monolena3

I have lost track of how old this plant is.  Maybe ten or twelve years? In theory, I grow M. primuliflora in pure sphagnum moss kept constantly moist, but I think the sphagnum has all rotted away and new rhizome is just rooting into old decayed rhizome.

3. Lachenalia sp. (L. aloides?)

Lachenalia1

I received these unlabeled bulbs as part of a trade about seven years ago.  They have been growing in a 3-inch pot for about the last five years, blooming reliably in midwinter and going dormant by late February or early March.  I think they are the South African Lachenalia aloides var aloides (cape cowslip).

4. Lentinula edodes (shiitake)

shiitake1

We have harvested and eaten the first few shiitake mushrooms from the log garden that I inoculated with mycelium fourteen months ago.  No sign of the lion’s mane mushrooms yet.

5.  Phoradendron leucarpum (oak mistletoe) growing on Carya sp. (hickory)

Phoradendron1

Although it looks a lot like European mistletoe (Viscum album), our native oak mistletoe is in a completely different genus.  I’m not sure if P. leucarpum can be substituted for European mistletoe in magic potion, but it seems to work just as well at Christmas time.  The only difficulty lies in harvesting it. This mistletoe is about 40 or 50 feet up in one of our taller hickory trees.

Phoradendron2

6. Fuligo septica (dog vomit slime mold)

Fuligo

Fuligo septica is the most common, or at least the most conspicuous, slime mold in our garden.  Its aethelia (fruiting bodies) commonly appear on the hardwood mulch that I spread on the flowerbeds.  Often they are an extremely lurid, almost fluorescent yellow color.  This aethelium is somewhat pale but quite large–63 cm diameter.

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 #49 (November 30, 2019)

It was a bit of struggle to find six things to write about today.  There aren’t many orchids blooming in my greenhouse at this time of year, and the weather outside hasn’t been conducive to growth of much other than fungus.

1. Aplectrum hyemale (puttyroot orchid) and Lycoperdon species (puffball)

Aplectrum

While I don’t enjoy chilly, damp weather, these two species certainly do.  The striped winter-green leaf of an Aplectrum hyemale that I planted last spring has emerged among a dense crop of young puffballs.  I am fairly sure that these are Lycoperdon pyriforme, the pear-shaped puffball. If so, they should be edible, but I’m not certain enough of my identification skills to risk it.  As they say, every mushroom is edible…once.

According to wikipedia, Lycoperdon translates as “wolf farts.”  Just thought you should know.

2. Gardenia jasminoides (hardy gardenia)

Gardenia_fruit

The scented flowers of this G. jasminoides featured in Six on Saturday #46.  Although not fragrant, its fruit are as almost as attractive as the flowers and make a strong argument for growing wild type plants instead of sterile double-flowered clones.  The crown-like tips of the  fruit were originally green but have been burned by frost.

3. Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’

Yuletide

I featured this shrub in Six on Saturday #16 two years ago, but it is too good not to revisit.  When I took this photo, a few sluggish late-season bees were visiting the flowers and getting covered with pollen, but despite their attentions, I have never found fruit.  I’m not sure if this hybrid is completely sterile or just incapable of self pollination.  Flowers can be destroyed by temperatures in the mid 20s F (-3 or -4 C), but the buds mature over a fairly long period, giving me a good crop of flowers both before and after cold snaps.  In the summer, it makes an attractive dark green backdrop for warm weather flowers.

4.  Cattleya cernua

Cattleya_cernua

In the greenhouse, Cattleya cernua is flowering on a small slab of cork bark.  This miniature Brazilian orchid was once the type species of Sophronitis, a small genus of miniature epiphytic orchids that were distinguished from Cattleya mainly by flowers adapted for pollination by hummingbirds instead of bees.   However, DNA sequencing demonstrated that C. cernua wasn’t very closely related to the other Sophronitis species, and the whole genus has been sunk into an expanded Cattleya.

Most of the former Sophronitis are cloud forest species that are quite difficult to grow in North Carolina, but C. cernua thrives in our hot summers and brightens up the greenhouse at the dullest time of year.

5.  Zelenkoa onusta

Zelenkoa

Zelenkoa onusta is from Ecuador and Peru, where it sometimes grows on columnar cacti.  As suggested by this growth habit, it requires warm, dry conditions in cultivation.  My plant is in a small clay pot with a few chunks of scoria, but one of the best plants I have seen is at the Orchid Trail Nursery, growing on a live Pachypodium as a substitute for a cactus.

6. Paphiopedilum villosum

Paph_villosum1

And finally, a recent purchase. Paphiopedilum villosum is from Indochina, where it grows as a lithophyte or epiphyte in damp highland forests.  P. villosum has been popular among orchid growers since the Victorian period and is one of the foundations of the standard complex Paphiopedilum hybrids. This particular plant came from a nursery in Hawaii and is the product of selective breeding aimed at increasing the size of the dorsal sepal and minimizing its tendency to roll back along the sides.

Paph_villosum2

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 #48 (September 28, 2019)

We’re almost a week past the autumnal equinox, but it still feels like summer.  Temperatures are running about ten degrees F above normal, and we haven’t had measurable rain since August.  The soil is bone dry, and leaves are starting to dry up instead of changing color properly.  There’s a chance of a shower tonight, but the forecast for the next week is more of the same: bright sun and mid 80s-90s F until Friday at least.

1. Epiphyllum oxypetalum (queen of the night)

Epiphyllum1
Bud opening at 2100.
Epiphyllum2
Fully open at 2215
Epiphyllum3
Collapsing at 0700 the next morning

The large, fragrant flowers of E. oxypetalum, an epiphytic cactus from southern Mexico and Guatemala, open at night and fade by the next morning.  I was pleased with this solitary bloom, but when I posted a picture on Facebook, a friend told me that his plant had more than 40 flowers!

2. Spiranthes odorata?  (ladies’ tresses)

Spiranthes

I think this is S. odorata, but I’m really not sure how to distinguish that species from S. cernua.  Paul Martin Brown [1] says that there is considerable gene-flow between S. cernua and other Spiranthes species, so maybe a definite I.D. is impossible. Either way, I like the flowers.  These little orchids don’t seem to be very long-lived, but they seed around and sprout in the pots of various bog plants.  This one volunteered in a pot of Gentiana autumnalis.

3.  Diospyros virginiana (American persimmon)

persimmon1

persimmon2

About nine years ago, I transplanted some root suckers from a large persimmon planted by my wife’s grandparents in Pennsylvania, probably in the 1940s.  The transplants have finally given us some fruit, which is seedy but delicious.  These are the first of the harvest, and we’ll be picking more as they become soft enough to eat.  You do NOT want to sample an American persimmon that isn’t fully ripe.  They are unbelievably astringent.

4.  Hedychium coccineum ‘Applecourt’

Hedychium applecourt

I thought I had already featured this hardy ornamental ginger, but I can’t find it in any past blog posts.  The flowers lack the fragrance of H. coronarium, but I am a sucker for bright orange.  In previous years, it has given me one flush of flowers at the tail end of summer, but this year the clump has finally grown large enough to flower on and off for months.

5. Colchicum ‘Innocence’

Colchicum innocence

This is a white flowered clone of the sterile hybrid Colchicum byzantinus.  My colchicums have struggled this year, probably due to the high temperatures and lack of rain in autumn thus far, and many have not yet poked their noses above the soil.

6. Salvia elegans (pineapple sage)

Salvia_elegans

S. elegans is usually grown as an annual north of zone 8, but my plants survived last winter.  Another sign that climate zones are shifting north, I suppose.  This species gives me attractive foliage on a neat shrub-like form for most of the spring and summer, and then it flowers just in time for the autumn migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird.

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.

Reference

1. Brown, P.M. (2004).  Wild Orchids of the Southeastern United States North of Peninsular Florida.  University Press of Florida, Gainsville, Florida.