The parade of Lycoris (surprise lilies) continue into their third consecutive month as we move through September. The key for a succession of flowers is having a large number of cultivars. So far at JLBG, we have flowered 300 different cultivars this summer. Here are a few recent ones. The varieties which form fall foliage are winter hardy in Zone 7a/b and south. Those whose foliage emerges in late winter/early spring are winter hardy in Zones 4/5.
We are fascinated with the wonderful genus zephyranthes (rain lilies). Zephyranthes are unobtrusive, summer-flowering bulbs that can fit in any garden, with a flower color ranging from yellow to white to pink. The great thing about zephyranthes is the lack of large foliage that often accompanies many other spring-flowering bulbs, so site them in the front of the border, or in a rock garden to be best appreciated.
Zephyranthes are one of our specialty collections at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with 25 species and 257 unique clones. Here are a few of the zephyranthes blooming this morning in our alpine berm. You can view our entire zephyranthes photo gallery here.
This is one of the rare summers we actually got flowers on Amaryllis belladonna in the gardens at JLBG. The only problem is that they aren’t really Amaryllis belladonna. This poor South African native has suffered a series of nomenclatural mix ups over the last 250 years, that sadly continues today.
First was the battle over which plant really belongs to the genus name, amaryllis. The mix-up started with the grandfather of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, when he published the genus name Amaryllis in 1753. In his initial publication, Linnaeus applied the name amaryllis to a group of plants, which later turned out to include at least five different genera; amaryllis, nerine, zephyranthes, sprekelia, and sternbergia. A few years later in 1819, botanist William Herbert and others tried to clean up the mess using Linnaeus’s notes, and in doing so, assigned the genus name amaryllis to the solitary South African species, Amaryllis belladonna, which had been in Western cultivation since 1633.
Fast forward 119 years to 1938, when taxonomist Cornelius Uphof upset the proverbial apple cart when he published a paper in which he declared that the assignment of the name amaryllis for the South Aftrican plant was against Linnaeus’s wishes, since it was clear to Uphof that Linnaeus intended the genus Amaryllis to be applied to the American genus, Hippeastrum. Uphof’s paper renamed the American genus Hippeastrum to Amaryllis and the South African Amaryllis belladonna became Callicore rosea. This caused quite a taxonomic uproar which would continue for another 50 years.
The following year, 1939, taxonomist Joseph Sealy dug deeper into the original amaryllis name mix-up, and found it impossible to determine which plant Linnaeus intended to bestow with the genus name, Amaryllis, since most of Linnaeus’s original description referenced the South African plant, and only one small part referenced the American plant. Consequently, Sealy left the name amaryllis to apply to the solitary Amaryllis belladonna, and not to the much larger genus Hippeastrum.
The battle was far from over, and in fact, it turned into a war, led by American taxonomist Dr. Hamilton Traub, who from 1949 until his death in 1983, was defiant that the genus name amaryllis should instead apply to the American hippeastrums. Finally, in 1987, after Traub’s death, the International Botanical Congress confirmed the assignment of the name amaryllis to the South African species. Despite this resolution to 250 years of wrangling, most gardeners still refer to the plants that they grow widely in homes and gardens for their large flowers as amaryllis and not the proper name, hippeastrum.
One would hope that the 1987 decision would be the end of the mess, but not so fast…there was yet another taxonomic snafu. Amaryllis belladonna is a plant which is widely grown throughout California, where it thrives and flowers annually. But, is it really Amaryllis belladonna? While it’s certainly not a hippeastrum, the answer is no. To solve this mix-up, let’s step back a few years, to 1841, when Australian plantsman John Bidwill, first crossed Amaryllis belladonna with another African relative, brunsvigia, creating a bi-generic hybrid that would become known as x Amargyia parkeri. Because x Amargyia parkeri had more flowers, a more radial flower head, and better vigor, it gradually replaced true Amaryllis belladonna in cultivation, especially in California. I chatted with Californian Bill Welch (Bill the Bulb Baron), the largest grower/breeder of Amaryllis belladonna, prior to his untimely death in 2019. Bill admitted that everything he grew and sold as Amaryllis belladonna was actually the hybrid x Amargyia parkeri. Nurserymen have a bad habit of using incorrect names, because they realize that names which are familiar to customers always sell better.
If that’s not confusing enough, we should add that about half of the people who grow Lycoris x squamigera, a Zone 4 hardy bulb, also have their plants also labeled as Amaryllis belladonna, which is only winter hardy from Zone 8 south. We can thank several large mail order bulb catalogs who have no interest in either correct nomenclature or correct photography for that fiasco.
To quote the late Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
So, do you see why plant taxonomist generally have little hair remaining?
Here’s our reference stock blocks of zephyranthes (rain lilies). Within 3-4 days after a rain, the beds are ablaze with what the late rain lily breeder, Fadjar Marta, called a floral blitz. We concur.
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.
It’s been a great month for crinum lilies in the garden, so here are a few of our more recent images. Crinums are native in the wild to Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Some are winter hardy to Zone 7, while others are completely happy in Zone 6.
We have a rather large collections of crinum lilies at JLBG and occasionally take time to make a few crosses. One of our recent selections is one we’ve named Crinum ‘Delerium’. Flowering again this week, this is a cross of Crinum variabile and Crinum bulbispermum, meaning it should be winter hardy in Zone 6. We re just dividing our original clump for the first time, so it will take a few years to get enough to share, but the process has begun.
One of the June joys at JLBG is flowering season for Lilium x sulphurgale ‘Vico Gold’. We have grown to love the summer-flowering liliies for their ability to leap from the ground amongst a crowded landscape to provide a burst of color and fragrance during the heat of summer. Lilium ‘Vico Gold’ is not just a star, but it has a great back story. Alabama gardener Wade Mahlke shared this with us in 2013, from his trip decades earlier to the Switzerland garden of the now deceased Sir Peter Smithers. For those who haven’t read Sir Peter’s books, his career was as a spy in the British Secret Service, working for Ian Fleming. James Bond fans will certainly recognize the name. After his retirement, Smithers served in British Parliament before retiring to Switzerland, where he indulged his passion for gardening and plant breeding until his death in 2006 at age 93. Lilium ‘Vico Gold’ is his introduction of a hybrid of Lilium sulphureum and Lilium regale…a superb introduction that we’ve “bonded” with in the garden. It looks like we may be able to finally make it available through Plant Delights next spring.
Since we don’t have an open house in June, I wanted to share photos of Ammocharis corranica in flower now. This easy-to-grow amaryllid has thrived in the gardens at JLBG since 2004. First cousin to the better known genera like amaryllis, crinum, and lycoris, the South African ammocharis makes a very short, but incredibly showy bulb for a sunny garden spot.
We’ve got some really superb unyaaw’s blooming now. Actually, if you’re not of the Cajun persuasion, they’re onions…of the genus Allium. The North American native Allium canadense is quite showy in the late spring/early summer garden. The first is a superbly dense flowering selection, Allium ‘White Flag’, made by the late bulb guru, Thad Howard. Allium canadense var. lavendularae is a lovely purple-flowered form. Purple seedlings pop up occasionally in wild populations, but we’ve been able to isolate a particularly nice purple form from light lavender flowering plants that originated in Kansas, shared by plantsman Aaron Floden.