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

First bloom: Brunsvigia namaquana

Brunsvigia namaquana inflorescence
Brunsvigia namaquana

If you aren’t a plant geek, these little flowers probably don’t seem very exciting.  They’re small, not very brightly colored, and sort of an odd shape.  But I was surprised and delighted to see them in my greenhouse this week, the first flowers produced by half a dozen Brunsvigia namaquana bulbs that I have been growing since 2013.  For those of you who aren’t obsessed with amaryllids, I’ll try to explain why I was so thrilled.

Burnsvigia namaquana flowers
The same inflorescence from a slightly different angle

The genus Brunsvigia is, as I indicated above, part of the Amaryllidaceae, the amaryllis family.  There are seventeen Brunsvigia species, all growing as deciduous bulbs and all from southern Africa.  The largest species like B. josephinae have 50-60-cm diameter umbels of deep red flowers on stout stems that can support the sunbirds that pollinate them.  B. namaquana, at the opposite end of the scale, is the smallest species, with leaves about 4 cm long growing from a bulb only 2-3 cm in diameter.  The inflorescence is about 10 cm tall.

If you are interested in bulbs or succulent plants, the species epithet “namaquana” is highly evocative.  It refers to Namaqualand, an arid region in northwestern South Africa and southern Namibia that is famous for its flora.  The most spectacular endemic plant species is the Halfmens, Pachypodium namaquanum, but per Wikipedia, almost one third of the plants that grow in Namaqualand are found nowhere else.

Like most Namaqualand plants, B. namaquana is a winter grower, producing its foliage after autumn rains and going dormant in spring.  The prostrate leaves of B. namaquana have odd yellowish bristles on their upper surfaces and are almost more interesting than the flowers.

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The leaves of my B. namaquana bulbs last November

My plants should be deep in their summer dormancy, so I was very surprised to see these flowers.   The pot containing the bulbs, along with the pots of various other winter growers, was shoved into the back corner of the greenhouse where they can stay warm and dry, and where I am unlikely to accidentally water them.  Ordinarily I don’t pay them much attention during the summer, but I happened to glance over at just the right time.  I would have been annoyed if I had found the mummified remains of the inflorescence when I pull the pot out this autumn.

I would have expected the plants to flower–if they were going to flower–in early autumn, just before the leaves emerge.  However, according to Graham Duncan [1], B. namaquana in its natural habitat flowers erratically any time from November to May (early summer to late autumn), usually in response to brief, sporadic rain showers.  I am fairly sure I didn’t accidentally water the dormant bulbs, but the past several weeks have been very rainy.  Possibly the consistently high humidity was enough to wake up one of the bulbs.

B. namaquana is not common in cultivation, at least not in the United States, but if you are lucky enough to obtain some bulbs, I’d suggest growing them in a well drained mix in an unglazed terracotta pot so that they dry rapidly after watering.  I use a mix of roughly equal parts commercial potting soil, coarse silica sand, and stalite (permatill).  In a plastic pot, I’d cut way back on the potting soil and use a mostly inorganic mix.  I usually start watering in mid September and keep the pot outside during dry weather until the first frosts threaten.  Then I bring the plants inside and continue watering weekly or biweekly depending on how sunny the weather is.  The plants usually start to go dormant in late February or early March, and I leave the pot completely dry all summer.  Humidity is fairly high in the greenhouse, though, and that probably helps to prevent too much desiccation of the bulbs.  Minimum temperature in the greenhouse is 60 F (15.5C) in winter, and maximum temperature is 90 F (32 C) in summer.

It will be interesting to see if any more of the bulbs bloom this autumn.

Reference

  1. Duncan, G., Jeppe, B., and Voight, L. (2016)  The Amaryllidaceae of Southern Africa, Umdaus Press, Pretoria, South Africa.

First bloom

It is always exciting when a plant in my collection blooms for the first time, especially so when the plant is an orchid.  I find that I am often surprised by the size of a new flower.  Orchid books and websites usually include closeup photos with very few indicators of scale, so I often imagine the plant much larger or smaller than it actually is.  This week, a hardy  terrestrial orchid is blooming for the fist time in the garden, and I find that once again, I had somehow developed a mental image at odds with its real size.

Calanthe sieboldii

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Calanthe sieboldii (syn. Calanthe striata)

The Kew checklist gives Calanthe striata as the accepted name for this species, but for now, I’ll stick with the name that is more commonly used in horticulture.

Like many plants from Japan and adjacent regions of China and Korea, C. sieboldii does very well in our climate.  I planted it under a dogwood tree last summer, so it gets full sun now but will be shaded when the canopy fills in over the next few weeks . Before planting, I amended the native clay with permatill, a little peat, and rotted wood chips left over from the last time we had some trees cut down.

None of the calamities that I feared came to pass, and the buds on my plant opened this week.  The flowers, yellow with a hint of green, aren’t as intensely colored as the yellow daffodils, but they are nevertheless very pretty.  They’re significantly larger than I expected for a hardy Calanthe.  I had only seen the diminutive Calanthe discolor in bloom previously, and this plant is larger in all aspects.  Incidentally, the hybrid of C. sieboldii and C. discolor, Calanthe Takane, is in bud a few feet away and may be the subject of a blog post next week.

You might be able to get a better idea of the flowers’ size with the gardener’s fingers in the frame to give a sense of scale.  It will also give you a better look at the interior of the nodding flower.  The column looks something like a bird’s head with two beady brown eyes.

Calanthe sieboldii, flower closeup
Calanthe sieboldii, flower closeup