The Surprises Continue

The parade of Lycoris (surprise lilies) continue into their third consecutive month as we move through September. The key for a succession of flowers is having a large number of cultivars. So far at JLBG, we have flowered 300 different cultivars this summer. Here are a few recent ones. The varieties which form fall foliage are winter hardy in Zone 7a/b and south. Those whose foliage emerges in late winter/early spring are winter hardy in Zones 4/5.

Lycoris x rosea ‘Berry Awesome’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Caldwell’s Red’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Kariwatashi’
Lycoris x rosensis ‘Colorama’
Lycoris x rosensis ‘Three Towers Mirroring the Moon’
Lycoris x sprengensis ‘Lemon Cheesecake’
Lycoris x straminea ‘August Lemon’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Caldwell’s Original’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Red Hot Lover’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Ring of Gold’

Late Summer Rains

We are fascinated with the wonderful genus zephyranthes (rain lilies). Zephyranthes are unobtrusive, summer-flowering bulbs that can fit in any garden, with a flower color ranging from yellow to white to pink. The great thing about zephyranthes is the lack of large foliage that often accompanies many other spring-flowering bulbs, so site them in the front of the border, or in a rock garden to be best appreciated.

Zephyranthes are one of our specialty collections at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with 25 species and 257 unique clones. Here are a few of the zephyranthes blooming this morning in our alpine berm. You can view our entire zephyranthes photo gallery here.

Zephyranthes ‘Heart Throb’
Z. La Bufa Rosa group white
Z. La Bufa Rosa group
Z. ‘Star Spangled’

The Case of The Beautiful Imposter

This is one of the rare summers we actually got flowers on Amaryllis belladonna in the gardens at JLBG. The only problem is that they aren’t really Amaryllis belladonna. This poor South African native has suffered a series of nomenclatural mix ups over the last 250 years, that sadly continues today.

First was the battle over which plant really belongs to the genus name, amaryllis. The mix-up started with the grandfather of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, when he published the genus name Amaryllis in 1753. In his initial publication, Linnaeus applied the name amaryllis to a group of plants, which later turned out to include at least five different genera; amaryllis, nerine, zephyranthes, sprekelia, and sternbergia. A few years later in 1819, botanist William Herbert and others tried to clean up the mess using Linnaeus’s notes, and in doing so, assigned the genus name amaryllis to the solitary South African species, Amaryllis belladonna, which had been in Western cultivation since 1633.

Fast forward 119 years to 1938, when taxonomist Cornelius Uphof upset the proverbial apple cart when he published a paper in which he declared that the assignment of the name amaryllis for the South Aftrican plant was against Linnaeus’s wishes, since it was clear to Uphof that Linnaeus intended the genus Amaryllis to be applied to the American genus, Hippeastrum. Uphof’s paper renamed the American genus Hippeastrum to Amaryllis and the South African Amaryllis belladonna became Callicore rosea. This caused quite a taxonomic uproar which would continue for another 50 years.

The following year, 1939, taxonomist Joseph Sealy dug deeper into the original amaryllis name mix-up, and found it impossible to determine which plant Linnaeus intended to bestow with the genus name, Amaryllis, since most of Linnaeus’s original description referenced the South African plant, and only one small part referenced the American plant. Consequently, Sealy left the name amaryllis to apply to the solitary Amaryllis belladonna, and not to the much larger genus Hippeastrum.

The battle was far from over, and in fact, it turned into a war, led by American taxonomist Dr. Hamilton Traub, who from 1949 until his death in 1983, was defiant that the genus name amaryllis should instead apply to the American hippeastrums. Finally, in 1987, after Traub’s death, the International Botanical Congress confirmed the assignment of the name amaryllis to the South African species. Despite this resolution to 250 years of wrangling, most gardeners still refer to the plants that they grow widely in homes and gardens for their large flowers as amaryllis and not the proper name, hippeastrum.

One would hope that the 1987 decision would be the end of the mess, but not so fast…there was yet another taxonomic snafu. Amaryllis belladonna is a plant which is widely grown throughout California, where it thrives and flowers annually. But, is it really Amaryllis belladonna? While it’s certainly not a hippeastrum, the answer is no. To solve this mix-up, let’s step back a few years, to 1841, when Australian plantsman John Bidwill, first crossed Amaryllis belladonna with another African relative, brunsvigia, creating a bi-generic hybrid that would become known as x Amargyia parkeri. Because x Amargyia parkeri had more flowers, a more radial flower head, and better vigor, it gradually replaced true Amaryllis belladonna in cultivation, especially in California. I chatted with Californian Bill Welch (Bill the Bulb Baron), the largest grower/breeder of Amaryllis belladonna, prior to his untimely death in 2019. Bill admitted that everything he grew and sold as Amaryllis belladonna was actually the hybrid x Amargyia parkeri. Nurserymen have a bad habit of using incorrect names, because they realize that names which are familiar to customers always sell better.

If that’s not confusing enough, we should add that about half of the people who grow Lycoris x squamigera, a Zone 4 hardy bulb, also have their plants also labeled as Amaryllis belladonna, which is only winter hardy from Zone 8 south. We can thank several large mail order bulb catalogs who have no interest in either correct nomenclature or correct photography for that fiasco.

To quote the late Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

So, do you see why plant taxonomist generally have little hair remaining?

When it rains, it pours…I mean, flowers

Here’s our reference stock blocks of zephyranthes (rain lilies). Within 3-4 days after a rain, the beds are ablaze with what the late rain lily breeder, Fadjar Marta, called a floral blitz. We concur.

Hamilton…the flower

Just like the Broadway play, we love the plant, Boesenbergia hamiltonii. We acquired this gem from India in 2005 before it actually existed as a species. Back in the day, taxonomists who dealt only with dead, smashed plants, had created a rather large mess assigning the name Boesenbergia longiflora to every reasonably similar-looking ginger from India to Thailand. Finally, in 2013, a group of taxonomists looked at live specimens, only to discover that there were actually five different species involved in what was known as B. longiflora. Boesenbergia hamiltonii was one of those plants that came out of the divorce, which is great, since it’s the most winter hardy member of the clan. Here is our plant in light shade at JLBG, where it flowers for months during the summer.

Macbridea

Raise your hand if you’ve grown macbridea in the garden. Raise your hand if you’ve even heard of macbridea. This cute North American native (NC, SC, GA) bog mint has really impressed us in the garden. Flowering started in the last few weeks, and shows no sign of abating. We’re always cautious with mint relatives, but so far, this one has been very well behaved.

Surprise…the lycoris have begun

Lycoris (surprise or hurricane lillies) season has begun in earnest. We’ve already had 97 diffrerent clones to flower and the season is young. In a typical year, we usually flower between 300 and 400 different selected clones. Here are a few that have looked good so far. The top three are spring-leaf varieties, and as such, should be winter hardy in Zone 5. The bottom two are fall-leaf varieties and are winter hardy from Zone 7b south.

Lycoris longituba ‘Butterfingers’
Lycoris x incarnata ‘Blue Queen’
Lycoris x incarnata ‘Viewing Fish at Jade Fountain’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Pink Panther’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Wild Heart’

Mo Crinum

It’s been a great month for crinum lilies in the garden, so here are a few of our more recent images. Crinums are native in the wild to Africa, North America, South America, Australia, and Southeast Asia. Some are winter hardy to Zone 7, while others are completely happy in Zone 6.

Crinum ‘Antares’
Crinum ‘Peppermint Candy II’
Crinum ‘Bradley’
Crinum ‘River Forks’
Crinum ‘School Bells’
Crinum ‘Sunbonnet’
Crinum ‘So Sweet’
Crinum x baconii ‘Maureen Spinks’

Pick Pink Pockets

Sinningia ‘Pink Pockets’ was a Plant Delights/JLBG introduction in 2011…a hardy gesneriad that had thrived in our in ground trials. Here it is this week, planted in 2005 and still performing superbly in part sun. We love plants that stand the test of time in the garden.

Delerium in the Garden

We have a rather large collections of crinum lilies at JLBG and occasionally take time to make a few crosses. One of our recent selections is one we’ve named Crinum ‘Delerium’. Flowering again this week, this is a cross of Crinum variabile and Crinum bulbispermum, meaning it should be winter hardy in Zone 6. We re just dividing our original clump for the first time, so it will take a few years to get enough to share, but the process has begun.