For the past twenty four hours, we have had more or less constant rain and sleet with temperatures hovering right around freezing. The ground is warm, so we don’t have much accumulation. But the weather doesn’t make me want to go outside, not even to the greenhouse. This is a day for lighting the wood stove, drinking tea, and reading.
Reading. If I write about gardening books, I won’t have to go outside. So, for my first “Six on Saturday, Library Edition,” here are six books that I think will be of interest to gardeners in the NC piedmont (and, perhaps, further afield).
1. Elizabeth Lawrence (1991).A Southern Garden, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London.
A Southern Garden was originally published in 1942 and has remained a favorite of North Carolina gardeners ever since. Elizabeth Lawrence structures her book around the four seasons, describing the bulbs, perennials, and shrubs blooming throughout the year in her Raleigh garden. The book is an eloquent description of the joys of gardening in the south, and its advice is still valid. At the end of the book are exhaustive tables indicating earliest and latest date of first bloom and length of blooming season collated from notebooks kept by Elizabeth Lawrence and her mother. The index of my 1991 reprint includes updated botanical nomenclature, as well as the names originally used by the author.
2. Nancy Goodwin, with illustrations by Ippy Patterson (2005). Montrose: Life in a Garden, Duke University Press, Durham and London.
This book can be viewed as an updated successor to A Southern Garden. As indicated by the title, it is a month by month account of life in Montrose, Nancy Goodwin’s garden in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Descriptions of plants and animals are interspersed with anecdotes from the Goodwins’ life and beautiful black-and-white or color illustrations by Ippy Patterson.
3. Scott Ogden (2007). Garden Bulbs for the South, Timber Press, Portland.
Many books on bulbs focus on plants suitable for northern Europe, or the northeast and northwest United States. It is great to find a book covering those bulbs that grow well in the southeast and return year after year. In addition to describing heat-tolerant varieties of old favorites like daffodils and tulips, Ogden provides welcome information on southern specialties like Crinum, Lycoris, Hymenocallis, and ornamental gingers.
4. Albert E. Radford, Harry E. Ahles, C. Ritchie Bell (1964, 1968). Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
This massive tome (1183 pages) is invaluable for identifying wild flowers and garden weeds or for determining if native plants offered by nurseries are really native or just “native.” Each genus has a key of native and introduced species, and the range maps show distribution in North and South Carolina at the level of counties. My main problem with this book is the same issue I used to have with encyclopedias (for the youngsters, those were like wikipedia printed out on paper and bound in multiple volumes). When paging through to find a plant that I have identified in the index, I am often so distracted by other plants that I forget which page I was looking for. It sometimes takes be three or four returns to the index before I actually get to the plant I originally wanted to read about.
5. William Chambers Coker and Henry Roland Totten (1945). Trees of the Southeasten States, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
Although smaller than Vascular Flora of the Carolinas, this book is just as distracting when I am searching backwards from the index. I found this 1945 second edition (first edition, 1934) in an old bookshop in Charleston, South Carolina. My copy came with an inscription from “As You Like It” written by the original gift-giver, and old dried leaves, presumably inserted by the gift recipient. The authors were professors of botany at the University of North Carolina, and the scientific summaries are leavened with delightful descriptions of individual trees they knew and loved. Many of those trees have been replaced by houses and shopping centers, but some, particularly those on the UNC campus, can still be seen.
6. Bernard S. Martof, Wlliam M. Palmer, Joseph R. Bailey, Julian R. Harrison III, photographs by Jack Dermid (1980). Amphibians and Reptiles of the Carolinas and Virginia. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
Gardens aren’t just about plants. Hopefully, we are also creating habitat for native wildlife. To identify the creatures sharing your garden, you could use the Peterson’s field guide covering the eastern U.S. or the Audobon Society Guide covering all of North America, but this book focusing on three states has much more relevant detail and more useful range maps. I like to use the margins for notes indicating when I see a particular species for the first time.
That’s my six for this week. For more Six on Saturday posted by gardeners who might actually have gone outside, head over to the Propagator for the proprietor’s Six and links to other blogs.
After a couple of weeks absence, here’s another Six on Saturday. As with previous posts on Pachypodium and Nepenthes, I’m focusing on a single group of greenhouse plants this week.
The epiphytic myrmecophytes (ant plants) of the coffee family, Rubiaceae, are surely some of the strangest plants that grow anywhere in the world. Their overall appearance is often grotesque: gray or silver or brown blobs with thick, armored stems and sharp spines derived from modified roots. They cling to tree trunks or hang upside down below horizontal branches, looking like aliens that have inexplicably settled in an Asian forest. And to top all of that, their real strangeness is hidden inside. Soon after a seedling ant plant germinates, the hypocotyl–the stem below the cotyledons–starts to swell into a tuber. As the plant grows, tissue within the tuber dies in a genetically programmed manner, first forming a hollow space and then expanding into a series of tunnels and chambers. The tunnels are connected to the outside by entrance holes around the base of the tuber, and the chambers are often aerated by pores.
All of this baroque development is for the benefit of symbiotic ant colonies who set up housekeeping in the artificial nest that the plant has grown. Both insects and plant benefit from the relationship. The ants get a secure home, and the plant is fed by the ants. The ants live in smooth-walled chambers and deposit leftover fragments of insect prey and other waste in chambers with wart-like excrescences on the walls. As the waste decomposes, the plant absorbs nitrogen through the warts.
The natural range of the rubiaceous ant plants extends from Thailand to Australia and east as far as Fiji, but the greatest diversity is found on New Guinea. In the mid-1990s, when I first became interested in ant plants, only about five species were in cultivation, and they were very hard to find. With some effort (i.e. obsessive searching), I managed to connect with a few other like-minded growers via email and traded seed and seedlings with the curators of several botanical gardens. These days, the plants are (somewhat) easier to obtain, and a wider range of genera and species are in cultivation thanks to the efforts of a handful of hobbyists and nursery owners from around the world. Several nurseries in Europe and the U.S.A. sell seedlings, and plants are occasionally available on eBay.
So without further ado, here are six (on Saturday) ant plant species:
1. Myrmecodia platytyrea (Mossman Gorge form)
The plant shown at the top of this post is a very vigorous Myrmecodia descended from material originally collected in northern Queensland. Like most of the rubiaceous ant plants in cultivation, M. platytyrea has flowers that self-pollinate, so seedlings remain true to type over multiple generations. The Mossman Gorge form of M. platytyrea produces long, sharp spines and very vigorous roots that often invade the pots of its neighbors. Its leaves are narrower and more succulent than other cultivated M. platytyrea descended from plants collected in New Guinea.
The shield-like leaf bases on the stems of M. platytyrea are called clypeoli. The spines bordering the clypeoli hide alveoli, pits in which the small white flowers develop and from which the orange fruit protrudes when ripe.
2. Myrmecodia sp. “Pink Fruit”
This species has very strong sharp spines and pink fruit. It is commonly cultivated by ant plant enthusiasts, but its origins are obscure. Possibly, it is M. tuberosa ‘Papuana’ which grows in New Guinea and northern Australia.
3. Myrmecodia tuberosa
This is the most variable and widespread Myrmecodia species, with a range extending from Malaysia to Australia. The form shown here does not have strongly developed clypeoli, so you can easily see the elongated alveoli filled with papery bracts.
4. Myrmephytum beccarii
Myrmephytum is a genus of five species found in the Philippines, Sulawesi, and western New Guinea. M. beccarii is from the Philippines, and was introduced into cultivation in the U.S. around 2006.
5. Hydnophytum moseleyanum
H. moseleyanum is a lowland species from New Guinea and Australia. Hydnophytum species usually lack spines and have many elongated branches without clypeoli and alveoli. Their chambers are less complex than those of Myrmecodia. Note the large entrance hole on the side of this tuber. Above and left of the entrance hole, a patch of papery dead tissue is peeling away to reveal a new hole.
6. Hydnophytum formicarum
A very variable and widespread lowland species from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Several different forms varying in size and color are in cultivation.
So, that’s six rubiaceous myrmecophytes. For more Six on Saturday that is perhaps a little less botanically grotesque, head over to The Propagator.
Oddly, I actually have more blooming in the garden today than I did for last week’s Six on Saturday. In fact, I had to pick and choose, and eventually decided to leave Moraea polystachya for another time.
Yesterday’s high temperature was 81 F (27 C). We still have not had frost, although the long term forecast hints at lows in the mid 30s by the end of the week. After that, we could easily bounce back into the 70s or low 80s–or have a hard freeze. Autumn in North Carolina.
Anyway, on to the Six:
1. Scilla madeirensis (Giant Madeira squill)
Scilla madeirensis, as its name suggests, is native to the island of Maderia in the Atlantic Ocean. The large, dark purple bulbs grow exposed at the surface, so it makes an interesting display even when dormant. I grow three bulbs in a large terracotta pot. They bake in the greenhouse over the summer and start growing as the weather cools off in October. I keep them growing outdoors as long as possible and move them back into the greenhouse only when frost is certain. I can’t claim to have mastered this species. This year, only one of the bulbs flowered, and it has fewer flowers than last year. Also, the pedicels are almost the same color as the flowers this year. Usually, they are stark white which contrasts very nicely with the bluish purple flowers
Until a few years ago, S. madeirensis was almost impossible to obtain and very expensive when available. Now, however, bulbs grown in vast numbers in Israel are available every autumn from mail-order bulb vendors.
2. Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’
My only camellia. I really ought to put in some more under the trees, because camellias do so well in North Carolina. Older gardens around here are often full of them, and with a mix of sasanqua and japonica types, one can have flowers for much of the winter.
3. Fatsia japonica
For many years, I had Fatsia japonica mentally filed under “Evergreen Shrub, subtype: boring.” Then, I saw one in bloom at J.C. Raulston Arboretum and was amazed by the spherical flowers that look like some sort of miniature naval mine. So, now I have one in my garden. The leaves are still boring, but the flowers are cool. Wasps love them too.
4-6. autumn foliage
Last week, I photographed trees that are growing naturally on our property, so for this week, here are some of the woody shrubs and trees that I have planted.
One of my favorite shrubs for its licorice-scented spring flowers, pest-free foliage, and spectacular autumn color. I have planted a row along the path leading to our front door and another row in front of the greenhouse.
‘Fuyu’ only gave us two persimmons this year, but the autumn color is spectacular–almost fluorescent.
A. triloba is a piedmont native, but the trees in my garden I grew from seed. This is a ten-year-old seedling. 2017 was the first year I had two different clones blooming at the same time, but the tiny pawpaws fell off after a few weeks. I’m hopeful that 2018 will be the year I finally get some fruit.
That’s all for this week. As always, head on over to The Propagator to see his Six and those of other participating blogs.
Another Saturday, another six things from the garden. Autumn has not been particularly impressive thus far. I think the very dry weather in August and September has caused some trees to drop their leaves prematurely , while others are still green. Only one plant out in the garden has started blooming this week, so I’ll begin with it:
1. Salvia regla (Mountain Sage)
Salviaregla is primarily a Mexican species, although its range extends just north of the Rio Grande into west Texas. In my garden it is marginally hardy, dying to the ground each winter and sprouting new growth fairly late in the spring. Perhaps that’s why it starts flowering exceptionally late in the year. The orange-red flowers are quite large (for a sage), but they come too late to attract hummingbirds which have already flown south for the winter.
2-6. Autumn trees
The remaining photos this week are trees in their autumn finery. I chose to photograph only trees that are growing naturally on our property. Perhaps the foliage of trees and shrubs that I have planted can be a subject for another day.
I think these are Carya glabra, pignut hickory, but I’m not very good at identifying hickories other than the shagbarks. Can you spot the turkey vulture soaring high above?
That’s all for this Saturday. As always, head over to the Propagator’s blog to see his Six and check the comments there for links to other participants.