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.

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Six on Saturday #31, June 16, 2018

This week has been a mixed bag in the garden–some things were good, some not so good.  Let’s start with the not-so-good.

1. Fallen sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)

fallen_sourwood

A storm on Tuesday brought down a fairly large sourwood tree.  It skimmed a bluebird feeder but landed across our row of thornless blackberries.  The blackberries were supported by two strands of wire strung between to 4×4″ posts.  The wire held.  One of the posts snapped.  This afternoon, I’ll haul out the chain saw and cut up the trunk for firewood, but it’s going to be a pain in the neck digging out the snapped post to replace it.

Update:  the tree fell, because the center of its trunk was rotten and inhabited by an enormous nest of enormous carpenter ants who were not thrilled to have a chainsaw bisecting their home.  Run away!  Run Away!

2.  Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) on pink banana (Musa velutina)

Japanese_beetles

The Japanese beetles have started their annual rampage through the soft-leaved plants in the garden.  Spraying with insecticides is contraindicated when the beetles are eating flowers that attract other insects or are on plants that we want to eat, so we wander around the garden knocking them off into a bucket of soapy water.  I’m not sure if it does much to control their population, but it satisfies the need for revenge.

3.  Tigridia pavonia

Tigridia_pavonia-red

Finally, I have a Tigridia pavonia that blooms red.  Tigridia corms are readily available in the spring, but only in packs of mixed colors.  For the last couple of years, my plants have all bloomed in shades of yellow, but this year, I got a batch that contained at least one red-flowering plant.  I had expected to treat Tigridias as annuals, but it turns out that they are fully hardy in my garden, despite cold, wet winter and heavy clay soil.

4. Fasciated Lilium formosanum

Lilium_formosanum-crest

Fasciation, or cresting, is a rare developmental abnormality resulting from overgrowth of meristem tissue.  In this Lilium formosanum, the normally cylindrical stem has turned into a flattened plate with many more (though smaller) leaves than usual.

Lilium_formosanum-crest2

Most sources say that fasciation in lilies is usually a one-time event, with the bulb producing normal growth the next year.  This bulb was also fasciated last year, although the effect was less extreme.  It will be interesting to see if this is a permanent, stable condition.

Also, note the stems of the ubiquitous, weedy creeping cucumber (Melothria pendula).

5. Lilium ‘African Queen’

Lilium_African-Queen1

First bloom for a bulb that I planted last autumn.  Flowers are nice, but the stem is floppy.  Hopefully the plant is still getting established and will improve in future years.

6.  African baobab (Adansonia digitata) seedlings

Baobab_seedlings

I ran across some baobab seeds that I had forgotten about on a high shelf for the past fifteen years.  I guess they’re still viable.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with tropical trees that have the potential to grow to the diameter of a small house and live for thousands of years, but the internet suggests they are reasonable candidates for tropical bonsai.

That’s all for this Saturday.  For more Six on Saturday contributions from garden bloggers around the world, head on over to the Propagator.

Six on Saturday #28, May 19, 2018

Last weekend, the weather shifted from fairly cool spring to full-on summer, with highs around 90-93 F (~32-34 C) and high humidity.  Over the past few days, the temperature has moderated, but only because tropical air streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico has brought frequent showers and thunderstorms.

Since I missed last week’s Six on Saturday (because I was attending Montrose Garden’s spring open-house and eldest offspring’s last track meet of the season), this six includes photos taken over the past ten days.  Oldest photos are first.

1.  Chionanthus virginicus (fringe tree)

Chionanthus_virginicus

There are a few wild fringe trees in the woods nearby, but I planted this specimen beside the path leading to the front door.  It’s a male tree, so its flowers aren’t as showy as a female’s, but it doesn’t drop fruit on the path in autumn. [Correction:  The internet says I was mistaken.  It’s the male trees that have more impressive flowers.]

I recently read that the invasive emerald ash borer has started attacking C. virginicus, so we may have limited time to enjoy this tree.

2. Allium siculum (honey garlic)

Allium_siculum

This species is often labeled Nectaroscordum siculum in bulb catalogs. By either name, it’s a good choice for piedmont gardens, because it blooms after most of the spring bulbs but before the summer bulbs like Crinum and Eucomis get started.

3. Cypella herbertii

Cypella_herbertii

This is the first flower of 2018 for my clump of Cypella herbertii.  This little irid is amazingly hardy for a plant that is native to Argentina and Uruguay.  It flowers for much of the spring and summer and remains green for most of the winter.  Even when frozen to the ground by very cold weather, the foliage starts growing again as soon as temperatures rise above freezing.  Flowers open early in the morning and usually last only one day, but each inflorescence produces new flowers sequentially for several weeks.

4. Liriodendron tulipifera (tulip poplar)

Liriodendron_flower

Although Liriodendron is one of most common deciduous tree species around here, I rarely see the flowers, because they open high in the forest canopy.  The twig bearing this one broke off in the wind and landed on my garden path.

5.  Terrapene carolina carolina (eastern box turtles)

The garden’s resident box turtles are enjoying the wet weather.

boxy
“Notch”

I hadn’t seen this adult male box turtle in the garden before, but he turned up twice this week [update: three times].  The notch at the front of his carapace is distinctive, so I won’t have any trouble recognizing him if I find him again.

Penelope
Penelope

This smaller female is a garden regular.  The kids have named her Penelope.  We offered her a fresh strawberry on Friday morning, and she ate most of it before disappearing into the flowerbeds.

Percy Shelley hasn’t made an appearance yet this year.

6. Mutinus elegans (elegant stinkhorn)

Mutinus_elegans

Look what else the rain brought out.  I’m not sure what the scientist who named this species was thinking.  Elegant?

Mutinus_elegans2

Slugs and snails enjoy munching on the stinkhorns.  Their  smell also attracts American carrion beetles (Necrophila americana), but I was unable to get a good photo of the surprisingly alert insects.  As soon as I get close, they scuttle down to the ground and bury themselves in the mulch.

Want more Six on Saturday?  The Propagator is our host, so head over to his blog.

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)

Kaempferia1

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)

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)

poeticus

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

Trillium_sp

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

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)

cercis

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.

Six on Saturday #19, January 20, 2018: Monochrome edition

The meteorologists predicted that we would get one or two inches of snow this week.  Instead, the storm dumped  12” (30 cm), about three times the average annual snowfall for our part of North Carolina.

These are all color images, but the snow and pale sky seem to have completely desaturated the garden and woods.

1. Juniperus virginiana (eastern red cedar)

cedar

2. Edgeworthia chrysantha (paperbush)

edgeworthia

3.  Bird bath

bird bath

4. Young Pinus taeda (loblolly pines)

loblolly

5.  Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ (contorted trifoliate orange)

Poncirus

6.  woodland trees

hollies
Ilex opaca (American holly) at center and far right. Also, Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood) with typically sloping trunks are leaning against other trees.

Visit The Propagator’s latest post (and the comments therein) to see the more colorful Six on Saturday photos of other garden bloggers.