Randy Ferns

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.

x Phlebosia ‘Nicolas Diamond’ PP 30,873
Phlebodium pseudoaureum
Pyrrosia lingua crested

Goodbye Champ!

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’s home sarracenia collection
Sarracenia ‘Red Bug’

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 donorrelations@fftc.org 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.

Mid-Summer Surprises

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.

Lycoris field trials @ JLBG
Lycoris field trials @ JLBG

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 longituba ‘Early Riser’
Lycoris longituba ‘Trumpeteer’

Lycoris chinensis is a spring-leafed species with bright gold/orange-gold flowers. There is little variability in the color of this species.

Lycoris chinensis ‘Piedmont Gold’

Lycoris sprengeri, whose foliage emerges in spring, is the only pink flowered species, almost always with a blue petal tip.

Lycoris sprengeri ‘Soft Cloud’

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 radiata ‘Fourth of July’
Lycoris radiata with white pollen

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 aurea ‘Landing Pad’

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.

Lycoris aurea var. traubii

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 albiflora ‘Yellow Cream’

Lycoris x caldwellii, named after the late Lycoris breeder, Sam Caldwell, is a hybrid between the spring-leafed species, Lycoris longituba and Lycoris chinensis.

Lycoris x caldwellii ‘Gold Crown’

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 rosea ‘August Red’
Lycoris x rosea ‘August Rose’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Berry Awesome’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Cherry Crush’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Cotton Candy’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Magenta Magic’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Mini Me’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Natsu no Odoriko’

Lycoris x rosensis is a hybrid between the fall-leafed hybrid above, Lycoris x rosea and the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis.

Lycoris x rosensis ‘Colorama’
Lycoris x rosensis ‘Three Towers Mirroring the Moon’

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 sprengensis ‘Lemon Cheescake’

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

Lycoris x straminea ‘Caldwell’s Original’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Gennen’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Peach Chiffon’

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 x straminea ‘Peach Taffy’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Peach Taffy’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Strawberry Lemonade’

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).

Lycoris ‘Peppermint’

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.

Crinum Time Again

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 ‘High on Peppermint’

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 ‘Superliscious’

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.

Crinum ‘Southern Star’

Yucc’ing it up

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.

Afternoon Delights

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 ‘Razzleberry’

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.

Crinum stamen and pistil

Crinum stamen and pistil

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.

Nectar ant interstate highway

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.

Crinum seed pods

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.

Crinum seed after pod is opened

Purple Pride

If you’re like us, you never have enough purple-foliage plants in your landscape, so we’re always on the lookout for something new. One of our finds a few years back is this purple-leaf plum from our friend Dr. Dave Creech in Texas. Prunus ‘Purple Pride’, which Dave and his staff at Stephen F. Austin State University discovered, is a seedling of the widespread native, Chickasaw plum, Prunus angustifolia, with an unknown suitor.

Many purple-leaf trees loose their color during the summer, but not Prunus ‘Purple Pride’. Our specimen at JLBG, pictured below is 4 years old. We have also not seen any sign of diseases, which often plague many domesticated prunus. This should top out around 12′ in height and 15′ in width. Supposedly, our tree will fruit eventually, and reportedly, the fruit are rather tasty. Hardiness is Zone 7a and warmer.

Shadow Dancer

Looking lovely today is the amazing Agave x romanii ‘Shadow Dancer’. This fascinating agave is a manmade 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.

Very Variegated

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.

More Amorphas

The genus amorpha is a woody cousin to the better know genus baptisia in the Fabaceae (pea) family. Amorpha was named a genus by Linnaeus (perhaps you’ve heard of him) because the flowers only have a single petal, compared to 5, which is the norm in the rest of the family. Virtually all amorphas have many uses, from dyes to treating an array of medical conditions. There is an amorpha native in every one of the Continental United States…how many do you grow?

Our longstanding favorite member of the genus is the Midwest native Amorpha canescens, which makes a stunning, compact deciduous shrub, adorned in late spring with amazing, pollinator friendly flower spikes.

Amorpha canescens
Amoropha canescens

While we had our back turned, one of our Amorpha canescens got jiggy with a nearby Amorpha fruticosa, and the baby below, discovered by our staff, has now been adopted by us, and named Amorpha x frutescens. We actually might have some of these show up in the spring Plant Delights catalog.

Amorpha x frutescens (fruticosa x canescens)

Another amazing Southeast US (NC to FL) native species we like is Amorpha herbacea. Although it is rarely available, we think this has exceptional garden value and will most like show up in the Plant Delights catalog in the coming years.

Amorpha herbacea

How about those Hipps!

Flowering this week is one of our favorite hippeastrum…what lay people call amaryllis. We think Hippeastrum ‘Germa’ is one of the finest yellow-flowered hybrids ever created for southern gardens. Sadly, this 1995 Len Doran hybrid (Hippeastrum parodii x aglaiae x evansiae) is rarely available any longer. We’ve had our garden specimen growing since 2000. Unlike many cultivars, Hippeastrum ‘Germa’ is a woodland plant.

For Crinum Out Loud

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.

Crinum ‘Americana’
Crinum ‘Floral Bouquet’
Crinum ‘Happy Times’
Crinum JLBG21-01
Crinum ligulatum ‘Shooting Stars’
Crinum macowanii ‘Flowerama’
Crinum ‘Merry Me’
Crinum ‘Out Loud’
Crinum ‘Passionate Kisses’

Awaken the Kraken

A few weeks ago, we posted images of the flower spike of our Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’ just beginning to spike. Now, the giant beast is in full flower. The first photo below is the plant with its full expanded stalk in full bud, just prior to opening. After that, each image shows the progression of the flower development.

Agaves are monocarpic, so those species like Agave ovatifolia that do not make offsets will die after flowering. Agave ovatifolia is, however, one of a handful of species that usually forms baby plantlets on the tip of flowers stalk after seed set.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

First flowers just beginning to open

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

We set up our Little Giant ladder, which allows us to climb up, collect pollen and to make crosses with other agaves.

The lower flower clusters open first and flowering continues to progress each day moving higher up the stalk.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Climbing the ladder gives you a bird’s eye view of the amazing buds as they are ready to open…usually 200-300 per panicle.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Below is a half-open flower panicle. The pollen is ripe before the stigma is ready to receive pollen, so pollen can be easily gathered without worry of self pollination.

Below is a fully open flower panicle. Each panicle weighs 5-10 pounds. No wonder the stalk needs to be so sturdy. Once the temperature warms in the morning, the flowers are abuzz with pollinators…mostly bees.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Looking down from above the flower panicle makes a pretty crazy photo

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Our intern Zoe is working with our volunteer agave curator, Vince Schneider to gather pollen and make crosses with other previously gathered agave pollen

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

I usually don’t climb this high…a fear of heights, but this photo opportunity was just too good to resist

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’

Adding Vulgarity to the Garden

We love “vulgar” plants, which are good for providing unexpected shrieks from garden visitors. One of our favorite plants for evoking such moments is the European native, Dracunculus vulgaris. For those who took Latin in school, you’ll know that the English translation of the Latin name is Vulgar Dragon’s Butt. This fascinating spring ephemeral is native to very rocky, dry sites in the Southwest corner of Turkey, the Aegean Island (inc. Greece), and into the Balkans.

Virtually all of the material in commerce, which comes from the Turkish populations, are the red spathe/purple spadix form. Once you move to Crete, the inflorescences take on a different color theme with blends of white in spathe, and spadices which range from black to yellow. Below are a few which flowered at JLBG this spring.

We inherited the work of the late aroid researcher Alan Galloway, who actively hybridized dracunculus in an attempt to study the genetics as well as create new color forms for gardeners. Once final selections are made, these will require tissue culture for reproduction. Without tissue culture (dividing plants with a tiny knife), commercial quantities could never be obtained. Wish us luck!

Dracunculus vulgaris typical purple form
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Phallic Blush’
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘White Rhino’

African Gold and Picasso

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.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’

Oldham’s Azalea

Few gardeners have probably grown the Taiwanese Rhododendron oldhamii, but this little-known species has become one of the most important azaleas in American horticulture. Here it is flowering in our garden in late spring. Then will be followed by a late summer/fall rebloom.

Rhododendron oldhamii was named for British plant explorer Richard Oldham (1837-1864). Here’s a fascinating summary of Oldham’s life/work. Despite dying at the young age of 27, Oldham made significant contributions to botany, including the rhododendron (azalea) named in his honor.

In the early 1980s, Louisiana nurseryman, Buddy Lee decided to see if the fall reblooming trait of Rhododendron oldhamii would transfer to its offspring. Indeed they did, and because of Richard Oldham his namesake azalea, and Buddy’s imagination, we now have an entire series of reblooming azaleas, known as the Encore azaleas.

Fury of the Ocean

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.

Those tricky plant names

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.

Rooting for Buckeyes

Here are a few of the many buckeyes that are looking good at JLBG this spring.

Aesculus pavia is native from Illinois south to Texas and east to Florida. Hardiness is Zone 4-8.

Aesculus pavia

The European Aesculus hippocastanum has thrived for us, despite most sources claiming we are too hot in the summer. Aesculus ‘Hampton Court Gold’ emerges with ghostly yellow foliage for an amazing spring show.

Aesculus hippocastanum ‘Hampton Court Gold’

Aesculus x carnea is a hybrid of the European Aesculus hippocastanum and the American Aesculus pavia. This cross was first discovered in Europe in 1812. It is quite stunning in our garden as you can see. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.

Aesculus x carnea ‘Variegata’

The dwarf form of Aesculus glabra only occurs in a small region of Northern Alabama/Georgia. Mature size is 5-6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 5-9.

Aesculus glabra var. nana

Aesculus sylvatica is one of our oldest buckeye specimens in the garden. This species is native from Virginia to Alabama. Hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.

Aesculus sylvatica

Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’ is Jeremy Schmidt’s discovery of an amazing seedling of Aesculus sylvatica that emerges rosy red, then changes to orange, before aging to green for the summer. When it gets a bit larger, we will try to propagate this so we can share.

Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’

Sweet little Bunchkin

Looking great in the gardens this week is our 2021 introduction of Baptisia ‘Blue Bunchkin’ (available again in 2023). Baptisias are North American native perennials and are equally at home in a bone dry site or as a marginal aquatic…as long as they get at least 4-6 hours of sun daily. Hardiness in Zone 4a-9b.

Take a peek inside our baptisia breeding and trial beds with Tony.

Baptisia Blue Bunchkin’
Baptisia ‘Blue Bunchkin’

A Pitcher of Flowers

Here is a small sampling of the amazing array of flowers that are in the garden currently (late April/early May) on our pitcher plants. The genus Sarracenia is native to North America and hails from Canada south to Florida, where they are found in seasonally damp bogs. In the garden or in containers, they are incredibly easy to grow as long as they have moist toes (roots), and dry ankles (base where the crown meets the roots). Winter hardiness varies based on the species, but most are hardy from zone 5a to 9b.

Sarracenia JLBG-14 (rubra x alata)
Sarracenia JLBG18-06 (harperi ex)
Sarracenia JLBG19-031
Sarracenia Leah Wilkerson
Sarracenia leucophylla ‘Unstained Glass’
Sarracenia ‘Pretty in Pink’
Sarracenia ‘Redman’
Sarracenia ‘Spade’
Sarracenia x catesbyi ‘Sea Creature’

To Cercis with Love

A couple of our favorite native redbud selections looking exceptional after flowering today…Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’ and ‘Golden Falls’…both from the breeding work of NCSU plant breeder, Dennis Werner.

Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’
Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’

The Look of Love

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.

Agave ovatifolia ‘Vanzie’
Agave x ovatispina ‘Blue Arrows’
Agave lophantha JLBG-01
Agave x loferox JLBG-014
Agave x pseudoferox JLBG-176

Arum world

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 italicum ‘Marmoratum’

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.

Arum apulum

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.

Arum x diotalicum

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.

White Spring

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.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’
Exochorda ‘Blizzard’

A Forest of Pink

Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ put on a splendid show this year in early to mid-March. Sold as a cultivar of the Chinese Magnolia denudata, some magnolia experts insist that it’s actually a hybrid, due to the intensity of the pink color as well as the form of the plant.

Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ originated as an introduction from Treseder’s Nursery in Cornwall, England, who propagated and named it from an original introduction from China by Scottish botanist, George Forrest (1873 – 1932), that was growing at England’s Caerhays Castle.

Magnolia denudata, a typically white-flowered species, native to Central China, has been cultivated around Buddhist monasteries since 618 AD…in other words, nearly 1,500 years. Another long-cultivated Chinese native magnolia with pink flowers and an overlapping native range is Magnolia liliiflora. The commonly known hybrids of the two species are known as the Magnolia x soulangeana hybrids. Since plant explorer George Forest was known to collect both in the wild as well in cultivated areas, it is quite probably that the magnolia that bears his name is not pure Magnolia denudata, but actually a Magnolia x soulangeana hybrid. Looks like someone will need to do some DNA work to sort out this nomenclatural tussle.

Whatever you want to call it, our 25 year-old specimen of Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ was rather stunning this March. Thankfully, the flowering was mostly complete before our mid-March freeze of 23 degrees F.

Happy Weeper

Prunus ‘Pink Cascades’ is a recent introduction from NC State’s Tom Ranney. This strict weeper can be staked to any desired height, then allowed to trail from there. Here are our stunning two year-old plants this March, grafted at 4′ tall. The plants have already reached 11′ in width on the way to 20′ – 30′ wide.

Raisin’ Cain

I had a great visit recently with David Cain and Denny Werner. Most of you know Dr. Werner from his work at NC State, first as a peach breeder and later as the creator of a parade of amazing redbud hybrids.

David and Denny were both grad students together back at Michigan State. Dr. Cain went on to become a fruit breeder, and is the papa of the incredibly famous Cotton Candy grape. On the off chance you haven’t tried it, be sure to search for it at your local grocery store. David worked in academia and later the USDA, before embarking on his own venture, where he made several incredible fruit breeding breakthroughs.

I didn’t realize David is a long-time plant nerd and Plant Delights customer, and has recently moved from California to the East Coast for his next plant breeding adventure. We had a blast talking plant breeding and looking at a few of our crazy breeding projects at JLBG.

Canary Treasure

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.

Ice n’ Roses Dilemma

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).

Helleborus x glandorfensis ‘Ice n’ Roses Pink’

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.

Helleborus x glandorfensis ‘Ice n’ Roses Red’

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?

Helleborus x glandorfensis ‘Ice n’ Roses White’

Snowgaves

We’ve “enjoyed” frozen precipitation for three consecutive weekends this winter, with one producing a decent 3.5″ snow. There’s something magnetic about snow on century plants, that makes you grab your camera and snap away.

The white of the snow looks out of place on an agave, although it does wonders for accenting the architectural structure of the plant. We have worked for 35 years to identify and create agaves which are completely tolerant of such weather events. Below are a couple of our hybrids, created here at JLBG.

Agave x amourifolia
Agave x loferox

Garden hookups

We always love it when unexpected garden hookups yield unexpected results, and such was the case recently when, under the cover of darkness, two of our holly ferns took a liking to each other. The result of this conjugal interlude is our first hybrid of Cyrtomium fortunei x Cyrtomium falcatum, that we’ve named Cyrtomium x fortatum Spornication. The habit of the hybrid is intermediate between both parents. Now, we’ve just got to figure out how to get it propagated in order to share.

Cyrtomium x fortatum Spornication

Christmas Rose

Helleborus niger ‘Jesko’, aka: Christmas rose, has been looking fabulous in the woodland garden since late December. We find light, open shade results in the best flowering.

Following right behind Helleborus niger in our garden is Helleborus x ballardiae ‘Cinnamon Snow’…a hybrid with Helleborus niger. This is a photo from New Year’s day.

Too Straight and Narrow

It’s always interesting when we introduce a plant we think is an incredible addition to the garden, but virtually no one purchases it. Thank goodness, it doesn’t happen too often, but I’m reminded of one such case every day when I get home and admire our row of Agave x striateosa ‘Straight and Narrow’. This 2015 introduction was the first ever hybrid introduction of Agave bracteosa and Agave striata…both non-spiny century plants.

We couldn’t stand to throw out all the plants that didn’t sell, so we planted a row under a wide overhang along our home, where they never see any water, and are in shade for more than half the day. Here is one of those plants five years later, providing a texture and form that you simply can’t find with any other plants that tolerates those conditions.

We have a second seedling from the same cross, which we’ve never been able to share, but which flowered in 2015. Despite our best attempts, we were not able to get any seed set. Now, we await the first flowering of this clone in the hopes it is more fertile, so we can create some more unusual hybrids. Unlike most century plants, Agave striata is not monocarpic (doesn’t die after flowering), so we expect this hybrid to also live on in perpetuity after flowering. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10, at least.

Agave x striateosa ‘Straight and Narrow’

Mangave zombies

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.

Cycad-o-Rama

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.

Cycas x bifungensis
Cycas x panziholuta

Fall Farfugiums

One of our favorite fall woodland plants is a member of the Aster family, belonging to the genus farfugium. Farfugiums have long had a bit of an identity crisis, as they were originally named in 1767 by Linnaeus as Tussilago japonicum. In 1768, the same plant was also published as Arnica tussilaginea. Then, in 1784, it was moved to the genus, senecio, and became Senecio japonicus.

Later in 1891, it was renamed again, this time as Senecio tussilagineus. It remained in the genus senecio until 1904, when it moved to the genus Ligularia, and became Ligularia tussilaginea. Here it remained until 1939, when it became Farfugium tussilagineum, but corrected the same year to match Linnaeus’s original epithet, resulting in Farfugium japonicum, which it remains today.

Below is our plant of the typical species, Farfugium japonicum in flower at JLBG this week. Through the decades, we have been collecting an array of other forms. Light open shade or a tiny bit of morning sun and average to slightly moist soils produce the best results.

Farfugium japonicum

Farfugium ‘Roundabout Fall’ is our selection of a hybrid with our Taiwanese collection Farfugium japonicum var. formosanum and the typical form. We like the smaller, thick, rounded leaf shape.

Farfugium japonicum ‘Roundabout Fall’

Farfugium ‘Jagged Edge’ is another upcoming JLBG/PDN introduction, scheduled for a 2023 release. It forms one of the larger clumps of any farfugium cultivars we’ve grown.

Farfugium japonicum ‘Jagged Edge’

Farfugium ‘Bashi Ogi’ is the only cultivar we know of Farfugium japoncium var. luchuense. This rare variety hails from Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands of Okinawa and Kagoshima. It differs in appearance by being a much smaller plant with leaves which are wider than tall. Here is our plant flowering now here at JLBG.

Farfugium japonicum ‘Bashi Ogi’

For 2022, Plant Delights will introduce JLBG’s first selection of Farfugium japonicum var. luchuense, that we’ve named Farfugium ‘Sweet Spot’. It’s a miniature seed selection from the above Farfugium ‘Bashi Ogi’, that only gets a few inches tall, so will make a great house plant, where it isn’t winter hardy.

Blackburn’s Palm

We love plant mysteries, and Sabal ‘Blackburniana’ fits the bill nicely. This pass-along seed strain has been considered by some to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor, while others consider it to be synonymous with Sabal palmetto, yet others consider it to be Sabal domingensis. Whatever it is, our plant is looking quite good in the garden. After growing it, unscathed, since 2008, we finally decided to propagate some for the upcoming Plant Delights catalog. If you know any more historical background about this curiosity, please share.

The Purple Passion Mystery

Last year, we saw a listing for a new Mangave, M. ‘Purple Passion’ on the availability of a West Coast liner producer, so we ordered some to try. It was immediately evident when we unpacked the shipment, that the plants didn’t look anything like a mangave, nor did what we received match the image that the supplier had on their website.

As we dug deeper, we found that the supplier had misappropriated a mangave image from another wholesaler and was using it for the plant we purchased, desptie the two looking nothing alike. Once the image issue was remedied, we set out trying to track down the origin of this strange plant, which looked more like a steamrolled eucomis than a mangave.

The supplier sent us to their supposed source, who had never heard of the plant in question. For six months, we have chased down one lead after another, contacting all of the well-known plant breeders of these type of plants on the West Coast. All dead ends.

Examining the plant in our garden this summer, it occurred to us that the unusual leaf netting must have come from a beschorneria. Comparing the foliage netting of ‘Purple Passion’ to beschornerias in our garden yielded a perfect match, except for the leaf color. The only plant which could have been crossed with a beschorneria to give such leaf color is a manfreda. Hence, our conclusion that our plant is in fact a new bi-generic hybrid, x Beschfreda ‘Purple Passion’ (beschorneria x manfreda).

Since we don’t know which species of beschorneria was used, we are uncertain about potential winter hardiness, but with plants in the ground now, all we need to do is wait for cold weather. Below is a photo of the plant in the garden this week. If you happen to know more of the backstory of this fascinating plant, please let us know.

The Monkey’s Puzzle

Back in 2010, Plant Delights made a limited offering of a hybrid monkey puzzle tree…a cross of Araucaria araucana x angustifolia, which we hoped would have the hardiness of A. araucana and the moisture tolerance of A. angustifolia. Well, a decade later, here is the result…exactly what we’ve hoped for. Our tree is now about 45′ tall.

Sadly, no seed has ever been available again, but our tree is finally coning, as is its sister, growing at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Fingers crossed that we get seed set and can off this gem again.

Sex for the Centuries

Since we are limited in the number of hardy century plant species, our only option for more agave diversity in the garden is to create it by crossing existing hardy species together. Here are a few of our recent successes.

Agave x amourifolia is a Plant Delights/JLBG creation from a cross we made in 2016 that combined the genes of three century plants, Agave ovatifolia, Agave lophantha, and Agave x pseudoferox ‘Logan Calhoun’. Our size estimates were that the offspring would mature at 3′ tall x 5′ wide. Here is one of our garden specimens photographed this week, which has already reached 2′ tall x 3′ wide.

Agave x amourifolia

Below is Agave x ovox, a 2017 cross of the two giants, Agave ovatifolia and Agave x pseudoferox ‘Bellville’. We expect this to get huge…perhaps 5′ tall x 10′ wide.

Agave x ovox ‘Large Ox’

Below is Agave x protifolia is a 2016 Mike Papay cross of Agave x protamericana x Agave ovatifolia. We also expect this to get quite massive.

Agave x protifolia

Below is Agave x ovatispina ‘Blue Arrows’, a 2016 Mike Papay cross of Agave ovatifolia x Agave flexispina. We would have expected this to be a mature size, but it’s achieved this in only 5 years, so we think we’re seeing some serious hybrid vigor.

Agave x ovatispina ‘Blue Arrows’

Below is Agave x ocareginae, our 2016 cross of Agave ovatifolia x Agave victoriae-reginae. Most likely, this elegant small grower will never offset.

Agave x ocareginae

Below is Agave x schuphantha, a 2015 Mike Papay cross involving three century plant species, Agave schidigera, Agave lophantha, and Agave lechuguilla. It’s formed a beautiful, symmentrical rosette, which should be getting close to mature size.

Agave x schuphantha ‘Wheel of Fortune’

Vilmorin’s Oak

Outside of the nerdy members of the International Oak Society, few gardeners have ever heard of Quercus x vilmoriniana. This spectacular oak is a hybrid between the Asian Quercus dentata and the European Quercus petraea. Quercus x vilmoriniana has been known in European gardens since 1894, but is rarely seen in US gardens. The hybrid is named for the late French botanist Maurice Leveque de Vilmorin.

Our 20′ tall specimen at JLBG was planted in 2012 and has developed not only superb foliage, but splendid deeply-fissured bark. There is an old specimen at Cornell in NY, so it shows good cold tolerance in addition to loving our hot, sweaty summers. We have sown acorns from our plant, and if they grow, we will make this available though the Southeastern Plant Symposium Rare Plant Auction in June.

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.

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’

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

When is a May Apple no longer a May Apple?

Back in 2009, the since deceased Delaware Valley plantsman, Jim McClements, shared a may apple hybrid he’d created by crossing the US native Podophyllum peltatum with the Chinese native Podophyllum pleianthum. The offspring was named Podophyllum x inexpectum ‘Ruby Ruth’ (after his second wife). Our plant spent years in a much too dry a garden location until we relocated it to a bog setting alongside pitcher plants. Finally this year, we got our first flowers…a lovely bright red. Now the dilemma is that some Chinese researchers consider their may apple not to be a podophllum at all, but instead a sister genus, Dysosma. If we buy into that theory, then our plant becomes a bigeneric hybrid that will need a new nothogeneric name, either x Dysophyllum or x Podososma. After growing most of the growable species, I’m having a hard time supporting the idea of two separate genera, but we’ll see.

Sex in the Pulpit

After being told several years ago that creating interspecific hybrids of arisaema (Jack-in-the-Pulpit) was virtually impossible, we started our own breeding program. Here are a few of our creations from our Contrarian Frankestein Lab that are looking quite nice this week.

Arisaema x heterburgii ‘Black Snake’ (heterophyllum x thunbergii)
Arisaema x heteroguineum ‘Pirate Sail’ (heterophyllum x consanguineum)
Arisaema x trigesii ‘Neptune’ (triphyllum x fargesii)