Hear, Hear…lend me an ear

We always look forward to elephant ear evaluation day at JLBG, which was recently completed.

Colocasia trials

Each year, Colocasia breeder, Dr. John Cho flies in from Hawaii to study and select from our field trials of his new hybrids. This year we were joined by Robert Bett, owner of the California-based plant marketing firm, PlantHaven, who handles the Royal Hawaiian elephant ear program. The JLBG trials consist of all named colocasia introductions growing alongside Dr. Cho’s new hybrids created the year prior.

Robert Bett (l), John Cho (r)

JLBG staff members, Jeremy Schmidt and Zac Hill spent most of the morning working with Robert and John on the time-consuming evaluation process.

Robert Bett (l), Zac Hil (c), John Cho (c), Jeremy Schmidt (r)

After lunch, Jim Putnam from Proven Winners, joined us to see which remaining plants struck his fancy for potential introduction into their branded program. As you can see, lots of amazing plants didn’t make the final cut, which is necessary, since we’ll need more room for the new selections.

John Cho, Robert Bett, Jim Putnam

Plants selected for introduction are then sent to a tissue culture lab to be produced for the next step, which is grower/retailer trials. If these are successful, and the plant can be multiplied well in the lab, the plants are scheduled for retail introduction.

Hopefully, by now, most folks are familiar with our 2020 top selection, Colocasia ‘Waikiki’, which hit the market this year. There are more really exciting new selections in the pipeline, but we can’t share photos of those quite yet…stay tuned.

Colocasia ‘Waikiki’

Picking up Shattered Glass

We’ve long been fascinated by Amorphophallus konjac ‘Shattered Glass’, an unstable variegated cultivar, developed by plantsman Michael Marcotrigiano. Some years, the foliage emerges solid green, other years with a small bit of sectoral variegation, and this year with a fully variegated leaf.

Spathicarpa…a true BIO plant

Plant nerds use the term BIO plant, short for Botanical Interest Only, for plants which have little, if any ornamental value, but are highly prized by crazed plant collectors. Spathicarpa hastifolia is such a plant. This odd aroid from Southern Brazil has actually thrived in our woodland garden since 2019. The coldest winter temperatures we’ve experienced in that period is 16 degrees F.

The small woodland plants mature at 1′ tall x 1′ wide, with oddly interesting flowers, which you can see in our image…if you squint. If this continues to perform well, and we can get it propagated, perhaps we’ll have some to share in the future. To quote our friend Bob McCartney, “We have the market cornered on plants for which there is no market.”

Pinto – A Subcompact Love Lily

One of our favorite love lilies in our 2003 introduction, Amorphophallus konjac ‘Pinto’. This amazing dwarf never has foliage that exceeds 16″ in height. Unfortunately, the ridiculously slow growth rate has kept us from offering it again since, but perhaps one day. Here is our parent plant in the garden this week. Even if you don’t have a home garden, this form is superb in a container. We had a large crop of dwarfs from seed two years ago, and are looking for more unique new compact selections.

The Cobras of Summer

While most arisaemas flower in early spring, several members of the Franchetiana section of the genus are summer bloomers. There are five species in this section, but the only one that flowers in spring is Arisaema fargesii. Flowering recently are those pictured below, A. candidissumum, Arisaema franchetianum, and Arisaema purpureogaleatum. The debate still rages on whether Arisaema purpureogaleatum is merely a form of Arisaema franchetianum, but regardless, it has a distinct appearance when in flower. Of these three, Arisaema candidissimum is the least tolerant of our summer heat.

Arisaema candidissimum
Arisaema franchetianum
Arisaema purpureogaleatum

Adding Vulgarity to the Garden

We love “vulgar” plants, which are good for providing unexpected shrieks from garden visitors. One of our favorite plants for evoking such moments is the European native, Dracunculus vulgaris. For those who took Latin in school, you’ll know that the English translation of the Latin name is Vulgar Dragon’s Butt. This fascinating spring ephemeral is native to very rocky, dry sites in the Southwest corner of Turkey, the Aegean Island (inc. Greece), and into the Balkans.

Virtually all of the material in commerce, which comes from the Turkish populations, are the red spathe/purple spadix form. Once you move to Crete, the inflorescences take on a different color theme with blends of white in spathe, and spadices which range from black to yellow. Below are a few which flowered at JLBG this spring.

We inherited the work of the late aroid researcher Alan Galloway, who actively hybridized dracunculus in an attempt to study the genetics as well as create new color forms for gardeners. Once final selections are made, these will require tissue culture for reproduction. Without tissue culture (dividing plants with a tiny knife), commercial quantities could never be obtained. Wish us luck!

Dracunculus vulgaris typical purple form
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Phallic Blush’
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘White Rhino’

African Gold and Picasso

Below are two variations on a theme…calla lilies in the garden. Here is Zone 7b, both are reliably winter hardy in the ground.

The striped-leaf selection of the winter-blooming South African native, Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘African Gold’ has looked fabulous all spring, where we have it planted in a seep, which gets full sun for 3-4 hours in the morning.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’ is a hybrid, created using several of the summer-flowering South African native calla lily species. Here it is in our garden in mid-June, where it gets 4-6 hours of sun daily, and the soil stays reasonably moist.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’

Hi Jacks

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a plant survey of a local woodland area of about 30 acres. The low, moist areas are filled with Arisaema triphyllum, (Jack-in-the-pulpit) which is quite common in our area. The first image is what is typical for the species.

Arisaema triphyllum Wake County, NC

I’ve been studying patches of Jack-in-the-pulpit for well over 55 years, always looking for unusual leaf forms that showed any type of patterning. Until last month, I’d never found a single form with atypical foliage. That all changed with my first trip to this local site, where so far, I have found several dozen forms with silver leaf vein patterns. Up until now, there are only two pattern leaf forms of Arisaema triphyllum in cultivation, Arisaema ‘Mrs. French’ and Arisaema ‘Starburst’.

Each patterned leaf clone varies slightly as you would expect within a population including both green and purple stalk coloration.

Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with green stems
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with purple stems

While I’d never found any true variegation prior to this, I had found plenty of transient leaf patterning caused by Jack-in-the-pulpit rust (Uromyces ari triphylli). This site was no exception, with a number of plants showing the characteristic patterning. If you find these, turn the leaf upside down and you’ll see the small orange rust pustules.

While these may seem exciting, the pattern are not genetic and will disappear without the fungus. Fortunately, this rust can be cured by cutting off the top of the plant and discarding it where the spores can not spread via the wind. Infected plant should be fine, albeit smaller next year. The susceptibility of Arisaema triphyllum to jack-in-the-pulpit rust varies with genetics. Of the tens of thousands of plants I observed at the site, less than 10% were infected with the rust.

Arisaema triphyllum with rust induced pattern
Arisaema triphyllum rust induced pattern on leaf back

Buttercolor

Here are a few buttery-colored plants flowering today in garden, starting with Arum creticum ‘Golden Torch’. This started as a small field division of a particularly large flowered selection from our 2010 expedition to Crete.

Arum creticum ‘Golden Torch’

Paeonia mlokosewitschii is known for being un-pronouncable, so most folks refer to it as Molly the Witch peony. This is a particularly lovely butter yellow form from Ellen Hornig of the former Seneca Hill Perennials.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii JLBG-03

Trillium sp. nov. freemanii is a still unpublished new trillium species (hopefully soon), that we discovered in 1998. Normally red flowered, this is a rare yellow-flowered form.

Trillium sp. nov. freemanii JLBG-014

Meet Jack from Ilan

Flowering at JLBG since early March is the little-known Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema ilanense. This collection hails from Ilan (Yilan), in northeastern Taiwan, and for us is the very first arisaema to flower each winter, even when temperatures are still quite cold. The mature size is only 4-6″ in height, so this is one for a very special site in the rock garden. There are very few plants of this species in ex-situ conservation collections, so thanks to JCRA Director, Mark Weathington for sharing. Our specimen has been in the garden since 2016. Hardiness is unknown, but we’re guessing Zone 7b-9b.

Canary Treasure

This is our first flowering of Dracunculus canariensis, the rare cousin of the more commonly-grown aroid Dracunculus vulgaris. Dracunculus canariensis hails from Madeira (reportedly extinct) and the nearby Canary Islands, all off the coast of Morocco.

We inherited our specimen from the late plantsman, Alan Galloway, who planned to cross it with Dracunculus vulgaris. The task now falls to us. Both species have a similiar chromosome count of 2N=28, so this should be a easy cross by saving pollen. To us, the flower smells like watermelon rhine, which is a nice change from the more offensive smell of its sibling.

The King’s Arum

One of the last plant exploration trips the late plantsman Alan Galloway made, was to Majorca, Spain. Alan was so excited to return home with some special selections of the fall-flowering Arum pictum, which typically has solid green foliage…except on Majorca. This beautiful form is known by collectors as Arum pictum var. sagittitifolium, although the name isn’t considered valid due to the natural variability in leaf patterns. This is Alan’s favorite form from his trip, to which we added the cutlivar name, A. pictum ‘King James’. It seems that back when Majorca had kings (thirteenth and fourteenth century), before its merger with Spain, they had a propensity for naming most of them, James.

If you think you know arums…

Many gardeners are familiar with or have grown arum…mostly forms of the widespread Arum italicum, but few have grown the blingy gem of the genus, Arum pictum var. sagittitifolium. We are thankful to have this amazing collection from an Alan Galloway expedition to Majorca, Spain. Sadly, this species isn’t nearly as winter hardy (Zone 7b and warmer) as Arum italicum and we have never been able to coax it to set seed.

Arum pictum var. sagittitifolium

Sunrise over Maui

Here’s a recent image of the amazing Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Sunrise’, still looking great in late October! Moist, rich soils and full sun are the key for your plants to look this spectacular! Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Sunrise’

It ain’t worth a thing if it ain’t got that bling!

Apologies for commandeering the famed Duke Ellington line, but it seems appropriate for the new Colocasia ‘Waikiki’.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Waikiki’

When we first met Hawaii’s John Cho in 2003, we knew some special elephant ears would be the result of our collaboration, but it was hard to imagine something like the seriously tricked-out Colocasia ‘Waikiki’. Almost every year, John, who has now retired, but is still actively breeding elephant ears, travels to JLBG to evaluate his new hybrids at our in-ground trials and make future introduction decisions. There are some seriously amazing new selections starting down the introduction pipeline.

Colocasia trials
Colocasia ‘Waikiki’
Colocasia ‘Wakiki’

Colocasia ‘Waikiki’ will be released from Plant Delights Nursery on January 1, so if you like this, mark you calendars and stay tuned to the website.

Engler’s Arum

Most gardeners are familiar with arums, but few know Engler’s arum…aka: Englerarum hypnosum, a genus first recognized in 2013. This horticultural oddity was kicked out of several better known aroid genera (Colocasia and Alocasia) due to its odd genetics (anastomosing laticifers and colocasioid venation). The lone species of Englerarum can be found in forests from Southwest China to Southeast Thailand, where it grows as a lithophyte (lives on rocks) on karst limestone, spreading by rhizomes to form large colonies. It has been surprisingly winter hardy for us, surviving upper single digits F, when growing in typical garden soils, where it reaches 5′ in height with 30″ long leaves. Here is our patch at JLBG this summer.

Shaking up Saxatile

For two decades, we’ve grown the amazing Chinese jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema saxatile with its delightful lemon-fragranced flowers. The most frustrating part was its slow offsetting nature, which meant we rarely had any to share.

Arisaema saxatile

Eighteen months ago, we dug our main clump and moved most of it from a well-shaded site to a location that would get a couple of hours of afternoon sun. To our surprise, it loved the new site, where this summer, it produced two large seed heads which will be harvested shortly. This is the first sign of seed in 20 years, so hopefully in a few years, we have some good numbers to share.

Arisaema saxatile in seed

Gordon is Gold

The foliage of Amorphophallus konjac ‘Gordon’s Gold’ is truly superb in the gardens, looking like a forest of small golden palm trees. This is a great discovery from California plantsman, Dave Gordon.

This year, one of our plants had a leaf chimera mutation so that half of the leaf mutated to green, while the other half remained yellow. Most likely, this is a one year occurence.

Supersize & Vulgar

Just flowering at JLBG is our largest clone of the hardy aroid, Dracunculus vulgaris, that we named ‘Supersize’. This one produced a massive 30″ inflorescence. A typical length is 15-20″. We’d be curious is anyone has grown one any larger. As you can imagine, it was quite a feast for the pollinating flies.

Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Supersize’
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Supersize’
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Supersize’

Dazzling vulgarities

Flowering in the garden now are the amazing and very rare white-flowered Dracunculus vulgaris. This wild and crazy aroid, which typically has a red/purple inflorescence, hails from the Mediterranean region, centered around Greece and Turkey. The late aroid guru Alan Galloway worked extensively to breed these, and since we now hold his collections, we wanted to share the wonder of his work. It is our hope that tissue culture will be able to make these amazing color forms available one day.

Out of Africa….and possibly Outer Space

This weekend marked our first flowering of the rare aroid, Pseudohydrosme gabunensis. We inherited this weird tropical after the passing of our friend and adjunct researcher Alan Galloway last spring. Alan had grown it from seed acquired in 2008 from the famed aroid researcher affectionately known as Lord P. Our staff describe the floral smell as stale potatoes…a far cry from the fragrance of it’s sister genus, amorphophallus. Pseudohydrosme gabunensis is from Gabon, where is resides in tropical rain forests.

Holy Arum, Batman!

The holiest of arums, Arum palestinum is in full flower at JLBG. We don’t grow many Palestinian natives, but this one has thrived since 1993. How’s that for a traffic stopper?

Loss of a Phalloid Legend

We are saddened to announce the passing (May 12) of one of our closest friends, plantsman Alan Galloway, age 60. In addition to serving as an adjunct researcher for Juniper Level Botanic Garden, Alan was a close friend and neighbor, living less than two minutes from the garden/nursery.

Alan was a native North Carolinian, who grew up on a farm in Brunswick County, NC, where he developed his love for plants and the natural world. After graduating from UNC-Wilmington with a Computer Science degree, and working for his alma mater for two years, he made the move two hours west to Raleigh. There, Alan worked at NC State University in IT administration and management for 30 years, until retiring in Fall 2018 as Director of IT Services.

Starting in 1999, Alan would save up his vacation time from his day job at NC State, and spend 3-4 weeks each fall, trekking through remote regions of the world where he felt there were still undiscovered aroid species to find, document, and get into cultivation. From 1999 to 2018, he managed 21 botanical expeditions around the world, that included the countries/regions of Cambodia, Crete, Hong Kong, Laos, Mallorca, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Alan routinely risked life and limb on his travels, whether it was getting attacked by a pit viper in Thailand, barely missing a land mine in Cambodia, or tumbling down a mountain and almost losing a leg in Laos.

I had the pleasure of botanizing in Crete, Thailand and Vietnam with Alan, which was an amazing experience, although not for the faint of heart. Alan was a tireless force of nature, but was not one to suffer what he viewed as stupidity or laziness. Although he was very respectful of people from all walks of life, he also regularly burned bridges to those whom he found incapable of meeting his meticulously high standards.

Alan was botanically self-taught, but his obsessive compulsion led him to become one of the worlds’ leading experts on tuberous aroids, specializing in the genera Amorphophallus and Typhonium. To date Alan is credited with the discovery of 30 new plant species (see list below). He was working on describing several more plants from his travels at the time of his death.

Not only did Alan’s botanical expeditions result in new species, but also new horticultural cultivars of known species. Two of the most popular of these were Leucocasia (Colocasia) ‘Thailand Giant’ (with Petra Schmidt), and L. ‘Laosy Giant’.

As a scientist, Alan was both meticulous and obsessive. It wasn’t enough for him to observe a new plant in the field, but he felt he could learn far more growing it in cultivation. He would often work through the night in his home research greenhouse studying plants and making crosses, so he could observe seed set and determine other close relatives.

Alan was overly generous with his knowledge, believing that sharing was necessary for the benefit of both current and future generations of plant scientists. Without his expert understanding of crossbreeding tuberous aroids, we would never have been able to have such incredible success in our own aroid breeding program. Seedlings from his crosses were then grown out and observed, often resulting in a number of special clonal selections.

After his tuberous aroids went dormant each year, all tubers were lifted from their containers, inventoried, and carefully cleaned for photography and further study. Visiting his greenhouse during tuber season was quite extraordinary.

In his amazing Raleigh home garden and greenhouse, Alan maintained the world’s largest species collection of Amorphophallus and Typhonium, including 2 plants named in his honor; Amorphophallus gallowayi and Typhonium gallowayi. Alan’s discoveries are now grown in the finest botanical gardens and aroid research collections around the world.

After returning from what proved to be his last expedition in Fall 2018, he suffered from a loss of energy, which he attributed to picking up a parasite on the trip. It took almost eight months for area doctors to finally diagnose his malaise as terminal late stage bone cancer, during which time Alan had already made plans and purchased tickets for his next expedition. I should add that he made his travel plans after being run over by a texting pickup truck driver, and drug under the truck for 100 feet through the parking lot of the nearby Lowes Home Improvement, which ruined his kidney function.

Alan was certain, albeit too late, that his cancer came from a lifetime addiction to cigarettes, which he was never able to overcome. Over the last 18 months, it’s been difficult for those of us who knew Alan to watch him lose the vitality and unparalleled work ethic that had been his trademark. Despite his loss of physical ability, his trademark independent/stubborn nature would still not allow him to even accept help driving himself to chemo infusions and blood transfusions, which he did until he passed away. Alan was also never one to complain or bemoan his circumstances, only continuing to accomplish as much as possible in the time he had remaining.

After the initial shock of his diagnosis, Alan systematically began distributing massive amounts of his ex-situ conservation aroid collection to gardens and gardeners around the world, since he also believed that sharing is the most effective means of plant conservation.

One of his hybrids that Alan had shared and asked us to keep a special eye on was his cross of Amorphophallus kachinensis x konjac. We talked with him last week and shared that the first flower was almost open, and he was so excited to see his baby for the first time, but by the time it opened early this week, it was too late. So, here is the photo of his new cross, seen for the first time that would have made him so proud.

Alan Galloway new plant species discoveries:

Amorphophallus allenii (2019 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus acruspadix (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus barbatus (2015 – Laos)

Amorphophallus bolikhamxayensis (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus brevipetiolatus (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus claudelii (2016 – Laos)

Amorphophallus crinitus (2019 – Vietnam)

Amorphophallus crispifolius (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus croatii (2011 – Laos)

Amorphophallus ferruginosus (2012 – Laos)

Amorphophallus gallowayi (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus khammouanensis (2015 – Laos)

Amorphophallus malkmus-husseinii (2019 – Laos)

Amorphophallus myosuroides (2007 – Laos)

Amorphophallus ongsakulii (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus prolificus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus reflexus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus schmidtiae (2006 – Laos)

Amorphophallus serrulatus (2006 – Thailand)

Amorphophallus umbrinus (2019 – Vietnam)

Amorphophallus villosus (2019 – Vietnam)

Typhonium attapeuensis

Typhonium conchiforme (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium gallowayi (2001 – Thailand)

Typhonium khonkaenensis (2015 – Thailand)

Typhonium rhizomatosum (2012 – Thailand)

Typhonium sinhabaedyai (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium supraneeae (2012 – Thailand)

Typhonium tubispathum (2005 – Thailand)

Typhonium viridispathum (2012 – Thailand)

Aspidistra gracilis (2012 – Hong Kong)

Not only has Alan been a good friend for over 30 years, but he has been extremely generous in sharing with us at PDN/JLBG. Over 1500 plant specimens in our collection came directly from Alan. It still seems surreal that we have lost such a vibrant soul that has been so important to expanding our body of knowledge about the botanical/horticultural world. Farewell, my friend…you will be sorely missed.

We will be coordinating with his niece April and her husband Mark to plan a celebration of Alan’s life, which will be held here at PDN/JLBG at a future date, which we will announce when it is set.

Who needs Viagra when you’re Soo hot?

Last week, I was innocently feeling up the spadix on our flowering Sauromatum, when I noticed it was incredibly hot…not in the biblical sense, you understand. We grabbed our new Covid thermometer to take its temperature, and with an ambient outdoor temperature of 61 degrees F, our Sauromatum spadix registered 96.3 F….that’s a 35 degree F fever!

In the plant world, this “fever” is known as thermogenesis. Pretend you’re a plant, and a pretty homely one at that. You’re ready for the big once-a-year moment and are probably wondering if you’ll get lucky in the short time window that your sexual parts will be functional. You also know you were born with an aphrodisiac to help you get laid, but it’s only good if you can get the word out. That’s where thermogenesis comes in handy. Many members of the aroid family (think anthurium and philodendron) were born with the ability to crank up the temperature in their sexual regions to disperse the fragrance of their aphrodisiac. In the case of aroids, that would be the smell of rotting flesh. Once our sauromatum got the heat going, there was a steady stream of incoming flies looking to get laid. Actually, they were looking for food and got tricked into satisfying the desires of our horny sauromatum. Isn’t nature amazing!

Are There Giants in Your Garden?

Colocasias are a genus that can bring a taste of the tropics to your backyard garden. Colocasia ‘Thailand Giant’ is a huge strain of the giant elephant ear that can reach 9′ tall in the wild, and certainly makes its presence known in the garden. Can you say WOW factor! Each glaucous grey-green leaf is up to 5′ long and 4′ wide. It also produces abundant 8″ flowers with white spathes from summer into fall. Learn how to grow elephant ears here.

So if you’re looking for a tropical escape and want to make a bold statement in your garden, or just want to impress your friends and neighbors, get your very own Giant today!

picture of Colocasia Thailand Giant in the garden

Colocasia Thailand Giant in the Garden

picture of Colocasia Thailand Giant flower

Flowers of Colocasia Thailand Giant

picture of Colocasia Thailand Giant in sales house

Colocasia Thailand Giant in the Sales House