Flowering this week is our 2019 seed collection from Texas of the Evening Primrose looking Milkweed, Asclepias oenotheroides. This odd clumping milkweed, which tops out at 18″ tall, only grows natively from Louisiana west to Arizona, and south into Mexico in very dry sites. Hardiness is most likely Zone 7b-10b.
Last week, Patrick, Zac, and I spent a couple of day botanizing in the low country…i.e. Coastal South Carolina. In between swatting away the incredible troupe of mosquitos which chose to join us, we were able to capture a few images to share below.
The ancient lime sinks are fascinating. Here, old sinkholes due to subsurface limestone rock breakdown have collapsed, forming natural depressions, creating a habitat for our native pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) and other fascinating wetland species…like alligators. Yes, we did see several, but they were too fast for our camera.
The high water marks are visible on the buttressed trunks of bald cypress.
Much of the region is, or was, a pine/grass habitat. The pines could either be longleaf (Pinus palustris) or slash pine (Pinus serotina) .The dominant grass is known as wiregrass, aka: Aristida beyrechiana.
On the dry sand ridges, we saw these piles of fresh sand adjacent to a nearby tunnel entrance. These are homes to the rare gopher tortoise, which live in the region. Patrick tells me these tortoises will use the same underground lair, which may stretch 40′ long and 10′ deep, for up to 60 years.
Gopher tortoises only emerge from their tunnels when temperatures are between 80 and 90 degree F. Sure enough, we were able to wait and get some images of these amazing creatures.
Another surprise spotting was a bright orange mutant katydid. Our entomologist Bill Reynolds tells me these are crazy rare, and worth well north of $1000 to collectors. Who knew?
Yes, we also saw some cool plants. Asclepias obovata is a little-known milkweed that’s quite rare in South Carolina, so it was great to catch it in flower.
At another site nearby, we caught some late flowering plants of Asclepias tuberosa var. rolfsii.
We visited several patches of amazing pitcher plants, one site with a tremendous variation of Sarracenia flava, which is typically solid yellow. Other sties had three species growing side by side including Sarracenia minor, Sarracenia rubra, and Sarracenia flava. It’s great that such natural area still exist, although they are always in danger from those who sadly dig plants from the wild for sale.
A plant often seen near the pitcher plants is the native orchid, Plantanthera ciliaris.
We were thrilled to find a couple of large patches of the scrub palm, Serenoa repens, from one of the coldest natural populations, which happened to be in full seed. Clonal patches like this are incredibly slow-growing. Researchers in Florida found that such clonal patches are often between 5,000 and 10,000 years old.
It was great to see large drifts of one of our finest native ferns, Thelypteris kunthii, aka: maiden fern. This superb deciduous fern thrives in both sun and shade, tolerating everything from wet to average soil conditions.
A lovely surprise was stumbling on a population of Hamamelis henryi. This coastal species is often listed as a variety of Hamamelis virginiana, but we think it’s probably deserving of species status. Several of the clones we found had lovely dusty blue foliage.
One of the most amazing shrubs was the hawthorn, Crategus munda var. pexa. These ancient specimens topped out at 4-5′ tall, and looked like ancient bonsai specimens.
I’ve long had a penchant for finding gold leaf sweet gums, and this trip added another one to the list. When many woody plants are cut to the ground, they are much more likely to produce mutations as they re-sprout. In my experience, the genus Liquidambar must be the most prone to such mutations.
The fall-flowering Georgia savory, Clinopodium georgianum was in full flower. We’ve grown and offered this for decades, but it was fascinating to see the flower color variation in the wild.
At one stop, we found five different liatris species, including the little-known Liatris elegans.
The native vining legume, Centrosema virginiana, aka: butterfly pea, was in full flower and looking lovely…first cousin to the better known genus, Clitoria.
I’m not a fan of most smilax species, but I was quite smitten by the non-running dwarf Smilax pumila, which grew in the shade like an Asarum (wild ginger). While some clones had green leaves, others had patterns every bit as good as the best Asarum.
On the ride home, we kept ourselves amused unscientifically researching the fastest speed at which leaf-footed bugs could hold onto a car window while copulating. Since our test speed topped out at 65mph, we aren’t sure what it was take to pry these loose, but perhaps someone should research how they are able to hold on so tight, as I’m sure it has numerous industrial applications.
As gardeners around the country are encouraged to plant more asclepias to encourage monarch butterflies, many folks are finding out that not all species of asclepias make good garden plants. As a genus, asclepias consists of running and clump forming species. There are number of horribly weedy garden plants like Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias syriaca, and Asclepias fasicularis. These plants are fine in a prairie garden, but are disastrous in more controlled home gardens.
One of our favorite clumping species is the easy-to-grow, Arizona-native Asclepias angustifolia ‘Sonoita’. This superb species was shared by plantsman Patrick McMillan. It has proven to be an amazing garden specimen, thriving for years, despite our heat and humidity. Did I mention it flowers from spring through summer?
One of the little-known native asclepias, milkweed, is flowering in the garden this week. Asclepias variegata, redwing milkweed, is a widespread native, ranging from Canada and Virginia south to Florida, and west to Texas. So, why is this virtually unavailable commercially? Our plants typically range from 1.5′ to 2′ tall, although 3′ is possible. For us, it performs best in part sun to light shade.
The specific epithet “variegata” which refers to two colors on the flower was certainly a poor choice, since most asclepias have multi-color flowers. Of course, Linnaeus didn’t have the benefit of the internet back in 1753.
We’ve been experimenting to see how many species of asclepias will survive in our climate, and one that has been quite fascinating is Asclepias subulata. This odd species from the southwest deserts of the US has evergreen glaucous stems, and not much in the way of leaves. It will be quite interesting to see what the butterfly larvae actually consume. It did flower for us this fall for the first time. This will be our first winter, so fingers crossed it can take our cold and wet temperatures. We sited this on a slope in one of our crevice gardens, so it wouldn’t drown in our summer rains.
I was fascinated to find these monarch butterfly chrysalis’s hanging out on an agave in the crevice garden recently. Our entomologist, Bill Reynolds, tells me that when the caterpillars are finished feeding, they will often migrate from a nearby asclepias to all kinds of odd plants to hangout until it’s time to come out of their closet. It’s hard to imagine a full-size monarch butterfly inside these little structures, but perhaps they are like Dr. Who’s Tardis.