Six on Saturday #20, February 3, 2018

It’s already Sunday across the Atlantic where the host of “Six on Saturday” lives, but it’s still Saturday evening here.   I guess it isn’t too late to participate.  And regardless of whether it’s Saturday or Sunday where you live, you can still head over to The Propagator’s blog to see his Six and links to those of other participants.

It’s still well below freezing most nights, but there are tentative signs of life in the garden…

1. Cyclamen coum

cyclamen_coum1

cyclamen_coum2

Cyclamen coum isn’t as vigorous and well adapted to our climate as C. hederifolium, but a couple of tiny plants are hanging on under the pines.  Every year, they bloom in the dead of winter, and every year I almost step on them.

2.  Helleborus niger (Christmas rose)

Helleborus_niger

The foliage of Helleborus niger has been flattened by the snow and cold, but at least it isn’t hiding the flowers on their very short stems.  Some people trim off the old leaves of hellebores just before they bloom.  That would certainly make the flowers of this species more visible, but I worry that removing leaves from a slow-growing evergreen species would be detrimental.

3. Lonicera fragrantissima (Winter honeysuckle)

Lonicera_fragrantissima

The flowers of Lonicera fragrantissima certainly aren’t spectacular, but the fragrance is absolutely wonderful.  I planted a row of the shrubs at the top of our driveway, at the northwestern edge of our property, so the prevailing west winds of winter spread the perfume down towards our front door.  I’d be quite proud of myself if it wasn’t completely fortuitous.  The direction of winter breezes was the furthest thing from my mind when I was deciding where to plant them.

L. fragrantissima is frequently found on lists of invasive plants, but luckily I very rarely see any fruit and have never found a volunteer seedling.  All of my plants are a single clone, and I wonder if they are not very self-compatible.

4.  Epidendrum stamfordianum

Epi_stamfordianum

In my greenhouse, this pretty little central American orchid is blooming for the first time.  It is still a fairly small seedling, so I expect to see longer inflorescence with more flowers in subsequent years.

5. Rauhia decora

rauhia_decora

This is the first year that my Rauhia decora bulb has produced two leaves instead of just one, so I am cautiously optimistic that it may be approaching blooming size.  If it doesn’t bloom this year, then maybe in 2019.

6.  Pachypodium brevicaule

pachy_brevicaule

I can see inflorescences starting on several of the spring-blooming Pachypodiums, but P. brevicaule is always the first to flower.

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A second look at a neotropical blueberry

Here’s another picture of the Macleania species that I discussed in a post ten days ago.  As the flowers have aged, the color has changed significantly.

Here is what the flowers look like today:

macleania_sp
Macleania species aff. smithiana (H.B.G. 89922)

And here is what they looked like ten days ago:

Macleania 3

Here is the original post.

A neotropical blueberry

Macleania 3
Macleania species aff. smithiana (H.B.G. 89922)

No bonus points for guessing the pollinator of this plant.  It has hot pink tubular flowers of heavy, waxy substance.  It has to be pollinated by birds, right?  If I tell you that it’s from South America, then it’s obviously hummingbird-pollinated.

Macleania–a genus in the Ericaceae, the blueberry/rhododendron/heather family–is a plant geek’s delight.   Macleania species are found in central and South America, generally in high altitude cloud forest. Many are epiphytes that produce lignotubers, swollen roots or stem bases that store moisture and nutrients.  Their tubular flowers come in shades of bright orange, red, and pink, highlighted with green and yellow, and their berries are often sweet and edible.

The label of the plant illustrated above, Macleania sp. aff. smithiana, indicates that it may or may not be the species M. smithiana.  It generally fits the description of M. smithiana, except that its flowers are pink/yellow instead of orange-red/green.  Since plant descriptions are generally based on a limited range of specimens, it may turn out to be a color variant of M. smithiana.  Alternatively, it might be a closely related species.  The “aff.” (affinis) in the label reflects that uncertainty.  It came with an accession number from the Huntington Botanical Garden (HBG 89922), so there’s a chance I may be able to find out more someday.

I purchased this rooted cutting in autumn, 2016, because it was advertised as originating from lowland forest near Esmereldas, Ecuador.  Most Macleania species in cultivation are from higher elevation and are therefore less likely to tolerate our long hot summers.  So far, the plant has performed well, producing clean new growth and blooming for the first time this month.  I am growing it in a mix of permatill and long-fiber sphagnum moss, outside under shade-cloth in summer and in a cool corner of the greenhouse in winter.

First bloom: Hippeastrum calyptratum

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Hippeastrum calyptratum

It’s frigid outside, but with a little help from LP gas (OK, a lot of help), it’s the tropics in my greenhouse.  This week, the star is a seed-grown Hippeastrum calyptratum bulb, flowering for the first time four years after germination.

H. calyptratum is a very unusual amaryllid from the Atlantic Forest of southern Brazil, where it grows as an epiphyte on tree trunks. The pale green flowers are pollinated by bats and are often reported to produce a odor like burning plastic.  To my nose, they smell more like wet paint, but the fragrance is not very strong–at least not from this seedling.

calyptratum2

There are two (possibly three) other epiphytic Hippeastrum species.  I previously posted on H. aulicum when my plants bloomed in autumn.  The third epiphytic species, H. papilio is currently blooming a few feet away from the H. calyptratum, and a different clone bloomed earlier, at the same time as my H. aulicum.

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Hippeastrum papilio

The fourth epiphyte, H. arboricola, is rather mysterious.  It was apparently described from a single plant found growing on a fallen tree in a clear-cut forest and has not been seen since.  It is not clear if H. arboricola represents a distinct epiphytic species, possibly now extinct, or if it was a terrestrial species that was growing opportunistically on a tree.

H. aulicum and H. papilio are large, robust plants, very easy to grow in a mix of commercial potting soil and permatill (stalite).  When I tried that mix with H. calyptratum, the plants did well initially but later lost their roots.  In some cases, the entire basal plate rotted, destroying the bulb.  I now use a very open, wholly inorganic mix of scoria (red lava rock) and permatill in terracotta pots and have much better results. As befits an epiphyte, I plant the bulb high in the pot, with just a few large chunks of scoria holding it in place.  The roots are quite happy to wander around on the surface of the mix.

papilio-calyptratum
Hippeastrum calyptratum (left) and Hippeastrum papilio (right)

Assuming that my blooming plant is close to full size, the bulbs of H. calyptratum seem to be significantly smaller than those of H. aulicum and H. papilio, and the leaves are proportionally shorter and narrower.   H. calyptratum shares with its larger epiphytic cousins a growth cycle that is quite different than that of the Hippeastrum (“Amaryllis”) hybrids sold for forcing in winter.  H. calyptratum has a short dormancy in mid-summer, but it retains some of its leaves and does not want to be bone dry for long periods while dormant.  As temperatures cool in autumn, my plants begin growing again, and they continue producing new leaves intermittently through the winter.

Better late than never

Brugmansia-white
Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’

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.

*That’s the historic average for 1951-1980.  My impression is that during the past decade, we have usually been frost-free until after Hallowe’en.