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.

Habitat Creation

In case you missed this section of the garden during spring open house, this is where we created a small vignette that comprises both bog and desert conditions in the same space. The low central area was created for pitcher plants and other bog lovers, while the higher areas to each side, are home to dryland loving plants like agaves and bearded iris. We hope to show how dramatically diverse habits can be created in a very small space. The wet space is created by installing a seep, which is nothing more than a continually dripping water line.

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’

The Flowery Gates of JLBG

We’ve been working on upgrading many of the temporary gates throughout the garden, our first few, which went in this year are all designed by NC sculptor Jim Gallucci, from photos we took in the JLBG Gardens. We all need more art in our gardens…Enjoy!

Sarracenia leucophylla gate
Dryopteris fern gate
Hosta gate
Iris ensata gate
Agave parryi gate

Drinks anyone?

Couldn’t resist this photo of a couple of carpenter bees looking for a drink after a hard day of work, and happened on this enticing stray pitcher full of water. Oh, if they only knew…

Too buzzed to fly?

Hmmm… We love sarracenias…such great garden entertainment and without going on-line!

Container Gardens for Summer Color

Add summer color to your patio, pool or deck with perennial container gardens. There are many great summer blooming perennials that work well in containers and provide a pop of color even if you have limited garden space to plant. There are many types of containers that can be used and left outside year round. The containers shown here are a resin material that is weather resistant and come in an array of sizes and colors that can fit into any decor. These containers may need to have holes drilled into the bottom for drainage, and many have punch-out holes. They are light-weight and are easily moved even after planting. There are also ceramic and concrete planters that are frost proof and available in every conceivable shape, color and size.

Colocasia, perennial Hibiscus, Sarracenia (pitcher plants) and Bletilla

Some colorful and long blooming summer perennials you may want to consider for your containers include colocasia, perennial hibiscus, cannas, verbena, flowering maple, dahlias, monarda (bee balm), and daylilies. Other evergreen and variegated perennials can be grown in containers as well, such as aspidistra (cast iron plants), agave, mangave, and cacti. Hostas also make great container plants for the shady spot on your patio.

Canna ‘Orange Punch’, Verbena peruviana, perennial hibiscus and abutilon (flowering maple).

It is important to consider plant hardiness when creating your planter. Remember that since the plants roots are above ground and not insulated, they will be subjected to colder air temperatures during the winter. Depending on the length and severity of the winter, some plants may be just fine through the winter, or your container garden may benefit by being brought into the garage, sun room or porch area during the winter, or situated in a micro-climate, like next to a south facing brick or stone foundation.

Don’t Let Gardening Bog You Down

If you have a soggy area or damp soils, don’t drain it! We have marginal aquatic perennial plants for wet soil that are great for landscaping everything from rain gardens to bog gardens. These garden perennials love moist spots and will make you fall in love with perennials that dry soil gardeners only dream of growing. Damp soil plants range from carnivorous plants like sarracenia and bog plants like hymenocallis that need full sun.

Bog with pitcher plants (sarracenia) and crinum.

Many bog plants like sarracenia also do well in containers as long as they retain consistent moisture. Click here to learn more about their culture and growing sarracenia in containers.

Pitcher plants available in our sales house.

Spring Open Nursery & Garden is Just Around the Corner

It’s hard to believe that spring open nursery and garden days is almost here. Spring is always a busy time of year and our nursery and garden staff have been working tirelessly making sure the gardens are in prime condition and our sales houses are brimming with beautiful plants.

Take advantage of shopping our sales houses for many unique and rare perennials, many exclusively available at Plant Delights Nursery. We are offering nearly 20 varieties of Baptisia this year, more than you will find at most garden centers. Many are from our own breeding program at Juniper Level Botanic Garden and include two 2019 introductions you will find no where else.

Join Tony, Friday, May 3 at 10am for a stroll through the gardens as he discusses baptisias, part of our Gardening Unplugged garden chat series.

Baptisia
Bletilla – Hardy Orchids

The hardy orchids also look amazing this year, with seven different bletilla and over 30 varieties of ladyslippers and calanthe available, you are sure to find one for that special spot in your garden.

As part of our Gardening Unplugged chat series, our nursery manager, Meghan Fidler, will be discussing hardy orchids in the garden and how you can be successful growing them in your garden.

Cypripedium – Ladyslipper Orchids
Sarracenia – Pitcher Plants

The pitcher plants are blooming and our hosta house is bursting with color that will brighten any shady nook. Be sure to mark your calendars and join Tony Saturday, May 4 as he explores the fascinating world of our native pitcher plants, and come back the following weekend as Tony showcases hostas in the garden and our hosta breeding program at JLBG.

Hostas

Growing Pitcher Plants in Containers

picture of pitcher plant grown in a container

Container grown Sarracenia ‘Hurricane Creek White’

In early summer of 2016, after my first couple of months working at Plant Delights Nursery, I bought my first pitcher plant, Sarracenia ‘Hurricane Creek White’. After reading the article Introduction to Sarracenia – The Carnivorous Pitcher Plant on PDN’s website, I followed the simple instructions on growing pitcher plants in containers.

I selected a decorative frost proof container that was equivalent to, or maybe a little larger than a 3gal container. I used sphagnum peat moss, as recommended, for the potting mix. The sphagnum peat moss is very dry and almost powdery when it comes out of the bag. Put the peat moss in a bucket and add water. Mix well, and allow the peat to soak up the water until it is no longer powdery and is more a spongy consistency.

Now you are ready to plant. I started off with one of our 3.5″ pitcher plants, which had one to two growing points and four to six pitchers, much like the plant pictured here.

picture of 3.5" pitcher plant

3.5″ container of Sarracenia ‘Hurricane Creek White’

Fill your decorative container about 2/3rd full with the moistened peat, gently break apart the root ball of the 3.5″ plant and spread the roots out on top of the peat and cover the roots with more moistened peat and firm up to stabilize the plant. I also incorporated a couple of small venus fly traps in the container. Place the container in a plastic tray that will hold water, so the peat can draw the water up from the base and not dry out. 

The container stays on our outdoor patio where it gets light morning shade and afternoon sun. It continued to grow the rest of the summer and remained outdoors all winter long. I trimmed off the old pitchers this spring as it began to flush. The first picture in this post is what it looks like today, one year later, easily tripled in size.

This was an easy project and a great and rewarding experience for my introduction to growing pitcher plants, not to mention the attention it garnered from friends who came over. I have now started my second container for the patio utilizing ‘Carolina Yellow Jacket’.

picture of potted Carolina Yellow Jacket pitcher plant

Recently potted Carolina Yellow Jacket pitcher plant

 

Pitcher Plants in flower…truly unique

Sarracenia leucophylla Tarnock flower closeup

Here are some recent images from the gardens here at Juniper Level of one of our favorite pitcher plants, Sarracenia leucophylla ‘Tarnok’. This amazing double-flowered pitcher plant was discovered in Alabama by plantsman Coleman Tarnok in the early 1970s.

Sarracenia leucophylla Tarnock in flower with pitchersHere is the clump growing in the garden.  Pitcher plants are quite easy to grow, provided the soil stays moist about 3-8″ below the surface.  They do not, however, like soil that remains waterlogged.  In both the ground and in pots, we grow our pitcher plants in pure peat moss.  Most pitcher plants are reliably winter hardy in Zone 5.  We hope you’ll give these a try in your garden.

 

Pitcher plants in flower

Sarracenia leucophylla Sumter in flowerHere’s an image we just took in the gardens of Sarracenia leucophylla ‘Sumter’.  In our opinion, it doesn’t get much better than this. All hardy pitcher plants have these amazing other worldly flowers, and most are winter hardy in Zones 5 and 6.  All our sarracenias are planted in straight peat moss, about 8″ deep inside a pond liner that has holes cut along the edges so the water doesn’t stay too high.  No fertilizer ever and you certainly don’t have to worry about insects.

 

Garden design changes

2015 9249 Greenhouse 12 beds to north2

Many of the changes you’ll see when you visit the garden next time are driven by Anita’s suggestions to open up many of the overgrown garden spaces around the sales area. This new section is where 150′ of Nellie Stevens hollies were removed last fall/winter. Despite only being in a short while, the plants are beginning to settle in.  The wonderful rock work, was done by our Research and Grounds horticulturist, Jeremy Schmidt. 9249 2015 Sarracenia bog by ghse 12Here’s a fun seep area in the same space that Jeremy dreamed up.  We hope you’ll check out these and more new additions when you visit during our upcoming July open nursery and garden.