Six on Saturday #6

After missing several weeks due to traveling, I’m back with Six on Saturday.  As always, check The Propagator’s blog for links to other garden bloggers who are also posting their six.

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

Lycoris radiata
Lycoris radiata var. pumila

Hurricane lilies (really amaryllids, not true lilies) are so named because because they bloom in late summer–hurricane season in the southeastern United States.  The classic heirloom bulb of southern gardens is Lycoris radiata var. radiata, a sterile triploid introduced from Japan in the mid 1800s.  It blooms in late August, and my bulbs are still slumbering underground.  L. radiata var. pumila is a fertile diploid, presumably the original wild type form native to China.  For some reason, these plants consistently bloom a few weeks earlier than the triploids.

L. radiata is one of the winter-foliage Lycoris.  Shortly after blooming it produces a rosette of leaves that persist all winter, dying back in late spring.  Since the plant grows in winter, it is less hardy than the spring-foliage types like those I discussed in a previous Six on Saturday, and I’m not sure it would do well much further north than North Carolina.

2.  Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)

Zephyranthes candida
Zephyranthes candida (white rain lily)

After dry weather for most of July, August has been quite wet, and the rain has induced several rain lily species to bloom.  This is Zephyranthes candida, originally from southern South America but now more widely naturalized.  Superficially, it resembles a smaller version of the piedmont native Z. atamasco, but while Z. atamasco blooms in spring, Z. candida–like many tropical Zephyranthes–blooms in summer a few days after rain.

3.  Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)

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Lobelia cardinalis

Lobelia cardinalis is native to the piedmont and can sometimes be found growing in sun or part shade along creeks or beside ponds.  Hummingbirds absolutely love the flowers.  These are volunteer plants originating from very tiny seed that drifted from a plant that I put in a flowerbed about twenty feet away.  After several years, I now have about a dozen blooming plants.  The best ones have taken root in wet soil at the point where the foundation and gutter drains empty, down-slope from the house.  I have been thinking about building a pond or bog garden there, but for now it is just a wilderness of Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium viminium), interspersed with these shocking red spikes.

Last week, while we were on holiday in eastern Maine, I saw some wild plants blooming along a stream close to the Canadian border, about 600 miles (965 km) north of my garden in North Carolina.  I find it interesting that the plants in both locations bloom at exactly the same time, despite the longer growing season and warmer temperatures here in the south.

4. Hedychium coronarium (white butterfly ginger)

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Hedychium coronarium

This ginger from the foothills of the himalayas is probably the hardiest and most vigorous ornamental ginger for cultivation in the NC piedmont.  The stems grow about 6′ (1.8 m) tall, and the fragrance of the flowers is amazing.  Unlike my cannas, which look pretty ratty after being chewed on all summer long by Japanese beetles and canna leaf roller caterpillars, the foliage of this H. coronarium is always pristine.

5.  Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’

Fuchsia 'Sanihanf'
Fuchsia ‘Sanihanf’

After my paternal grandfather retired, he grew fuchsias in his garden and greenhouse in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  I wanted to remember grandpa by growing them in my garden too, but most fuchsias expire from the heat before spring is half over in North Carolina.  This Japanese hybrid, which was advertised as heat tolerant, seems to be the real deal.  I bought it in April 2016, so it has now survived two NC summers and continues to bloom even when the days are in the 90s (32-37 C) and nights don’t drop below 70 (21 C).  It might survive the winter outside in a sheltered spot, but not wanting to risk it, I grow it in a hanging pot and keep it in the greenhouse in cold weather.

6. Lilium formosanum (Formosa lily)

Lilium formosanum

Most L. formosanum bulbs produce a single stem topped with four or five flowers, but this plant has branched and re-branched to produce a large cluster of flowers.  The stems are slightly flattened and wider than usual, so I think it may be abnormal fasciation (cresting).

I started with two bulbs about eight years ago, but every year I scatter seed around, and now there are flowering plants throughout the garden.

6b.  flower crab spider (Thomisidae)

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Crab spider, perhaps Misumenoides formosipes,  in ambush

While trying to decide which photo of L. formosanum to use, I realized that I had inadvertently photographed a little white crab spider that was hiding inside one of the lily flowers.  Some species can change color to match the flower they are sitting on and are capable of capturing quite large prey.  I’m not sure if she would be strong enough to tackle one of the big sphinx moths that pollinate L. formosanum, but I have seen similar spiders ambush and consume swallowtail butterflies

 

Six on Saturday #4

It has been hot and muggy this week, with highs in the mid 90s (~35 C).  Because of the high humidity, there was heavy dew at night, and the moisture brought out Percy Shelley, one of the garden’s resident box turtles, early on Wednesday morning.  A high point of my week was watching him stalk and eat an enormous leopard slug (although turtle vs. slug didn’t  make for a very exciting pursuit).  I also fed him a tomato before he disappeared back into the undergrowth–everyone needs protein and veggies for a balanced diet.

Anyway, another week has come and gone, so it is time for “Six on Saturday.”  Lots of insects this week.  Also, check out The Propagator for links to other garden bloggers who are participating.

1.  Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’

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Canna ‘Flaming Kabobs’

The color of these flowers is incredibly intense and saturated, and I love the way that they stand up on tall spikes.  This canna came from the Yucca Do nursery in Texas, just before they went out of business, but the same clone is now being offered by Plant Delights.

2.  Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’ (white nettle-leaved mullein)

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Verbascum chaixii ‘Album’

You can see the yellow-flowered form of this species in Six on Saturday #2.

3.  Oncopeltus fasciatus (large milkweed bug)

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Oncopeltus fasciatus mating

When my son was just a little guy, he came running into the house one evening and breathlessly informed me that there were two-headed bugs on the butterfly weed.  His first lesson on the birds and the bees (and the bugs) followed.

These two are on a seed follicle of Asclepias tuberosa.  They feed on the immature seeds.  Nymphs of the same species can be seen here.

4. Labidomera clivicollis (milkweed leaf beetle)

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Labidomera clivicollis on Asclepias tuberosa

I’m fascinated by the way that both the milkweed bug and the milkweed leaf beetle have evolved virtually the same color scheme to warn predators that it’s not a good idea to eat insects which feed on toxic milkweed.  Most people are familiar with Batesian mimicry, in which a harmless species gains protection from predators by mimicking a venomous or toxic species (e.g. scarlet king snake mimicking the venomous coral snake).  The similarity of milkweed bugs and beetles is an example of Müllerian mimicry in which two toxic species that have common predators use the same warning signals.  A predator that encounters one species will learn to avoid the other as well.

5.  Passiflora incarnata (maypop) with Popillia japonica (Japanese beetle) and very tiny ants

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Passiflora incarnata

The native Passiflora incarnata is basically a weed in my garden, but such a beautiful one.  It spreads by underground stolons and has a tendency to completely cover small shrubs.  However, the vines are very easy to pull up, so I just yank them when they get out of control and leave a few to get big so that I can enjoy the flowers.  The fruit is theoretically edible, but it is insipid compared to the cultivated tropical passionfruit.

Unfortunately, Japanese beetles are eating most of the flowers right now.  It will be a couple more weeks before the adult beetles lay their eggs and die, and we are free of this pest until next June.

6.  Hemerocallis ‘August Flame’ with Battus philenor (pipevine swallowtail butterfly)

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Hemerocallis ‘August Flame’

The butterfly is sure there is still a bit of nectar left down there…somewhere…if it can just reach…

Six on Saturday #2

With just under an hour left of Saturday,  here are six pictures from the garden today.  Lots of yellow this week.

1. Alstroemeria ‘Konkajoli’

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Alstroemeria ‘Koncajoli.’

I have tended to avoid Alstroemeria hybrids, because many are reported to be invasive. This was advertised as a civilized cultivar that doesn’t take over the flowerbed. After two years, I’m starting to wonder if it is too civilized. It seems to produce just one stem at a time and shows no inclination to form a nice clump. Pretty flowers, though.

2. Hydrangea quercifolia

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Hydrangea quercifolia

When I blogged about oakleaf hydrangea a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the flowers would soon fade to pink.  Well, they have.

3.  Verbascum chaixii

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Verbascum chaixii, nettle-leaved mullein

Unlike many mulleins, V. chaixii is a perennial rather than a short-lived biennial.  I have both the yellow- and white-flowered forms growing in the sunnier areas of the garden. Hoping for volunteer seedlings but haven’t seen any yet.

4.  Ligularia japonica ‘Chinese Dragon’

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Ligularia japonica ‘Chinese Dragon’

This species isn’t thrilled with our hot summer, but it seems to do reasonably well in the shade of a dogwood tree. The deeply cut leaves and big yellow flowers are interesting, but I really like the flower buds.  They are ribbed longitudinally and look like miniature green pumpkins.

5. Canna ‘Tenerife’

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Canna ‘Tenerife’

Canna season has started, which means lots of bright flowers, lush foliage, and constant checking to make sure that caterpillars of the lesser canna leafroller moth (Geshna cannalis) aren’t feasting on leaves that they seal  with a loop of silk before the young foliage can unroll.  The leafrollers are ugly, maggoty-looking things that skeletonize canna leaves and make a mess with their frass.  I hate to use pesticides on plants that attract so many pollinators, so I have to squish the caterpillars by hand.  Yuck.

6.  Canna ‘Pacific Beauty’

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Canna ‘Pacific Beauty’

The flowers of this clone look almost fluorescent against the dark brown/purple foliage.  In this climate, cannas can be left in the ground year round, as long as the rhizome is planted six or eight inches deep and mulched well in the autumn.

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.

Summer begins

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Male ruby throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) at one of our feeders

Last Monday was Memorial Day, the traditional start of the summer holiday season in the U.S.  In my garden, summer begins when the fireflies appear, and the baby hummingbirds fledge.  We spotted the first fireflies a couple of weeks ago, but this week the population increased dramatically.  When the sun goes down, the garden is filled with slowly flashing yellow lights as the little beetles fly up from the grass and flowerbeds.

During the day, the action is a lot more frenetic.  Since early April, a few adult hummingbirds have been visiting our two feeders, which I refilled once a week or so.  But suddenly there are dozens of hummers jockeying for position, and we go through a liter of sugar solution a day.  Their harsh chattering and the sound of buzzing wings fills the air as they dogfight over the lawn and chase each other away from the feeder or favorite flowers.  Occasionally several will settle down to drink peacefully at the same feeder (four on the small, six on the large), but it never lasts long.  Another soon shows up and starts a chain reaction fight in which the tiny birds orbit the feeder like fighter ships in a Star Wars movie.   I have counted ten or more at a single feeder, and the other is just as busy.

Ruby throated hummingbirds

On dry, sunny roadside banks and meadows, patches of bright orange show that the blooming season of native butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) has started, and as Spigelia marilandica finishes flowering, A. tuberosa takes over as my favorite flower in the garden.

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Asclepias tuberosa. The best specimen in the garden is a volunteer seedling that sprouted in the gravel path beside the mint patch.

This is one of the best insect plants that you can grow in North Carolina.  Like all milkweeds, it is a food plant for the caterpillars of the monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus).  Monarchs are becoming very scarce, sadly, and in ten years gardening at this location, we have only had caterpillars one year.  But A. tuberosa flowers provide food for bees and other butterfly species, and those are not in short supply:

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Carpenter bee (Xylocopa sp.) visiting A. tuberosa flowers
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Pipevine swallowtail butterflies (Battus philenor) on A. tuberosa

When the plants are finished flowering, they attract beautifully colored milkweed bugs (Oncopeltus fasciatus) that feed on the developing seeds.  But no matter; enough seed survives to float away on tufts of fluff, so that more plants appear every year.

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Oncopeltus fasciatus nymphs on A. tuberosa follicles.

Once planted, A. tuberosa can be tricky to transplant, because its tuberous roots grow deep and break easily.  If you plant a couple of potted seedlings, they’ll cross-pollinate and give you plenty of seed that you can spread around.  It seems to take about two years for seedlings to reach blooming size, and a couple more to grow a really nice clump.

Much less colorful but still elegantly beautiful, Yucca filamentosa is also blooming now.  I planted it on the dry mound around our wellhead, along with the prickly pears and a few other xerophytic plants.

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Yucca filamentosa

It was supposed to be the variegated clone, ‘Color Guard,’ but it seems to be some sort of unstable mutant.  New growths come out variegated, but over the course of the year, they darken until they are indistinguishable from a wild type plant.

On the other side of the house, Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea is also blooming white.

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Hydrangea quercifolia

This is a southern species, with a native range centered on Alabama.  It is a much more reliable bloomer than the Japanese Hydrangea macrophylla, because the new growth is less susceptible to damage by late freezes.

Some cultivated clones have inflorescences made up entirely of large sterile flowers, equivalent to mophead forms of the more familiar H. macrophylla.  However, I prefer the look of wild type plants, equivalent to a lacecap H. macrophylla, with a few sterile flowers surrounding clusters of tiny fertile flowers that attract many bees.

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The H. quercifolia flowers are looking their best this week, and they’ll continue to look good until the Japanese beetles, the scourge of summer, arrive to devour them.  That could happen any day.  I saw a few beetles this week, munching on banana leaves, but most will emerge over the next couple of weeks.  If I can keep the beetles from doing too much damage to the hydrangea, its inflorescences will slowly turn pink and will be attractive until well into autumn.  Eventually they’ll dry out and turn brown, but they’ll remain on the plant and, together with the peeling bark, provide winter interest.