Woodland orchids

At the south end of my garden is a roughly rectangular flowerbed, approximately 15 x 22 ft (4.5 x 6.7 m), shaded by a mature dogwood tree (Cornus florida). The dogwood bed catches rainwater running off the lawn, so unlike most of the shaded areas in the garden, the soil is fairly moist. It has also been enriched with organic material, the legacy my past attempts to grow vegetables there (hint: veggies don’t grow well in shade). About four years ago, I started turning the dogwood bed into a shade garden planted primarily with woodland perennials from North America and those regions of Asia that have a climate similar to the piedmont. Pride of place in my somewhat haphazard planting scheme goes to orchids, most of which bloom in spring.

Calanthe

Chinese, Korean, and Japanese members of the genus Calanthe are some of the best orchids for shady piedmont gardens. They have beautiful flowers, tolerate transplanting well, and although they prefer moist, well drained soil, they are remarkably drought resistant when necessary. Their new growth is somewhat tender, but they do not seem to be as badly damaged by late frost as some other Asian orchids such as Bletilla striata.

Hardy Calanthe species and hybrids are rarely offered by specialist orchid nurseries, but they are sometimes sold by nurseries specializing in woodland perennials. I have planted four species (C. striata, C. tricarinata, C. discolor, and C. reflexa) and two hybrids (C. Takane and C. ‘Kojima Red’). C. tricarinata is currently in bud, and C. reflexa blooms later in the summer. The other plants are all flowering now.

Calanthe discolor

Calanthe discolor2
Calanthe discolor

Calanthe discolor is generally considered one of the hardiest Calanthe species. Its natural range includes Hokkaido, the northernmost Japanese prefecture, and it is often rated for growing in USDA zone 6. It’s not a particularly colorful orchid, but it has a neat and tidy appearance. My plant, purchased from Montrose Garden, has pale green sepals and petals, but dark brown clones perhaps offer better contrast with the white lip. When dumped out of its pot, the plant fell apart into several divisions. I planted them separately, and they are multiplying rapidly, with each division producing several new pseudobulbs.

I really like the Japanese name for C. discolor: ebine, “shrimp root.”

Calanthe_striata3
Calanthe striata

I previously featured C. striata under its synonym C. sieboldii. C. kawakamii is also considered a synonym for this species, although the Taiwanese plants with that label may prove to be less hardy than the Japanese plants labeled C. sieboldii.

C. striata is a significantly larger plant than C. discolor, with many-flowered inflorescences standing ~22 inches (56 cm) high. It has proven very vigorous in my garden; the plant had two inflorescences in spring 2017 and six this year.

Calanthe_Takane

Calathe_Takane2
Calanthe Takane

Calanthe Takane, the hybrid of C. discolor and C. striata occurs naturally in Japan and has also been produced in cultivation. It is intermediate in size between its two parents and variable in color. I really like this clone with its yellow lip from C. striata and its sepals and petals darkened to orange by the influence of C. discolor. C. Takane supposedly benefits from hybrid vigor, but my plant produces a single new growth each year and shows no inclination to multiply like its parent species.

Calanthe_Kojima-Red
Calanthe ‘Kojima Red’

‘Kojima Red’ seems to be an informal name, not a registered grex. Its parentage includes Calanthe discolor, C. striata, C. tricarinata, and C. aristulifera. Although richly colored, the flowers are barely the size of C. discolor.  I think I prefer the species and C. Takane.

Update, May 11, 2019:

Calanthe_tricarinata1
Calanthe tricarinata

In flower and plant size, Calanthe tricarinata is roughly equivalent to C. discolor and ‘Kojima Red’.  The flowers nod, so a viewer mostly sees their backs.   I have to tilt them up to get a good look at the lip.  The flower supposedly resembles a monkey’s face.  I can’t see it..

Cypripedium

North Carolina is home to about 70 orchid species and natural hybrids, but most of the really attractive plants grow in sunny habitat in the mountains or coastal plain. The majority of orchids in the piedmont woods have little whitish or greenish flowers that would only appeal to a confirmed orchidoholic. The exceptions are our two native lady’s slipper orchids, Cypripedium acaule (pink lady’s slipper, moccasin flower) and Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens (large yellow lady’s slipper). I have previously discussed the wild populations of these species that grow nearby.

C. acaule is notoriously difficult to transplant and grow in the garden long-term, but C. parviflorum var. pubescens is generally considered to be one of the easiest lady’s slippers to cultivate. For years, I have itched to add one of the latter to my garden. Last autumn I splurged and bought a blooming-size plant.

Cyp_pubescens
Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens

Cyp_pubescens1

I expected to get a single-growth division that might give me one flower this year. Instead, the plant has produced five flowers on four new growths. I’m not sure if I’ll be able keep it going long term–a potential complication is that although the species is native to the NC piedmont, most of the plants in cultivation probably originate from more northern populations–but the size and vigor of this particular plant surely gives me a head start.

Cyppubescens2
Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens

This actually isn’t my first attempt to grow C. parviflorum. Long, long ago, when I lived in Michigan, I kept a seedling of Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin in a pot on my windowsill. This northern variety did remarkably well in the relatively cool climate of Ann Arbor, steadily increasing in size and reliably producing small but highly fragrant flowers.  Unfortunately, it really did not appreciate the move from Michigan to North Carolina. One hot summer it went dormant early and never sprouted the next spring.

cyp_parviflorum1
My late, lamented Cypripedium parviflorum var makasin in 2001.  I loved the dark, corkscrew petals, and it was ideal for growing in a small pot. The flower’s pouch was only about the size of my thumbnail.

About fifteen years later, I’m trying another Cypripedium species in a pot:  the Taiwanese Cypripedium formosanum.

Cyp_formosanum1
Cypripedium formosanum

I originally planned to plant this C. formosanum in the dogwood bed, but several sources suggested that it has a tendency to start growing in late winter and is badly damaged by frost. I decided it would be safest to grow it in a pot, at least until it is large enough to divide, even though it may be tricky to keep the roots cool in mid-summer.

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Six on Saturday #43 (April 27, 2019

This week, Six on Saturday is a doubleheader.  In addition to this miscellaneous S.O.S., I also have a post describing six woodland orchids.

The storms last Friday evening (April 19) were a reminder of how local–and how unfair–our weather can be, particularly during the warmer months.  A strong band of storms moved through in the late afternoon, and I was anxious about the possibility of hail and tree-destroying wind.  In the end, we had about half an inch of rain, no hail, and no wind damage. It was a different story just five miles away, where an EF2 tornado touched down.  A member of the local orchid society lives in its path.  He lost many mature hardwood trees, including  a massive hickory that came down on his orchid greenhouse and another that punched a hole in a 1000-gallon propane tank.  With so many old trees down, his woods won’t fully recover in our lifetimes.

I am grateful that I still have a garden to photograph:

1. Rhododendron species

Rhododendron_sp
These flowers aren’t looking their best after heavy rain

I have lost the tag for this plant and can’t remember if it is R. canescens (piedmont azalea) or R. periclymenoides (pinxter flower).  Both are native to North Carolina, but R. periclymenoides is widespread in the piedmont forest, while R. canescens is found only in a few coastal plain counties (despite its common name).

Does anyone know how to tell the two species apart?

2. Rhododendron flammeum ‘Red Inferno’ (Oconee azalea)

Rhodo_flammeum

The common name for this species should be flame azalea, but that name gets applied to Rhodonendron calendulaceum instead .  The cultivar name doesn’t lie, though.  R. flammeum is one of those species that nurseries sell as “native,” even though its actual native range consists of a few counties in Georgia and South Carolina, hundreds of miles from North Carolina.

3. Emerging leaf of Ligularia japonica ‘Chinese Dragon’

Ligularia-leaf1

I did a double-take when I saw this bizarre structure.  Somehow, I have never before noticed how odd the leaves of ‘Chinese Dragon’ look before they spread open.

Ligularia-leaf2

I love everything about this plant and have previously featured it in Six on Saturday #2 and #21.  I am pleased that it has produced a few volunteer seedlings which have inherited the deeply cut foliage.

4. Polygonatum biflorum (Solomon’s seal)

Polygonatum_biflorum

Our little native Solomon’s seal grows wild in scattered locations around our property, usually in dry soil under deciduous trees. The best colonies seem to be under hickory trees. Hickories produce toxic juglone, albeit in smaller quantities than the infamous black walnut, so perhaps the Solomon’s seal have less competition from other plants in those locations. If you are trying to find juglone-resistant plants to grow under a black walnut, Polygonatum species might be worth trying.

5. Polygonatum humile (dwarf Solomon’s seal)

Polygonatum_humile

Polygonatum humile, a species from east Asia (China, Korea, Japan) grows well in our climate. These are under a dogwood tree. They stand only 5 inches (13 cm) tall and have none of the arching grace of the larger species. They’re cute, though.

6. Fritillaria imperialis (crown imperial)

Fritillaria_imperialis

This plant, framed by a huge old patch of Lycoris squamigera, was blooming in my mother-in-law’s garden in Pennsylvania on Easter Sunday.  I have tried growing F. imperialis several times without success.  Occasionally, the bulbs produce some sickly, stunted foliage for a year or two, but they never flower.  Perhaps we have the wrong soil or climate.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

Six on Saturday #42 (April 13, 2019)

This week, daytime temperatures have consistently reached the 70s to low 80s (~22-27 C), and spring is proceeding at full force. The dominant color in my garden is moving from yellow to red as the Narcissus wind down and wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and azaleas take over. As the soil warms, new growth is emerging from subtropical bulbs like Crinum, Hippeastrum, and Scadoxus. Overhead, dogwoods are covered with white flowers, and delicate green leaves are emerging on the deciduous forest trees.

1.  Pollen

Pollen1
Clouds of pine pollen made North Carolina look like something out of a Wilfred Owen poem this week.

With all this new growth comes pollen, and this year’s pine and oak pollen storm has been particularly intense. Photos of the “pollenpocalypse” taken on Monday made it into the New York Times and CNN, but the pollen count actually peaked on Wednesday. That morning, I drove to work through murky yellow haze as clouds of pollen billowed out of the pine trees, and cars on the highway were followed by swirling trails of yellow dust. It was like a desert sandstorm composed entirely of allergenic protein. I am so thankful for Cetirizine.

Pollen2

Pollen3
Pollen floating on the lake beside my workplace.  This much pollen must add a significant nitrogen spike to the water when it rots.  I wonder what it contributes to my flowerbeds

In the garden, the grass was greenish yellow. The mulched flowerbeds were greenish yellow. The paths were greenish yellow. The sunlight was greenish yellow. It was like living in a dirty aquarium. Luckily, thunderstorms throughout the week temporarily cleared the air and allowed me to photograph flowers without a dusty yellow shroud.

Pollen4
My car’s windshield when I left work on Wednesday

2. Tulipa clusiana var chrysantha

Tulipa_chrysantha

Tulipa_chrysantha2

This species was featured in Six on Saturday #25 (Picture 4). A year later, the individual bulbs that I planted in autumn 2017 have multiplied into small clumps, and every stem is topped with a flower. After two years it is still early days, but I am becoming increasingly confident that these little tulips will successfully naturalize and become permanent fixtures in my garden.

3. Fritillaria meleagris (snake’s head fritillary)

Fritillaria_meleagris

Fritillaria meleagris has been less successful than T. clusiana. Over the past five years, the plants have been slowly disappearing, although those that remain still flower reliably. I think my mistake was planting them in a bed that is hot and dry in summer. I have since learned that these bulbs like to grow in cool, moist meadows. They aren’t expensive, so this autumn it might be time to buy some more and plant them where they’ll have more water.

4. Narcissus ‘Golden Bells’

Narcissus_Golden-Bells

This is almost the last of the Narcissus. Only N. poeticus still remains to flower this year, and those will be blooming in just a few days. N. ‘Golden Bells’ is a very vigorous cultivar, or possibly a hybrid, of N. bulbocodium, the hoop-petticoat Narcissus. It produces its wiry foliage in late winter and then waits so long to produce buds that every year I think that I have somehow missed the flowers.

5. Kerria japonica

Kerria_japonica

Having said that the dominant color is moving towards red, I see that I still have a lot of yellow-flowered plants in this week’s six. Kerria japonica is most often seen in its double-flowered ‘Pleniflora’ form with blooms that look like little yellow pom-poms. I much prefer this wild type with flowers that clearly show its membership in the rose family.

6. Arisaema sikokianum and Arisaema thunburgii subsp. urushima

sikokianum
Arisaema sikokianum
Arisaema_thunbergii
Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urushima

Two Asian jack-in-the-pulpits (or should that be jacks-in-the-pulpit?) are already blooming as our native Arisaema triphyllum are just breaking the surface of the soil. With the spadix modified into a club (A. sikokianum) or a whip-like tendril (A. thunbergii urushima), these species give you a some idea of the diversity in the genus.

There is so much going on in the garden this week, that I can’t resist one more photo.

Second 6. Maggots? Pupae?

Seemannia-rhizome

Actually, these are the dormant rhizomes of Seemannia nematanthodes (see #5). They’re just a tiny fraction of the number that I have exhumed from the bone-dry soil of pots stored in the crawl space of our house all winter. A few will go back into a pot with fresh soil, while the rest will be planted out in various flowerbeds.

The Propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

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 #29, May 26, 2018

The weather is warm and humid.  The first fireflies of the season have appeared.  The solitary adult hummingbirds who have been visiting the feeders since early April have been joined by squadrons of less colorful birds, presumably recently fledged juveniles. On the basis of all this evidence, I declare summer.

This week, flowering perennials outnumber bulbs in the garden.  I’ll start this Six on Saturday with one of my favorite native wildflowers.

1.  Spigelia marilandica (woodland pinkroot)

Spigelia2

The hummingbirds agree that this is one very fine flower.  S. marilandica is native to the southeastern U.S. and the Mississippi valley as far north as southern Illinois.  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service indicates that it is native to North Carolina but does not have any County-level locality data. [Update:  If I would just read my own old blog posts, I’d learn that S. marilandica is recorded from Macon and Cherokee Counties.  And also that I tend to repeat myself.]

Spigelia1

In my garden, S. marilandica grows and blooms in deep shade and nearly full sun, but the best clumps grow where they get sun in the morning and dappled shade in the afternoon.  In my experience, two genetically distinct plants (not divisions of the same clone) are required to set seed, but as long as that requirement is met, no additional effort is required of the gardener.  The hummingbirds are happy to pollinate the flowers.  Seed is difficult to collect, because the ripe capsules split open explosively, propelling the seed some distance from the mother plant.  I find it easiest to wait for volunteer seedlings to sprout, and then transplant the seedlings to new locations.

Spigelia3

My plants vary somewhat in the color of the flowers.  Some clones have greenish-yellow tepals on a purplish red tube, while others have bright yellow tepals on an orange-red tube.  As you can see, something about the intense red color makes my digital camera want to shift the color balance of everything else towards the blue end of the spectrum

Spigelia4

2.  Campanula ‘Sarastro’ (hybrid bellflower)

Campanula_Sarastro

I think my garden is probably a little too warm for this hybrid bellflower.  It doesn’t bloom every year, wilts in the hot sun, and looks ratty by mid summer.  But when it does bloom…Wow!  The deep purple flowers are the size of hen’s eggs.

Campanula can be invasive, but this plant seems quite civilized.  It forms a slowly spreading clump, and the shallow rooted plantlets have been easy to remove if they spread too far.

3.  Thermopsis villosa (Carolina lupine)

Thermopsis_villosa

Thermopsis villosa is native to the western mountain counties of North Carolina, but it grows very well here in the piedmont.  Its only flaw is that the stems sometimes flop over, particularly when the flowers are replaced by heavy seed pods.

4. Iris ‘Black Gamecock’

Iris_Black-Gamecock

Louisiana irises are generally wetland plants, but this hybrid is growing in well-drained clay that is wet in winter but can become almost bone dry in late summer.  Starting from a couple of dessicated rhizomes in a bag from WalMart about six years ago, it has spread into two large clumps with dozens of inflorescences.  The first flowers open just as the surrounding Iris tectorum finish their blooming period.  Perfect.

5. Penstemon digitalis (Foxglove beardtongue)

Penstemon_digitalis

Another “more-or-less-native” that is recorded from half a dozen western North Carolina counties.  The clone “Husker Red” (with reddish foliage, of course) is very common in the horticultural trade, but these plants that I grew from seed have green foliage.

6.  Lilium ‘Claude Shride’ (hybrid martagon lily)

Lilium_Claude-Shride

Lilium ‘Claude Shride’ is a common offering from bulb vendors, and I planted half a dozen bulbs last autumn.  I really like the dark, glossy flowers and the fact that it stands up straight without staking.  L. martagon is a European plant, so I’m not sure if it will tolerate the heat of summer and persist in the garden long-term. Time will tell.

That’s some of what’s blooming in my corner of the NC piedmont today.  To find out what’s blooming elsewhere in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and anywhere else garden bloggers are participating in Six on Saturday, head over to The Propagator.