We make crosses on our flowering agaves during the early summer, then in some cases, must wait until fall to see if we were successful. If we don’t get pods formed within a few weeks, we know that the particular cross was a failure, but in some cases, the cross forms pods, but there is nothing viable inside. This usually occurs when we make what’s known as a wide cross, using more distantly related species.
The stalk below is from a plant of Agave x ovatispina that flowered this year. Agave x ovatispina is itself a previous hybrid we made of Agave flexispina x Agave ovatifolia. We flowered our first clone of Agave x ovatispina last year, and it produced no viable seed, so we’re hoping for better luck with our second clone.
As you can see below, we had seed pods form.
When we opened the pods, we found that most of the seed (those colored tan) are not viable. Only a few black seed (potentially viable) were present.
The interesting thing we noticed was that viviparous (clonal) bulbils had formed on the top of the stalk. This trait occurs on a few agave species, including occasionally on Agave ovatifolia. While these plants are clonal, we often see variegation appear on these plantlets, so they’ve been planted as we wait to see what emerges.
Up until a couple of years ago, we could find no literature detailing any hybrids in the cast iron plant genus, Aspidistra. With our extensive in-ground collection, we had begun noticing seedlings that were obvious hybrids, so we began first by confirming that both the flowers and foliage showed signs of being intermediate between both parents.
The next step was to pot up the seedlings and then select which would go in the garden for further trials. Below are some of our earliest hybrids between Aspidistra elatior and Aspidistra sichuanensis. Aspidistra elatior has very upright leaves, while Aspidistra sichuanensis has foliage that is heavily arching. As you can see in the photos below, the traits of the hybrid range from arching to upright, and everything in between.
We should be able to make some final selections for uniqueness and vigor within three years, then send them along for propagation.
We’ve been very pleased with a series of new windmill palm hybrids in the garden as we approach another winter stress test. Trachycarpus x forceps is our assigned name for crosses between Trachycarpus fortunei and Trachycarpus princeps. While most Trachycarpus fortunei is winter hardy here in Zone 7b, the lovely Chinese/Tibetan border endemic, Trachycarpus princeps, with its silver backed leaves, has not been so happy–we’ve killed four, so far.
Several years ago, we were thrilled to acquire seed of several different crosses of the same hybrid. Since all crosses between the same species must use the same nothospecific name, we assigned each with an additional seed strain cultivar names to distinguish the different parents and which was the mother and father. In plant breeding, the mother is always listed first..
*T. princeps x T. fortunei ‘Wagnerianus’ = Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Prince’
*T. fortunei ‘Wagnerianus’ x T. princeps = Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Wags’
*T. princeps x T. fortunei = Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Silver Mine’
*T. fortunei x T. princeps = Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Fortune’
Below is a 4.5 year old plant of Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Wags’–our oldest specimen.
Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Fortune’ has been in the ground for 2.5 years. This is the cross using straight T. fortunei as the mom and T. princeps as the dad.
Trachycarpus x forceps ‘Prince’, below, has been in the ground for 2.5 years also. Here, Trachycarpus princeps was the mom parent.
Looking great in the garden in November are our collection of x Amarines. These are a fascinating man-made group of hybrids between two South African genera of bulbs, Amaryllis belladonna and Nerine, first described in 1961. These grow their foliage in winter, which is a problem in climates as cold as ours. If the foliage gets damaged in winter, they rarely have enough energy to flower the next year. We actually weren’t expecting any flowers this fall, since we experienced 11F last winter, so this is a lovely surprise. We find these grow best in open shade to part day sun, as long as the drainage is good.
Below are several selections from our collection of Hemskerk hybrids, introduced in 2012. The top is xAmarine ‘Anastasia’, followed by xAmarine ‘Elvi’, ending with xAmarine ‘Emanuelle’.
Agaves are an amazing architectural addition to the garden with their form and radial symmetry. We just captured this image of one of our Agave x loferox hybrids, that we named ‘Magical Moments’. The result turned out very artsy.
The first photo below is our hybrid century plant, Agave x ocareginae ‘Oh Victory’, from a cross we made in 2014, between Agave ocahui and Agave victoriae-reginae. The plants went in the ground in 2017. Of the eleven seedlings we selected and planted in the ground, only five have survived.
Below you can see both parents, first Agave ocahui, which supplied the pollen, and below that is Agave victoriae-reginae, who was the mother. The hybrid has leaves that are intermediate in width between both parents. Our hopes were for the offspring to have the white markings of Agave victoriae-reginae, which didn’t happen. Now, we’ll wait for these to flower, and hope we can get seed that produces a F2 generation with the white markings, which seem to be a recessive genetic trait.
Looking lovely in the early fall garden are the xAmarcrinum. These are man-made hybrids between Crinum lilies and the South African Amaryllis belladonna. Despite the later not growing well here, the hybrids are quite amazing with their sweetly-fragranced flowers. All xAmarcrinum are somewhat similar in growth, with greatly reduced foliage from most crinum parents. The cultivar below is xAmarcrinum ‘Summer Maid’. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10.
Below are three of our final selections of Agave x ovox, which we made out of several hundred seedlings. These are each sister seedlings from our cross of Agave ovatifolia x Agave pseudoferox ‘Bellville’ It’s always interesting to see how many different ways the genes sort out. These are from our 2018 cross, and only went in the ground in 2021, so despite their size, they’re still babies at 2′ tall x 4′ wide. So far, they are showing some true hybrid vigor. Each should mature around 4-5′ tall x 8-12′ wide. These are all fine in Zone 7b and south.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the grape breeding trial garden of grape savant, Jeff Bloodworth of Orange County, NC. I didn’t realize it until my visit that Jeff, now 73, and I were in the Horticulture Department at NC State together from the mid to late 1970s. While I was starting on my undergraduate work, he was working on a Masters and later a Doctorate. After school, Jeff went on to become a Research technician with NC State grape breeder Dr. Bill Nesbitt, until he unexpectedly passed away in 1983 at the age of 51.
Departmental leaders decided to do away with the grape breeding program due to a lack of commercial interest in NC, so Jeff saw an opportunity. Scrambling quickly, he found and purchased 12 acres in rural Orange County, where all the NCSU research genetics found a new home. Jeff, and his wife, Peggy, still live on the same property today.
I’ve grown and studied muscadine grapes for almost 40 years, but Jeff’s little finger has far more knowledge than I dreamed existed. To say Jeff is obsessive about his work with grapes is a grand understatement.
We were joined by video producers Bill Hayes and Erin Upson of Carboro’s Thunder Mountain Media, who are working on a video project to help tell Jeff’s amazing story.
Until 2013, Jeff had never introduced a single new grape. Part of the reason is that his breeding goals were regarded as impossible “pie in the sky” ideas. Jeff was trying to cross seedless bunch grapes (pictured below), which grow well in California, but sulk in our summers, with the Southeast US native muscadine grapes.
After 10 years of no success, he finally was able to secure a viable offspring, and so was off to the races. Despite this eventual breakthrough, Jeff struggled to get any commercial or academic entities interested in his creations.
That was until plantsman and Gardens Alive owner, Niles Kinerk and his team, heard about Jeff’s work, and soon after, hired Jeff as an employee, providing some welcome financial support. Below are Jeff and Peggy Bloodworth with Mark Wessel, Gardens Alive Director of Horticultural Research.
Jeff’s first introduction through Gardens Alive, in 2013, was the light purple Vitis ‘Razmatazz’. This small-sized grape was the first seedless muscadine hybrid on the market. Although the fruit size is small by conventional standards, it is long producing as well as deliciously sweet. This was followed a few years later by Vitis ‘Oh My’, a bronze fleshed, larger seedless muscadine hybrid.
My trip last week was to join the Gardens Alive team as they sampled the new hybrids and made their final selections for future introduction. I was particularly excited by one of Jeff’s hybrids with 1″ seedless bronze grapes, but Jeff explained by slicing the grape in half and examining the ovary, that this was a female grape, which would need a male pollinator. Most commercial muscadine varieties are “perfect”, with both male and female flowers on the same plant. The size of Jeff’s seedless grapes continue to increase, and the variance of sweet flavors are astounding, so the future of grapes in the Southeast US is very exciting.
Nearby Jeff’s farm, investors have purchased much of the regional farmland with the goal of large scale production, including hundred of acres of Jeff’s grapes. We salute Jeff’s brilliance and persistence in this amazing endeavor!
With September temperatures reaching 100 degrees F in Raleigh, is it any wonder we’re thinking about snow? Looking lovely after a recent rain is the rain lily, Zephyranthes ‘Summer Snow’. We grow a huge number of rain lilies, but none out flower our 2014 introduction of a hybrid between Zephyranthes candida and Zephyranthes citrina. This started its life as 5 original bulbs.
It’s that time of year, when the surprise lilies, Lycoris, that we have scattered throughout the garden begin to pop. Actually, due to our early summer rains, they began popping in early July this year, 2-3 weeks ahead of normal.
Surprise lilies are divided into two groups, based on when their leaves emerge….fall (October) or late winter to early spring (March). Those with fall emerging foliage are generally not winter hardy north of Zone 7a, while those with late winter to early spring emerging foliage can usually tolerate temperatures of Zone 4/5.
Here are a few recent images from the garden from our world-renown collection of 1,090 different selected clones. The spring-foliaged hybrid, Lycoris x squamigera is the most popular clone, and be seen in gardens from Minnesota south.
Lycoris x incarnata ‘Blue Queen’ is another spring-foliaged hybrid that’s yet to hit the market.
Lycoris x straminea ‘Caldwell’s Original’ is a hybrid of the late Sam Caldwell, who is one of the first breeders who devoted his life to understanding the genus Lycoris. This is a fall-foliage emerging hybrid.
Plant breeding is a wonderful hobby that attracts an array of hobbyists, as well a plant professionals. Many plants, such as hemerocallis, hosta, hibiscus, and iris, are so easy that they attract the majority of hobbyist breeders. Professionals and the craziest of the breeders occasionally focus on more difficult plants that few others are willing to try. This includes plants where the pollen exchange is complicated either by timing, incompatibility, or other constraints. Such is the case with century plants (agave).
Peak flowering season for 2023 is drawing to a close at JLBG, while one new agave is just in mid-spike. We only had 13 different agaves flower this year, compared to 18 last year. Fortunately, we are able to save and store pollen in the refrigerator, where it will remain viable for at least 5 years.
Below are a few images of Steve Guptill of our garden staff, as he made crosses last week. At the bottom of the first image is our volunteer agave specialist, Vince Schneider, who is training Steve to make the crosses.
With agaves, the process involves waiting for the stigma to become sticky–a sign that it’s receptive to the pollen. Pollen is then gathered from our prospective father and then hauled up the 21′ ladder to the waiting stigmas. Not only are you high in the air, but you’re working around hundreds of bees that are busy gathering copious amounts of nectar.
Assuming we get seed set, they should be ripe by late September/early October.
Both spiking agaves in the photo below are our selected hybrids from previous years breeding.
Those who were heavily into gardening in the early 1990s probably remember the micro-mail order nursery, The Wildwood Flower, run by the unique and colorful NC plantsman Thurman Maness. While Thurman’s nursery lasted less than a decade in the mail order realm, his impact in the horticultural world continues though his many plant introductions.
Thurman’s probably best known in the plant world for his lobelia hybrids, as demonstrated by his 1990 catalog which listed 20 different lobelias. We’ve offered a number of Thurman’s lobelia hybrids through the years, including varieties like ‘Rose Beacon’, ‘Ruby Slippers’, and ‘Sparkle deVine’, and still carry one of our personal favorites, Lobelia ‘Monet Moment’.
Thurman’s old catalogs also included little known, but garden worthy natives like Scutellaris serrata and the Federally Endangered Silene catesbiae (polypetala). When I first visited back in the early 1990s, Thurman was running his own tissue culture lab, where he was both producing plants as well as conducting ploidy manipulation for breeding..
So, what’s Thurman doing today. At age 87, he’s still working in his garden and propagating plants, which he occasionally sells on site at his Pittsboro home. He tells me that he’s ramping up production because of the new 400 acre development just a few miles away…he’s determined that they all need hydrangeas.
He also still runs his antique business, now from an antique mall in nearby Siler City. When he goes out on the town, he often does so as his alter ego, Sparkle deVine, as you can see in this recent photo below. JLBG/PDN salutes a brilliant plantsman for a horticultural life well-lived.
Plant breeders often get stuck in a rut, copying each other, with only slight variances in each new selection. What makes us stand up and take notice is when a breeder dares to head in a completely different “Pythonian”-like direction. Such is the case with Echinacea ‘Pretty Parasols’, which is in flower now at JLBG. We love this oddity from Belgium’s Jan Spruyt, but am unsure if anyone else will share our excitement. The plant is taller (3′), and much more airy than the form typically seen in other echinacea hybrids. So, what do you think?
In the crinum lily world, a yellow flower is considered the holy grail by plant breeders, since it only naturally exists in the Australian crinum species, Crinum luteolum. Two other species which occasionally show a yellow blush in the flower are Crinum bulbispermum and Crinum jagus. Crinum luteolum is completely ungrowable in the Southeast US. Consequently, we must find yellow pigment from the other two species.
Many years ago, a secretive California crinum breeder distributed a fuzzy Sasquatch-like photo of what was supposedly his yellow flowered crinum, derived from a white-flowered Crinum bulbispermum. The plant itself has never been seen in person, despite assurances from the breeder that it still exists. In 2008, the breeder agreed to sell us seed from his parent plant, with the caveat that it wouldn’t look like the parent.
Below is the best clone that we selected from our first set of seedlings from Crinum ‘Yellow Triumph’. As you can see, the flower is virtually all white, except for a chartreuse green base. Since it was a nice flowering clone, we gave it the name Crinum ‘White Swans’.
Since 2008, we have repeatedly self-pollinated our original seedling selection, each time selecting those offspring that showed the most yellow color. Over time, the best seedlings were crossed with each other, and the selection process continued.
Fast forward to 2023…15 years after our original seedling flowered, we finally have plants that are showing a decent amount of yellow in the flowers. The yellow shows best as the flowers open in late afternoon. Below are two of our best 2019/2020 seedlings. While these aren’t yet a finished product, we are seeing the proverbial gold light at the end of the long tunnel.
The spring garden at JLBG has a number of phallic moments if you’re lucky enough to catch them. Here are a few of our favorites. Below is a color echo we created, using Pig’s Butt Arum (Helicodiceros muscivorus) and Salvia x nemorosa. We’re sure you’ll want to recommend this combination for everyone in your HOA.
It’s cousin, Dracunculus vulgaris has also been putting on a show recently. Although the typical red maroon-flowered forms won’t flower for another week or two, the rare white-flowered forms, native only to a small region of Crete, are stunning now.
Dracunculus ‘Spring Bling’ is an Alan Galloway hybrid with a creamy spathe, with a blush purple flush, and black spadix.
Below is another of Alan’s crosses that we’ve named Dracunculus ‘White Tux’ with a stunning white spathe and contrasting black spadix.
Dracunculus ‘White Rhino’ is the most vigorous of all the white-flowered clones we grow. This is yet another Alan Galloway selection, rescued from Alan’s garden, after he passed away at the all too early age of 60 years.
A few years before Alan passed, we were chatting one day about crazy plant breeding projects, and Alan mentioned that he was going to try crossing Arum with Helicodiceros. I told him I suspected he might have better luck crossing Helicodiceros with Dracunculus, since they intuitively seemed to be a better match. He mentioned that both would be in flower in his garden shortly, so he’d be on the case.
Thanks to Alan’s meticulous breeding work, the cross was successful, and three seed eventually germinated. For several years, the foliage of the seedlings looked so similar to Helicodicerous, we both assumed that it was not actually a hybrid. Finally, the year prior to his death, the first of the three seedlings finally flowered, and indeed, he had been successful in creating a bi-generic hybrid, x Helicunculus gallowayii. The foliage, spadix surface appearance, and the flower orientation resembles Helicodiceros. The spathe and spadix are both much longer, the color is more intense and the spathe much more wavy and canoe-shaped, thanks to the Dracunculus parent.
All three seedlings were rescued, but so far, only the original clone has flowered. This week, as it opened, we are once again reminded of Alan’s amazing contributions to the horticultural world, with the flowering of his namesake.
In our spare time, we’ve been playing around with Solomon’s Seal hybrids. This cross of Polygonatum martinii x falcatum is one of the few we’ve found worthy of a name. Polygonatum ‘Winsome Wonder’, flowering now, has long arching stems that reach 6-7′ in length. One day, we’ll have enough of this amazing selection to share.
Below is our 16 year old clump of the ladyslipper, Cypripedium ‘Rascal’, this week. This amazing Carson Whitlow hybrid is a cross of two North American species, Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum x Cypripedium kentuckiense. As you can see, it thrives despite our summer heat and humidity.
Looking great in the garden now is the false red agave, Beschorneria. Beschorneria is a small, little-known genus of only 8 species of plants in the Asparagaceae family–first cousin to the better known genus, Agave. Beschornerias are native from Northern Mexico, south to Honduras. Through the years, we’ve grown 7 of the 8 species, having not bothered to try B. wrightii, due to it’s tropical origin.
The only species that has proven reliable and evergreen here is Beschorneria septentrionalis–a species introduced by the former Yucca Do Nursery from their collections in Northern Mexico.
Several years ago, we were given seed of hybrids of B. septentrionalis x B. yuccoides ssp. dekosteriana. Most of the hybrid plants died because they inherited too many genes from the more tender B. yuccoides, but two plants still remain. Below is one we named Beschorneria ‘Fire Towers’, which appears close to B. septentrionalis in appearance, but perhaps with a bit more vigor.
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.
We continue to be impressed with the continuing parade of new selections of sterile lenten roses, in particular, the clones of Helleborus x iburgensis. These fascinating hybrids that originated at RD plants in England, are crosses of Helleborus x ballardiae (niger x lividus) x Helleborus x hybridus. In other words, these hybrids have up to 5-7 different species in each.
Because two of the parents, Helleborus niger and Helleborus lividus, both have outfacing flowers, the flowers on the Iburgensis hybrids all carry that trait. Additionally, most every lenten rose cross with Helleborus niger is effectively sterile. Interestingly, Helleborus niger is the most cold hardy of all lenten rose species, while Helleborus lividus is the least cold hardy, but the most heat tolerant.
Below are a series of photos from the gardens here over the last few weeks of some of the clones we have tried. We find these an exceptional group, many with pink to cream variegation, that should be much more widely grown. Hardiness is Zone 5a-8b, at least.
Our three way hybrid cycad, C. x menageatroisensis (Cycas panzhihuaensis x (revoluta x taitungensis) appears to be in full “flower” this week, months after we tried, but failed to impregnate it. Despite being unproductive reproductively, it’s quite fascinating as a garden feature. Cycads came about back in the day before flowering was invented, so they actually produce cones, like a pine tree. Despite the leaves frying at 11F, the female strobilis remains undamaged. Our clone picture below is a female.
We were thrilled how well Agave x protamericana ‘Silver Surfer’ came through the 11 degree F. cold snap this winter. This 2007 Plant Delights/JLBG agave introduction was our selection from a Yucca Do Nursery seed collection in Northern Mexico of a naturally occurring hybrid between Agave americana and Agave asperrima.
Agave x protamericana ‘Funky Toes’ is looking fabulous in the garden today, having sailed through our cold winter in tip top shape. This unique form of the well-known North American native agave is an introduction of the former Yucca Do Nursery, from one of their collections in Northern Mexico.
In 2018, we found a streaked leaf on a potted offset. By using a technique called crown cutting, we were able to isolate the bud from the streaked leaf into a yellow center, which we named Agave ‘Funky Monkey’…photo below. Hopefully in the next few years, we’ll have enough of this new introduction to share.
One of the nice surprises this winter has been the performance of our hybrid Magnolia grandiflora x Magnolia coco. This 2019 seedling came through the recent 11 degrees F looking great, despite half its parentage being rather tender.
While Magnolia grandiflora is certainly winter hardy here, the other parent, Magnolia coco is “reportedly” not hardy. Magnolia coco is a small tree/shrub hailing from Vietnam, Southern China, and Taiwan. Those reputable on-line sources consistently write that it isn’t hardy north of Zone 9. Well–hmmm!
The bottom image is our plant that has been in the garden since 2003…that’s 20 years. Yes, after 11F, the foliage is brown, but the stems are fine and it will re-flush well in spring. We can’t wait to see the flowers on the hybrid, which is still a few years away from being old enough to have sex.
We were thrilled to see most of our plants of Trichocereus ‘Love Child’ come through the 11 degrees F unscathed. We hope to have enough of these in the next year or two to share. We had long wanted to grow and offer some of the ridiculously large flowered, tacky colored tropical trichocereus cactus, but they simply had no winter hardiness.
Enter our former volunteer curator, Mike Papay, who had the same idea, but was more determined to make it happen. Mike worked with Trichocereus bruchii, and the resulting second generation plants yielded one he named Trichocereus ‘Big Time’.
He created another winter hardy hybrid using Trichocereus bruchii and Trichocereus thelogonus that he named Trichocereus ‘Iridescent Watermelon’. We subsequently crossed both of Mike’s hybrids together to create a seed strain we named Trichocereus ‘Love Child’. Below is one of our garden plants after enduring 11 degrees F. Below that is the same plant in flower last spring. Hardiness zone 7b to 10b.
One of our favorite palms for the garden is the US native Sabal minor var. louisiana. While it can’t outgrow the Himalayan Trachycarpus fortunei (windmill palm) for speed of developing a trunk, Louisiana palmetto is the most winter hardy of all trunking palms. One of the mysteries is that in the wild, the same population can have both above ground as well as subterranean trunks.
Our garden specimen in the photo below was planted from a 1 qt. pot in 2005. Eventually, Sabal minor var. louisiana will develop an above ground trunk, which on our specimen below is just beginning.
The background on Sabal minor var. louisiana is a botanical mystery. Some taxonomists consider it a valid species, while others consider it variety of the subterranean trunked Sabal minor. Others consider it to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor and either Sabal mexicana or Sabal palmetto. A similar hybrid, Sabal x brazoriensis from near Dallas, had its DNA analyzed several years ago, and was found to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor and a now extinct population of Sabal palmetto.
Sabal sp. ‘Tamaulipas’ from Northern Mexico is another mystery palm in need of some family history work. Thankfully, palm researcher and grad student, Ayress Grinage at Cornell has begun to look at these mystery sabal palms to figure out how they came to be. We, and others have sent material, and now await the results of the paternity test.
In 2014, we decided our goal for the years’ century plant breeding project was to see how large a Zone 7b winter hardy agave we could create. We had seven agaves flower that year, but only two had the epic proportions we required.
One of those was a selection of Agave x protamericana from a Yucca Do collection in Northern Mexico. By the time of flowering at 15 years of age, it had reached 5′ tall x 9′ wide.
Agave x protamericana and Agave americana are the two largest blue-foliaged agaves, but only Agave x protamericana is winter hardy for us, here in Zone 7b, since it also has some ancient genes from the hardier Agave asperrima, which adds slightly to its winter hardiness. You can distinguish the two plants by feeling the back of the leaves. Agave americana has smooth leaf backs, while Agave x protamericana has sandpapery leaf backs. The largest size listed for Agave americana in Howard Gentry’s Agaves of Continental North America, is 6′ tall x 12′ wide.
At the same time we had a blind flower shoot on our giant Agave x pseudoferox ‘Bellville’. Agave x pseudoferox is another ancient Mexican hybrid in need of a DNA workup. We think it’s probably a hybrid of Agave x protamericana with Agave salmiana var. ferox and possibly Agave gentryi). Commercially, it’s usually called Agave salmiana var. ferox, which is similar in appearance, but with absolutely no winter hardiness.
Prior to full flowering at 15 years of age, our giant specimen of Agave x pseudoferox ‘Bellville’ had reached a mature size of 4′ tall x 8′ wide. We were able to make the cross prior to it fully flowering, by using something we mentioned above that we call “blind shoots” or boners.
Being monocarpic plants, the rosettes of most agave species die after flowering, but side shoots are an interesting phenomenon we see on all of our Agave x pseudoferox cultivars and hybrids. These “blind shoots” emerge from underground stolons instead of from a rosette. They are much shorter than normal flowering shoots which emerge from the rosettes (2′ tall vs. 20′ tall), and they have no impact on the life expectancy of any of the rosettes.
In the case of Agave ‘Bellville’, our plant began producing blind shoots five years prior to the clump producing a full size, rosette-based flower stalk. The beauty of blind shoots is that they breed and pass along characteristics of the parent without the need for a tall ladder.
We gave our hybrids the seed strain cultivar name, Agave ‘Bluebell Giants’. From these, we selected 23 clones, which were planted in the trial fields in 2016. Of those, only 4 survived our subsequent trials for winter hardiness.
Our best and most winter hardy seedling from the cross pictured below is now 6 years old in the garden. We’ve given this the name Agave ‘Supersize’. It has achieved a size of 6′ tall x 8′ wide in that time. To put this in perspective, it is larger at 6 years old than both parents were at 15 years old. If Agave ‘Supersize’ waits until age 15 to flower, it could easily reach more massive proportions that any Zone 7b winter hardy agave in existence.
Looking wonderful in the fall garden is the evergreen Choisya ‘Limo’, known commercially as Goldfingers choisya. This gold-leaved selection is from a cross of two Southwest US native shrubs, Choisya arizonica and Choisya ternata, subsequently referred to as Choisya x dewitteana. The genus Choisya is named to honor the late Swiss botanist/philosophy professor Jacques Denis Choisy (1799-1859) This gold-foliaged selection from the UK’s Peter Moore forms a 3′ tall shrub in 5 years.
The fragrant white clusters of axillary flowers adorn the plant starting in April (NC). We have our specimen planted in a full sun rock garden, where it thrives in very well-drained soils. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
A couple of years ago, we made bi-generic crosses of the North American Manfreda maculosa and the naturally occurring hybrid Mexican tuberose, Polianthes x bundrantii ‘Mexican Firecracker’. These fascinating plants were still in full flower prior to our first hard freeze in the last few days. These are images of our top three clones, which we refer to as x Polifreda. Because we used the non-fragrant tuberose species, there is no noticeable aroma, but we opted for a much more diverse flower color range instead.
Hopefully, next year, we can use these to cross with agaves to create a new series of xHanseras. Pollen has been gathered and stored in the refrigerator in case bloom times don’t coincide next year.
We are always interested in checking out the offspring, when plants in the garden have unexpected romantic rendezvous with their distant cousins…often when we least expect it. We have found arums tend to be quite promiscuous in the garden. While most offspring go to the great compost pile in the sky, a few are worthy of adoption and naming.
Below is our selection of a cross of Arum dioscorides x Arum italicum that we named Arum ‘Love Child’. While the foliage resembles typical Arum italicum, the spring-borne flowers show great influence of Arum dioscorides with the purple spotting inside the spathe. It’s our hope that Plant Delights will have a first crop of this new hybrid to share in the 2023 catalog.
The shrubby North American native salvias including Salvia greggii and Salvia microphylla are spectacular plants in the fall garden. The same goes form the hybrids between the two species, known as Salvia x jamensis. Here is our clump of Salvia x jamensis ‘Blast’ looking absolutely stunning in late October. Flowering is heaviest in spring, slowing in summer, but again equaling it’s spring show in fall. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, and possibly a good bit colder.
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.
Our 2016 century plant hybrid is looking quite lovely in the garden this month. This plant, which we named Agave x victorifolia ‘Prince of Whales’, is a hybrid of the Whale’s tongue century plant, Agave ovatifolia (male parent), and the Queen Victoria century plant, Agave victoriae-reginae (female parent).
Since both parents are non-offsetting, this means that the offspring will grow to maturity, flower, then die. Consequently, in order to be able to propagate and share, we will have to drill out the central core of the plant to trick in to offset. While this ruins the appearance of the original, it’s the only way for this to ever be shared and preserved. This plant has been in the ground since 2018, so we expect to have another eight years (guessing) prior to flowering. Consequently, so we’ll probably gamble on waiting a few more years before performing surgery. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
It’s not unusual for ferns to have sex in the wild, even with other species in the same genus. It is, however, unusual for them to have meaningful sex with ferns of an entirely different genus. Such an odd occurrence recently happened in the greenhouses of Louisiana’s James Georgusis.
One night, possibly after a wild Mardi Gras party, a willing Phlebodium got it on with a crested tongue fern of the genus Pyrrosia. The result was a new genus of fern, x Phlebosia. It was adopted and given the cultivar name, ‘Nicolas Diamond’. At least the parents had the good sense to sexually stay within the same family, Polypodiaceae
We planted our first specimens in the garden this February, and so far, it’s growing well. The key will be to see how much winter hardiness it has…fingers crossed. Both parents are pictured below the new hybrid.
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 email@example.com 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’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.
Looking lovely today is the amazing Agave x romanii ‘Shadow Dancer’. This fascinating agave is a man-made hybrid between two Mexican species, Agave filifera and Agave mitis. Not only is it a hybrid, but this selection has a fascinating variegation pattern that’s not seen on any other century plant. The new growth emerges ghostly cream with a muted green border. As the leaves age, they green disappears and the leaves become pure parchment white. Despite the seeming lack of chlorophyll, Agave ‘Shadow Dancer’ has amazingly good vigor and doesn’t burn in full sun. This has potential winter hardiness for Zones 8b and south, but needs more trialing to know for sure. In other climates, it’s a great container specimen.
This spring, one of our flats of Rohdea japonica seedlings turned up with an inordinate number of variegated seedlings. In a flat of approximately 1,000 seedlings, we typically expect 3 – 10 variegated offspring, when the parent plant has white streaking in the middle of the leaf (L2 layer).
All of the variegated seedlings were removed and potted individually last week…all 300 of them. It will be fascinating to see what unique forms result.
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.
Below are two variations on a theme…calla lilies in the garden. Here is Zone 7b, both are reliably winter hardy in the ground.
The striped-leaf selection of the winter-blooming South African native, Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘African Gold’ has looked fabulous all spring, where we have it planted in a seep, which gets full sun for 3-4 hours in the morning.
Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’ is a hybrid, created using several of the summer-flowering South African native calla lily species. Here it is in our garden in mid-June, where it gets 4-6 hours of sun daily, and the soil stays reasonably moist.
One of our favorite ferns is the Lady fern hybrid, Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’. Created in Pittsboro, NC by plantsman Thurman Maness, this patented gem was offered for years through wholesale channels, but sales were not strong enough, so the sole producer discontinued it. So often, great patented plants suddenly become unavailable if sales don’t warrant.
In Europe, any grower can petition the PVR office to request permission to propagate such protected plants, but no such program exists in the US. Fortunately, Thurman has generously granted us permission to propagate his amazing introduction and make it available. That said, division is a very slow way to make ferns available, but since this hybrid between Athyrium filix-femina and Athyrium nipponicum is sterile, it’s our only option.
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.
If you’re able to visit during this years spring open house, it will be hard to miss the look of love in the air. We have a record 20 century plants in spike in the garden…a number far surpassing any flowering record we’ve set previously.
Agaves are a genus of mostly monocarpic plants…they live their entire lives to flower once, then after experiencing a giant-sized orgasm, they fall over dead. In the wild, many species take up to 100 years to flower, which is why the name century plant stuck as a common name. In our more rainy climate, our century plants typically flower in 12-15 years. Several of our current crop are actually less than a decade old, but their enormous size has already been achieved, so they’re ready to reproduce.
Some species of agaves offset, and in this case, only then central rosette dies, and the offsets continue as is the case with bromeliads. Those agave species which never offset are one-and-dones, but hopefully will leave behind a plethora of seed for the next generation. From the start of the spikes to full flower is usually about 8 weeks. Below are a few of our babies in spike.
Arum are a fascinating genus of hardy aroids, known by most gardeners from a single southern European species, Arum italicum. The most popular cultivar of Arum italicum is Arum ‘Marmoratum’. The key to enjoying arums is to not let the seed drop everywhere, since you can get easily get over-arumed. Flowering season is now, followed by seed season. Each seedling has a different pattern from the original, so it’s a personal preference whether to remove seed or not.
Arum apulum is a little-know species that is rarely seen in cultivation, native only to a small region of Southern Italy. Our flowering plants in the garden now are from a wild collection made by a plant explorer friend.
Below is an interesting hybrid between Arum italicum (central to southern continental Europe) and Arum dioscorides (Mediterranean). Arum italicum has patterned leaves, but solid green flowers. Arum dioscoridis has solid green leaves and spotted flowers. The hybrid, Arum ‘Chui’ is an introduction from UK plantsman John Grimshaw. We added the notospecific (hybrid) name Arum x diotalicum. These hybrids have both spotted/speckled leaves and flowers.
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.
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.
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.
Below are more of the Ice n’ Roses snow roses flowering now in the gardens at JLBG. These amazing sterile hybrids were created in Germany by the Heuger plant breeding company. They have proven fabulous in our trials, but are still often difficult to find due to the screwy production cycle.
Because these snow roses, as Heuger calls them, are clonal and sterile, they can only be commercially produced by tissue culture, which is all done overseas. The non-rooted microplants are shipped in sterile containers to the US, where they are received at rooting stations (nurseries capable of putting roots on these microplants).
There are only three North American rooting stations used by Heuger, one in Canada, and one on each of the US coasts. Once the microplants have roots and have grown large enough, they are purchased by finish growers, who pot and grow them for 2-3 months before they are a saleable size.
For a finish grower or retail nursery to have plants available to sell in late winter or early spring, they would need to receive liners (small plants with roots) from the rooting stations in September/October. The problem is that these rooting stations usually get their unrooted microplants from overseas in fall, when their losses are less and the plants finish faster.
Consequently, these rooting stations only have plants available for the finish growers from February – April. This means that the finish grower and retailer will only have plants ready to sell at the beginning of summer, which is certainly not ideal unless you live in the northern tier of states or Canada.
The only option a finished grower has is to hold the plants through the summer and fall, to have them available in the late winter flowering season. This drives up the crop cost dramatically, since a nursery has an overhead cost per square foot per month of growing space. Until a change is dictated by the grower throughout the supply chain, it is unlikely that the supply will be able to keep up with the potential demand. Anyone think making plants available is easy?
One of many great attributes of mangaves, compared to one of their parents, agaves, is that they don’t die after flowering. Agaves are mostly monocarpic, which mean that they behave like bromeliads, where each rosette grows to maturity, then dies after flowering. Those species of agave which offset, live on after flowering, by means of un-flowered offsets. Those agave species which don’t offset are a one and done after they flower and reproduce by reseeding.
By incorporating manfreda genes to create xMangaves, the monocarpic trait disappears. After a mangave flowers, it dies to the ground, but like a good zombie, it soon pops back from the dead. Here is a current photo from the garden of two clumps of xMangave ‘Blue Mammoth’. The first, larger clump has not flowered, but should do so next year. The second clump with all the offsets, flowered in 2020, and re-grew to this point in 2021. Next year, the rosettes will continue to re-grow in size.
We are just loving our hardy hybrid cycads in the garden this time of year, and here are two we photographed this week. The first is Cycas x bifungensis (bifida x taitungensis), and the second is Cycas x panziholuta (panzhihuanensis x revoluta). We have found that hybrids between hardy species are even more winter hardy than the species themselves. Hardiness for both is probably Zone 7b and south.