Lady’s slipper orchids

This is the blooming season for the two species of lady’s slipper orchids that are native to the North Carolina piedmont.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time to go out searching for them this year, but I have been lucky enough to see and photograph both species in past years.

Cypripedium acuale (pink lady’s slipper, moccasin flower)

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Cypripedium acaule blooming in late April

C. acaule is definitely the most common of the two species in the piedmont.  The plants are tolerant of varied moisture levels, and their main requirement is for very acidic soil.  They often grow in fairly dry pine woods, but I have also seen plants in mixed deciduous forest.

Blooming-size plants usually produce a pair of pleated leaves that sit flat on the ground and are easy to recognize even when the plant isn’t flowering:

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Having said that C. acaule leaves are easy to identify, I sure hope I haven’t misidentified this plant that I photographed in late summer in eastern Maine.

A good place to see C. acaule in the Triangle area is William B. Umstead State Park.  I’ve seen plants blooming along the trail near the Reedy Creek Entrance.

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens (greater yellow lady’s slipper)

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Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens blooming at an undisclosed location in Durham County, late April, 2016

C. parviflorum var. pubescens is quite rare in the piedmont, and I have only seen plants at one location.  They were growing among Christmas ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides) on a fairly steep hillside in deciduous forest dominated by beeches, oaks, and tulip poplars.

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Habitat of C. parviflorum var. pubescens.  The plants were growing near the top of the slope.
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Another flower

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Because C. parviflorum var. pubescens is rare and is one of the native plants most likely to be poached by unscrupulous plant collectors, I don’t feel comfortable publishing the location of this population on the internet.  Thanks for understanding.  If I know you in real life, you can ask me in person.

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Cynorkis angustipetala (with a guest appearance by Platanthera ciliaris)

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Cynorkis angustipetala flowering in my greenhouse

This terrestrial orchid has a confused and confusing nomenclatural history (see wikipedia), but it is a beautiful and relatively easy subject for the warm greenhouse or, possibly, a sunny windowsill.

Cynorkis angustipetala is from Madagascar and is a member of the subtribe Habenariinae, which also includes our native Platanthera orchids:

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Platanthera ciliaris (yellow fringed orchid) flowering beside a road in Pender County, North Carolina.  The overall morphology of the inflorescence and individual flowers is similar to that of C. angustipetala, but the highly fringed labellum gives a different impression.

In common with most of the tropical Habenariinae, C. angustipetala requires a dry winter dormancy when the foliage completely dies away, and the plant consists of a sausage-shaped tuber buried in the potting mix.  C. angustifolia is one of the earliest of this group to break dormancy, and it will often start growing before I begin watering in the spring.  My plants are currently blooming,  while their relatives Habenaria rhodocheila and Pecteilis hawkesiana have yet to reveal whether they survived this year’s dormancy.

Potting mix can either be long fibered sphagnum or (my favorite) a 50/50 mix of sphagnum peat moss and perlite.  Beware of perlite that has added fertilizer, because most terrestrial orchids react poorly to over-fertilization.  In case any manufacturers read this:  Hey!  Stop putting fertilizer in perlite!  The whole point of perlite is that it is inert.

Keep the mix constantly moist from early April until the foliage starts to yellow, probably in September or October, and do not water at all over the winter.  If you are concerned about accidentally watering the pot (or over-drying the tuber in low humidity), you can seal the pot in a ziploc bag. Store the bag indoors in a dark place, because direct sunlight will cook the enclosed tubers.

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Notice the whitish nectar spurs at the back of the C. angustipetala flowers that indicate pollination by sphinx moths or butterflies.  The P. ciliaris shown above also has long spurs and is pollinated by butterflies.

Six on Saturday #24, April 7, 2018

We’re now in that liminal time when every frost could be the last, but we won’t know for sure until several more weeks have passed.  Yesterday was about 75 F (24 C), but snow is possible tonight.

In the woods, native redbuds (Cercis canadensis) and invasive Wisteria sinensis are in full bloom, and the dogwoods (Cornus florida) are just getting started.  In the garden, the first azalea flowers are opening, but most color still comes from spring bulbs.

Here’s what was going on in the garden and greenhouse this week.

1. Tulipa sylvestris (Woodland tulip)

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Last autumn, I planted some bulbs of Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha and Tulipa sylvestrisT. clusiana is supposed to be one of the best tulips for naturalizing in this climate, but I’m not sure how T. sylvestris will do long-term.  It’s possible that this floral show will be a one-time event if T. sylvestris doesn’t tolerate heat and humidity.

2.  Narcissus willkommii

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Another new addition to the garden.  N. willkommii is one of the smallest Narcissus species, so I have planted it more as a curiosity than as a major player in the spring flower beds.  I scattered the bulbs at the edge of a few beds and in dry soil under some hickory trees where they won’t be smothered by more robust plants.  The only other things growing around them are some Cyclamen hederifolium that will be going dormant soon.

3. Trillium luteum

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Along the woodland path, a single T. luteum has persisted for the past seven years in soil that is really too dry and infertile for most woodland wildflowers.  I have a tendency to forget about spring ephemerals during the large portion of the year when they are invisible, so the little red cedar seedling makes a convenient marker when the trillium is dormant.

4.  Rhyncholaelia digbyana

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In this season–when the sun is rising higher in the sky, but the deciduous trees are still leafless–the greenhouse sees the most intense light of the year.  Not surprisingly, this is the blooming season of Rhyncholaelia digbyana, a central American species that requires intense light and hot, dry conditions for best growth.  My two plants are grown at the brightest end of the greenhouse in small terracotta pots with chunks of scoria and aliflor as the growing medium.

R. digbyana is one of the basic genetic building blocks of cattleya hybrids, and its fantastic, deeply incised labellum is the source of the large, frilly lip beloved of hybridizers.  The flowers also have a pleasant lemony fragrance.  Unfortunately, R. digbyana usually produces only one short-lived flower per growth, and those traits are also inherited.

5.  Sarcoglottis sceptrodes

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A terrestrial orchid from central America.  I think the flowers look like the heads of sauropod dinosaurs.

6.  Enanthleya Bob Gasko

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This hybrid is (Guarianthe aurantiaca x Encyclia incumbens) x (Cattleya harpophylla x Cattleya neokautskyi), so three of its four grandparents have bright orange flowers.  Vegetatively, it is intermediate between a Guarianthe and an Encylia, with cigar-shaped pseudobulbs that flush red in bright light and two stiff leaves on each pseudobulb.

For more Six on Saturday, navigate to The Propagator.  See his participant’s guide if you want to post your own.

Six on Saturday #21, February 17, 2018

After a frigid start to the year, we seem to have entered a warmer weather pattern.  Temperatures on Thursday and Friday reached the mid to upper 70s (~25 C).  Today is 46 (8 C), but the next week will be back in the 60s and 70s.  Early spring bulbs and a few perennials have suddenly started to flower, but I’m sure that we haven’t seen the last cold weather for this winter.

1.  Ligularia japonica ‘Chinese Dragon’

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A relic of last summer.

2. Helleborus x hybridus (Lenten rose)

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Perfectly timed for the beginning of Lent, the first Helleborus x hybridus flowers have opened.  This plant was part of a mixed batch of seedlings given to us by one of my wife’s colleagues who has them naturalized in her woods.  Most of the others have white flowers and are still in bud.

3.  Dwarf Iris

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A small Iris whose name has been lost in the mists of time.  The scattered corms bloom reliably every year, but the flowers have an unfortunate tendency to flop over.

4.  Yellow daffodils (Narcissus hybrid)

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Cheap and cheerful.  These are growing through the remains of last year’s Conoclinium coelestinum stems that I haven’t gotten around to cleaning up.

5.  Scilla sibirica (Siberian squill)

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Despite the name, this species is native to the Caucasus and Turkey, not Siberia.

6.  Trichocentrum splendidum

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In the greenhouse, a large Oncidium relative from Guatemala is flowering.  T. splendidum has rigid, succulent leaves often compared to mule ears.  In late winter, as the intensity of the sunlight increases, they become suffused with dark red pigment, and shortly thereafter a 4′ (1.2 m) inflorescence rapidly grows straight up.  The flowers are each about 3″ across and last two to three weeks.

For more ‘Six On Saturday,’ get thee to The Propagator.  After enjoying his post, check out the comments for links to other participants.

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

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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)

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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)

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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

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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

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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

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