Low Country Treasure Hunt

Last week, Patrick, Zac, and I spent a couple of day botanizing in the low country…i.e. Coastal South Carolina. In between swatting away the incredible troupe of mosquitos which chose to join us, we were able to capture a few images to share below.

The ancient lime sinks are fascinating. Here, old sinkholes due to subsurface limestone rock breakdown have collapsed, forming natural depressions, creating a habitat for our native pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) and other fascinating wetland species…like alligators. Yes, we did see several, but they were too fast for our camera.

Taxodium ascendens
Taxodium ascendens

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

Taxodium ascendens

Much of the region is, or was, a pine/grass habitat. The pines could either be longleaf (Pinus palustris) or slash pine (Pinus serotina) .The dominant grass is known as wiregrass, aka: Aristida beyrechiana.

Pine/Wiregrass habitat

On the dry sand ridges, we saw these piles of fresh sand adjacent to a nearby tunnel entrance. These are homes to the rare gopher tortoise, which live in the region. Patrick tells me these tortoises will use the same underground lair, which may stretch 40′ long and 10′ deep, for up to 60 years.

Gopher tortoise mound/tunnel

Gopher tortoises only emerge from their tunnels when temperatures are between 80 and 90 degree F. Sure enough, we were able to wait and get some images of these amazing creatures.

Gopher tortoise

Another surprise spotting was a bright orange mutant katydid. Our entomologist Bill Reynolds tells me these are crazy rare, and worth well north of $1000 to collectors. Who knew?

Orange katydid

Yes, we also saw some cool plants. Asclepias obovata is a little-known milkweed that’s quite rare in South Carolina, so it was great to catch it in flower.

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

Asclepias tuberosa var. rolfsii

We visited several patches of amazing pitcher plants, one site with a tremendous variation of Sarracenia flava, which is typically solid yellow. Other sties had three species growing side by side including Sarracenia minor, Sarracenia rubra, and Sarracenia flava. It’s great that such natural area still exist, although they are always in danger from those who sadly dig plants from the wild for sale.

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

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

Plantanthera ciliaris orchid

We were thrilled to find a couple of large patches of the scrub palm, Serenoa repens, from one of the coldest natural populations, which happened to be in full seed. Clonal patches like this are incredibly slow-growing. Researchers in Florida found that such clonal patches are often between 5,000 and 10,000 years old.

Serenoa repens clonal patch
Serenoa repens clonal patch
Serenoa repens seed

It was great to see large drifts of one of our finest native ferns, Thelypteris kunthii, aka: maiden fern. This superb deciduous fern thrives in both sun and shade, tolerating everything from wet to average soil conditions.

Thelypteris kunthii

A lovely surprise was stumbling on a population of Hamamelis henryi. This coastal species is often listed as a variety of Hamamelis virginiana, but we think it’s probably deserving of species status. Several of the clones we found had lovely dusty blue foliage.

Hamamelis henryi

One of the most amazing shrubs was the hawthorn, Crategus munda var. pexa. These ancient specimens topped out at 4-5′ tall, and looked like ancient bonsai specimens.

Crategus munda var. pexa

I’ve long had a penchant for finding gold leaf sweet gums, and this trip added another one to the list. When many woody plants are cut to the ground, they are much more likely to produce mutations as they re-sprout. In my experience, the genus Liquidambar must be the most prone to such mutations.

Liquidambar styraciflua gold sport

The fall-flowering Georgia savory, Clinopodium georgianum was in full flower. We’ve grown and offered this for decades, but it was fascinating to see the flower color variation in the wild.

Clinopodium georgianum

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

Liatris elegans

The native vining legume, Centrosema virginiana, aka: butterfly pea, was in full flower and looking lovely…first cousin to the better known genus, Clitoria.

Centrosema virginiana

I’m not a fan of most smilax species, but I was quite smitten by the non-running dwarf Smilax pumila, which grew in the shade like an Asarum (wild ginger). While some clones had green leaves, others had patterns every bit as good as the best Asarum.

Smilax pumila

On the ride home, we kept ourselves amused unscientifically researching the fastest speed at which leaf-footed bugs could hold onto a car window while copulating. Since our test speed topped out at 65mph, we aren’t sure what it was take to pry these loose, but perhaps someone should research how they are able to hold on so tight, as I’m sure it has numerous industrial applications.

Leaf-footed bugs

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.

A Sage Old Texan

Blooming recently at JLBG is Patrick’s compact, silver-leaf collection of Leucophyllum frutescens from Uvalde, Texas. Leucophyllum frutescens is an evergreen, dryland shrub to 5′ tall, which bursts into an amazing show of flowers after summer rains. We’ve long-loved leucophyllums, but had failed in several attempts to grow them…0 for 7 prior to this attempt with his collection. Our plants have been in the ground for just over a year, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for long-term success. They key to success is very good drainage in both summer and winter.

A rosea by any other name would look as sweet.

We think Juliet would agree that Cuthbertia rosea is one sweet perennial. Looking great now is the southeast native (Maryland south to Florida) spiderwort, Cuthbertia rosea, which for us, begins its flowering season in spring, and continues sporadically through the summer months. Native primarily to dry sand, this easy-to-grow perennial has exceptional drought tolerance. Like all spiderworts, the flowers open in the morning and close each evening.

This poor plant has long suffered from an identity crises due to dueling taxonomists. This poor plant is also known as Callisia rosea, Tradescantia rosea, Phyodina rosea, and finally Tripograndra rosea. Despite the naming conundrum, it’s surprising that more people don’t grow this amazing plant.

Water Spider Orchid

One of the little-known of the native orchids is flowering now at JLBG. Habenaria repens, aka: water spider orchid, is the most widespread (NC to Texas) of the five native habenaria species. This charmer has been at home in one of our bogs for several years and has proven quite easy to grow. Hardiness is probably Zone 7b-10a, at least.

Habenaria repens

Purr-fect Pussy Toes

We love the miniature silver mats of Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes). This little-known North American native (Canada south to Arizona) forms a tiny, 1″ tall groundcover that’s hard to the touch. In spring, the patch is topped with short fuzzy spikes of brush-like white flowers. The plant below, which measures 1′ in width, is only 18 months old from seed, and is growing in our rock garden in a well-drained mix of 50% Permatill. Hardiness is Zone 4b-7b.

Monarch Bait

As gardeners around the country are encouraged to plant more asclepias to encourage monarch butterflies, many folks are finding out that not all species of asclepias make good garden plants. As a genus, asclepias consists of running and clump forming species. There are number of horribly weedy garden plants like Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias syriaca, and Asclepias fasicularis. These plants are fine in a prairie garden, but are disastrous in more controlled home gardens.

One of our favorite clumping species is the easy-to-grow, Arizona-native Asclepias angustifolia ‘Sonoita’. This superb species was shared by plantsman Patrick McMillan. It has proven to be an amazing garden specimen, thriving for years, despite our heat and humidity. Did I mention it flowers from spring through summer?

Kennedy’s Sabatia

Our clump of the native, Sabatia kennedyana just finished another amazing floral show. This fabulous, but easy-to-grow perennial has a truly odd native distribution on the coastal border of North and South Carolina, on the coastal border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and in Nova Scotia! I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an odd, disjunct range. Sabatia kennedyana is best suited for a sunny, slightly acidic bog, but regular garden soil will work fine, if it’s kept moist. I have no idea why this isn’t grown in every garden that has the correct conditions. Winter Hardiness is Zone 6-8, at least.

Sabatia kennedyana

Bald Head, but Sexually Active

If you’ve lived in the deep south…the land of palmetto palm trees, you know that they typically don’t flower until they have at least 5 feet of trunk. Of course, flowering can be sped up by a combination of precocious genes and good growing conditions. Those who have studied Sabal palmetto in the wild have noted that the earliest populations to flower are those from the most northern, naturally-occurring population on North Carolina’s Bald Head Island.

Well, sure enough, our oldest specimen of Sabal palmetto ‘Bald Head’, planted in 1999 finally decided to produce flower this summer, and will hopefully seed. We’ve only had enough plants of this cold hardy form to offer through Plant Delights three times in 36 years. Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to make it available more regularly now. Hardiness Zone 7b and warmer.

Sabal palmetto ‘Bald Head’

Perennial Gathering

Just back from the Perennial Plant Association meeting in Lancaster, PA, held in person for the first time in three years. It was like a family reunion after such a long period of no contact, except via Zoom. Over 450 people from around the world showed up for the first year back.

The Perennial Plant Association is a professional organization for people involved in production, sales, trials, research, landscaping, or growing perennials. The annual meetings consist of a week of talks, tours, and a trade show. There are plenty of tour options, so attendees can select whether they are more interested in landscape design, retail, or production.

Briggs Nursery booth at PPA trade show in PA

Aris Greenleaf is a large liner producer, who also has a trial garden. Sadly, non of the trial plants here had been planted more than a few months.

Aris Greenleaf production and shipping facilities
Aris Greenleaf trial garden

Cavano’s Nursery in nearby Maryland, was one of several top notch perennial growers we visited.

Cavano’s Nursery tour
Cavano’s Nursery

North Creek Nursery, a leading producer of native plant liners in PA, hosted the group for an amazing dinner

Dinner @ North Creek Nurseries
North Creek Nurseries production greenhouses

Owner Ed Snodgrass welcomed the group to his Emory Knoll Farms, an “off the grid” nursery that only produces plants for green roofs. 100% of their power is produced by solar panels on site.

Ed Snodgrass

For those unfamiliar with green roofs, shingles are replaced with plants, which help insulate the structure, while also reducing runoff.

Green roof planting at Emory Knoll Farms
Green roof plant production at Emory Knoll Farms

What interested many on this tour, was their use of an outdoor version of a Stanley Steamer, for weed control. The manufacturer, Weedtechnics is out of Australia, but has a few US distributors.

Steam is applied too kill weeds as you would clean a carpet. The steam only penetrates the ground to 5 mm, but that’s enough to kill both the weed and weed seed, without bothering nearby plants. This is certainly a technology many of us on the tour will be investigating.

Weedtechnics tractor mounted weed steamer
Weedtechnics steamer in action

We visited the amazing Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, a place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several times over the last 30 years. The gardens have undergrown a dramatic facelift that made a great garden even better. It was great to catch the native Zigadenus glaberrimus in full flower by the lower pond.

Zigadenus glaberrimus

The amazing Chanticleer Gardens and Longwood Gardens both hosted the group for two incredible dinners and a chance to stroll the grounds. At Chanticleer, we caught the water lotus (Nelumbo) in full flower, looking eerily like something from the Little Shop of Horrors.

Nelumbo @ Chanticleer Gardens

Of course, we are all there to see the latest and greatest in new plants, and these gatherings never fail to show us something new we need to try. Below are the latest from the world of echinacea breeding.

Echinacea ‘Rainbow’
Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ @ The Perennial Farm
Echinacea ‘Tres Amigos’ @ The Perennial Farm

Lysimachia lanceolata ‘Burgundy Mist’ and Sorghastrum nutans ‘Golden Sunset’ are two new US natives that are just hitting the market.

Lysimachia lanceolata ‘Burgundy Mist’
Sorghastum nutans ‘Golden Sunset’

Of course, in addition to the plants, these meetings are also about the people and the networking that these meetings afford. It was great to see two former JLBG’ers in attendance, Adrienne and Jon Roethling. Adrienne is now the Director of the Paul Ciener Garden in NC, and Jon heads up the grounds at Reynolda House and Gardens.

Adrienne and Jon Roethling

And it was great to catch up with Simple, the Roving Garden Artist…one of the most “out of the box” designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Simple, The Roving Garden Artist

It was a lovely surprise to run into an old friend, plantsman Barry Yinger, who was in town, taking a break from his Sanseveria conservation work in Tanzania to visit his sister, and happened to be staying next door to the convention.

Barry Yinger

It’s always great to catch up with old friends, Nanci Allen (long time PPA director), and Allan Armitage (retired UGA professor). You never know who you’ll run into at these meetings. If you work in the field, check out the PPA, and perhaps we’ll see you at a future symposium.

Little Big Man

Most highly prized rock garden plants originated somewhere other than the Southeast US. One notable exception is Bigelowia nuttallii, or if you prefer common names, Nuttall’s rayless goldenrod. This fascinating plant resembles a whisk broom that just swept up a spilled bottle of mustard.

Named after English botanist/zoologist Thomas Nuttall (1786-1859), who lived in the US from 1808 until 1841, this fascinating plant, grown by rock gardeners worldwide, is native in only a few locations from Georgia west to Texas.

Bigelowii nuttallii makes a tight evergreen clump of needle-thin leaves, topped from mid-summer until fall with 1′ tall sprays of frothy yellow flowers…yes, those are actually flowers, but without the typical showy “rays”. Full sun for at least half a day, and good drainage are the key to success with this very easy native perennial. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.

Redneck Baby’s Breath

Tired to trying to grow the conventional baby’s breath, that’s a prize perennial in the colder zones? We were, and had been looking for a substitute for years, when in 2000, one of our former staffers introduced us to the widespread native, Euphorbia corollata. Although it doesn’t look like much in deep shade where it’s often found in the wild, it explodes when given a bit of sun. Here are a couple of photos as it’s flowering season starts in mid-July.

Euphorbia corollata looks seriously gangly in a pot, so we’re confident you’ll never see this on the shelves of the box stores. Average moisture to very dry suites it fine. Although not a clumper, it’s spread it’s far from a thug, and is easy to remove it it happens to move too far. For a plant that’s native to every state East of the Mississippi (except Florida), and almost every single county, it’s shocking that every gardener isn’t growing this gem. Hardiness is Zone 3a-9b.

Time to Eat your Greens

We stumbled on this convention (or orgy) of the native green June beetles recently. We’ve long been fascinated with this amazing type of scarab beetle. They really don’t cause any significant garden damage…unless your garden is seriously stressed and you’re slow to pick your soft, sweet fruit like ripe figs.

In June and July, the beetles emerge from below ground, where they’ve been munching on grass roots for up to five years. As you can imagine, they’re a bit lonely…and horny. They immediately begin looking for a mate, and something to eat other than grass roots. From the look of these fellows below, they’ve found plenty of mates.

Green June Beetles actually make a great food for a variety of critters including an array of skunks, racoons, insects, birds, and even humans. Estimates of their protein content is an impressive 40-50%! No wonder some Native American tribes fire roast them to eat. On-line recipes include baking them into biscuits and wrapping them with cheese and bacon. I’m not making this up! Instead of reaching for the sprayer, perhaps we could find more sustainable ways to recycle your June beetles.

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.

A Golden Native

Here’s a photo this week of one of our favorite North American native plants, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Copper Harbor’. This would certainly add significant year round color interest to any native plant garden. In our trials, this is far and away the best of the golden Juniperus horizontalis cultivars. We offered this selection for a couple of years, but there seemed to be little interest.

Hiding from the Heat

Even the garden insects aren’t enjoying our extended heat wave. We caught this grasshopper hiding inside the flower of the threatened Texas endemic, Hibiscus dasycalyx last week, in search of some shade. So far, we’re experiencing the 3rd hottest summer on record in the Raleigh area.

Finding Eustoma

It fascinates us that such a widespread native like Eustoma exaltatum isn’t more widely grown in gardens. Often known by the common names prairie gentian or lisianthus, eustoma is prized by flower arrangers, but not gardeners. Eustoma is native from coast to coast…Florida to California, and north to the Canadian border in Montana.

In the wild, Eustoma exaltatum is a short-lived perennial that can also behave as a biennial or even an annual in some sites. The key is to plant it where it can happily reseed as we have done in our gravelly crevice garden, which is odd, since in the wild, they are found in moist meadows and streamsides.

Below are our plants in peak flower now, during the brutal heat of summer. So far, we’ve struggled to keep this happy in a container, in the hopes we could make this available, but we continue to try.

Commercially, eustoma has been hybridized ad nauseam to create better cut flowers, but these hybrids seem to have lost all of their perennial nature compared to the wild genetics. Our plant pictured below is the large (2′-3′ tall) subspecies russellianum from wild collected seed from Bastrop County, Texas.

It’s a Good Year – A

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

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

Humility in the Garden

This spring, Plant Delights introduced Zac Hill’s 2013 discovery of a new ruellia which he found in central Alabama. What we theorized might be a natural hybrid turned out to be a brand new species, as we were informed by botanists working on getting the plant published. We hope all native plant enthusiasts purchased this to both enjoy in their garden and for ex-situ (off site) conservation value. These are in full flower during the summer. Hardiness is unknown at this point, but we know it’s fine from Zone 7b – 8b, and most likely much further north.

Reticulation anyone?

We ran across this fascinating reticulated leaf form of the US native (every state east of the Mississippi) groundcover partridge berry (Mitchella repens) last week, when tromping through the woods near JLBG. We’ve taken a few cuttings that will be evaluated here for garden performance. In 60 years of botanizing, this is the first form we’ve seen with this nicely patterned foliage.

A Cascade of Summer Branches

Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’ is a selection of our native river birch from our friends at Shiloh Nursery in NC, that I can’t imagine gardening without. This is our 19 year old specimen looking absolutely fabulous this week. The plant patent expired last week, so now this amazing plant can be propagated by anyone. Hardiness is Zone 4b-9b.

Eau de Chocolate

One of the most amazing summer perennials we grow is the native Berlandiera pumila ‘Chocoholic’. It is unfathomable to us, why this isn’t grown in every full sun garden where it’s winter hardy. The flowers, which smell like milk chocolate, top the 3′ tall clump nonstop from May until October. In the wild, Berlandiera pumila can be found from NC south to Texas, so its drought tolerance is excellent. We rate this as Zone 7a to 9b, but that’s only because we don’t have feedback from folks in colder zones yet. Please let us know is you have this survive temperatures lower than 0 degrees F without snow cover!

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

Curvy Mountain Mint

Gardeners interesting in attracting pollinators to the garden have no doubt experimented with one of the 20 native species of Pycnanthemum (mountain mint). While they are all lovely, most are too vigorously spreading to fit in a typical home garden. Enter Pycnanthemum flexuosum…the curvy mountain mint, is native from Virginia to Alabama, where it is found on moist to damp sites. This tightly clumping species is absolutely perfect for the garden, flowering now in July. This is our collection from Beaufort County, NC. We’ll be propagating this selection for a future PDN catalog. Hardiness is Zone 5-9a.

Curvy Mountain Mint

Colorata…not Colorado

Another of our favorite early summer plants is the amazing southeast US native Dichromena colorata (aka: Rhynchospora colorata). Known by the common name, white-top star grass/sedge, this tough-as-nails groundcover can be found inhabiting moist ditches from NC to Texas. The floral show last for 1-2 months, depending on weather. Here, we have it growing in regular garden soil (sandy loam) amended with compost, and irrigated regularly. White-top sedge does spread, but not aggressively. Regardless, we’d recommend keeping away from nearby wimpy growers, which would be quickly consumed. Hardiness is Zone 7a and warmer.

Swallowing Stokesia

This is the time of year when the tiger swallowtails feast on our many patches of the amazing native Stokes aster. Our favorite clone is the upright growing Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick’. Moist soils are best, but stokesia tolerates some dry conditions on a short term basis as long as it has 2-6 hours of sun.

Thyme Flies, Thymophylla Flowers

We are in love with the long-flowering Thymnophylla pentachaeta var. pentachaeta ‘Laredo Gold’, which graces us with masses of gold flowers from spring through fall, in our sunny, dry rock garden. This Patrick McMillan collection comes from a population in Texas. Not only is this short-lived, southwestern US native reseeding perennial great in flower, but the native Navajo Indians also used it as a drug for people who want to dream of being chased by deer….we are not making this up!

Baccharis-foliaged Beardtongue

We are enjoying the rare Penstemon baccharifolius this summer in our high/dry crevice garden. This species is native to limestone ledges up to 6,500′ elevation from the Edwards plateau in Texas south into Northern Mexico. This species hates our summer rains, and we had given up on growing this until we built our alkaline crevice garden a few years ago. Now it thrives, growing in 3′ deep Permatill gravel.

Christmas in June

While doing some local botanizing recently, we ran across this fascinating form of our native Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides. Not only was it more compact than any others in the area, with more “orderly” fronds, but it also showed none of the typical terminal spore production that would be expected this time of year. Since this was from a future development site, the plant was rescued, and is now at JLBG under evaluation. The second photo is more typical plant for the species for comparison, growing at JLBG.

The King Ostrich

One of the most Jurrasic-looking plants we grow is the North American native Ostrich fern. If you moved here from “up north” and brought some of this fern with you, chances are it failed miserably. As a rule, Ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, hates our summer temperatures.

Fortunately, back in the mid-1980s, retired UNC-Charlotte botany professor, Larry Mellichamp picked up a heat tolerant form from Powell’s Nursery in Princeton, NC, which he promptly introduced into the trade as Matteuccia ‘The King’. Without this incredible introduction, gardens in south would not have this amazing fern in their gardens.

This is a spreading fern that prefers average to wet soils, so allow plenty of room for it to spread. Below is a patch thriving at JLBG.

Mountain Camellia

Our mountain camellia (aka: Stewartia ovata) is in full flower this week at JLBG. Despite its reputation as being difficult to grow, our plant has reached 12′ tall after a decade in the ground. This native deciduous small tree can be found from Virginia south to Alabama, centered on the spine of the Appalachian mountains. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.

Stewartia ovata
Stewartia ovata

The Thrilla of Cyrilla

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ll remember we wrote about this amazing native shrub/small tree last summer. Well, it’s cyrilla time again in the gardens at JLBG, when every branch of this amazing semi-evergreen erupts with racemes of small white flowers, inviting all insects in the neighborhood to stop by for happy hour. This standard form of Cyrilla racemiflora pictured below, usually matures in the 10′ to 12′ range with a spread that’s double the height. Although it is found in the wild growing in moist, sandy soils, it grows equally as well on clay soils, as long as droughty periods don’t extend too long.

Cyrilla racemiflora

We think the most exciting horticultural addition to the world of cyrillas is a dwarf, witches broom discovered by Georgia botanists, Ron Determann, and the late Tom Patrick. A witches broom is a dwarf mutation with very short internodes, most often associated with conifers. Ron allowed us to introduce this amazing plant, which he named in Tom’s memory, Cyrilla racemiflora ‘Tom Patrick’. The density of branching and size is quite amazing. Since this selection is so new, we aren’t really sure of a mature size, but we’re guessing about 6′ in height.

Cyrilla racemiflora ‘Tom Patrick’

Gold Anole

Carolina anoles are our most prolific garden pet, occurring by the thousands in our garden. It’s rare that a garden photography session doesn’t include several anole shots.

Carolina anoles are the only North American lizard with the ability to change color…usually ranging from green through brown. Despite being studied for years, researchers still have no idea what causes anoles to change color. Researchers know that their skin color has absolutely nothing to do with the material they are sitting on. The next best theory that anoles change color to regulate temperature has also been disproven.

Current research seems to link color change to stress, be that from entering the territory of another anole or relating to a pending sexual encounter. The natural world has so many secrets that we still don’t understand…ain’t mother nature grand!

Acacias don’t grow here

If you get your gardening information on-line, where everything written is a fact, you’ll know for sure that acacias aren’t growable in Zone 7b, Raleigh, NC. If that includes you, don’t look at the photo below of Acacia greggii ‘Mule Mountain’ in flower at JLBG. Acacia greggii is a native from Texas west to California. Our seven year-old specimen is from Patrick McMillan’s collection in Cochise County, Arizona.

To be nomenclaturally correct, most of the US Acacias have now been moved into the genus Senegalia, so even though the American species aren’t from anywhere near Senegal, this is now known as Senegalia greggii.

Of course, it you also read the hogwash on-line about native pollinators needed and preferring plants they evolved with, then you’ll also have to ignore the masses of native bees that cause the entire plant to buzz while they’re feeding. It’s good we don’t let our plants and insects read books or the Internet.

Phallic Cypress

People, especially male landscape architects love to use Italian Cypress in their garden designs. Few evergreen plants have the insanely narrow, upright, bean-pole shape, without benefit of pruning. We can now add a North American native counterpart to that short list, which will be welcomed since Cupressus sempervirens (Italian Cypress) doesn’t thrive in our climate.

The photo below is Juniperus virginiana ‘Silver Spear’, a Mark Weathington selection of our native red cedar. Our original plant pictured below is now 8 years old and has never been sheared. Winter hardiness should be Zone 4-9.

The Accidental Green Meatball

Recently PDN staffer Chris Hardison, who heads up our marketing team, noticed an odd green meatball in a local shopping center parking lot. Upon closer examination, he found it to be a specimen of our native willow oak, Quercus phellos.

It’s obvious that the low-end mow and blow crew who take care of the plants in the parking lot assumed it to be another plant, like the hollies nearby, that needed to be butchered into the most unnatural shape possible…a green meatball.

We were curious if the oak was a natural dwarf, or was damaged when it was young, and was simply trying to resprout, when it caught the eye of the crew of horticultural butchers. It does have three smaller trunks than its nearby same age siblings, which seem to indicate damage during its youth.

To confirm this theory, we have taken cuttings and if we can get them to root, we’ll plant them out at JLBG and see if it maintains the dwarf form, which could actually be a fascinating option for homeowners. The second image below shows the green meatball oak in front of it’s sibling, planted the same time.

We love horticultural mysteries.

Quercus phellos green meatball form
Quercus phellos green meatball in front of its more typical sibling

Seeing Yellow Stars

I wonder how many folks know, have grown, or have even seen Hypoxis hirsuta…one of our US native yellow star grasses. This little native is so odd, it’s genus was kicked out of every established plant family to which it was formerly assigned…most recently Iridaceae, prior to that, Amaryllidaceae, Leucojaceae, and and now shoved off to the side into its own family, Hypoxidaceae.

The seven species native to North American are only a fraction of the 100+ species worldwide, although Europe was completely left out when this ancient genus was distributed. Below is Hypoxis hirsuta at JLBG.

Hypoxis hirsuta

South Africa also has an abundance of Hypoxis…below is Hypoxis multiceps, in flower now at JLBG. Most of the South African species we have grown are far more showy in the garden that the US natives. Part sun seems to be ideal for all the hypoxis we’ve grown, despite where they originated.

Hypoxis multiceps

Around the world with 130 Styrax

We’ve had a longstanding love affair with the genus styrax, thanks to their amazing spring display of fragrant white bell-like flowers. Of the 130 recognized species, we have so far tried 22, of which 9 remain alive.

The first featured below is Styrax japonicus ‘Evening Light’. This amazing, black-foliage form of the typical green-leaf Styrax japonicus appeared as a seedling in Holland at the nursery of Henny Kolster. When I first saw the photo, I assumed it to have been “photoshopped”, but after growing it for several years here at JLBG, the foliage is indeed jet black. This is one of the most stunning small trees in our collection.

Styrax japonicus ‘Evening Light’

Styrax formosanus, which hails from Taiwan (Formosa) is undoubtedly the most floriferous species we’ve encounterd. Here is our garden plant this spring. For us, this generally tops out at 15′ to 20′ tall.

Styrax formosanus

Styrax americanus (Illinois south to Florida) is one of only four native US styrax species. Usually topping out around 10′ tall, this form introduced by Woodlanders Nursery has foliage with a lovely blue cast.

Styrax americanus var. pulverulentus ‘Baby Blue’

Stanley Lives

It only took us five attempts to figure out how to successfully grow the North American native, Stanleya pinnata. For those who haven’t met Stanleya pinnata, it’s a native woody perennial from the Westernmost States (North Dakota west to Southern California), so it really doesn’t find the rainy southeastern US to its liking. After several siting failures (learning experiences), we have finally found a location where it is thriving, a dry sloped berm in partial shade.

Stanleya was named after Lord Earl Smith-Stanley, The English 13th Earl of Derby (1775-1851) , who was quite a naturalist and president of the Linnean Society. This Lord Stanley wasn’t the only member of the Stanley family to have important items named in his honor. The NHL Ice Hockey trophy, the Stanly Cup, is named after his relative Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley (1841-1908), who was the son of Lord Edward Smith-Stanley, The 14th Earl of Derby, so it’s all in the family…Lord have mercy.

Lack no Colon

I love odd plants, and the southeast native Lachnocaulon (pronounced lack no colon) is about as odd as they come. This bog native, often found growing with pitcher plants, forms a mound that looks like a giant pin cushion. Here is a plant of Lachnocaulon anceps (NC west to Texas) in full flower this week at JLBG. Yes, those white round balls are the flowers.

Hello Dolly

Eighteen years ago, we introduced an amazing collection of the native Dicentra eximia from the West Virginia shale barrens that we christened for the nearby natural area, ‘Dolly Sods’. We found this amazing plant growing in pure gravel, in a bright sunny canyon that regularly saw summer temperatures in excess of 100 degree F.

We had struggled previously with other forms of Dicentra eximia, which is native all the way to the Canadian border. Not only did this seed strain thrive, but it did so in full baking sun. Here is a recent image of a clump growing beside an agave, where it thrives.

Ocoee Leatherflower

Clematis vinacea is a recently described species of non-vining clematis, published in 2013 by plantsman Aaron Floden. In the wild, it grows in a small region on the border of Eastern Tennessee/Northern Georgia. Closely allied to Clematis viorna/Clematis crispa, Clematis vinacea is a compact, non-climbing species. For us, it makes a sprawling mound to 18″ tall x 4′ wide that flowers from May through summer. In habitat, Clematis vinacea prefers a dry, alkaline site, but it has shown good adaptability to slightly acidic soils in our trials.

Clematis vinacea

Redring Monarch food

One of the little-known native asclepias, milkweed, is flowering in the garden this week. Asclepias variegata, redwing milkweed, is a widespread native, ranging from Canada and Virginia south to Florida, and west to Texas. So, why is this virtually unavailable commercially? Our plants typically range from 1.5′ to 2′ tall, although 3′ is possible. For us, it performs best in part sun to light shade.

The specific epithet “variegata” which refers to two colors on the flower was certainly a poor choice, since most asclepias have multi-color flowers. Of course, Linnaeus didn’t have the benefit of the internet back in 1753.

Colors and Textures

Here’s a recent image from JLBG, giving an idea of what’s possible when being thoughtful of textures and colors when planting. Plants include Iris x hollandica ‘Red Ember’, Heuchera ‘Silver Scrolls’, Carex ‘Bonnie and Clyde’, Thelypteris kunthii, and Juniperus chinensis ‘Parsonii’.

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.

Little Prospect

The lovely native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana ‘Little Prospect‘ with its variegated foliage, looks amazing even when it isn’t in flower. The leaves show no foliar burn in full sun and it is just as beautiful in part shade. Hardiness Zone: 3a to 8b.

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’

Nice job, Les

I hope everyone with a sun garden has grown the amazing Amsonia hubrichtii. It’s certainly looking fine in the garden as this recent image from JLBG will attest. Few people realize it was name after the late American naturalist, Leslie Hubricht. Before Hubricht died in 2005 at age 97, he had published 108 new species of mollusks (snails). His world class collection of over 500,000 specimens is now housed in the Chicago Field Museum.

After an early life stent as a research associate at the Missouri Botanic Garden, Hubricht went on to spend the majority of his career as a repairman for adding machines, and later computers. During his career, he moved constantly, living in 22 different cities. His single-minded focus was studying nature…in particular, mollusks. In his spare time, he published 151 scientific papers. This would be almost unheard of for a researcher who had the backing of a major formal botanical institution, of which Hubricht had none.

Additionally, 25 new species of animals wered name after him, along with one lichen, and two species of plants…most notably the amsonia. Hubricht did all this despite a formal education that only included a single semester of high school. We salute the amazing Leslie Hubricht.

Do you have hairy puccoons?

I fell in love with puccoons several decades ago, when I first saw them growing on the Michigan dunes as I hiked around the shoreline. I was immediately smitten with this native member of the Borage (pulmonaria) family. There are 21 different species of Lithospermum (puccoon) in the US, where some go by the common name, stoneseeds.

It would take me five transplant attempts over the next three decades before we were able to successfully get one established in the garden. The photo below is our collection of Lithospermum caroliniense (hairy puccoon) from East Texas, flowering now in it’s new home adjacent to our crevice garden. This species is partial to acidic, sandy soils, so our next task is to figure out what other conditions it will tolerate and then to get it propagated, so we can share.

Hi Jacks

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a plant survey of a local woodland area of about 30 acres. The low, moist areas are filled with Arisaema triphyllum, (Jack-in-the-pulpit) which is quite common in our area. The first image is what is typical for the species.

Arisaema triphyllum Wake County, NC

I’ve been studying patches of Jack-in-the-pulpit for well over 55 years, always looking for unusual leaf forms that showed any type of patterning. Until last month, I’d never found a single form with atypical foliage. That all changed with my first trip to this local site, where so far, I have found several dozen forms with silver leaf vein patterns. Up until now, there are only two pattern leaf forms of Arisaema triphyllum in cultivation, Arisaema ‘Mrs. French’ and Arisaema ‘Starburst’.

Each patterned leaf clone varies slightly as you would expect within a population including both green and purple stalk coloration.

Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with green stems
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with purple stems

While I’d never found any true variegation prior to this, I had found plenty of transient leaf patterning caused by Jack-in-the-pulpit rust (Uromyces ari triphylli). This site was no exception, with a number of plants showing the characteristic patterning. If you find these, turn the leaf upside down and you’ll see the small orange rust pustules.

While these may seem exciting, the pattern are not genetic and will disappear without the fungus. Fortunately, this rust can be cured by cutting off the top of the plant and discarding it where the spores can not spread via the wind. Infected plant should be fine, albeit smaller next year. The susceptibility of Arisaema triphyllum to jack-in-the-pulpit rust varies with genetics. Of the tens of thousands of plants I observed at the site, less than 10% were infected with the rust.

Arisaema triphyllum with rust induced pattern
Arisaema triphyllum rust induced pattern on leaf back

Purple leggings

Iris ‘Gerald Darby’ is one of those iris that doesn’t even need to flower to be garden worthy. Here it is in our garden this week, emerging with its’ purple leggings. This gem is a North American native hybrid of Iris versicolor and Iris virginica, known as Iris x robusta. This introduction of Iris breeder Gerald Darby was actually named for him after his death by another iris breeder R.H. Coe of England. Iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ is equally at home growing in standing water as it is in typical garden soil. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.

Atamasca or Atamasco?

Ever since I was a small kid, I’ve observed Zephyranthes atamasco (atamasco lily) in the wild, where they grow in swampy wooded lowlands. Atamasco lily is also one of many great nomenclatural muddles with regard to it’s correct spelling. When it was first named by Linneaus, back in 1753, it was assigned to genus amaryllis, so the specific epithet was spelled “atamasca”.

In his later work, Linneaus changed the spelling to “atamasco”, which corresponded to the Native American name for the bulb. It remained spelled with an “o” even after it was moved into the genus Zephyranthes in 1821. The problem is that, according to International Nomenclatural rules, the original spelling must take precedent. So, Zephyranthes atamasca is correct. Except…there is an exemption for name conservation, when correcting the name will cause confusion or economic harm. There is currently a well-supported move underfoot to conserve the long-used spelling “atamasco”. And you thought nomenclature was boring!

I’ve long marveled at the diversity within the species, and as an adult have been fortunate to be able to collect offset bulbs from some of the special forms I’ve found.

The top image is a very compact form that we’ve named Zephyranthes ”Milk Goblet’. Below that is one of our larger flowered forms from Alabama that we named Zephyranthes ‘Hugo’. Hugo has 5″ wide flowers in a species where 2.5-3″ wide is typical. Both of these are in full flower now at JLBG.

Zephyranthes atamasco ‘Hugo’

Flowers at Flower Hill

We’re just back from a quick outing to the Flower Hill Nature Preserve in Johnston County, NC…just a few miles from JLBG. This unique coastal plain site contains remnants of species more common in the NC mountains, nearly 5 hours west. The top of the bluff is a small stand of enormous Rhododendron catawbiense, while along the bottom of the hill is a bank of the deciduous Rhododendron canescens.

Rhododendron catawbiense
Rhododendron canescens

In the mid-slope area, we found Cypripedium acaule (pink ladyslipper orchid), just waiting to be photographed. Sadly, it’s one of the most difficult species to transplant, so just enjoy these in situ when you find them.

Cypripedium acaule

There were beautiful masses of the evergreen groundcover galax, growing on the eastern slope.

Galax urceolata

It was particularly great to see the Asarum vriginicum in full flower. True Asarum virginicum is rarely seen in cultivation, and the diversity of flower color was outstanding.

Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum