Pine barren gentian

Gentiana_autumnalis1
Gentiana autumnalis flowers have an interesting habit of closing up every evening and then reopening the next morning..  Foliage is thin and grassy.  The broad leaf visible at top left belongs to a weedy Viola.

Gentiana autumnalis, the pine barren gentian, is a lovely autumn to early winter flowering wildflower of the eastern coastal plain. It is native to moist, open pine woods from southern New Jersey to Georgia.  In North Carolina, I have seen it blooming in longleaf pine savannna in Croatan National Forest.  Like many of the plants in that ecosystem, it is dependent on fire.  When fire is suppressed, growth of woody shrubs and deciduous trees soon chokes out the gentians, along with the orchids and carnivorous plants that grow in the same habitat.

My plant was purchased from the North Carolina Botanical Garden seven or eight years ago.  I grow it in a mix of sand and peat in an 8″ (20 cm) diameter plastic pot sitting in a saucer of rain water. I give the plant very little fertilizer, and it blooms reliably in early November.

Gentiana_autumnalis2

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Montrose Garden again (Six on Saturday #35, October 13, 2018)

Most of the pictures this week are really Six on (last) Saturday, because they were taken a week ago at the autumn open-house of Montrose, Nancy Goodwin’s garden in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  See here for my pictures from last autumn.

The final picture was taken yesterday, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Michael.

1. Costus species

Costus

Costus are related to ginger but have been separated out of the Zingiberaceae into their own family, Costaceae.  I made a beeline for this plant the past couple of times I visited Montrose, because I have never seen one growing in the NC piedmont before.  This time, Nancy let me in on the secret:  She digs it up every autumn and stores the rhizome in her house, so it isn’t as hardy as I hoped.  Still, our summers are clearly long enough and the soil warm enough for it to get established and flower.  Might be worth trying one of these days.

2.  Double-flowered Colchicum

Colchicum

This might be Colchicum ‘Waterlily’, but without a tag I can’t be sure.  Montrose is famous for its bulb plantings, and two of the three plants that I picked up at the sales table were also bulbs (in the broad sense):  a huge Hymenocallis that might be H. ‘Tropical Giant’ and a seedling Cyclamen mirabile.  The third plant I bought was Primula sieboldii.

3.  Abelmoschus species

Abelmoschus1

Abelmoschus2

A beautiful Hibiscus relative with fuzzy buds.  I wish the plants in Montrose Garden were labeled.  I suspect this is Abelmoschus manihot, but don’t quote me on that.

4. Brugmansia (angel’s trumpet)

Brugmansia

South American Brugmansia are surprisingly hardy in the piedmont.  My plant of Brugmansia ‘Betty Marshall’ has survived three or four years outdoors and is currently about seven feet tall.  This yellow flowered clone, perhaps ‘Charles Grimaldi’, has been growing below a couple of large eastern red cedars at Montrose for longer than that.

5.  Salvia oxyphora (fuzzy Bolivian sage)

Salvia Oxyphora

I hesitated to post this photo, because it is another bright pink/red flower that blows out the sensor of my iPhone camera and is almost always overexposed.  But S. oxyphora is so fantastic and furry that I couldn’t resist.  My sole attempt to grow this species failed, but perhaps I haven’t found the correct spot for a plant that must surely be right at the edge of its hardiness zone in the piedmont.

6.  Fallen oak (Quercus species).

oak_down

Hurricane Michael hit the Florida panhandle like a bomb.  By the time it crossed our area, it was downgraded to a weak tropical storm, but it still did plenty of damage to trees sitting in soil saturated by the remnants of Hurricane Florence just a few weeks ago.  This beautiful oak on our neighbors’ property was uprooted and dropped across our lane, blocking access.  By the time I got home from work, the neighborhood chain saw gang was hard at work clearing the road.

For more Six on Saturday, head on over to the Propagator’s blog.  Take a look at his Six and then see the comments section for links to other blogs.

Piedmont weeds (Six on Saturday #34, September 29, 2018)

I just realized it has been seven weeks since I did a Six on Saturday post.  It’s getting trickier to find six things that I haven’t already talked about, so today I thought I’d showcase plants that I normally wouldn’t mention at all.

1. Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum)

stiltgrass

This stuff is the worst.  It’s an annual grass with long, jointed stems that can root at the nodes to spread over flat ground or climb and sprawl to smother plants up to about two feet (70 cm) tall.  Stiltgrass was apparently introduced into the U.S. about 100 years ago, when dry stems were used as packing material for porcelain shipments.   Around here, it can cover large areas of moist open woodland, along creeks and roads, where it completely chokes out native wildflowers.  Seeds can survive several years in the soil, so even very careful weeding appears totally ineffective the next spring.  According to Nancy Goodwin of Montrose Garden, stiltgrass can be eliminated by thoroughly weeding the same area for five or six years without fail.  Mowing has no effect, as shown by the very short stiltgrass that combines with crabgrass to form much of my lawn in late summer.  The busy (or lazy) gardener’s approach that seems to work relatively well is to cover all flowerbeds with a couple of inches of hardwood mulch every few years.  The mulch stops seeds from germinating and enriches the beds, but it must be renewed as it decays, or stiltgrass will return

2. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

poison ivy
A small poison ivy seedling with a colorful beetle.  Is it too much to hope that the beetle eats Toxicodendron foliage?

The berries of this native vine/shrub are important food for birds, so seedlings often sprout around the bird feeder and bird bath, or under trees where birds like to perch.  For small seedlings, I wear disposable nitrile gloves to pull the plant and then peel off the glove to trap the seedling inside.  For larger plants, I use glyphosate–that’s the only time I use glyphosate in the garden.

3.  Creeping cucumber (Melothria pendula)

creeping cucumber
creeping cucumber creeping up the mesh of our screen porch

This native annual vine is, as its name suggests, a member of the Curcubitaceae (gourd family).  The vines are annoying when they form an untidy tangle that smothers tall perennials.  The fruit are apparently edible when green but are very effective laxatives when ripe and black.  Birds and squirrels eat them and distribute the seed throughout my garden.

4.  Mulberry weed, hairy crabweed (Fatoua villosa)

hsiry crabweed
Distinctive flower clusters of mulberry weed with a few brown seeds visible.

I think this Asian member of the Moraceae (fig and mulberry family) arrived in my garden via some potted plants from a local botanical garden.  It is an annual in the garden but invades pots in the greenhouse year round.  The foliage of this species closely resembles various members of the mint family (e.g. catnip, lemon balm), but the hairy flower clusters are distinctive.

5.  Chamber bitter (Phyllanthus urinaria)

chamber bitter

An Asian species that is now distributed widely in the southeastern U.S., chamber bitter produces many seeds in little capsules along the underside of the stems at leaf axils.  Chamber bitter is a problem mainly in bare soil, such as in my vegetable garden, or where mulch has decayed.

6.  Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). 

pokeweed

I have heard that this piedmont native is sometimes grown as an ornamental perennial in Europe.  An 8-foot (2 m) tall specimen with shiny leaves, red stems, and dark purple, almost black berries is definitely impressive, but wildlife spread the seeds all over the place.  Even small seedlings have a deep taproot that makes them difficult to completely remove, and like dandelions, they’ll return if you leave the taproot in the soil.

For more Six on Saturday, hopefully including plants that you’d actually like to grow, head over to The Propagator.

Six on Saturday #33 (August 11, 2018)

After several weeks, I finally have time to complete a Six on Saturday post.  This week’s entry is a miscellaneous collection of plants that bloom during the hottest days of summer.

1. Rhexia species (Meadow Beauty)

Rhexia1

This is basically a weed that infests my bog garden and mini-bog planters.  It spreads by underground rhizomes which must have arrived, unnoticed, in the pot of some pitcher plant or orchid.  The flowers are very showy, but like those of many other Melastomataceae, they only last one day. The petals don’t wilt or shrivel as the flower ages; by late afternoon, a gentle tap will cause them to simply fall off.

2. Iris dichotoma (vesper iris)

Iris_dichotoma

I bought this plant last autumn, so this summer is the first time it has bloomed.  The flowers are significantly smaller than I was expecting, but they are quite attractive.  As suggested by its common name, this is an evening/night-blooming plant.  The flowers open in late afternoon and have faded by the next morning.

3. Iris x norrisii ‘Wine and Roses’ (candy lily)

Pardacanda

Obviously, the “lily” in the common name of this plant is a misnomer.  It is a hybrid of Iris dichotoma (vesper iris) and Iris domestica (blackberry lily).  You’ll often find it in the plant trade labeled as x Pardacanda norrisii, because I. dichotoma was formerly classified as Pardanthopsis dichotoma, and I. domestica was formerly Belamcanda chinensis.  The hybrid grex is quite variable, and I really like the bicolored flowers of this clone.

4. Bouvardia ternifolia (firecracker bush)

Bouvardia1

This is a difficult flower to photograph, because digital cameras often overexpose strong reds, and the flowers stick out in all directions, making focusing a challenge.  I think the exposure of this picture is OK, although it may still appear oversaturated on some monitors.  The flowers really are as intensely red as they could possibly be.

B. ternifolia is native to Mexico and Central America, and at the northern edge of its range reaches southern Arizona, New Mexico, and southwest Texas.  I didn’t really expect it to survive in our much wetter and colder climate, but it has now made it through four winters with numerous cold snaps and snowfalls.  In warmer climates it grows as a shrub.  Here in NC, it dies back to the ground every winter, sprouting again in late spring and blooming from July until the first autumn frost.  I have it planted in a particularly dry and sandy part of the garden.

5. Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Minaret’

autumn_minaret

‘Autumn Minaret’ is a hybrid of the very tall Hemerocallis citrina (syn. H. altissima) and sometimes masquerades as the species.  I really like its tall, airy inflorescences and the fact that it blooms over a very long period (for a daylily). My plant has been blooming for about a month, and the >5′ (152 cm) inflorescences still have many unopened buds.  I recently obtained a small plant of the true H. citrina, so it will be interesting to compare the two in future summers.

6. Silphium perfoliatum (cup plant)

Silphium1

The final entry this week is another very tall plant and a North Carolina native (though it is more common further west).  It grows about 7-8 feet tall (2-2.4 m) with thick stems bearing large, coarse leaves.  I’m only showing three inflorescences of about thirty in the clump. It’s not a plant for a small garden, but given the huge number of butterflies and bees that it attracts, I don’t begrudge it the space it requires.

Oh, one more thing…Sometimes the Rhexia petals don’t get a chance to drop before someone comes along and munches on them.

Rhexia2

As always, head over to The Propagator to see his very interesting Six on Saturday and links to those of other participants.

Houston: Mercer Botanical Gardens (Six on Saturday #32)

Mercer Botanical Gardens are located north of downtown Houston, very close to George Bush Intercontinental Airport.  I had visited the gardens once before, about seventeen years ago, but remembered very little, so during our recent trip to Houston, I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance.

I had forgotten about Hurricane Harvey.  During the flooding last year, the gardens were submerged under eight feet of muddy, polluted water.  Clearly the floods did a lot of damage, and just as clearly the gardens employees and volunteers have been working very hard to repair the damage. This article from the Houston Chronicle describes the devastation, and a google image search will show you what the gardens once were.  These six pictures will give you a little taste of what the gardens are now, and a hint of what they will be again.

1.  Dead palm tree

dead_palm

Some of the garden grounds were still closed off, and in the open areas damaged plants were still visible.  After the flooding, last winter included an unusually prolonged cold spell in the Houston area, which probably did not help the tender palms.  Virtually all of those that were still alive had damaged fronds, but that damage is temporary.  I’m not sure if this palm tree was left in the ground because the staff had been overwhelmed, or if they were waiting to see if it might resprout.

2.  Zephyranthes (rain lilies)

zephyranthes1

Many of the plants that seemed to be in the best conditions were tropical bulbs and rhizomes, particularly those that tolerate wet soil (crinum, gingers, etc).  Presumably, these plants resisted being washed away by the flood, and any top damage was easily replaced.  I saw an enormous clump of Hymenocallis caribaea, unfortunately not blooming, that was in prime condition, but the best flowers were on these unlabeled Zephyranthes.  They were blooming all by themselves in a rock garden area that appeared to have been recently renovated but not yet replanted.

3-5. Tropical shrubs and trees

Erythrina_crista-galli
Erythrina crista-galli, one of the parents of Erythrina x. bidwillii

Although many of the beds are thus far, still fairly barren, splashes of color from vigrous perennials and fast growing tropical trees and shrubs hint at how spectacular the gardens will be again in a few years.

Lagerstroemia_speciosa
Huge, hot-pink flowers of Lagerstroemia speciosa
Stachytarpheta
Stachytarpheta mutabilis (coral porterweed)

6.  Anolis sagrei (brown anole)

Anolis_sagrei

The gardens were swarming with little brown anoles.  A. sagrei is native to Cuba and the Bahamas, and it is an invasive species in the southeastern U.S.  where it often replaces the native Anolis carolinensis (green anole).  My parents’ garden south of Houston still has green anoles, but I didn’t see a single native lizard at Mercer.

So, that’s Six on Saturday and a very brief look at Mercer as it is now.  For more Six on Saturday, head over to the blog of The Propagator, who started this weekly exercise and collects links from other participants.