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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Looking really lovely in the garden now is Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Daub’s Frosted’. This selection of the hybrid between Juniperus sabina and Juniperus chinensis was introduced by Oregon’s Mitsch Nursery in 1987. Our 18″ tall patch has spread to 10′ wide in less than 5 years. All of those trusted on-line sources say it matures between 5 and 6′ wide…Ooops.
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.
A couple of years ago, we were thrilled to acquire seed of Euphorbia ‘Rubicund’ from the Hardy Plant Society seed exchange. That little-known clone is a selection from a cross of Euphorbia myrsinites x E. rigida made by Rhode Island’s Issima Nursery. While the clone doesn’t come true from seed, we love our offspring and look forward to seeing what our seed crop from the plant below will have in store.
For this hybrid, we’ve settled on the nothospecific name E. x myrsida, going forward. Over 15 years ago, we acquired a similar cross from California salvia guru, Betsy Clebsch, but we unfortunately let our plant get shaded out. Both plants we’ve grown of this cross produced much larger seed heads with a form similar to both parents. It has been stunning in our our rock garden for the last month. Hardiness is probably Zone 6a-8b.
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.
The earliest of the lenten roses, Helleborus x hybridus, have just opened. Depending on the genetics of each clone, they will continue to open until mid-March. Flowering on each variety continues for many weeks to over a month if the temperatures remain cool. Only a few weeks remain before our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, when you can visit and see these first hand in the garden, and even select your own flowering plants from our on-site nursery, Plant Delights.
Looking and smelling scrumptious in the garden today is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Peel’. This splendid hybrid of Hamamelis mollis (China) x Hamamelis japonica (Japan) comes from Belgium’s Kalmthout Arboretum. I don’t know that I’ve ever smelled a witch hazel this sweet.
One of the nice surprises after our 11 degree F freeze was how well our Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ fared. Few people on the US East Coast are familiar with these South American woody members of the Escalloniaceae family.
Escallonia ‘Iveyi’ is actually a hybrid that originated at the UK’s Caerhays Castle, where it was discovered as a seedling between Escallonia rosea and Escallonia rubra. Our plant should mature at 10′ x 10′. In mid summer, this amazing selection is smothered in fragrant white flowers.
All the literature we’d been able to find, indicates it is only hardy to 14 degrees, but that’s another reason we don’t let our plants read gardening books or browse the Internet. Our plant was grown from cuttings from an old specimen at the SC Botanical Garden in Clemson.
Sometimes you see a plant, or a photo of a plant, that raises your horticultural lust to somewhat unhealthy levels. At this point in life, that happens far less than it used to, but one plant that remained on my lust list for over a decade was the aroid, Pinellia ‘Purple Dragon’.
For those who aren’t familiar with pinellia, they are an Asian genus of only 9 species of hardy woodland aroids, related to Arisaema (Jack-in-the-Pulpit). I will admit to have eliminated most pinellias from the garden because they grow too well, and spread too prolifically.
The only Pinellia species we retained in the garden are the non-weedy Pinellia cordata and Pinellia peltata, which don’t move outside of a small area. Pinellia hybrids have also always intrigued us. The first hybrid to be named was from the former We-Du Nursery, Pinellia ‘Polly Spout’ (P. pedatisecta x tripartita), and is sterile unless it is grown near one of it’s weedy parent species. We have grown this in the garden since 2004, and it remains a solitary clump, producing no seed.
When we heard of a second hybrid (P. cordata x tripartita), the search was on. Pinellia x cortita ‘Purple Dragon’ showed up at NY’s Glover Perennials, which unfortunately doesn’t ship. We finally tracked down a plant in 2019, and have subsequently fast-tracked it in the production process, so we could share this amazing gem that excited us so much. As we expected, none of our plants have ever produced a single seed.
The only problem with the plant is the cultivar name Purple Dragon, which has been used for years as the common name for the purple-spathed form of the weedy Pinellia tripartita, which sadly many folks will probably confuse with this new sterile hybrid.
Pinellia ‘Purple Dragon’ is effectively an everblooming arisaema, with flowers being produced non-stop from spring into fall. The new foliage emerges dark purple and opens olive green on the top and purple underneath. This has proven to be an exceptional plant in our garden. Our trial plant in half day sun has thrived as well as our specimens in more shade. If you like Jack-in-the-Pulpits, we hope you enjoy this new treasure as much as we do.
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.
We love Sundays in late fall and early winter when we can observe brilliant performances from both Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, as well as his plantsake, Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’. Here’s a 6 year-old clump in full bloom now in the JLBG gardens. This is a superb way for honeybees to get needed nectar in an otherwise difficult time of year. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
While we leave all the fancy mangave creations to our friend Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens, we continue our work on creating more winter hardy (to 0 degrees F) hybrids. Over the last couple of years, we’ve made several crosses using some of Hans’ hardiest Agave ovatifolia based F1 generation selections, like xMangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ and xMangave ‘Falling Waters’ and crossing them back onto Agave ovatifolia.
The F1 mangave hybrids from Hans’ work, have all lost the monocarpic trait of pure agaves, meaning they will not die after flowering. We are curious what will happen if the hybrids have 2 parts agave and one part manfreda. With most of our crosses, we grow 100-200 of each into 1 qt pots, which allows us to do an initial culling after seeing the juvenile foliage traits.
The photos below are from that process, which happened this week. This is a cross of xMangave ‘Falling Waters’ x Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’. The first image shows the diversity in the seedlings. All plants have some degree of glaucous foliage…some more toward blue and others with purple spotting that comes solely from the Manfreda parent. It was interesting that the F2 plants still showed some degree of purple spotting…probably around 5% of the plants.
From a batch of 100-200 plants, our goal is to select 10% for the next round of in ground trials. We focus on selecting at least one plant for each desirable trait. Those traits include: size (dwarf or large), leaf undulations, spotting density, best blue color, leaf twisting, leaf length, leaf width, overall form, best spination, and variegation.
Below are some of our final selections for the next phase of trials. These will be up-potted into 3 quart pots and overwintered indoors, since we’re already too late for planting outdoors this year. These will go into the ground in spring, after the danger of frost has passed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 ‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.