Low Country Treasure Hunt

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.

Taxodium ascendens, our native pond cypress
Taxodium ascendens
High water marks visible on Taxodium ascendens
Taxodium ascendens

The high water marks are visible on the buttressed trunks of bald cypress.

Close up of high water marks on Taxodium ascendens
Taxodium ascendens

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.

Wiregrass habitat
Pine/Wiregrass habitat

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 tortoise tunnel
Gopher tortoise mound/tunnel

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.

Close up of a Gopher tortise
Gopher tortoise

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?

 Close up of Orange katydid
Orange katydid

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.

Asclepias obovata, a little known milkweed
Asclepias obovata

At another site nearby, we caught some late flowering plants of Asclepias tuberosa var. rolfsii.

Asclepias tuberosa var. rolfsii
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.

Sarracenia flava in situ
Sarracenia flava in situ
Sarracenia flava clump - typical yellow pitchers
Sarracenia flava clump – typical yellow pitchers
Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
 Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
 Close up of Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
Sarracenia flava with a particularly large hood
Sarracenia flava with a particularly large hood
Sarracneia flava with brown hood and nice veining
Sarracneia flava with brown hood and nice veining
Sarracenia flava red neck form
Sarracenia flava red neck form
Sarracenia minor
Sarracenia minor
Sarracenia rubra
Sarracenia rubra

A plant often seen near the pitcher plants is the native orchid, Plantanthera ciliaris.

Plantanthera ciliaris orchid
Plantanthera ciliaris orchid

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.

Serenoa repens clonal patch
Serenoa repens clonal patch
Serenoa repens clonal patch
Serenoa repens clonal patch
Serenoa repens seed
Serenoa repens seed

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.

Thelypteris kunthii
Thelypteris kunthii

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.

Hamamelis henryi
Hamamelis henryi

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.

Crategus munda var. pexa
Crategus munda var. pexa

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.

Liquidambar styraciflua gold sport
Liquidambar styraciflua gold sport

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.

Clinopodium georgianum
Clinopodium georgianum

At one stop, we found five different liatris species, including the little-known Liatris elegans.

Liatris elegans
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.

Centrosema virginiana
Centrosema virginiana

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.

Smilax pumila
Smilax pumila

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.

Leaf-footed bug leaving the Low Country with us
Leaf-footed bugs

Water Spider Orchid

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.

Water Spider Orchid - Habenaria repens
Habenaria repens

It’s a Good Year – A

We recently ran across this clump of the summer-flowering native (Canada south to Florida) orchid, Goodyera pubescens growing in a site near JLBG. Like a century plant, the flowering rosette dies after flowering, but new side shoots are produced for future generations. Work is being done to produce this in tissue culture so it can be made more widely available from nursery propagated stock. Sadly, most plants sold today are wild collected.

Of the 100 species of Goodyera orchid, only 4 are US natives.

First sip of cyps

We are just starting with the first wave of Cypripedium (ladyslipper orchids) in the garden this week. One of the earliest selections to put on a show is Cypripedium ‘Rascal’, an outstanding cross of Cypripedium kentuckiense and Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum…all US natives.

Calanthe Love

Here is a clump of Calanthe ‘Takane’ in our garden in early April. This amazing and easy-to-grow terrestrial ground orchid forms a dazzling clump with age. This mass started as a single division in a 4″ pot, 17 years ago. Not only do they thrive in the ground, but in Japan, they are prized as container plants.

Calanthe ‘Takane’ is a group of hybrids between Calanthe sieboldii and Calanthes discolor, so each seedling is slightly different in flower color. The foliage remains evergreen during most winters for us, but when temperatures drop near 0 degrees F, the foliage will die back completely. Calanthes thrive best in light shade. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9a.

Happened on a Habenaria

Looking particularly good this week is one of the Southeast US (NC to Texas) native water orchids, Habenaria repens. This gem flowers through most of the growing season, and hasn’t slowed down as we enter November. Water spider orchid can grow both as a marginal or as a true aquatic. Our plant is growing in one of our crevice garden seeps. We’re working to get this really cool native propagated and available in the future.

Bletillas everywhere

Not only are bletillas one of the easiest ground orchids to grow in the garden or in containers, they are also one of the few that are easy to grow from seed. We’ve been growing seedlings for the last decade and having discarded several thousand plants (hint…they are all nice), we’ve narrowed them down to our final few selections, a few of which are pictured below. In addition to the differences in flower color, flower size, ploidy level, there are dramatic differences in flowering season and height.

Below is a Peter Zale hybrid, Bletilla ‘Candles in the Wind’, which Plant Delights will be introducing in spring. The floriferousness and height are the first two things you notice…there just aren’t many 4′ tall bletillas. In the eight years we’ve trial this, it has spread from a small plant to form a 6′ wide patch. This is a truly astonishing selection.

Bletilla x brigantes ‘Candles in the Wind’

Titilating Bletilla

Our oldest clumps of the hardy orchid, Bletilla striata are just amazing…once we learned that these aren’t shade plants. These are under a tall pine and get 1-2 hours of sun.

Cymbidium time

The first hardy orchid to flower for us each late winter/early spring is the amazing Cymbidium goeringii ‘Early Riser’. The foliage looks similar to a liriope, until it’s topped with the fascinating flowers. This species is quite easy to grow in average to fairly dry shade.

Visiting Kentucky in Texas

It was a real thrill last week to visit a population of Cypripedium kentuckiense (Kentucky Ladyslipper Orchid) in Texas with native plant guru, Adam Black. Adam has made numerous trips to this and other nearby sites, carefully pollinating the orchids to ensure seed set and enhance reproduction. While we’ve offered this species as seed-grown plants (8 years from seed to flower) for years, this was my first chance to actually study them in the wild. Cypripedium kentuckiense is one of the easiest ladyslipper orchids to cultivate, thriving in a wide variety of woodland conditions. Here, they were growing just above a seasonally flooded stream in very sandy soils.

Spring Open Nursery & Garden is Just Around the Corner

It’s hard to believe that spring open nursery and garden days is almost here. Spring is always a busy time of year and our nursery and garden staff have been working tirelessly making sure the gardens are in prime condition and our sales houses are brimming with beautiful plants.

Take advantage of shopping our sales houses for many unique and rare perennials, many exclusively available at Plant Delights Nursery. We are offering nearly 20 varieties of Baptisia this year, more than you will find at most garden centers. Many are from our own breeding program at Juniper Level Botanic Garden and include two 2019 introductions you will find no where else.

Join Tony, Friday, May 3 at 10am for a stroll through the gardens as he discusses baptisias, part of our Gardening Unplugged garden chat series.

Baptisia
Bletilla – Hardy Orchids

The hardy orchids also look amazing this year, with seven different bletilla and over 30 varieties of ladyslippers and calanthe available, you are sure to find one for that special spot in your garden.

As part of our Gardening Unplugged chat series, our nursery manager, Meghan Fidler, will be discussing hardy orchids in the garden and how you can be successful growing them in your garden.

Cypripedium – Ladyslipper Orchids
Sarracenia – Pitcher Plants

The pitcher plants are blooming and our hosta house is bursting with color that will brighten any shady nook. Be sure to mark your calendars and join Tony Saturday, May 4 as he explores the fascinating world of our native pitcher plants, and come back the following weekend as Tony showcases hostas in the garden and our hosta breeding program at JLBG.

Hostas

Hardy Orchids from seed

I was looking at our patch of Bletilla ‘Brigantes’…a hardy orchid hybrid between Bletilla striata and Bletilla ochracea and wondering what its offspring would look like.  I recalled that the late plantsman Don Jacobs grew bletillas from seed in his window sill, so I figured we’d give it a try.  If you’ve never handled orchid seed, it’s a bit like handling tiny dust particles.  We harvested the seed before the pods cracked open and sowed them like we do our fern spores, and sealed them in a ziploc bag.  Sure enough, they germinated, and two years later actually flowered.  These are a sampling of the amazing variation from the 200 seedlings we potted.  We’ll select a good representative sample of the variation including any unique individuals and plant them out in trial beds and watch how they develop.  How exciting!

Hardy Lady Slipper Orchids!!

Cypripedium, Lady Slipper Orchids, is a genus of woodland garden plants that are among the most desired of all native hardy orchids for sale, despite their often finicky requirements.

Plant Delights Nursery is excited about our bare root shipment of responsibly grown, flowering size, cypripedium orchids we received yesterday.  These plants are nursery propagated and not collected from the wild.

picture of bare root cypripedium pubescens

Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens – healthy bare root liners with multiple eyes!

Fall is the best time for planting your hardy lady slipper orchid. Beds should be well-prepared and amended with compost unless you naturally have rich, organic soil. Dig a shallow but wide crater, spread the roots out flat (with eyes pointed upward), cover them with 1″ of soil, and water in well.

picture of cypripedium gabriela and healthy bare root liners

Cypripedium ‘Gabriela’ – healthy bare root liners with multiple eyes.

You should avoid planting your lady slipper orchid near aggressive groundcovers (such as ivy, vinca or Japanese pachysandra) or near the base of trees or large shrubs due to root competition. Check out this article on Cypripediums for more in depth information.

picture of cypripedium reginae and healthy bare root liners.

Cypripedium reginae – healthy bare root liners with multiple eyes.

Other varieties of Cypripedium we just got in for sale include C. kentuckienseHank Small, Michael, and Philipp. All plants have been potted to keep the roots from drying out and for shipping, but the mix can easily be removed for fall planting and incorporated into the planting site.

Cypripedium ‘Hank Small’ ladyslipper orchid

Cypripedium Hank Small4I remember when I discovered we could actually grow ladyslipper orchids in the garden, despite so many stories of them being impossible to cultivate.  The reality is that one ladyslipper, Cypripedium acaule is tough to move.  Otherwise, they’re easy.  I just took this photo of our clump of Cypripedium ‘Hank Small’…32 flowers this year!  I hope you will give these a try in your light shade garden.  A slightly moist soil is best, although this one is grown much too dry under a giant pine tree.