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)


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.]


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.


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


2.  Campanula ‘Sarastro’ (hybrid bellflower)


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 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’


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)


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’ 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.

Columbine hanky panky

Red-flowered wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

When we moved to this house eleven years ago, I brought an envelope of Aquilegia canadensis seed from my old garden.  The wild columbines have thrived and spread throughout the garden, and the drifts of little red flowers are now one of my favorite sights in the spring.

In the past few years, though, a few oddities have cropped up.  Typical A. canadensis flowers have red sepals and bright yellow petals, but I now have several plants that are definitely purple with pale yellow to cream petals.

A possible hybrid:  A. canadensis x ?

Columbines are notoriously promiscuous in cultivation; although there are numerous distinct species in the wild, they do not seem to have effective anatomical or genetic barriers to hybridization in the garden.  I suspect that someone in bee-range of my garden has been growing purple Aquilegia vulgaris (a European species) or one of its hybrids, and pollen has been transferred to my A. canadensis.

This year, for the first time, another color has appeared.  This plant with very pale flowers is also a dwarf, less than half the height of typical plants:

hybrid or mutant A. canadensis?

If I want to keep a pure stock of A. canadensis, I probably ought to dig up all of the unusually colored plants.  However, I think they have some value as garden plants, so I have let them grow.  I cut the inflorescences before seed is mature, but the hybrids could still pollinate A. canadensis plants.  In the long run I suspect that A. canadensis genes will dominate due to their better adaptation to this habitat.  In any case, this is a wholly artificial population, and it is fun to watch genetics in action.

Six on Saturday #27, May 5, 2018

Here we go again.  Six more plants blooming on a Saturday.  When you are finished here, get on over to The Propagator’s site for more Six on Saturday.

1.  Philadelphus inodorus (scentless mock orange)


I grew this pretty native shrub from seed obtained from the NC Botanical Garden’s annual members’ seed list.  It seems to be primarily a species of the Appalachians, but the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service has records for Orange and Randolph Counties in the NC piedmont.

2.  Melittis melissophyllum ‘Royal Velvet Distinction’ (bastard balm)


I bought this European perennial partly for its pretty flowers, but mostly for its common name.  It’s Latin name suggests that it is popular with bees, but I haven’t been able to track down the origin of “bastard balm”.  For the first two years, it produced a fairly sad little flowerless rosette, and I wondered if it didn’t like our climate or soil.  But, this year it has grown three flowering stems that are about a foot tall.

3.  Iris tectorum (Japanese roof iris)


As with many other Japanese species, Iris tectorum loves our climate.   After the flowers fade, the foliage remains neat and tidy throughout the summer and autumn, dying back only in midwinter.  I started with a single plant ten years ago , but I scatter seed every autumn.  Now there are scattered clumps and large drifts throughout the garden.  Some of the older clumps suffer from iris borers in late summer, but there are always enough seedlings to replace them.  I think it might be nice to get a few of the white form to intersperse among the typical lavender flowers, but the whites have suddenly become hard to find at local nurseries.

4.  Arisaema triphyllum (jack in the pulpit) 


This is another plant that is slowly spreading through the garden.  I started my garden population from seed of local wild plants, but at this point I’m on the third or fourth generation of cultivated plants.  A. triphyllum isn’t as bizarre as some of the Asian Arisaema species, but I like our little native.

5.  Amorphophallus konjac (konjaku, voodoo lily)


Hey, who planted this stinking aroid so close to the house?  And right next to the beautifully fragrant Persian musk rose, too.  Oh, yeah, it was me.

There are three flowering this year.  The burying beetles and blow flies are so pleased

6.  Sarracenia flava (yellow pitcher plant)


Fresh young pitchers of one of our native carnivorous plants emerging from my bog garden which is in desperate need of a renovation.

Six on Saturday #26, April 21, 2018

Spring is proceeding as it should, and I am fairly sure that we are beyond the last frost.  Spring bulbs are winding down, and summer perennials are starting to poke their heads above the mulch.  It’s time for another Six on Saturday.

1. Kaempferia rotunda  (Asian crocus)


No, I don’t know why such a beautiful little ginger has such a silly common name.  The fantastic flowers look more like orchids than crocuses, and the common name for the genus as a whole, peacock ginger, seems more fitting.  K. rotunda doesn’t have the incredible patterned foliage of some other Kaempferia species, but the flowers more than make up for that lack.

According to Scott Ogden in Garden Bulbs for the South (Timber Press), K. rotunda is hardy “south of a line from Austin to Charleston.” I live about 300 miles north of that line, so my K. rotunda will remain in a pot, at least until the rhizome can be divided so that I have a second plant to experiment with.

2. Lonicera sempervirens (coral honeysuckle)


Our native coral honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, is a much more civilized plant than the horribly invasive Japanese honeysuckle (L. japonica).  It grows vigorously but not rampantly, and is far less likely to strangle young trees.  It does lack the fragrance of L. japonica, but that is to be expected of a plant pollinated by hummingbirds.  Along with Aquilegia canadensis, spring-blooming L. sempervirens provides the first food for the hummers when they arrive after their winter holiday in Central America.

This is a wild vine growing at the edge of  my garden, but selected cultivars are readily available from nurseries and garden centers.  For my money, the best is L. sempervirens ‘Major Wheeler’, a red clone that reblooms all summer long.  I used to have ‘Major Wheeler’ and ‘John Clayton’, a reblooming yellow clone, climbing a pergola together.  Unfortunately, pine voles ate the roots of the ‘Major Wheeler’, leaving the stems dangling in the air.  The ‘John Clayton’ is still growing, but hummingbirds seem to prefer the wild red-flowered vines.

3. Narcissus poeticus (pheasant’s eye)


Narcissus poeticus is the final daffodil to bloom in my garden.  It has been a good run this year. Beginning with the first Narcissus pseudonarcissus in February, there has been a daffodil blooming almost every day, and the pheasant’s eyes will take us up to almost the beginning of May.

4.  Trillium species


I bought this pedicellate trillium with pale yellow flowers as T. vaseyi, a normally red-flowered species.  There do seem to be pale flowered forms of T. vaseyi, but the way that this plant holds its flowers well above the leaves suggests that it is a different species. Could it be Trillium erectum, or a hybrid thereof?

Edited to add:  A member of the Carolina Flora group on Facebook suggests that this is Trillium sulcatum forma albolutescens.

5.  Halesia tetraptera (mountain silverbell, carolina silverbell)


Halesia tetraptera is native to North Carolina, but primarily the western mountain counties.  At any other time of year, this beautiful little tree would be a star of the garden, but unfortunately it blooms at exactly the same time as Cornus florida and just can’t compete with the dogwoods’ flower power.

6.  Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud)


This last photo is a cheat–the tree is growing in the parking lot at my workplace, not in my garden–but I wanted to show you the bizarre flowers.  C. canadensis commonly produces flowers from woody lumps on its trunk and major branches, a phenomenon called “cauliflory”, but this tree had many more flowers on its trunk than is typical.  It is a very large, old specimen and is starting to bloom a couple of weeks later than most of the wild trees in the vicinity. Perhaps it is a selected cultivar of geographically remote origin.

That’s all for this week.  You know the drill:  for more Six on Saturday head over to The Propagator, where you will find collected links to other garden blogs.  Every week, there are more participants, so you can see what is blooming all over the world.


cyclamen colony 1

Recently, I was walking along Morgan Creek in Chapel Hill, not far from the North Carolina Botanical Garden, when I noticed what I took to be an unusually extensive and dense population of Hexastylis arifolia, the little brown jug.

cyclamen colony 2

Closer inspection revealed that the plants were actually Cyclamen hederifolium, a native of Mediterranean Europe.  The plants were growing on a steep hillside, where rocks and loose soil have slowly slid down the slope.  A few plants extended onto the wetter, more compacted soil of the flood plain, but that was clearly not their favored habitat.

cyclamen colony 3

Nearby were a few plants of the real Hexastylis arifolia.

Hexastylis arifolia (little brown jugs)

These Cyclamen hederifolium plants had clearly escaped from cultivation, but I don’t think they can really be considered invasive.  The true invasives are plants that form dense stands, choking out native species–things like Eleagnus species,  Ligustrum sinense (Chinese privet), Hedera helix (English Ivy), Pueraria montana (Kudzu), and Microstegium vimineum (Japanese stiltgrass).

Cyclamen seeds are distributed by ants, so the plants are unlikely to spread as far as those species with windborne seeds or berries that are eaten by birds.  The relatively sparse and low-growing leaves of C. hederifolium are also unlikely to smother other woodland plants–not that there is much else that likes to grow in the dry, unstable soil that the cyclamens seem to favor.

Not far from the cyclamens, I did see several other species with more potential to be invasive. Mahonia bealei (leatherleaf mahonia) and Ilex cornuta (Chinese holly) were naturalized in the woods, and of course, English ivy is ubiquitous.  The beautiful variegated leaves of Arum italicum stood out in the wet soil near the creek.  I had been thinking of adding A. italicum to my garden, but given its ability to spread and potential to be invasive in the mid-Atlantic region, I’m now not sure that’s a good idea.

Arum italicum (lords-and-ladies) growing beside Morgan Creek

Although the C. hederifolium are probably no threat to native ecosystems, seeing them in an ostensibly wild area was a good reminder that the plants we grow in our gardens may not always stay there.