Six on Saturday #41 (April 6, 2019)

A brief return to winter this week kept me busy covering the tender new growth of terrestrial orchids every evening to protect them from frost.  Then, of course, I had to uncover them before going to work in the morning.  It looks as though we may have seen the last freeze, though, and the temperature is forecast to be 80 F (26.6 C) on Monday.

Here are six plants whose flowers didn’t mind the cold (or were protected in the greenhouse)

1. Ficaria verna ‘Brazen Hussy’ (lesser celandine)

Ficaria-verna_Brazen-Hussey

Purchasing this plant a year ago may have been a mistake.  It was labeled Ranunculus ficaria at the nursery, and I didn’t realize that the little spring ephemeral with dark purple foliage was actually a cultivar of Ficaria verna,  the invasive pest with green leaves that I have seen covering river banks in Pennsylvania.  However, ‘Brazen Hussy’ has thus far shown no inclination to self-pollinate, and the flowerbed in my garden lacks the moving water that helps F. verna spread so aggressively on floodplains.  If it manifests any invasive inclinations, it will go straight to the landfill (won’t risk the compost heap), but until them I’m reluctant to do away with it.  The shiny, almost metallic flowers go so well with the dark foliage of this cultivar.

2. Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss)

Brunnera

I most commonly see the variegated clone ‘Jack Frost’ for sale around here, but this seed grown plant has plain green leaves.  My wife loves blue flowers, so plain leaves or not, this is an obvious plant to include in the garden.

3. Tulipa whittallii

Tulipa-whittalliiTulipa-whittallii2

For the last couple of years, I have been experimenting with species tulips that may prove to be more heat tolerant than most of the hybrids.  Tulipa clusiana var chrysantha was recommended for our climate, and it looks as though it will do well–the bulbs I planted in 2017 have multiplied and will be flowering in a week or two.  It’s still too early to know how Tulipa whittallii will do. On the strength of one bulb catalog that said this is one of the most heat tolerant species, I planted a dozen bulbs last autumn.  The flowers are certainly eye catching. They close up tight each evening and only open up for a few hours in the afternoon (which doesn’t seem a very good way to attract pollinators), but the intense orange color makes the wait worthwhile.  I hope they stick around for a good many years.

4.  Narcissus Quail (and an enormous pile of mulch)

Quail

Narcissus ‘Quail’ is a jonquilla hybrid that produces two or three flowers per inflorescence.  I’m not sure if I like it.  The flowers are a somewhat squashed together, so their shape is lost in a large blob of yellow.

The mulch is 16 cubic yards of ground hardwood (with a generous proportion of eastern red cedar, judging by the smell).  A couple of inches of mulch spread on the flowerbeds every other year suppresses weeds, adds organic material, and most importantly, reduces the need to water.  Although I irrigate new plants until their roots are established, my goal is to have the garden survive on rain alone.

5. Euphorbia horombensis

IMG_1348(1)

In the greenhouse, this is the season for Euphorbia horombensis to produce its brick red cyathophylls, but its spiny armament is impressive all year round.  E. horombensis is listed as endangered on the IUCN red list, primarily due to habitat degradation and over-collection, but artificially propagated seedlings are reasonably common (and reasonably priced) from a few nurseries that specialize in propagating succulent plants.

Euphorbia-horombensis2

The inflorescences of E. horombensis are covered with sticky sap which traps small insects (in this case, a flying ant).  I’m not sure what purpose the sap serves, but it seems odd that a plant would trap potential pollinators.

Euphorbia-horombensis3

6. Paphiopedilum delenatii var. vinicolor

delenatii-vinicolorAnd finally, a first-bloom seedling of Paphiopedilum delenatii var vinicolor, a recent addition to my slipper orchid collection.

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.

Greenhouse volunteers

In horticulture, a volunteer is a plant that sprouts and grows without any action by the gardener.  The implication is that volunteers are desirable plants, which distinguishes them from undesirable weeds.  There’s sometimes a fine line between the two.  In my outdoor garden, Vernonia glauca (broadlead ironweed), Poncirus trifoliata (trifoliate orange), and Callicarpa americana are a little too enthusiastic about seeding around.  When another gardener wants to trade for the seedlings, they’re volunteers.  When I have to dig them out of the wrong flower bed, they’re weeds.

In my greenhouse, several species have established themselves as volunteers.  They can pop up almost anywhere, but they never choke out the rightful inhabitant of the pot and are very interesting in their own right.

Dorstenia_foetida
Dorstenia foetida (Lav. 20542).  This seedling has volunteered in the pot of a Hydnophytum formicarum.

Dorstenia is a genus of the Moraceae, the fig family, with very interesting anatomy.  Its inflorescences are basically equivalent to an open, flattened fig (or a fig is a Dorstenia inflorescence folded in on itself). The almost microscopic flowers grow in a fleshy structure that is often surrounded by finger-like extensions. After pollination, a seed is produced in a little vesicle and, when ripe, shoots out with considerable force, often landing in pots several feet away.  Over the years, I have grown half a dozen different Dorstenia species, but the most frequent volunteers are D. foetida and D. barnimiana.  Both species are from east Africa and Arabia.  D. foetida grows thick, upright stems with star-shaped inflorescences produced throughout the year.  D. barnimiana is a geophyte with a biscuit-shaped underground tuber and deciduous leaves that lie flat on the soil surface.  Its inflorescences are more elongated and have fewer extensions than those of D. foetida.

Dorstenia_barnimiana1
Dorstenia barnimiana tubers exposed by dumping off the top-dressing of gravel.  During the winter dormancy, the tubers are leafless and easy to overlook when they grow completely below the soil surface.
Dorstenia_barnimiana2
Dorstenia barnimiana leaves at the base of Hydnophytum formicarum.
Dorstenia_barnimiana3
Dorstenia barnimiana inflorescence.  Multiple vesicles, each containing a ripening seed, are visible.

The habit of shooting ripe seeds around the greenhouse is shared by Euphorbia platyclada, a truly bizarre plant from Madagascar.  E. platyclada is completely leafless, and its jointed stems look half dead at the best of times.  Depending on much light they receive E. platyclada stems can be mottled green, brown, or bright pink.  Stems of the latter color resembles coral more than a plant.  E. platyclada isn’t as prolific as the Dorstenia species, and I have been very pleased to find a few volunteers.

euphorbia_platyclada2
Euphorbia platyclada volunteering in the pot of Pachypodium decaryi, another native of Madagascar.

Instead of shooting seeds, Psilotum nudum (whisk fern) produces tiny spores which drift on the breeze of the greenhouse fans.  This is the only greenhouse volunteer that I didn’t originally purchase.  The first plant arrived as a stowaway in the pot of a Vachellia cornigera (bullhorn acacia) from a local botanical garden.  It has since appeared in several other locations around the greenhouse, but it is so interesting that I don’t begrudge it the space.  Psilotum is a genus of primitive fern-like plants that lack true leaves and roots and have a fascinating life-history similar to that of ferns.  The sporophyte of P. nudum has a creeping underground rhizome that sprouts green stems tipped with yellowish spore-producing synangia.  The spores hatch into a subterranean gametophyte which, when mature, releases eggs and sperm cells.  Union of egg and sperm results in a new photosythetic sporophyte.

Psilotum_nudum
Volunteer Psilotum nudum growing at the base of Vachellia cornigera

P. nudum (Matsubaran) has been cultivated in Japan for hundreds of years.  See the Primitive Ferns blog for further details on the many cultivars.

Abomination

While visiting a local home improvement store today, I took a look at the garden section to see what grotesqueries the plant wholesalers have cooked up lately.  They did not disappoint.  I am, by now, inured to things like paper flowers glued to cacti or Phalaenopsis orchids with dyed blooms–If you desperately need a cheap grafted cactus, you can pick off the fake flowers, and when the garish dye fades, you’ll have a reasonably nice white-flowered Phal hybrid.

But today’s offerings…Shudder.

grotesque1

How about a Hippeastrum bulb dipped in wax?  Judging by the label, the flower is a big red tetraploid, probably ‘Red Lion,’ and someone has obviously thought, “Hmm, that’s a very striking flower, how can we make it look worse?”  The answer was to dip the bulb in wax even more brightly colored than the flower, so that the inflorescence will emerge from something the right size and color to choke Snow White.  And speaking of snow, what goes better with a subtropical flower than a coating of fake snow?

According to the label, the wax means that you don’t have to water the bulb at all.  It also means that the bulb won’t be able to grow roots, and is doomed to the trash can as soon as the flowers fade.

What’s that you say?  “A waxed bulb the color of Rudolph’s nose is pretty bad, but this is the land of inflatable snowmen and nativity scenes with Santa Claus adoring the baby Jesus.  A certain lack of taste is expected during the holidays.  Don’t you have anything worse?”

I do:

grotesque2

I actually picked up a couple of these to see if they were made of plastic.  Nope, they’re real.  Someone has dipped a variety of cacti and some Gasteraloe hybrids in paint.  You can choose fluorescent red, blue, or a particularly nasty shade of blue-green.  The painted leaf tips of the Gasteraloes are already shriveling, but the plants might eventually recover as new leaves emerge. The cacti are surely doomed.  They’ve been completely covered, and I’m reminded of that scene in Goldfinger where Bond’s latest amour dies after being coated with gold paint.

Why?  Why would anyone do this?  Who would buy it?

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

Botanical1
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.

Ceiba1
Ceiba speciosa (silk floss tree) in Balboa Park
Ceiba2
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

Strelitzia1
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.

Strelitzia2
Strelitzia nicolae on the patio of the convention center

3.  The Botanical Building

Botanical2

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.

Botanical3
Inside the Botanical Building
Deppea_splendens
Deppea splendens flowering in the Botanical Building.  Oh, how I wish this species would survive a North Carolina summer
Ficus_sycomorus
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.

Anigozanthos
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?
Brachychiton
A little grove of Brachychiton rupestris (Queensland bottle trees) at the zoo

Australian_plant
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)
Pachy_and_Moringa
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.

Brighamia
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.

More Pachypodium (Six on Saturday #36, October 20, 2018)

Here are some more plants on their way to my greenhouse for the winter.  I previously photographed some of my Pachypodium plants and gave cultural suggestions in Six on Saturday #3.  Those photos, taken in July of last year, showed leafy plants.  Here in October, most of my pachypodiums have already shed their leaves and are dormant.  Flower buds will start to emerge in late winter to early spring, and fresh new leaves will follow.

All of the species shown here are from Madagascar

1. Pachypodium eburneum

eburneum1

eburneum2

Pachypodium eburneum is a very compact species with strongly compressed branches and relatively short inflorescences.  In that sense, it is somewhat like a less extreme version of P. brevicaule.  While P. brevicaule has soft spines, however, the thick spines of P. eburneum are hard and sharp.  Very old P. eburneum have a lumpy, irregular form, but this plant (eleven years old, grown from seed) is still nicely symmetrical.  The flowers of P. eburneum are white or pale yellow.

P_eburneum flowers
an old picture showing variation in the color of P. eburneum flowers

2. Pachypodium rosulatum var. gracilius

rosulatum_gracilius

Pachypodium rosulatum is a very variable species that some botanists (and many horticulturalists) split into a complex of several closely related species.  Here, I’ll follow Dylan Burge [1] in considering this and the following plants to be variants of one species.

P. rosulatum gracilus is distinguished by its dense, very fine spines.  It generally has a bottle-shaped or globular trunk.  Flowers are small and bright yellow.  This is a seventeen-year old plant, grown from seed.

3. Pachypodium rosulatum (near Tôlanaro)

rosulatum_Ft-Dauphin

This P. rosulatum variant, which appears to be undescribed, supposedly comes from the vicinity of Tôlanaro (Ft. Dauphin) in southern Madagascar.  It has large yellow flowers and very sharp spines that are stronger than those of var. gracilius.  This plant was purchased as a small artificially propagated seedling in 2008.

4. Pachypodium rosulatum var. makayense

makayense

Like Pachypodum rosulatum var. bicolor, P. rosulatum var. makayense has bicolored yellow and white flowers.   At least under greenhouse conditions, var. makayense seems to be more compact than var. bicolor.  It is also more difficult to grow, and I have lost a number of seedlings to root rot.  This plant is eleven years old, grown from seed.

5. Pachypodium rosulatum var. cactipes

cactipes1

Pachypodium rosulatum var cactipes has fine, acicular spines, rather like those of var. gracilus, but in var. cactipes they are more widely spaced on long branches.  The plant shown above was purchased as a small seedling from Arid Lands in 1999.  It has the longest flowering season of any of my pachypodiums, producing yellow flowers successively over more than a month in mid to late spring.

cactipes 1a
Greenish lichens have started to grow on this P. rosulatum var. cactipes and some of my other pachypodiums.

The plant shown below also seems to be var. cactipes.  It is the “super branching form” sold for many year by Highland Succulents in Ohio.  I bought this plant in 2000.

cactipes2

6. Pachypodium windsorii

windsorii1

Pachypodum windsorii has bright red flowers in the spring.  The plant above, a 1997 purchase from Glasshouse Works nursery, is the parent of the seedling below.  Shortly after germination, I deliberately damaged the apical meristem of this seedling, and it responded by branching.  Usually pachypodiums branch after flowering for the first time, and the trunk is expanded only below the first branch.  In this seedling, each of the four basal branches is developing a swollen base, giving it the appearance of four plants fused together.  I think it will make a really nice specimen in ten or fifteen years.

windsorii2

Pachy_windsori2
An old picture of a P. windsorii flower

For more Six on Saturday, visit The Propagator.

Reference

  1. Burge, D.O., (2013) Diversification of Pachypodium. Cactus and Succulent Journal 85: 250-258.