After a week of rain, June 24 has dawned sunny, hot, and very very humid. The Propagator regularly blogs “Six on Saturday,” six things that are worth looking at in the garden on that particular day. I thought it might be fun to join in and discovered that it is a good way to notice things. Once I started trying to decide what to photograph, I discovered that there was a lot going on in the garden.
These seed-grown Gloriosa are in a large tub that I drag into the crawl space of the house and store dry over the winter. I also have several plants that overwinter in the ground, but they are a couple of weeks behind the tubbed plants and are still in bud. This is such a cool plant. Probably needs a blog post all of its own sometime soon.
2. Lilium lancifolium
This tiger lily is about six feet tall, but in just a few weeks it will be dwarfed by the clump of Silphium perfoliatum that is growing behind it.
3. Hemerocallis hybrid
This unlabeled daylily came from the sale rack of a local Home Depot. Not bad.
4. Tigridia pavonia
I had heard that Tigridia pavonia doesn’t like hot, humid summers and wet winters, so when I bought a bag of mixed-color corms last year, I expected them to give me a few interesting flowers and then disappear. Instead, it seems that virtually all of them survived the winter and many are producing inflorescences for a second year. This is the first flower to open this year.
5. Prosthechea mariae
In the greenhouse, an epiphytic orchid from dry woodland in northern Mexico. The pendant flowers are best appreciated from below, and their color suggests that they are moth pollinated.
6. Paphiopedilum Lynleigh Koopowitz
Another greenhouse orchid. This is a primary hybrid of two ladyslipper orchid species from southern China and Vietnam.
In the twenty-four years that I have been growing orchids, I have bloomed several hundred species and have seen thousands more at orchid society meetings and shows. Of them all, my favorite is Encyclia cordigera var. rosea. I love everything about this plant: the rich purple color of its flowers, the fragrance they produce only when the sun shines directly on them, the predatory appearance of the hooked sepals, the glossy pseudobulbs that can be as large or larger than a goose’s egg, and the leathery leaves that arch above.
There are three color varieties of E. cordigera in nature and in cultivation, all of them worth growing. Encyclia cordigera var. rosea is the most common variety in cultivation, and in my opinion is the best. My favorite clone is typical of line-bred specimens that have been selected for rich color and a flat lip. The fragrance of this plant is just wonderful. It reminds me of hybrid tea roses.:
I also have a second clone of E. cordigera var. rosea with a slightly paler lip whose edges curve down, but the flowers are at least a third larger than the first clone. This one came labeled as E. cordigera ‘Rubynz,’ but I have not been able to discover anything about the origin of that clonal name.
The second form of E. cordigera has pigmented sepals and petals and a white lip with a single spot of magenta near the center. My clone of this color form has a sweeter fragrance, more like candy than roses, with a hint of talcum powder.
This color form is sometimes erroneously labeled E. cordigera var. randii because of its similarity to a Brazilian species named Encyclia randii. But although they have a superficially similar color scheme, these are very different species, both in vegetative appearance and cultural requirements.
The third form, Encyclia cordigera forma leucantha has flowers that lack all red pigment, resulting in a white lip with green sepals and petals. In my clone of this form, the talcum powder smell is stronger, although the fragrance is still pleasant. The inflorescences are much shorter than those of the other two forms, so the flowers sit just above the leaves instead of arching well above them. I’m not sure if that is a characteristic of all E. cordigera f. leucantha or just my clone.
Ruben Sauleda and Pablo Esperon have recently argued that the E. cordigera with magenta-spotted white lip should be considered a separate species, Encyclia macrochila, based on its distinct color and the different appearance of its hybrids compared to those of E. cordigera var. rosea . They do not mention E. cordigera f. leucantha, so it is not clear whether it would remain E. cordigera or become a form of E. macrochila. In any case, it remains to be seen whether this interpretation becomes more widely accepted by botanists. I’m not rushing to change my plant tags yet.
E. cordigera (including E. macrochila) is native to seasonally dry lowland forest from Mexico to northern South America, so it likes to be grown warm and bright in a mix that dries fairly rapidly after watering. I use chunks of scoria (red lava rock) in clay pots. My plants are grown in the half of the greenhouse that isn’t covered by shade cloth, so the sunlight is diffused only by the 8 mm twinwall polycarbonate (and accumulated dirt). In the summer, they go outside under 30% shade cloth.
The plants have a very predictable growth schedule. They initiate new growth in late spring, and by autumn the new pseudobulbs are mature. The plant then sits dormant for a couple of months, but I can usually see the inflorescences starting to grow by late January. In my greenhouse, E. cordigera f. leucantha blooms first, with the flowers opening in early to mid March. About three weeks later, the white lipped form blooms, followed by var. rosea in mid April. Individual flowers last about six weeks, so the bloom times of three forms overlap, and I often have plants in bloom through the end of May.
The previous year’s pseudobulbs also grow roots in the spring, before the growth cycle starts over again, so repotting is best accomplished in late winter. Unlike many epiphytic orchids which root on new growth, E. cordigera is not a species that you want to repot when the new pseudobulbs are growing. If you damage the roots by repotting in late spring, the plant will have to sit almost a year before it grows enough roots to recover.
With that one caveat though, E. cordigera is a generally easy species to grow and will reward even minimal effort. It’s definitely one of my retirement home plants–that is, plants I’ll grow when I am old and decrepit and can only take a few favorites with me to the retirement home.
Sauleda RP and Esperon P (2016) The proper name for a central and South American species of Encyclia Hooker. New World Orchid Nomenclatural Notes20:1-10. Link
People who don’t grow orchids often consider them to be difficult. People who do grow orchids sometimes feel the same way about terrestrial orchids, particularly hardy species. Your average orchid grower is perfectly happy messing around with ultrasonic humidifiers, high tech fertilizers, and complex potting mixes containing exotic and expensive materials, both organic and inorganic, in an attempt to grow a delicate little epiphyte from Borneo or the Peruvian cloud forest. But give them an orchid that grows in the ground outside, and they are at a loss.
Bletilla striata, the Chinese ground orchid, is one species that defies the expectations of both orchid growers and those who just admire orchids from afar. It’s a terrestrial orchid that is very easy to grow, and given a modicum of care it will steadily increase in size until you have a huge clump to impress your friends. If you can grow a daffodil, you can probably grow Bletilla.
According to IOSPE, Bletilla striata is native to China, Korea, and Japan (people in the latter nation might have something to say about calling it the Chinese ground orchid). I’m not sure where in its fairly wide native range the plants in cultivation originate, but they are certainly cold hardy. My plant has easily survived 5 F (-15 C), and the species is reported to be hardy in USDA Zone 5 (-10 to -20 F, -23 to -29 C winter minimum) with protection. My plant is growing in my standard mix of native clay and permatill, top-dressed with hardwood mulch, but any reasonably well-drained, slightly acidic garden soil would probably be fine. Morning sun and some afternoon shade will provide sufficient light for flowering without scorching the leaves.
The flowers are relatively short-lived and don’t have the greatest form, but the buds open successively for several weeks. In addition to the standard pink form, there are alba (white-flowered) and coerulea (“blue”) forms. Several clones with variegated leaves are also widely distributed. This spring, I obtained several pseudobulbs of an alba clone at a very reasonable price from one of the big bulb vendors. I’ll be interested to see if it grows as easily as the typical form.
If Bletilla striata has a flaw, it is its eagerness to grow in early spring, at least in our mild climate. The pseudobulbs are fairly close to the soil surface, so they warm up quickly and often initiate new growth in February, long before the last freezing weather. Although dormant plants are very cold hardy, the new leaves, and especially the flower buds which emerge simultaneously with the leaves, are very sensitive to frost. Leaves will continue growing even if the tips freeze, but frozen buds mean no flowers until next year.
This past winter, we had very warm weather in February, and new growth was well under way when a low of 25 F (-4 C) was forecast. In an effort to save inflorescences that were already starting to emerge, I covered the entire clump with a black plastic cement mixing tub and several inches of mulch. I keep several of these sturdy tubs around to serve as water reservoirs for potted bog plants, and they are also very useful for covering tender plants. After several days, I removed the tub so that the new growth wouldn’t rot in the humid darkness and then replaced it again when more freezing weather was forecast. The procedure was labor intensive but worked perfectly, and this year’s display of flowers is probably the best yet.
In my post about Calanthe sieboldii, I mentioned that the hybrid Calanthe Takane was in bud. The flowers are now open, and I am quite pleased. C. Takane is a cross of C. sieboldii and the much smaller and less colorful, but hardier, C. discolor. My C. Takane shows its parentage in the yellow lip (from C. sieboldii) and reddish brown sepals and petals (from C. discolor). It is intermediate in size between its two parents. Take a look:
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.
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.
If we don’t have a late freeze, if squirrels don’t destroy the buds, if voles don’t eat the roots, and if children playing frisbee don’t trample it, my Calanthe sieboldii will be blooming in a week or two.
Calanthe sieboldii is a woodland orchid from southern Japan. I obtained my plant from Montrose Garden last summer, so this is my first chance to see the flowers. Over the winter, it easily survived 10 F (-12 C) insulated under a couple of inches of snow, but the warm weather that kick-started its growth in late February had me worried. A lot of plants that are perfectly hardy when dormant are damaged by freezing temperatures when they have tender new shoots, and I didn’t want to lose the buds. So, when hard freezes were forecast several times in early March, I covered the plant with a plastic tub and a couple of inches of mulch, then removed it all when the weather warmed up again. It looks as though my efforts have paid off, but I’ll be on tenterhooks until the buds open.
If you are interested in learning more about C. sieboldii, Botany Boy has a great blog post that includes a short video of his hunt for wild plants in Fukuoka Prefecture on the island of Kyushu.
From the greenhouse, a blooming Hippeastrum cybister:
Hippeastrum cybister is an unusual bulb from seasonally dry habitat in Bolivia and northern Argentina. It’s a relative of the big “amaryllis” hybrids that are sold as seasonal decorations around Christmas time, but its flowers are much more delicate and elegant. The narrow, twisted petals and sepals are shared with another Argentinian Hippeastrum species, H. angustifolium and with a related species, Sprekelia formosissima, the Jacobean Lily from Mexico. The red color of these species and the tube formed by their lateral sepals and lower petal is suggestive of pollination by humminbirds. However, Google has failed me this evening, and I haven’t been able to confirm that.