Two tropical slipper orchids

Here are two spring/summer-blooming slipper orchid species–one with somewhat grotesque flowers and the other more attractive–that are part of a group of species and hybrids often recommended to novice orchid growers.  As understory plants from low to moderate altitude in southeast Asia, they grow well as houseplants on the windowsills of warm, centrally heated homes.

Paphiopedilum superbiens var. curtisii

Paph_curtisii

This species from Sumatra is noted for its large, dark pouch and relatively short petals liberally sprinkled with small warts.  Although the flower of P. superbiens is rather ungainly, the tessellated leaves are particularly striking, with rectangular dark sectors on a pale, almost white background.

Paph_curtisii-foliage

Paphiopedilum cf. callosum

Paph_callosum

I purchased this plant as Paphiopedilum sukhakulii, but when it bloomed it was clear that it had been mislabeled.  In a genus that has been as intensively hybridized as Paphiopedilum, it can be very difficult to identify mislabeled plants, but this flower bears all the hallmarks of P. callosum, a well-known species from Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  P. callosum is a parent of P. Maudiae (P. callosum x P. lawrenceanum), one of the best known and widely grown of all orchid hybrids.  The Maudiae-type hybrids, as the offspring of P. callosum and its close relatives are collectively known, were once exotic plants for orchid hobbyists to treasure but are now widely sold as disposable houseplants in garden centers and supermarkets.  They come in a variety of shapes and colors, but I think the original P. callosum, with its downswept petals and large dorsal sepal, has a grace and elegance that is often lacking in its mass-produced offspring.

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

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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.

Early snow

windmill_palm-snow
My Chinese windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) looks like a bird that has wrapped its wings around itself for warmth.

It is unusual for us to have heavy snow in December, but we have about eight inches on the ground today.  The setup was just perfect: cold air dropping down from the north and moisture streaming up from the Gulf of Mexico met right over central North Carolina.  As the afternoon goes on, the warmer air should take over, and we’ll have cold rain.  Right now, the tapping on the windows suggests that the snow has changed to sleet.

Incidentally, did you know that sleet means two different things in the UK and USA?  My mom, who grew up in England, calls a mix of rain and snow “sleet.”  Here in the U.S., the term refers to rain that freezes to form small ice pellets as it descends.

“Freezing rain,” the bane of our existence here in North Carolina, occurs when warm air rides over freezing temperatures at ground level.  If the layer of cold air isn’t deep enough to form sleet (US version), the rain freezes on contact with trees and power lines, coating and often pulling them down.  Hope we don’t have any of that today.

Favorite garden tool: Opinel No.8 grafting knife

Among the many things that the French do with greater style and elegance than anyone else, I would list the crafting of pocket knives.  Over the years, I have accumulated a small collection of French knives and am fond of them all, but the one that is currently seeing the most use is my most recent purchase:  an inexpensive grafting knife made by Opinel.

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Like the classic Opinel No.8 pocket knife, the grafting knife has a beechwood handle and virobloc, a steel collar that twists to lock the blade open or closed.  The classic Opinel has a carbon steel blade, but in a concession to the amount of water that it will encounter in the garden, the blade of the grafting knife is stainless.  The wooden handle is gently curved to accommodate the blade, and it fits most comfortably in my hand with the edge of the blade facing towards me.

For the price (approx. $25), this is the most useful garden tool I own.  I don’t graft, but the knife makes short work of any light pruning, trimming, or flower cutting in the garden.  Since the blade is usually facing towards me, a pulling motion feels most natural.  The curved blade slices cleanly through fibrous stems that tend to be mashed or mangled by secateurs that aren’t perfectly sharp (and the knife is a lot easier to slip in a pocket than a pair of secateurs).  It is also ideal for slicing open plastic bags of potting soil, cutting twine or rope, and harvesting vegetables.

Two minor modifications will make the knife even better.  The wooden handles of Opinel knives tend to swell when wet, making the blade tight, so I always dip a new Opinel in linseed oil (after removing the virobloc) to make the handle more waterproof.  While I have the virobloc collar off, I stretch it slightly with a pair of pliers so that it fits more loosely and can be twisted easily with a push of my thumb.  If the collar becomes too loose, it can be tightened again by squeezing with the pliers until the fit is perfect.

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