Some years, the first daffodils bloom about now, but this year almost everything in the garden is either dead or in deep dormancy. For a little floral color, I have to rely on my greenhouse.
Here are three orchids with nothing much in common except that they bloom now.
1. Mormolyca ringens
This little orchid from Mexico and central America blooms pretty much all year round, with a single flower on each wiry inflorescence. Like a surprising number of orchids, M. ringens is pollinated by pseudocopulation. In other words, it induces naive (or desperate) male bees to mate with its flowers . The labellum of the flower resembles the rear end of a small red-and-yellow bee, and it even produces a scent that mimics the pheromones of virgin queens . Drones that attempt to mate with the flower transfer pollen to and from the overhanging yellow column.
2. Brassia species (spider orchid)
Brassia orchids also deceive their insect pollinators, but the mechanism would probably be better described as “pseudo-predation” rather than pseudocopulation. Brassia flowers are pollinated by spider-hunter wasps which attack and repeatedly sting the labellum, apparently mistaking it for the body of a large spider .
I think this is probably the Mexican/central American B. verrucosa, but I am not certain. It has been suggested that there are actually two different species circulating under that name , and in any case, Brassia species all look very similar to my non-expert eye.
3. Broughtonia Jamaica Jester (B. negrilensis x B. ortgesiana)
This is an artificial hybrid of two Broughtonia species, the Jamaican B. negrilensis and Cuban B. ortgesiana which was registered by Claude Hamilton, a well known grower and hybridizer of Caribbean orchid species.
1. Singer, R.B., Flach, A., Koehler, S., Marsaioli, A.J., and Do Carmo E. Amaral, M. (2004). Sexual mimcry in Mormolyca ringens (Lindl.) Schltr. (Orchidaceae: Maxillariinae). Annals of Botany93: 755-762.
2. Flach, A., Marsaioli, A.J., Singer, R.B., Do Carmo E. Amaral, M., Menezes, C., Kerr, W.E., Batista-Pereira, L.G., Correa, A.G. (2006) Pollination by sexual mimicry in Mormolyca ringens: a floral chemistry that remarkably matches the pheromones of virgin queens of Scaptotrigona sp.Journal of Chemical Ecology32: 59-70.
3. Pupulin, F. and Bogarin, D. (2005) The genus Brassia in Costa Rica: A survey of four species and a new species. Orchids74 : 202-207.
Winter is the best time to look for several orchid species that grow in the North Carolina piedmont. You can wander through the woods without worrying about ticks, spider webs and poison ivy. Just watch out for deer hunters.
1. Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)
Tipularia discolor is one of the most common woodland wildflowers in our region. They grow in almost every patch of woods, even where just a few trees have been left by developers. The plants grow as scattered individuals or small colonies., and the drifting seed will also sprout in mulched flowerbeds that are shaded and dryish in summer. T. discolor is very easy to find during the winter, when it bears a single leaf, and if you live almost anywhere in the piedmont, you could probably find a plant within a few minutes of stepping outside your front door.
They’re much more difficult to locate during the summer, because the foliage dies in spring and the midsummer flowers are small and dull. The best way to find T. discolor flowers is to mark a colony in winter and return in July (hopefully avoiding the aforementioned ticks and spider webs). You’ll be most likely to find flowers if you choose a colony that had the remains of inflorescences and dried seed capsules persisting in winter. The flowers are pollinated by moths, and the column is twisted slightly to one side so that the pollen is deposited on the moth’s compound eye.
Although the classic “textbook” description of T. discolor says that the leaves have dark purple spots on their upper surface and purple undersides (see above image), I have found considerable variation in the plants growing in central North Carolina. All of the following photos were taken in Orange County, NC, and I monitored the unusually colored forms for several years to be sure that their appearance wasn’t a temporary fluke.
2. Aplectrum hyemale (Adam and Eve, putty root orchid)
Aplectrum hyemale has a very similar growth habit, with a single leaf produced in autumn. The leaves are slightly larger than those of T. discolor and are green with distinctive white stripes. We are near the southern edge of its range, and it is much less common than T. discolor. I have only seen plants at two locations: once in Duke Forest and once along the Eno River near downtown Hillsborough.
Goodyera pubescens is evergreen, not deciduous, but like T. discolor it is easier to find in the winter. It grows in the same habitat as T. discolor but seems to be somewhat less common. Its foliage is very beautiful, and various sources report that it has suffered from over-collection for gardens, terrariums, and flower arrangements. For terrariums, at least, its tropical relatives are much better suited. Just be sure to seek out artificially propagated plants. Several G. pubescens seedlings have sprouted in the hardwood mulch that we spread on flower beds, so if you’re lucky that’s a possible way to obtain plants for your garden.
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)
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)
Now that they have finished flowering, the L. radiata bulbs are starting to sprout leaves.
3. Hibiscus coccineus (red swamp mallow)
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)
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)
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’
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.
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)
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)
Lycoris aurea is a tropical/subtropical species native to southern China and Indochina , 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  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
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  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)
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 . Like Lycoris radiata, it produces its grassy foliage after flowering in autumn and goes dormant in spring.
5. 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
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!
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 Society176: 115-126.
3. Ogden, S. (2007). Garden Bulbs for the South, Timber Press, Portland, Oregon.
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.