In 2015, I bought a Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ in a 3″ pot. Brugmansias are only marginally hardy in zone 7, so I planted it on the sheltered east side of the house. Unfortunately, the soil there is very lean and dry, so although the plant survived the winter, it only grew about a foot tall and shed all its leaves by mid-summer.
This spring, I dug it up and moved it to a a flower bed with richer soil that catches much of the rain that runs off the lawn. Once its roots were established, it responded by sprouting up to about 5′ tall. I have been expecting flowers since midsummer, and the plant has finally decided to oblige.
Surprise! It isn’t Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ after all. The flowers are white, not yellow, so this must be Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’, which is also sold by the same nursery. I’m surprised, because the nursery in question is usually pretty good about correctly labeling their plants. Possibly a customer pulled a tag and then put it back in the wrong pot.
The average date of first frost around here is October 23*, so hopefully I’ll have a couple more weeks of flowers. There are certainly plenty of buds. The stems will surely freeze back to the ground this winter, but if I mulch the roots well, I’m cautiously optimistic that the plant will grow faster next year and start blooming earlier.
When I became interested in growing bulbs, particularly tropical amaryllids, I soon learned that some species were either priced far beyond my budget or were simply unavailable from commercial vendors. I had been growing orchids for about two decades, so it took me a little while to cotton on to the fact that most bulbs can be grown easily from seed. Unlike orchid seeds, which require lab equipment and good sterile technique for flasking, bulb seeds only require appropriate potting soil and a modicum of patience. Specialist nurseries sometimes offer seed of rare species at affordable prices, and bulb enthusiasts are generous with seeds from their plants, particularly through hobbyist exchanges like that run by the Pacific Bulb Society.
I have found that exchange seed is usually labeled accurately, but occasionally I get a surprise when the plants finally flower. That’s not to say that the donor deliberately mislabeled the seed. Most hobbyists aren’t taxonomists and may be growing mislabeled plants without realizing it. Many amaryllids enthusiastically hybridize, and bees or other insects could cross-pollinate plants in a mixed collection. And of course, accidental mix-ups could occur either in the donor’s greenhouse or in the seed exchange inventory.
Which brings us to the plant above (and below).
In July 2014, I obtained seed ostensibly from Hippeastrum stylosum, a species from northern Brazil and Guyana that is not available from bulb vendors. Judging by photos on the web (Google), the inflorescence of H. stylosum carries multiple salmon-colored flowers with distinctively elongated stamens and pistil that protrude well beyond the petals.
A couple of weeks ago, I was excited to see an inflorescence forming on one of the seedlings. The flower has finally opened, and as you can see, it isn’t H. stylosum. It’s clearly a hybrid involving a Hippeastrum of some kind, but its precise parentage is unclear. Judging by its narrow, curled petals, strong red color, narrow foliage, and the fact that it produced a single flower, I wonder if it is xHippeastrelia, a hybrid between Hippeastrum and the Mexican amaryllid Sprekelia formossisima
I have several other seedlings, but as they all have identical foliage, I don’t hold out much hope that they’ll prove to be H. stylosum.
Oh, well. You win some, you lose some. Anyone have the true Hippeastrum stylosum?
This week, a Cyrtanthus obliquus bulb that I purchased in July 2013 is flowering for the first time in my collection.
With its large tubular flowers, glaucous foliage, and onion-sized bulbs growing exposed at the surface, C. obliquus is one of the most impressive species of the genus Cyrtanthus (Amaryllidaceae). It hails from southeastern Africa in a region extending from the southern Cape to just north of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, where it often grows on rock outcrops among various succulent plants .
C. obliquus is evergreen, and in my collection it seems to grow slowly year-round, producing one or two new leaves at irregular intervals while old leaves senesce at about the same rate. In winter, it sits in the sunniest part of the greenhouse (minimum temp 60 F, 15.5 C), and in summer it goes outside in full sun. I water it a couple of times a week in summer if the weather is dry. I give it less water in winter but do not allow it to remain bone dry for long periods.
Duncan, G., Jeppe, B., and Voight, L. (2016) The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa, Umdaus Press, Pretoria, South Africa.
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)
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’
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
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.