Casting About

Over the last few years, we’ve been growing more and more aspidistra (cast iron plants) from seed in the garden. Here are a few of our more interesting seedlings. The first is from our search for a narrow-leaf selection of the common Aspidistra elatior, which has been christened A. ‘Thin Man’. The second is a streaked and spotted form that we named A. ‘Zodiac’. The third is a yet un-named seedling from Aspidistra ‘Snow Cap’. Surprisingly, the white leaf tip trait comes consistently true from seed.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Thin Man;
Aspidistra elatior ‘Zodiac’
Aspidistra elatior JLBG-035

Sibling rivalry

As a plant breeder, one of the cool things we get to do is observe the diversity that arises from a single cross. In some cases, the diversity shows up in the first generation (F1), while in other cases, the first set of offspring need to have sex with each other for the diversity in the offspring to reveal itself (Mendelian genetics). Fortunately, with agaves, we can see quite a bit of diversity in the F1 populations.

Below is a cross we call Agave x amourifolia, which is our cross of Agave ovatifolia, pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox of Hort.), and lophantha. Here are three of our selected seedlings from that cross.

Plant #1 below is showing the large size of Agave x pseudoferox and the color of Agave ovatifolia (blue), with little visible influence of the narrow leaf, yellow-centered Agave lophantha.

Agave x amourifolia

Plant #2 below show more color influence from Agave x pseudoferox, but with the compact form influence of Agave ovatifolia.

Agave x amourifolia

Plant #3 below shows equal parts Agave x pseudoferox and ovatifolia, but also, what appears some leaf narrowing we would expect from Agave lophantha.

Agave x amourifolia

Below is Agave x flexiferox, created from a cross of the small Agave flexispina x the giant pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox (Hort.). Plant #1 shows the small size of Agave flexispina, with the greenish coloration of Agave x pseudoferox.

Agave x flexiferox

Below, Agave x flexiferox ‘Megalodon’ shows the larger size and overall coloration from Agave x pseudoferox, with some added blue tones from Agave flexispina.

Agave x flexiferox ‘Megalodon’

Below is Agave x victoferox, a cross of Agave victoriae-reginae x pseudoferox. Plant #1 below shows the form and size of Agave victoriae-reginae with the color of Agave x psedoferox.

Agave x victorferox

Hybrid #2 below shows the teeth from Agave x psedoferox (victoriae-reginae has no teeth), and a size intermediate between the two parents.

Agave x victorferox 2

Hybrid #3 below shows a larger size and more teeth due to more genes from Agave x pseudoferox. The teeth are much smaller because of the Agave victoriae-reginae genes. The splendid compact form also comes from the Agave x victoriae-reginae parent. This cross almost resembles the Northern Mexican Agave montana.

Agave x victorferox 3

We hope this gives you a small peek into the world of plant breeding and the subsequent evaluation and selection process.

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up

This summer, two of our spiking clumps of Agave ovatifolia became dislodged from the ground during a violent thunderstorm. We wondered if they would still set viable seed despite being without roots, since the energy built up from 15 years of growth was still in the foliage. We made several crosses without having to set up a ladder and it appears that we’ve got good seed set. Nature is amazingly in its desire to survive.

Delerium in the Garden

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.

Four long weeks!

Last year, we were thrilled when one of our cycads produced a female cone…a first for JLBG. We subsequently impregnated it with pollen supplied from the garden of one or our former volunteers, Mike Papay. Our plant produced a great seed crop (56 seed), which was recently planted.

As a point of reference, I should mention that cycads are dioecious…each plant is either male or female. The genus cycas is one of the oldest known surviving plant genera, having emerged between 250 and 350 million years ago, when it diverged from ginkgos. Cycas, having been around for a very long time, also have supercharged, swimming sperm…a trait not seen in modern plants.

This year, we welcomed our first male cycad to cone. The first photo was taken 1 month prior to the second photo, so it’s taken that long for this males’ cone to grow from a tiny bulge to be ready to spread its pollen (sperm). Since we don’t have any flowering females in the garden this year, we’re shipping off the pollen to a palm and cycad breeder in Georgia. This afternoon, we used the Lorena Bobbitt technique to sever its cone, which is now boxed (bottom image) and leaving town before the plant rights groups find out.

America Held Hosta

There’s a reason hostas are the #1 perennial in the US. The incredible diversity of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors are one, combined with the array of climates in which they thrive. It’s long been rumored that hostas don’t grow well here in Zone 7b, but that simply isn’t the case if you prepare your soil properly (lots of compost) and allow for plenty of summer moisture.

Below are a few hosta cultivars that are looking particularly nice this week at JLBG. Of course, the proverbial deer-in-the-room is that hosta make quite the tasty buffet for both humans and wood rats. Deer fences and organic sprays all work, but the breakthrough will come when CRISPR technology is used to implant the Capsaicin (pepper) gene in hostas, rendering them too hot for most deer.

Here are a few of our favorites this week. Hosta ‘California Gold Rush’ has shown incredible vigor.

Hosta ‘California Gold Rush’

Love the over-the-top waviness of Hosta ‘Wheee!’

Hosta ‘Wheee!’

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’ has it all…vigor, size, ruffles, a nice flower show, and great leaf coloration. Did I mentioned that it’s also very sun tolerant if the soil is moist?

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’

Hosta ‘Coast to Coast’ is also very sun tolerant with amazingly corrugated leaves and great vigor on a fairly large clump.


Hosta ‘Coast to Coast’

Hosta ‘Do Wap’ is one of our yet to be introduced hybrids from our work to create blue hostas that hold the color well into the summer.

Hosta ‘Do Wap’

Hosta ‘Pie ala Mode’ didn’t get a lot of fanfare when it was introduced, but this has been exceptional in our gardens at JLBG. Hope these entice you to explore this amazing genus.

Hosta ‘Pie ala Mode’

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’

Striptease in the Succulents

Agave x striphantha ‘Striptease’ is a JLBG creation from a 2013 cross of Agave striata and Agave lophantha. Both parents are 30 year survivors here in the garden, so we wanted to see what a combination of genes looked like. Also, Agave striata is the only hardy agave species, whose main crown doesn’t die after flowering. So far, this gem is 3′ wide, and like the Agave striata parent, it offsets from the crown and doesn’t sucker like Agave lophantha. It’s looking like a flower spike may be imminent, so perhaps we’ll have our flowering question answered soon.

Another Giant Monster

A few years ago, we introduced one of our Japanese painted fern sporlings of particularly giant proportions as Athyrium ‘Godzilla’. Recently, we found ourselves in search of another giant monster name for our new hybrid of Osmunda regalis (US) and Osmunda japonica (Japan). We settled on Osmunda x japalis ‘King Kong’ for this 7′ tall giant that we hope to one day share with gardeners around the world. For now, however, it remains a single, rather impressive clump in the gardens here at JLBG.

New Notocactus

Several of our volunteers have dabbled with cactus breeding, so here is one of the hybrids we’re currently enjoying at JLBG, thanks to the creative efforts of Mike Papay. The top image is the female parent, Notocactus ottonis (yellow). The middle image is the male parent, Notocactus herteri var. roseoluteus (pink). The bottom image is the new hybrid, Notocactus x hertonis (peachy orange).

Notocactus ottonis
Notocactus herteri var. roseoluteus
Notocactus x hertonis