Clusia orthoneura, or The Plant That Ate the Greenhouse

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Clusia orthoneura flower

Half the fun of trading or giving away plant cuttings and divisions is seeing what other people can do with the same plants that I grow.  For the past ten years, I have been growing Clusia orthoneura, a strange epiphytic shrub from South America.  My plant resides in a 14″ terracotta bulb pan and is a semi-bonsai.  Every year, I put it outside for the summer, where its branches sprout aerial roots that reach the ground and dig in by the end of the summer.  Each autumn, I cut back those roots and much of the new foliage, so it will fit back into my greenhouse.  As a result, it remains almost the same size from year to year.

About five years ago, I rooted a small cutting and gave it to John Stanton, owner of the Orchid Trail nursery in Morrisville, NC.  John put the cutting in an 8″ diameter pot, and sat it on one of his greenhouse benches.  In the large commercial greenhouse, it wasn’t moved every year, and roots that grew down through the bench weren’t disturbed.  Also, John is an exceptionally good grower.

Earlier this week I stopped by the Orchid Trail in search of a particular slipper orchid species, and John showed me his Clusia.

The plant rises about six feet above the greenhouse bench and is equally wide.

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Under the greenhouse bench, the roots resemble those of a mangrove or a strangler fig.

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The pot is still visible, but most of the plant’s bulk completely bypasses it.  At this point, the pot could be cut away without bothering the plant at all.

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It’s almost unrecognizable as the same species as the stunted little thing in my greenhouse.

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Sea myrtle

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Baccharis halimifolia in Durham County today.

Sea myrtle (Baccharis halimifolia) is one of the most striking native shrubs in the NC piedmont at this time of year.  Its fuzzy white seed heads are a common sight beside lakes, in unmown fields, and along roads, where its tolerance for salt is a definite advantage.  B. halimifolia is a member of the Asteraceae, the daisy family, although the family resemblance is difficult to see at first glance.  It’s a woody shrub, instead of a forb, and its inflorescences lack the colorful ray flowers that give the showier members of the family their horticultural value.  However, the white plumes attached to the seeds make the plant look as though it is covered with snow and more than make up for the lack of color.

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I’m surprised that sea myrtle isn’t used more often as a garden shrub for seasonal interest.   Though I have previously criticized the groundskeepers on the campus where I work, I have to admit they have done a good job incorporating some volunteer B. halimifolia into the landscape.  By removing the lower branches, they have exposed the twisted trunks and turned the plants into very interesting specimens.

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The only defects of B. halimifolia from a horticultural point of view seem to be its brittle wood and its production of huge quantities of airborne seeds.  Many horticulturally valuable shrubs are also brittle (e.g. my Hypericum frondosum, which snapped under snow this winter), so that doesn’t seem to be a fatal flaw.  More problematic is its tendency to become weedy.  It is apparently invasive in southern Europe and Australia.  Perhaps it would be best to grow it only in its native range.

San Diego (Six on Saturday #37, November 10, 2018)

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The Botanical Building in Balboa Park

This week, I traveled to San Diego, California for a scientific conference.  It was my first trip to San Diego–my first trip to anywhere in California, actually–so it was exciting to see a new part of the country.  Even the flower beds around my hotel and the convention center were full of new and interesting things.

The meeting didn’t leave much time for sightseeing, but I managed to slip away one morning and take a bus up to Balboa Park, which houses the San Diego Zoo and a variety of gardens.  I considered just wandering around the free areas of the park but eventually decided that I couldn’t miss the world famous zoo.  That turned out to be the correct choice.  In addition to being an amazing collection of endangered species (the zoo is famous for its captive breeding successes), the grounds are also a very fine botanical garden.  The weather was cool, so the animals were active, and there were hardly any visitors.  I had a good long visit with the pandas (red and giant), koalas, Tasmanian devils, komodo dragon, giant tortoises, okapis, elephants, jaguars, and many other animals, but I took more pictures of the plants.

Today being Saturday, here are six things that caught my eye in San Diego–garden related, of course.

1.  Flowering trees.

November is clearly not the best time of year for blooming trees, but nevertheless, I saw some beautiful tropical and subtropical flowers.

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Ceiba speciosa (silk floss tree) in Balboa Park
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Ceiba speciosa flower
Spathodea
Spathodea campanulata (African tulip tree) in Balboa Park
Bauhinia
Bauhinia x blakeana (Hong Kong orchid tree) at the San Diego Zoo

2. Bird of Paradise flowers

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Roadside Strelitzia reginae

Strelitzia reginae (bird of paradise) and Strelitzia nicolai (white bird of paradise) were growing (and blooming) all over town.  S. reginae is my wife’s favorite flower, so when we were first married I tried growing some from seed.  After fifteen years, I managed to get a only single flower from an enormous clump that took up a lot of real estate in the greenhouse, so I gave up.  Clearly, flowering is not a problem when they are grown outside in San Diego.

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Strelitzia nicolae on the patio of the convention center

3.  The Botanical Building

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The Botanical Building is a Balboa Park landmark that was originally built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition.  Before seeing it, I had assumed it was some sort of greenhouse or conservatory, but there is no glass involved.  Instead, the Botanical Building is a giant lathe house, built of wooden strips that provide the perfect amount of shade and wind protection for palms, tree ferns, and other tropical/subtropical understory plants.

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Inside the Botanical Building
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Deppea splendens flowering in the Botanical Building.  Oh, how I wish this species would survive a North Carolina summer
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An enormous Ficus sycomorus growing behind the Botanical House.  A photo can’t do justice to the scale of its massive buttress roots.  According to the Gospel of Luke, Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed one of these trees so that he could see Jesus.

4.  Australian plants

Callistemon ‘Woodlanders Hardy’ and one or two eucalyptus are the only Australian plants I know of that can be grown in North Carolina, and even those are marginal outside of the coastal plain.  The climate of southern California is more similar to parts of Australia, so I wasn’t surprised to see a wider variety of plants from Down Under.

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Anigozanthos (Kangaroo paw) in a flower bed at the convention center.  I wonder if one of these could be grown in a pot in North Carolina, if protected from rain?
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A little grove of Brachychiton rupestris (Queensland bottle trees) at the zoo

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I assume this is Australian, because it was growing in the koala habitat at the zoo.  Australian readers, help me out. Is this some sort of Grevillea?  It was growing as a tall shrub, or small tree. [Update:  This appears to be Alloxylon flammeum.  Thanks to Jim Stephens for the suggested identification.]
5. African and Malagasy plants

The zoo has a really impressive collection of succulents from Madagascar and southern Africa.

Alluadia
Alluadia procera (Madagascar) outside the Elephant Care Center
Cyphostemma
Cyphostemma juttae (southern Africa)
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Pachypodium lamerei and Moringa drouhardii (bottle tree, smooth trunk on left), both from Madagascar
Euphorbia spectabilis
Euphorbia spectabilis (Tanzania)
Uncarina
Uncarina sp. (Madagascar)

6. Hawaiian plants

I suppose the climate of Hawaii, particularly on the drier leeward side of the islands, must be not entirely unlike that of coastal San Diego County.

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Brighamia insignis (Ōlulu, Cabbage-on-a-stick) growing among other Hawaiian plants at the zoo.  Despite the whimsical common name, this is a member of the Campanulaceae, not a cabbage relative.
Prichardia
Pritchardia hillebrandii (loulu lelo palm) in the Botanical Building

For more Six on Saturday, click over to The Propagator, where you will find his Six and links to other participants.

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)

Philadelphus_inodorus

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)

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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)

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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) 

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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)

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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)

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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 #25, April 14, 2018

Spring has really gathered steam over the past week, and for the first time in a couple of months, I had to select from among a wide array of flowers for this Six on Saturday.

This week, I’ll start in the greenhouse and then move outside.

1.  Phalaenopsis mannii

Phal_mannii

The range of this small Phalaenopsis species extends from Assam to Vietnam and southern China.  In common with some other Phal species, you should never cut the inflorescences when the spring/summer flowering season is finished.  The old inflorescences will remain green through the winter and will produce new flower buds the next year.  At the same time, new inflorescences will sprout, so as the plant gets older you’ll have more and more flowers each year.

2.  Vireya hybrids (two for one)

Vireyas are a group of Rhododendron species from the old-world tropics, with the greatest diversity New Guinea, Borneo, Sulawesi, Sumatra, and the Philippines.  The majority of species are from high elevation, so they prefer mild temperatures and do not appreciate the warm summer nights in North Carolina.  In the USA, most vireya growers are on the west coast and Hawaii.

I have had long-term success with a few heat-tolerant vireyas whose ancestors come from lower elevations They do not tolerate frost, so in North Carolina they are definitely greenhouse plants.  I’ve been growing these two plants since 2004.

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Rhododendron jasminiflorum x (viriosum x jasminiflorum).  The pink color is a mix of the white R. jasminiflorum and red R. viriosum, but the long, tubular flower shape is all R. jasminiflorum.  This plant came from the late Bill Moyles, a well known vireya grower and hybridizer from Oakland, CA.
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This  complex hybrid with peachy flowers is another Bill Moyles cross. It is Rhododendron (Felinda x (aurigeranum x Dr. Hermann Sleumer)) x javanicum.   R. Felinda is ((phaeopeplum x viriosum) x leucogigas), and R. Dr. Hermann Sleumer is (phaeopeplum x zoelleri).

3. Ornithogalum dubium

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Ornithogalum dubium is commonly sold by supermarkets and hardware stores as a throw-away flowering plant in late winter.  Most people will probably treat them like cut flowers and toss the pot when the foliage starts to yellow.  To keep the plants for another year, store the dormant bulbs dry and warm (or even hot) over the summer.  Occasionally, bulbs will fail to sprout in autumn.  As long as they remain firm, give them occasional water through the winter and then another hot dry summer.  Often, they will sprout after the second dormancy.  I have maintained these for five years, so there’s definitely no need to buy a new pot full every year.

And now, outside for the remaining three plants this week…

4.  Tulipa clusiana var. chrysantha

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Tulipa clusiana is reputed to be the best perennial tulip for the southeast.  I first saw them blooming in Coker Arboretum at the University of North Carolina and was thrilled to find that they are very inexpensive from internet bulb vendors.

T. clusiana var. chrysantha flowers open in mid-morning and close back into tight buds in late afternoon.  Although they have been flowering all week, I have seen only the orange buds when leaving the house and returning from work.  Today was the first time I saw the bright yellow open flowers.

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5.  Saruma henryi 

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The fuzzy stems of Saruma henryi are just starting to emerge from the mulch, and the first flower is still wrinkled.  S. henryi is related to Asarum, hence its genus name.   Saruma is an anagram of Asarum.  Those crazy botanists…

6.  Scilla peruviana

Scilla-peruviana

Despite the name, Scilla peruviana is from the Mediterranean–Portugal, Spain, and southern Italy–not South America.  The large bulbs produce their leaves in autumn, remain green all winter, and flower in spring.  When I planted the bulbs last autumn, I wasn’t sure if they would survive outside, but they tolerated 3.2 F (-16 C) with only minor damage to the leaf tips.

To see what’s growing in gardens all around the world, head to The Propagator for his Six on Saturday and links to those of other garden bloggers.