Flowering today at JLBG is one of the tiniest of the geophyte aroids, Ambrosina bassii. This tiny gem, which matures at a whopping 1-2″ in height, is native to the Mediterranean region from Southern Italy to Northern Africa, where it grows on woodland slopes over alkaline rocks. There is only a single species in this little-known genus.
You’re probably thinking that we’re referring to a branch of the military, but instead we’re writing about a plant by the same name. x Amarine is a man-made amaryllid hybrid, created from a bi-generic (think humans x gorillas) cross between Amaryllis belladonna and Nerine. As a rule, most Amaryllis belladonna are fairly ungrowable in the Southeast US, as are most nerines. In theory, the hybrids should be completely ungrowable, but fortunately, that isn’t the case.
Amaryllis belladona is difficult for us to flower because the foliage, which grows during the winter, gets blasted by cold weather, which in turn prevents it from sending energy to the bulb, resulting in a lack of flowers. The same holds true with the hybrid x amarine. It’s only after a mild winter or two that the bulbs have enough energy to produce flowers. Thank goodness, this is a great year for x amarines to flower. Below are one of our patches of x Amarine ‘Anastasia’, which has been flowering at JLBG for several weeks.
Looking lovely in the garden today is the fall-flowering geophyte, Sternbergia sicula. This Mediterranean native is found in the wild growing on alkaline hilly sites. Some taxonomists list it as a subspecies of the more common Sternbergia lutea, but it seems consistently smaller. At JLBG, our plant thrives in the crevice garden. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Most folks are familiar with the mysterious Howard Hughes, but we have an equally mysterious “Howard” in horticulture. Flowering well now in the gardens at JLBG is the amazing xHowardara ‘Riley Kate’. This fascinating hybrid was created by Texas bulb guru, Dr. Dave Lehmiller, who crossed a Hippeastrum (amaryllis) and a Sprekelia (Aztec lily), and a Zephyranthes (rain lily). Lehmiller’s cross resulted in five different named cultivars and were subsequently named after the late Texas bulb guru, Dr. Thad Howard.
Creating a trigeneric hybrid is beyond rare, since it isn’t supposed to happen according to the rules of botany. Consequently, the introduction of the first clone sent taxonomists into a frenzy trying to publish new research to re-combine the genera involved into a single genus, so as not to have their rules violated. xHowardara’s occasionally flower for us in mid-summer, but peak flowering is always in September and October in our climate. Hardiness is Zone 7b – 9b, at least.
Just finished flowering in our crevice garden is the amazing member of the Amaryllis family, Acis ionicum. This little-known Albanian snowbell hails from small areas of Coastal Albania and Western Greece, as well as a few of the adjacent islands. The flowers of this species are quite huge, compared to the better known A. autumnalis. In the wild, Acis ionicum grows in rocky, calcareous hillsides, so it feels right at home in our recycled concrete crevice garden. Hardiness is probably Zone 7b and warmer…at least.
The genus rhodophiala is in a state of flux. Some taxonomists believe the genus actually doesn’t exist and should be merged with rain lilies, while others consider it a perfectly valid genus with 27 species. Oh, the joys of taxonomy. To most gardeners, the genus rhodophiala are simply dwarf hippeastrum (horticultural amaryllis), the most commonly grown of which is the South American Rhodophiala bifida, which ranges natively from Southern Brazil into adjacent Argentina.
Rhodophiala bifida starts flowering for us in mid-August, alongside the emerging foliage. Most Rhodophiala on the market are the clonal Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’, brought to the US by German born Texan botanist, Peter Henry Oberwetter circa 1890. This clone is virtually sterile when grown alone, but will produce viable seed when grown adjacent to another clone.
Below is the clone ‘Hill Country Red’, followed by some of our selected seedlings, all photographed here at JLBG over the last couple of weeks. The best conditions are full sun to light filtered shade, and average moisture to dry soil.
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Harry Hay’ seems to be the only named clonal selection grown in the UK. We imported this during our 2020 UK trip.
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Carmencita’ is our first named introduction, released in 2017.
Rhodophiala ‘Red Waves’ is our 2nd named selection, not yet introduced
The rest of the clones below are our selected seedlings still under evaluation
Below are two fascinating plants from our breeding. The first is a cross of Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba. In theory, this bi-generic cross shouldn’t work, but the flower arrangement sure resembles a lycoris more than a rhodophiala.
This cross is of Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima is another impossible bi-generic cross. Notice the three petals are one size, and the other three petals are larger. We’ve never heard of this happening in rhodophiala, so perhaps we’re on to something.
The only other Rhodophiala species, which we’ve had any luck with is the Chilean Rhodophiala chilense. Below are two forms, both of which flowered this spring.
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.
It’s always exciting for us when the summer flowering surprise lilies begin to bloom, which usually happens here around mid-July. Lycoris are members of the Amaryllidaceae family, and are cousins of better-know bulbs like hippeastrum (amaryllis), zephyranthes (rain lilies), and narcissus (buttercups).
Since we grow over 700 different lycoris varieties, the flowering season goes all the way from now into October. Below are are few of the early varieties from the start of the flowering season.
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.
In flower now in our parking lot beds is our amazing 2005 introduction, Gladiolus ‘Halloweenie’…a fall-flowering, seasonally colored selection that we just adore.
Two cousins in the Amaryllis family are the genus lycoris and nerine. While most lycoris (China/Japan) thrive here, the same is not true of their South African cousins, nerine. It’s been rather frustrating trying to find the same season-ending success with nerines, as we have with the summer flowering lycoris.
Consequently, we’re celebrating over the performance of Nerine angustifolia. We picked up this gem from a South African nursery several years ago, and despite it being native to swampy grasslands, it has thrived for us in the unirrigated, dry berms that lead to our parking lot. Here it is in its full splendor this fall. We think this has immense horticultural potential.
About the same time that America’s Captain Kirk blasted off into space recently, we were enjoying his namesake here in the gardens at JLBG. Crinum kirkii is a fantastic dwarf crinum lily to only 18″ tall, that is sadly almost never seen in commerce. Full disclosure…Crinum kirkii was actually named for botanist Sir John Kirk, who found and sent this previously undescribed species from his outpost in Zanzibar to Kew Gardens in 1879.
Crinum kirkii has thrived for us here in Zone 7b since 2012. Our plants of this African species are from Tanzania. Perhaps one day, we can produce enough of these to share.
Lycoris (surprise or hurricane lillies) season has begun in earnest. We’ve already had 97 diffrerent clones to flower and the season is young. In a typical year, we usually flower between 300 and 400 different selected clones. Here are a few that have looked good so far. The top three are spring-leaf varieties, and as such, should be winter hardy in Zone 5. The bottom two are fall-leaf varieties and are winter hardy from Zone 7b south.
Although it’s a bit late, we wanted to share a new image we took of Allium kiiense in the gardens last fall. For us, this is one of the best small alliums for the garden, but because it flowers so late in the year (2nd week of November for us), few people ever see it. Every year, we produce more than we can sell because we keep assuming that word of this treasure will finally get out in public. Since it has a slightly pendant habit, Allium kiiense is best located where you can see it close up, and ideally from slightly below.
One of the rewards of making it through the dog days of summer, as well as renewed hope for fall’s arrival, are the numerous late summer and fall blooming bulbs that offer pop-up-blooms in the garden.