Six on Saturday #11 (in haste)

It is a fairly typical day for September in North Carolina:  Bright sun, 85 F (29.5 C), no significant rain last week, and no rain forecast for the next week.  The intensity of the sun made it difficult to get decent photos and doesn’t encourage hard work in the garden or in the greenhouse.

Nevertheless, here are six pictures from the garden today.  See the Propagator’s blog for his six and for links to other blogs who are participating in Six on Saturday.

1. Sternbergia lutea (autumn daffodil)

Sternbergia

I could have sworn that this little amaryllid was from South America, but when I looked it up just now, I learned that it is actually Eurasian, with a range extending from the western Mediterranean to Tajikistan.  Usually I get a nice little clump, but this year the bulbs have been sprouting and flowering one or two at a time. Perhaps in this dry weather they haven’t had the usual environmental signals that induce mass blooming.

2.  Lycoris radiata (hurricane lily, red spider lily)

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Now that they have finished flowering, the L. radiata bulbs are starting to sprout leaves.

3. Hibiscus coccineus (red swamp mallow)

Hibiscus

It looks as though something drilled right through this flower when the petals were still folded together in a bud.  Native to the southeastern U.S., H. coccineus does very well in piedmont gardens and flowers for much of the summer.  In winter, the dried stems and seed capsules add interest to an otherwise barren flowerbed.  Despite its name, it grows well in regular garden soil, and its fat taproot helps it survive drought.

The palmate leaves of this species somewhat resemble a particular herb that is still illicit in North Carolina.  In the spring, before my plants start producing their dinner plate-sized flowers, I often think of this news story from 2004.

4. Conoclinium coelestinum (blue mistflower)

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The color balance of this photo seems to be off , but I’m not sure if it is my phone camera or monitor that’s to blame.  If you see a magenta flower, imagine that it is more a bluish lavender.  This species is native to the eastern U.S., from the Great Lakes to southern Texas, and although the flowers are beautiful at this time of year, I rather regret introducing it into the garden.  It spreads very aggressively, and the fluffy seeds drift all over the place.

5. Basella alba ‘Rubra’ (red malabar spinach)

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Every spring, I start a pot of malabar spinach from seed collected the previous autumn.  The leaves really are quite tasty in soups or stews, but since we don’t cook a lot of stews in the summer, it primarily serves as an ornamental.  The seeds also survive the winter in the soil, and I’m starting to see more plants sprouting in flower beds where birds have dropped seeds or I have inadvertently raked them along with fallen leaves.  They look interesting and don’t seem to do any harm, so I just leave them alone.

6.  Cattleya labiata var rubra ‘Schuler’

Cattleya_labiata

In the greenhouse, the most famous of the unifoliate cattleyas is blooming.  C. labiata was the first of the large flowered cattleyas to be discovered, and it was one of the species responsible for the Victorian orchid craze.  It was first imported into the U.K. in 1818 and caused a sensation, but its origin wasn’t correctly reported.  Plant collectors scoured South America, discovering many other spectacular orchids in the process, but the Brazilian habitat of L. labiata wasn’t rediscovered until 1889.

Unfortunately, my greenhouse tends to be too bright and dry at this time of year, and the flowers don’t last long.  You can see that the dorsal and lateral sepals of some of these flowers have dried out prematurely.  I tend to do better with the unifoliate cattleyas that bloom in late winter.

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Six on Saturday #9

As of last Saturday, I thought that I’d be reduced to doing a “Six on Saturday” focused on weeds this weekend.  But during the week some very interesting surprise lilies (Lycoris) lived up to their name, and I noticed some other flowers that I had overlooked in the garden and greenhouse.  I still think a post on weeds isn’t a bad idea, but I can’t resist showing you these flowers today.

(As always, visit Six on Saturday’s host The Propagator to see his Six and links to those of other participants.)

1. Lycoris radiata var. radiata (hurricane lily, red spider lily)

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Lycoris radiata var radiata

A question for the photo geeks out there:  what is it about red flowers that makes them so difficult to photograph?  Other colors are fine, but with red flowers I frequently end up with an oversaturated blur unless the lighting is just right.  To get this image, I had to manually set the camera to decrease contrast and saturation, but now it looks a little more pink and washed out than it really should.

Anyway, L. radiata var radiata is the sterile triploid form that has been kicking around southern gardens since the 1840s.  I can’t really tell any difference between this and the fertile diploid L. radiata var. pumila, except that var. pumila will set seed and blooms about three weeks earlier.

2.  Lycoris aurea (golden spider lily)

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Lycoris aurea

Lycoris aurea is a tropical/subtropical species native to southern China and Indochina [1], so its winter-growing foliage will not tolerate more than a few degrees below freezing.  I grow it in a 5 gallon (19 liter) plastic nursery pot, outdoors until first frost and then in a cool corner of the greenhouse.  When it goes dormant in spring, I leave it in the greenhouse so it experiences consistently warm, humid conditions, and I give it an occasional splash of water so that it doesn’t get too dry.  This year, I put it back outside right around September 1, and it produced this inflorescence after a good soaking rain.

For temperate climates, the closely related [2] but much hardier L. chinensis is a better choice if you want a yellow Lycoris.  I have two in the garden, but they haven’t bloomed yet.

3.  Lycoris x albiflora…A white Lycoris hybrid

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Who am I, really?

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.  Until a few days ago, I was perfectly happy calling this plant Lycoris x albiflora, the label it carried from an online bulb vendor several years ago.  Then I read a 2014 paper by Shude Shi and colleagues [2] that digs into the phylogeny and evolution of Lycoris species.  Based on their DNA sequencing, they conclude that L. x albiflora is a natural hybrid of L. sprengeri x L. chinensis.  That’s fine, except that those two species both produce their leaves in early spring.  My plant produces its leaves in winter, like L. radiata.  Its flowers also look like a pale version of L. radiata, so I wonder if it might actually be L. straminea (L. chinensis x L. radiata var. pumila according to Shi et al.).

Adding to my confusion, there are apparently other studies (which I haven’t yet tracked down) suggesting that L. x albiflora is actually L. radiata x L. aurea.  That’s more plausible.  It would be consistent with the growth habit of my plant, and L. x elsiae, a hybrid of these same two parents, looks a lot like my plant.  Confirmation of my plant’s ID would probably require DNA analysis, so I suppose it will remain “white Lycoris hybrid.”

Regardless of its true identity, its pale color points to some interesting genetic interactions.  All of its putative parents are brightly colored:  red (L. radiata), yellow (L. chinensis or L. aurea), or pink (L. sprengeri).  I would assume that genes from one parent species are capable of suppressing the primary pigment in the other parent.  Something similar occurs among lady slipper orchids, where crossing the pink Paphiopedilum delenatii with bright yellow P. armeniacum produces P. Armeni White.

4.  Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’ (oxblood lily)

Rhodophiala1

Another poor quality photo of a gorgeous red flower.  The tag tells you most of what you need to know about this little amaryllid.  R. bifida ‘Hill Country Red’ is an heirloom bulb introduced into Texas by Peter Henry Oberwetter of Austin sometime after the U.S. Civil War [3].  Like Lycoris radiata, it produces its grassy foliage after flowering in autumn and goes dormant in spring.

5. Abutilon ‘Orange Hot Lava’

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Abutilon ‘Orange Hot Lava’

I wouldn’t have believed that an Abutilon would be hardy in our climate, but a couple of years ago, I saw the Brazilian species Abutilon megapotamicum growing outdoors at J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh.  With that encouragement, I planted one in my garden last year, and it came through the winter’s snow and cold with flying colors.  This year, I am trying a couple of  A. megapotamicum hybrids, of which ‘Orange Hot Lava’ is my favorite.  ‘Orange Hot Lava’ has a more upright growth habit than A. megapotamicum, and I love the darker veining on the flowers (which it has been producing non-stop since early spring).  Hopefully it will prove to be as hardy as its parent.

6.  Trichoglottis atropurpurea

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Trichoglottis atropurpurea

And finally, to round out the six for this week, an orchid from the greenhouse.  T. atropurpurea (syn. T. brachiata) is an epiphyte from the Philippines which sprouts thick roots and long-lasting flowers at random intervals among its short, leathery leaves.  I grow my plant in an empty clay pot with a wire pot hanger helping to support the slowly vining stems. Check out the amazing white fur on the hot pink lip!

References

1.  Flora of China in eFloras (2008):  http://www.efloras.org/

2.  Shi, S., Sun, Y., Wei, L., Lei, X., Cameron, K.M., Fu, C. (2014) Plastid DNA sequence data help to clarify phylogenetic relationships and reticulate evolution in Lycoris (Amaryllidaceae).  Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 176: 115-126.

3.  Ogden, S. (2007). Garden Bulbs for the South, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.

Six on Saturday

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.

(I should mention that I discovered “Six on Saturday” via the Rivendell Garden Blog.  Check it out.)

1. Gloriosa superba

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Gloriosa superba climbing our deer fence

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

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Lilium lancifolium, tiger lily

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

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Hemerocallis hybrid

This unlabeled daylily came from the sale rack of a local Home Depot.  Not bad.

4. Tigridia pavonia

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Tigridia pavonia, yellow form

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

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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

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Paphiopedilum Lynleigh Koopowitz (P. delenatii x P. malipoense)

Another greenhouse orchid.  This is a primary hybrid of two ladyslipper orchid species from southern China and Vietnam.

My favorite orchid

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Encyclia cordigera var. rosea (center) surrounded by the white-lipped semi-alba form of the same species (left), Encyclia randii (top right) and Encyclia profusa (bottom right)

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.:

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Encyclia cordigera var. rosea. A clone that is typical of plants available from orchid nurseries.

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.

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Encyclia cordigera ‘Rubynz.’ It’s flowers are larger than any other Encyclia that I have seen.

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.

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The white-lipped form of Encyclia cordigera

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.

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The true Encyclia randii from Brazil. E. cordigera can been seen out-of-focus in the background at right.

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.

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Encyclia cordigera forma leucantha

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 [1].  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.

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Encyclia cordigera var. rosea backlit by the sun

Reference

Sauleda RP and Esperon P (2016) The proper name for a central and South American species of Encyclia Hooker.  New World Orchid Nomenclatural Notes 20:1-10.  Link

The easiest orchid?

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Bletilla striata. Typical pink flowered form.

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.

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My five-year old clump of Bletilla striata grown from a single pseudobulb in a 3-inch pot.  It probably clashes with the red  Aquilegia canadensis and lavendar Iris tectorum that grow all around it, but no one ever accused me of having good color sense.

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.

Calanthe update

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:

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Calanthe Takane (C. discolor x C. sieboldii)