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.
We always look forward to elephant ear evaluation day at JLBG, which was recently completed.
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.
JLBG staff members, Jeremy Schmidt and Zac Hill spent most of the morning working with Robert and John on the time-consuming evaluation process.
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.
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.
We’ve just enjoyed peak surprise lily week at JLBG. The lycoris season starts for us in early July and continues into early October, but the last two weeks of August is peak bloom. Below are a few samples from the last few weeks.
The first two image are our field trials, where lycoris are studied, photographed, and evaluated for possible introduction.
There are only 6 lycoris species (despite what you read on-line). Four of these have foliage produced in spring, and two have foliage that emerges in fall.
Lycoris longituba is a spring-leafed species with flowers that range from white to pink, to yellow/orange.
Lycoris chinensis is a spring-leafed species with bright gold/orange-gold flowers. There is little variability in the color of this species.
Lycoris sprengeri, whose foliage emerges in spring, is the only pink flowered species, almost always with a blue petal tip.
Lycoris sanguinea is the fourth spring-leafed species, but one that performs quite poorly in our climate, and consequently rarely flowers for us.
Lycoris radiata is one of only two fall-leaved species. Lycoris radiata var. pumila is the fertile form, while Lycoriis radiata var. radiata is sterile and consequently never sets seed. There is little variability with regard to color, but there is great variability with regard to bloom time. Lycoris radiata is the earliest lycoris to flower in July and the last lycoris to flower in October.
Lycoris aurea is the only other fall-leaved species. In appearance, it is indistinguishable from the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis, except that the foliage emerges six months earler.
Lycoris traubii is a hotly debated plant in taxonomic circles. Occurring only in Taiwan, some taxonomists insist on it being its own species, while other simply find it a form of the mainland Chinese Lycoris aurea…similar to the debate about Taiwan’s political status. Until we see other evidence, we view it as a form of Lycoris aurea.
All other lycoris are hybrids. Sadly, botanists continue to name new lycoris species, but after having grown each, we have yet to find any that are anything more than a previously named naturally occurring hybrid. Below are a few of the validly named hybrids.
Lycoris x albiflora is a group of naturally occurring crosses between the two fall-leafed species, Lycoris aurea and Lycoris radiata. Most emerge yellow and age to pink-blushed. If these hybrids cross back to the Lycoris radiata parent, the hybrids take on lovely orange shades.
Lycoris x caldwellii, named after the late Lycoris breeder, Sam Caldwell, is a hybrid between the spring-leafed species, Lycoris longituba and Lycoris chinensis.
Crosses between the fall-foliaged Lycoris radiata and the spring-leafed Lycoris sprengeri have been made more than any other interspecific lycoris cross. We currently grow over 200 clones of this hybrid, with flower colors that range from solid pink to bright red, and everything in between. Backcrosses onto one parent or the other influence the flower color expression.
Lycoris x rosensis is a hybrid between the fall-leafed hybrid above, Lycoris x rosea and the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis.
Lycoris x sprengensis is a cross between the spring-leafed Lycoris sprengeri and the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis. The flower buds almost all show a blue tip, whose color disappears as the flowers age.
Lycoris x straminea is very similar in appearance to Lycoris x albiflora. The only difference between the two is that one parent of Lycoris x straminea is the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis instead of the fall-leafed Lycoris aurea. Interestingly, Lycoris x straminea is fertile, while Lycoris x albiflora is not. Because Lycoris x straminea is fertile, it can be crossed back onto its Lycoris radiata parent, created some stunning orange-hued flowers
Most Lycoris x straminea clones open pure yellow, and acquire a reddish-orange blush as they age, from the Lycoris radiata parent. You can see an example below with two images taken 2 days apart.
Lycoris ‘Peppermint’ is an old passalong hybrid of two spring-flowered species, known and sold as Lycoris x incarnata…a cross of Lycoris longituba and Lycoris sprengeri. Our studies, however have shown that this plant could not have arisen from such a cross. In hybrids between a spring and fall-leafed species, the offspring always has foliage that emerges in early fall (September, October). The foliage on this emerges in late November, and the only way this could happen if the hybrid included 2 spring species and 1 fall species.
The only species that could provide the red color is the fall-foliage Lycoris radiata and the only species which could contribute the white color is Lycoris longituba. The other parent must be a spring-foliage species, so the only option is Lycoris sprengeri. We now feel confident that this hybrid could only have occurred with a cross of Lycoris sprengeri x radiata x longituba. We call these hybrids, Lycoris x longitosea (longituba x rosea).
To determine which lycoris will thrive in your hardiness zone, simply look at when the foliage emerges. The fall-foliage species/hybrid are best from Zone 7b and south, although some will grow in Zone 7a. The spring-foliaged species/hybrids should be fine in Zone 5, and possibly as far north as Zone 3.
While lycoris will grow and flower in sun, they perform far better in filtered deciduous shade, where the foliage will have some protection from the ravages of winter. The amount of light they receive in summer when they have no foliage isn’t really relevant to their performance.
Re-appropriating a line from the late Buck Owens, it’s crinum time again. Crinum lilies begin their flowering season in our climate around April 1 (frost permitting). Some bloom for a short number of weeks, while other rebloom for months. Depending on the genetics, some crinum hybrids start flowering in spring, some in summer, and others in fall, and a few flower during the entire growing season.
Crinum ‘High on Peppermint’ is one of our newer named hybrids, which starts flowering for us around June 1, and hasn’t stopped yet.
Crinum ‘Superliscious’ is another of our new hybrids that starts flowering July 1, and has yet to stop. Now that our evaluation process is complete, we’ll start the propagation process.
Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is an incredible hybrid from the late Roger Berry, entrusted to us to propagate and make available. That’s a tall order since it’s one of the slowest offsetting crinum lilies we’ve ever grown. Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is a hybrid with the virtually ungrowable, yellow-flowered Crinum luteolum, which hails from Southern Australia. For us, Crinum ‘Southern Star’ doesn’t start it’s floral display until August 1.
We’ve been playing around with yucca breeding for almost a decade, and now have hybrids that include from 3-5 different species. Here’s a shot of one of our evaluation beds when it was in full flower recently. Flower spike height ranged from 3′ to 10′. There should be some wild and crazy introductions once our trials are finished.
Plant breeders are an odd sort…people who are never satisfied with their results, and as such are always looking to improve even the most fabulous creation. We’ve been dabbling with crinum lilies for several years, and the first photo below is one of our newest creations, Crinum ‘Razzleberry’, which is rather amazing. Despite this success, we return to the breeding fields to see what else awaits from additional gene mixing.
Crinum flowers typically open in early evening…5-7pm for us. The first step in breeding is to remove the petals, to have good access to the male pollen (the powdery tips atop the six pink thingys), and the female pistil, the single longer thingy with a dark pink knob at the top and a bigger knob at the bottom. Most crinum pollen is yellow, but depending on the parentage, some hybrids have white pollen.
The male thingy is known as a stamen, comprised two parts, the filament (the pink thing), and the anther (the part with the pollen). The female parts are known as the pistil, comprised of the ovary (bottom), the style (the pink thingy), and the stigma (the sticky knob at the tip.
In breeding, the anther is removed and the pollen is dusted on the stigma of a different plant to make the cross. Crinums produce an insane amount of nectar, so crinum breeders are constantly dodging sphinx moth pollinators, as well as dealing with the ant superhighway below as they haul off the nectar.
If your cross is successful, you will have seed forming in about a month. The seed are quite large, and must be planted immediately, since they have zero shelf life.
Once the seeds germinate it normally takes 4-5 years for your new seedlings to bloom. During the first several years you can evaluate vigor and growth habit, but the final evaluation can’t be made until it blooms.
Our OCD is on full display with many of our plant collections including the summer-flowering Crinum lilies. Our collections here at JLBG have now topped 400 crinum taxa. In addition to collecting the best plants from other breeders, we have also been making a few of our own selected hybrids. Below are a few photos of plants we have recently selected and named. None of these are available yet, and most will still be a few years away, while we build up enough stock to share.
If you’ve never grown crinums (first cousin of hippeastrum), they form huge bulbs, and thrive in full sun in average to moist soils.
Few gardeners have probably grown the Taiwanese Rhododendron oldhamii, but this little-known species has become one of the most important azaleas in American horticulture. Here it is flowering in our garden in late spring. Then will be followed by a late summer/fall rebloom.
Rhododendron oldhamii was named for British plant explorer Richard Oldham (1837-1864). Here’s a fascinating summary of Oldham’s life/work. Despite dying at the young age of 27, Oldham made significant contributions to botany, including the rhododendron (azalea) named in his honor.
In the early 1980s, Louisiana nurseryman, Buddy Lee decided to see if the fall reblooming trait of Rhododendron oldhamii would transfer to its offspring. Indeed they did, and because of Richard Oldham his namesake azalea, and Buddy’s imagination, we now have an entire series of reblooming azaleas, known as the Encore azaleas.
Looking great in the gardens this week is our 2021 introduction of Baptisia ‘Blue Bunchkin’ (available again in 2023). Baptisias are North American native perennials and are equally at home in a bone dry site or as a marginal aquatic…as long as they get at least 4-6 hours of sun daily. Hardiness in Zone 4a-9b.
A couple of our favorite native redbud selections looking exceptional after flowering today…Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’ and ‘Golden Falls’…both from the breeding work of NCSU plant breeder, Dennis Werner.
Two shrubs that celebrate the end of winter for us are Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’ and Exochorda ‘Blizzard’. Here are photos this week from the garden. Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ in an amazing selection from the US National Arboretum, while Exochorda ‘Blizzard’ is a creation by NC State’s Tom Ranney, combining three species to create this stunning hybrid. The Loropetalum is winter hardy from Zone 7a-9b, while the Exochorda should be fine from Zone 4a-8b.
Prunus ‘Pink Cascades’ is a recent introduction from NC State’s Tom Ranney. This strict weeper can be staked to any desired height, then allowed to trail from there. Here are our stunning two year-old plants this March, grafted at 4′ tall. The plants have already reached 11′ in width on the way to 20′ – 30′ wide.
I had a great visit recently with David Cain and Denny Werner. Most of you know Dr. Werner from his work at NC State, first as a peach breeder and later as the creator of a parade of amazing redbud hybrids.
David and Denny were both grad students together back at Michigan State. Dr. Cain went on to become a fruit breeder, and is the papa of the incredibly famous Cotton Candy grape. On the off chance you haven’t tried it, be sure to search for it at your local grocery store. David worked in academia and later the USDA, before embarking on his own venture, where he made several incredible fruit breeding breakthroughs.
I didn’t realize David is a long-time plant nerd and Plant Delights customer, and has recently moved from California to the East Coast for his next plant breeding adventure. We had a blast talking plant breeding and looking at a few of our crazy breeding projects at JLBG.
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.
Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’, a JC Raulston Arboretum release from NC State woody plant breeder, Dr. Dennis Werner, was just awarded the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Plant of the Year for 2021. In Europe, Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ is marketed as Eternal Flame. Here is our plant at JLBG this summer. Congratulations to Denny and the Arboretum for this huge honor!
Over the last few years, we’ve been growing more and more aspidistra (cast iron plants) from seed in the garden. Here are a few of our more interesting seedlings. The first is from our search for a narrow-leaf selection of the common Aspidistra elatior, which has been christened A. ‘Thin Man’. The second is a streaked and spotted form that we named A. ‘Zodiac’. The third is a yet un-named seedling from Aspidistra ‘Snow Cap’. Surprisingly, the white leaf tip trait comes consistently true from seed.
As a plant breeder, one of the cool things we get to do is observe the diversity that arises from a single cross. In some cases, the diversity shows up in the first generation (F1), while in other cases, the first set of offspring need to have sex with each other for the diversity in the offspring to reveal itself (Mendelian genetics). Fortunately, with agaves, we can see quite a bit of diversity in the F1 populations.
Below is a cross we call Agave x amourifolia, which is our cross of Agave ovatifolia, pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox of Hort.), and lophantha. Here are three of our selected seedlings from that cross.
Plant #1 below is showing the large size of Agave x pseudoferox and the color of Agave ovatifolia (blue), with little visible influence of the narrow leaf, yellow-centered Agave lophantha.
Plant #2 below show more color influence from Agave x pseudoferox, but with the compact form influence of Agave ovatifolia.
Plant #3 below shows equal parts Agave x pseudoferox and ovatifolia, but also, what appears some leaf narrowing we would expect from Agave lophantha.
Below is Agave x flexiferox, created from a cross of the small Agave flexispina x the giant pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox (Hort.). Plant #1 shows the small size of Agave flexispina, with the greenish coloration of Agave x pseudoferox.
Below, Agave x flexiferox ‘Megalodon’ shows the larger size and overall coloration from Agave x pseudoferox, with some added blue tones from Agave flexispina.
Below is Agave x victoferox, a cross of Agave victoriae-reginae x pseudoferox. Plant #1 below shows the form and size of Agave victoriae-reginae with the color of Agave x psedoferox.
Hybrid #2 below shows the teeth from Agave x psedoferox (victoriae-reginae has no teeth), and a size intermediate between the two parents.
Hybrid #3 below shows a larger size and more teeth due to more genes from Agave x pseudoferox. The teeth are much smaller because of the Agave victoriae-reginae genes. The splendid compact form also comes from the Agave x victoriae-reginae parent. This cross almost resembles the Northern Mexican Agave montana.
We hope this gives you a small peek into the world of plant breeding and the subsequent evaluation and selection process.
There’s a reason hostas are the #1 perennial in the US. The incredible diversity of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors are one, combined with the array of climates in which they thrive. It’s long been rumored that hostas don’t grow well here in Zone 7b, but that simply isn’t the case if you prepare your soil properly (lots of compost) and allow for plenty of summer moisture.
Below are a few hosta cultivars that are looking particularly nice this week at JLBG. Of course, the proverbial deer-in-the-room is that hosta make quite the tasty buffet for both humans and wood rats. Deer fences and organic sprays all work, but the breakthrough will come when CRISPR technology is used to implant the Capsaicin (pepper) gene in hostas, rendering them too hot for most deer.
Here are a few of our favorites this week. Hosta ‘California Gold Rush’ has shown incredible vigor.
Love the over-the-top waviness of Hosta ‘Wheee!’
Hosta ‘One Last Dance’ has it all…vigor, size, ruffles, a nice flower show, and great leaf coloration. Did I mentioned that it’s also very sun tolerant if the soil is moist?
Hosta ‘Coast to Coast’ is also very sun tolerant with amazingly corrugated leaves and great vigor on a fairly large clump.
Hosta ‘Do Wap’ is one of our yet to be introduced hybrids from our work to create blue hostas that hold the color well into the summer.
Hosta ‘Pie ala Mode’ didn’t get a lot of fanfare when it was introduced, but this has been exceptional in our gardens at JLBG. Hope these entice you to explore this amazing genus.
After being told several years ago that creating interspecific hybrids of arisaema (Jack-in-the-Pulpit) was virtually impossible, we started our own breeding program. Here are a few of our creations from our Contrarian Frankestein Lab that are looking quite nice this week.