Ever since I first saw Lycopodiella prostrata as a young child, I have been fascinated with this alien-looking oddity. Botanically, these belong to a primitive group of plants known as clubmosses.
Every trip to the coast, I seem to wind up with a small piece to try in the garden, and every time, I fail. This spring, I was headed east to check out the site of a major road widening near Wilmington, NC, and mentioned to Patrick my frustration with trying to grow this. The secret, he shared is to get only the tip where it has rooted down, and only move it in winter/early spring. To my amazement, that tiny piece has now well established in one of our new bogs, along with another favorite, the bright orange native annual, Polygala lutea. So often, it’s just one small tip that makes the difference between success and failure.
Flowering this month is one of my favorite curiosities, Grandma’s hat pins. Eriocaulon decangulare hails from costal habits from New Jersey south to Texas, where it can be found in bogs and swamps. They thrive in the same conditions as pitcher plants. Perhaps it’s time to send some seed to the nursery since we haven’t offered this through Plant Delights since 2003. What do you think? Hardiness Zone 7a – 10b.
Looking lovely in the bog garden during August is the native coastal bog asphodel, Tofeldia racemosa (aka: Triantha racemosa). This little-known native of the Southern coastal plain can be found in moist lowlands, often growing with pitcher plants. Tofelida is so unusual that no other plant family would accept it, so it had to create its own, Tofieldiaceae. Recent DNA has even kicked it out of its genus, and into its sister genus, Triantha. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, at least.
I first ran into the sticky blazing star, Liatris resinosa, a few years ago when botanizing in the eastern part of NC. Since that time, it has thrived in our garden, where we grow it in a bog with pitcher plants as well as in an alpine berm. Our plants have just topped 3′ in height as they start to flower in late August/early September. Liatris resinosa, formerly considered a variety of LIatris spicata, hails from New Jersey southwest to Louisiana. We particularly like the compact habit, sturdy stems, and small foliage. Hardiness should be Zone 6a-8b.
We grow quite a few sarracenia (pitcher plants) from seed, with only the very best (most unique and most vigorous) getting planted in the ground for further trials. Through the decades, we’ve only had a few that we eventually found worthy of a name. Below is a photo taken this week of a newly selected Sarracenia purpurea hybrid, that we’ve named Sarracenia ‘Fire Chief’. This almost certainly has genes from Sarracenia leucophylla. Later this year, we’ll chop into the plant to start propagation, so we can share.
The variegated hardy hibiscus, H. ‘Summer Carnival’ has looked outstanding all summer. This Hans Hansen creation has both variegated leaves and flower buds. We’ve had these in the garden since 2017, and they continue to excel. Moist to wet soils and full sun are ideal, but they handle short term drought just fine. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
Over a decade ago I decided to try planting the native Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) in the maritime grassland exhibit at the South Carolina Botanical Garden. To my amazement, this species that I knew of from the fringes of saltmarsh in the Lowcountry thrived in both wet and dry soils of the upper Piedmont of South Carolina! The plant has proven to have incredible versatility and grows well in sand or clay and can be flooded for weeks and completely dry as well. Unlike many other plants that can accommodate such diverse conditions it isn’t so ugly that only a mother could love it, in fact, it’s charming.
Frogfruit is a low (4” tall) trailing groundcover with 1.25” long leaves that forms a solid mass of foliage but lacks deep root structures and thus does not compete with deeper rooted structural element plants. The flowers are pale pink to lavender and resemble tiny lantanas (a close relative). The flowering season here in the south begins in April and can continue through hard freezes (typically November) but may produce flowers year-round in mild winters.
Our plants, Phyla nodiflora ‘Ramble On,’ are from a Charleston County, South Carolina collection along the margins of a wet ditch (freshwater), but the species has an amazingly wide range being found from New Jersey west to California and throughout the tropical regions of the world. Another species, Phyla lanceolata, is a more upright plant, with a similar range (but extending north to Ontario) it has longer leaves and is generally less showy as a groundcover.
This is the ideal living mulch for tough areas of your landscape. It spreads rapidly but is easy to keep contained by trimming the edges of your patch. We placed it in one of our pond overflow pits and were amazed to see it completely transform a time-sink of constant weeding into a mass of lovely little flowers while allowing the Hymenocallis and Hibiscus to continue to rise through the groundcover without obstruction.
The flowers are favored by skipper butterflies, particularly the smaller species and there is an all-day-long collection of hundreds on our patch every day. In addition, small flies, native bees, sweat bees and tiny wasps are fond of their constantly produced flowers. The leaf and stem color ranges from green to deep purple depending on the environmental conditions—generally, the more exposed to sun, intermittent drought or salty soils, the more purple in the plant. If the goal of your garden is to increase the production of life by filling all your spaces with plants that are loved by insects while at the same time reducing the need for mulch and weeding, this plant is definitely worth a try. Look for this in the near future. – Patrick McMillan.
Since we’ve installed several new bog gardens at JLBG this year, we’ve been experimenting with a number of new bog plants. One wonderful surprise has been Parnassia wightiana, an Asian relative of our native species, P. asarifolia, caroliniana, and grandifolia. The fimbriate flowers have been a real treat to watch. These aren’t the easiest plants to grow, and we were 0 for 9 with the 9 species we’ve tried, prior to building much better bogs, thanks to Patrick’s instructions. We’re now on the lookout for other species that might also thrive in these conditions.
The native Lophiola aurea put on a lovely show in the garden this spring. Thanks to Patrick McMillan for introducing me to this little-grown, lowland bog endemic that has a bizarrely scattered range in a few coastal sites from Nova Scotia south to Florida. We have ours growing with pitcher plants, where it has thrived. We’d love to propagate this, but am not sure anyone would purchase it. Thoughts?
Looking great now in the bog garden, alongside the pitcher plants is another little-known native (Canada south to Mississippi) perennial, Lophiola aurea. Lophiola is one of only five genera in the Nartheciaceae family. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
Since we opened the Souto sun garden section of JLBG to the public, circa 2014, we’ve been dealing, rather poorly, with an unsightly water runoff capture pit on the east side of the garden. The 30′ x 30′ pit was first filled with weeds, and later converted to a bed for marginal aquatics like cannas and crinums. Over the last few years, cattails had taken over, rendering it somewhat more attractive, but far less diverse.
Three years ago, we made the decision to transform it into a styillized bog garden/rock garden combination. To do so, would require the elimination of the cat tails, which took the better part of two years. Last year, with the cat tails finally eliminated, Patrick, Jeremy, and I strategized what we wanted the bog to look like and how we would make it happen. Armed with everyones’ input, Jeremy took over the construction design and implementation.
Our first step was to remove several truckloads of squishy muck that covered the bottom, since this would not provide the stability we needed to set large rocks.
With the pit finally firm and level, it was time to closely examine water flow from both surface and subsurface water.
Next, the pit was re-filled with our native sandy loam, with a central “gravel burrito”, which would allow subsurface water a way to exit without erupting upward into the planting area.
The next step was the installation of underlayment and the pond liner. Despite the site being already waterlogged due to a high water table in the area, we felt that the use of a liner would give us more precise control over the water level.
To keep the liner from floating while we worked, we began refilling the bog with our new soil mix of 50% native sandy loam and 50% peat moss. Around the edges, where the rock garden would be installed, we used a base of concrete blocks to support the weight of the rocks. These were located on the outside of the liner, so the blocks would not leach chemicals into the acidic, nutrient deficient bog.
In the center of the bog, we used double-wall drain pipe, stood on end to support the centerpiece of huge boulders.
The large rock feature was then installed on top of the support pipes, along with an ancient stump which Jeremy unearthed on the property.
Rocks with planting pockets were then installed along the edge on top of the cinder block wall. .
The final step was the installation of entrance steps into the bog and pathway stones, which will allow visitor a closeup view of the plants. Initial plants are in the ground, but more will be added as they are ready. The crevices planting mix (same as the bog) has a pH of around 4.0, compared to all our other crevice gardens on the property, which have a pH around 8.0. This should allow us to grow an entirely new array of plants.
From start to finish, the entire project took Jeremy, Nathan, and some occasional help from other staff, 3 1/2 weeks…job well done!
We hope you’ll drop by during our spring open house and check out the new Rock Bog in person.
We always get excited when the Osmunda regalis fronds begin to unfurl in the bog garden at JLBG. Here are some images from this week, showing the new fronds. The rosy emerging growth is the sterile part of the fern frond, while the green growth at the top is the fertile part, which will produce the spores (fern seed). Hardiness Zone 3a-9a.
Below is another clump nearby, that emerges about a week earlier, and as such, is further along in opening.
Below is our hybrid, Osmunda x japalis ‘King Kong’, a cross between the American native Osmunda regalis and the Japanese native, Osmunda japonica. Unlike the 4-5′ tall Osmunda regalis, Osmunda japonica is much smaller (to 3′ tall), emerges 1-2 weeks later, and has dimorphic fronds—the spores are on different stalks than the foliage. Our hybrid has dimorphic fronds like the O. japonica parent, emerges later, but is much larger to 7′ tall.
This winter, we were mulling over options for our a bed along the walkway to our nursery and garden office. We had previously had a narrow raised bed, but this was backing up rain water on our sidewalk. The garden and research staff proposed that we remove the raised bed and install a bog garden/rain garden to catch and use the runoff from the office roof.
The first step was removing the existing plantings, followed by an excavation to 2′ in depth, being sure the bottom was level.
An overflow pipe was installed at the east end at a level where water would never pond in the top few inches.
The next step was the addition of a pond liner, followed by several inches of washed stone gravel. Just covered by the gravel was a horizontal pvc pipe, connected to a vertical tube, which would provide a way to add water from the bottom up, should such ever be needed.
On top of the gravel, we added about 15″ of a soil mix, comprised of 50% native sandy loam from the property and 50% peat moss. Once the mix was thoroughly moistened, plantings began. We’ll continue to add small bog plants as the season goes, but we’ve already been through several significant rains, and the system functions beautifully. Water management is such an important factor in gardens, so we hope this gives folks an idea of how to turn a garden concern into a special plant habitat.
We’ve grown the native loblolly bay, Gordonia lasianthus for several decades, but I’d never stumbled on one as large as the one we spotted last week while botanizing in coastal southeastern North Carolina.
The specimen we ran across has a 26″ diameter and a height of 70′, which although huge, turned out to be slightly smaller than the state champions in Currituck County, which top out at 85-90′ tall. Posing by the trunk is the landowner, Vince and his son Vinny, who moved to coastal Carolina from Brooklyn, NY.
Also, on the same site, we found a population of Chamaedaphne calyculata, a bog-loving, blueberry relative with a circumboreal distribution in mostly cold and sub-arctic regions. When we returned, Patrick told me that it was quite rare in NC, but he found a singole documented record for North Carolina on Hwy 211 in Brunswick County (Vince’s property), that we’d accidentally stumbled upon. Sadly, Hwy 211 is being widened, so this population, along with many other amazing natives are in jeopardy. Fortunately, we now have a small division now growing in our ex-situ conservation garden at JLBG.
I’d grown quite a few eryngiums…49 different ones, in fact, before Patrick shared Eryngium ravenelii with us in 2015. Who knew we were missing one of the best eryngiums in the entire genus! Today, Eryngium ravenelii holds several places of honor in our garden, where we can watch the myriad of pollinators who regularly stop by for a nectar snack during flowering season (mid-August to late September).
Eryngium ravenelii was named for American botanist, Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887). In the wild, Eryngium ravenelii grows in standing water in flooded ditches, alongside sarracenias (see bottom photo). We’ve now seen them in the wild in both North Florida and South Carolina, where they grow in calcareous-formed soils. In the garden, they thrive in an array of slightly acidic soils as long as the soil is reasonably moist.
We were saddened this past week to hear of the passing of our friend, Dr. Larry Mellichamp, age 73, after a three year battle with bile duct cancer. I first met Larry in the late 1970s, when he spoke to our Horticulture Club at NC State. Over the next 45 years, we interacted regularly, mostly during his visits to JLBG.
Knowing that Larry was in the battle of his life, we visited him at his wonderful Charlotte home garden last year (photo below). Even while he was ill, his wit remained razor sharp, and his humor as dry as the Sahara desert.
Not only did Larry teach for 38 years (1976-2014) at UNC-Charlotte, but he also managed the 10-acre UNC Charlotte Botanical Garden, which he turned into a must-see horticultural destination. Larry was a huge advocate of interesting plants, especially US natives. He was constantly dropping off new plants for us to propagate and share with a wider audience.
Larry was best known worldwide for his work with carnivorous plants, particularly with the genus Sarracenia. His “little bug” series, (Sarracenia ‘Lady Bug’, ‘June Bug’, ‘Love Bug’, and ‘Red Bug’, released in 2004, was the first widely marketed collection of pitcher plants, from his breeding work with the late Rob Gardener. In 2021, Larry was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Carnivorous Plant Society…one of many such awards Larry received.
Larry was also a prolific writer. His books include: Practical Botany (1983), The Winter Garden with Peter Loewer (1997), Wildflowers of the Western Great Lakes Region with Wells/Case (1999), Bizarre Botanicals with Paula Gross (2010), Native Plants of the Southeast (2014), and The Southeast Native Plant Primer with Paula Gross (2020).
Larry and I connected on many levels, but we were both strong advocates for making rare native plants available for propagation and commercialization…something that is sadly the exception in the current world of botany. We hope others in the native plant community pick up the torch.
Larry is survived by his wife of 48 years, Audrey, his daughter, Suzanne, and a host of plants he spread throughout the world. Life well lived, my friend.
Memorial donations may be sent to the Foundation of the Carolinas for the “Mellichamp Garden Staff Enrichment Fund”, 220 North Tryon Street, Charlotte, NC 28202. For bank transfer instructions contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 704-973-4529. All are invited to share memories and photos of Larry at https://link.inmemori.com/mDPxXH . A public memorial service will be planned for October at the UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens. Look for an announcement on their website.
One of the little-known of the native orchids is flowering now at JLBG. Habenaria repens, aka: water spider orchid, is the most widespread (NC to Texas) of the five native habenaria species. This charmer has been at home in one of our bogs for several years and has proven quite easy to grow. Hardiness is probably Zone 7b-10a, at least.
Our clump of the native, Sabatia kennedyana just finished another amazing floral show. This fabulous, but easy-to-grow perennial has a truly odd native distribution on the coastal border of North and South Carolina, on the coastal border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and in Nova Scotia! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an odd, disjunct range. Sabatia kennedyana is best suited for a sunny, slightly acidic bog, but regular garden soil will work fine, if it’s kept moist. I have no idea why this isn’t grown in every garden that has the correct conditions. Winter Hardiness is Zone 6-8, at least.
In case you missed this section of the garden during spring open house, this is where we created a small vignette that comprises both bog and desert conditions in the same space. The low central area was created for pitcher plants and other bog lovers, while the higher areas to each side, are home to dryland loving plants like agaves and bearded iris. We hope to show how dramatically diverse habits can be created in a very small space. The wet space is created by installing a seep, which is nothing more than a continually dripping water line.
I love odd plants, and the southeast native Lachnocaulon (pronounced lack no colon) is about as odd as they come. This bog native, often found growing with pitcher plants, forms a mound that looks like a giant pin cushion. Here is a plant of Lachnocaulon anceps (NC west to Texas) in full flower this week at JLBG. Yes, those white round balls are the flowers.
Looking good in the garden this week is the amazing fern, Dryopteris x australis. This rare fern is a US native…despite the confusing name, hailing from only a few scattered locations from Virginia west to Arkansas. In reality, the name “australis” means from the south. This splendid specimen grows in both sun and shade, and tolerates both wet and dry soils. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
Here is a small sampling of the amazing array of flowers that are in the garden currently (late April/early May) on our pitcher plants. The genus Sarracenia is native to North America and hails from Canada south to Florida, where they are found in seasonally damp bogs. In the garden or in containers, they are incredibly easy to grow as long as they have moist toes (roots), and dry ankles (base where the crown meets the roots). Winter hardiness varies based on the species, but most are hardy from zone 5a to 9b.
Iris ‘Gerald Darby’ is one of those iris that doesn’t even need to flower to be garden worthy. Here it is in our garden this week, emerging with its’ purple leggings. This gem is a North American native hybrid of Iris versicolor and Iris virginica, known as Iris x robusta. This introduction of Iris breeder Gerald Darby was actually named for him after his death by another iris breeder R.H. Coe of England. Iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ is equally at home growing in standing water as it is in typical garden soil. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
Ever since I was a small kid, I’ve observed Zephyranthes atamasco (atamasco lily) in the wild, where they grow in swampy wooded lowlands. Atamasco lily is also one of many great nomenclatural muddles with regard to it’s correct spelling. When it was first named by Linneaus, back in 1753, it was assigned to genus amaryllis, so the specific epithet was spelled “atamasca”.
In his later work, Linneaus changed the spelling to “atamasco”, which corresponded to the Native American name for the bulb. It remained spelled with an “o” even after it was moved into the genus Zephyranthes in 1821. The problem is that, according to International Nomenclatural rules, the original spelling must take precedent. So, Zephyranthes atamasca is correct. Except…there is an exemption for name conservation, when correcting the name will cause confusion or economic harm. There is currently a well-supported move underfoot to conserve the long-used spelling “atamasco”. And you thought nomenclature was boring!
I’ve long marveled at the diversity within the species, and as an adult have been fortunate to be able to collect offset bulbs from some of the special forms I’ve found.
The top image is a very compact form that we’ve named Zephyranthes ”Milk Goblet’. Below that is one of our larger flowered forms from Alabama that we named Zephyranthes ‘Hugo’. Hugo has 5″ wide flowers in a species where 2.5-3″ wide is typical. Both of these are in full flower now at JLBG.
Raise your hand if you’ve grown macbridea in the garden. Raise your hand if you’ve even heard of macbridea. This cute North American native (NC, SC, GA) bog mint has really impressed us in the garden. Flowering started in the last few weeks, and shows no sign of abating. We’re always cautious with mint relatives, but so far, this one has been very well behaved.
The NC native Polygala aurea is putting on quite a show in the bog garden here at JLBG. There are few plants, native or otherwise, with such brilliantly screaming orange flowers. Perhaps we need to see if we can propagate this since we never see it offered for sale.
Flowering now at JLBG is one of our cute Southeastern natives known as Bog Buttons (Lachnocaulon anceps). The entire family, Eriocaulaceae, has a similar stature with small grass-like foliage, topped by these long antennae-looking structures. In the wild, these can be found in low, often flooded ditches, but they are easily grown in constructed bog gardens. I expect if these were from a more exotic location, more people would grow them. We think they are pretty darn cute.
Spring 2021 marked our first flowering of the monotypic (only one member of the genus) helonias. This threatened US native, occurs in scattered locations from NY south to Georgia, but is rarely offered commercially. We had good seed set, and now fingers are crossed for equally good germination. Helonias requires saturated ground, and ours is now thriving with pitcher plants and other moisture lovers. Hopefully one day, propagation will allow us to share this gem.
If you have a soggy area or damp soils, don’t drain it! We have marginal aquatic perennial plants for wet soil that are great for landscaping everything from rain gardens to bog gardens. These garden perennials love moist spots and will make you fall in love with perennials that dry soil gardeners only dream of growing. Damp soil plants range from carnivorous plants like sarracenia and bog plants like hymenocallis that need full sun.
Many bog plants like sarracenia also do well in containers as long as they retain consistent moisture. Click here to learn more about their culture and growing sarracenia in containers.