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 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

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.


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.

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.

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 ‘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.

Win some, lose some

A hybrid amaryllid, perhaps Hippeastrum x Sprekelia

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).

hybrid amaryllid, side view

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

Sprekelia formossisima, the Jacobean lily

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?

Want to trade?