The Roses of Lent

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.

Casting Around Seed

We can’t imagine there are many people who grow cast iron plants from seed, but we have found the results quite fascinating. Below are a couple of our seedling which we found good enough to name. Neither has been divided yet, and are still under evaluation, but we think they have good potential.

Aspidistra ‘Bright Lights’ is a 2015 seedling from Aspidistra ‘Okame’ and has a similar variegation pattern, although it has more white banding than its parent.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Bright Lights’

Aspidistra ‘Illumination’ is a 2016 seedling of Aspidistra ‘Sekko Kan’, and inherited the white tips from its mama, but has also pickup up more streaking that wasn’t present in the preceding generation, so perhaps it outcrossed to a nearby streaked parent. If you’re interested in trying this yourself, the seed are found in a 1-2″ wide green ball at the base of the plant now. The seed should be mature in the next 4-6 weeks.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Illumination’

Tough Love Child

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.

Trichocereus ‘Love Child’
Trichocereus ‘Love Child’

Origin of the Bayou Babes

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.

Sabal minor var. louisiana in the garden
Sabal minor var. louisiana

Supersize Me

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 slightly 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.

A large growing agave with blue green foliage growing in our zone 7b garden.
Agave x protamericana YD45-79

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 its 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.

Agave 'Bellville' is another large blue green form that produced "blind shoots" which are flowering shoots produced from the underground stolons.
Agave x pseudoferox ‘Bellville’

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 seed crop of the hybrid from the two large growing blue green agaves.
Agave ‘Bluebell Giants’

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.

A clonal selection from the hybrid seedlings, A. 'Bluebell Giants' that has passed our hardiness trials.
Agave x pseudofox ‘Supersize’

Makin’ Mangaves

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.

Mangave seedling variability within a F2 generation cross.
x Mangave ‘Falling Waters’ x Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’

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.

Mangave seedlings selected for in ground hardiness trials.
x Mangave ‘Falling Waters’ x Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’
x Mangave and Agave hybrids overwintering in a heated greenhouse
x Mangave and Agave hybrids overwintering in a heated greenhouse

Poli wants a Freda

A couple of years ago, we made bi-generic crosses of the North American Manfreda maculosa and the naturally occurring hybrid Mexican tuberose, Polianthes x bundrantii ‘Mexican Firecracker’. These fascinating plants were still in full flower prior to our first hard freeze in the last few days. These are images of our top three clones, which we refer to as x Polifreda. Because we used the non-fragrant tuberose species, there is no noticeable aroma, but we opted for a much more diverse flower color range instead.

Hopefully, next year, we can use these to cross with agaves to create a new series of xHanseras. Pollen has been gathered and stored in the refrigerator in case bloom times don’t coincide next year.

x Polifreda - salmon in the trial garden
x Polifreda – salmon
x Polifreda - peachy/yellow in the trial garden
x Polifreda – peachy/yellow
Close up of x Polifreda - yellow/orange bicolor
x Polifreda – yellow/orange bicolor

A Marine

You’re probably thinking that we’re referring to a branch of the military, but instead we’re writing about a plant by the same name. x Amarine is a man-made amaryllid hybrid, created from a bi-generic (think humans x gorillas) cross between Amaryllis belladonna and Nerine. As a rule, most Amaryllis belladonna are fairly ungrowable in the Southeast US, as are most nerines. In theory, the hybrids should be completely ungrowable, but fortunately, that isn’t the case.

Amaryllis belladona is difficult for us to flower because the foliage, which grows during the winter, gets blasted by cold weather, which in turn prevents it from sending energy to the bulb, resulting in a lack of flowers. The same holds true with the hybrid x amarine. It’s only after a mild winter or two that the bulbs have enough energy to produce flowers. Thank goodness, this is a great year for x amarines to flower. Below are one of our patches of x Amarine ‘Anastasia’, which has been flowering at JLBG for several weeks.

 x Amarine 'Anastasia'
x Amarine ‘Anastasia’

The Mysterious Howardara

Most folks are familiar with the mysterious Howard Hughes, but we have an equally mysterious “Howard” in horticulture. Flowering well now in the gardens at JLBG is the amazing xHowardara ‘Riley Kate’. This fascinating hybrid was created by Texas bulb guru, Dr. Dave Lehmiller, who crossed a Hippeastrum (amaryllis) and a Sprekelia (Aztec lily), and a Zephyranthes (rain lily). Lehmiller’s cross resulted in five different named cultivars and were subsequently named after the late Texas bulb guru, Dr. Thad Howard.

Creating a trigeneric hybrid is beyond rare, since it isn’t supposed to happen according to the rules of botany. Consequently, the introduction of the first clone sent taxonomists into a frenzy trying to publish new research to re-combine the genera involved into a single genus, so as not to have their rules violated. xHowardara’s occasionally flower for us in mid-summer, but peak flowering is always in September and October in our climate. Hardiness is Zone 7b – 9b, at least.

x Howardara Riley Kate in bloom
x Howardara ‘Riley Kate’

Randy Ferns

It’s not unusual for ferns to have sex in the wild, even with other species in the same genus. It is, however, unusual for them to have meaningful sex with ferns of an entirely different genus. Such an odd occurrence recently happened in the greenhouses of Louisiana’s James Georgusis.

One night, possibly after a wild Mardi Gras party, a willing Phlebodium got it on with a crested tongue fern of the genus Pyrrosia. The result was a new genus of fern, x Phlebosia. It was adopted and given the cultivar name, ‘Nicolas Diamond’. At least the parents had the good sense to sexually stay within the same family, Polypodiaceae

We planted our first specimens in the garden this February, and so far, it’s growing well. The key will be to see how much winter hardiness it has…fingers crossed. Both parents are pictured below the new hybrid.

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

Goodbye Champ!

We were saddened this past week to hear of the passing of our friend, Dr. Larry Mellichamp, age 73, after a three year battle with bile duct cancer. I first met Larry in the late 1970s, when he spoke to our Horticulture Club at NC State. Over the next 45 years, we interacted regularly, mostly during his visits to JLBG.

Knowing that Larry was in the battle of his life, we visited him at his wonderful Charlotte home garden last year (photo below). Even while he was ill, his wit remained razor sharp, and his humor as dry as the Sahara desert.

Dr. Larry Mellichamp at his home garden
Dr. Larry Mellichamp

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
Larry’s home sarracenia collection
A lovely clump of Sarracenia 'Red Bug'
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.

Hear, Hear…lend me an ear

We always look forward to elephant ear evaluation day at JLBG, which was recently completed.

The colocasia trial gardens at Juniper Level
Colocasia trials

Each year, Colocasia breeder, Dr. John Cho flies in from Hawaii to study and select from our field trials of his new hybrids. This year we were joined by Robert Bett, owner of the California-based plant marketing firm, PlantHaven, who handles the Royal Hawaiian elephant ear program. The JLBG trials consist of all named colocasia introductions growing alongside Dr. Cho’s new hybrids created the year prior.

Robert Bett (l), John Cho (r) beginning the colocasia evaluation.
Robert Bett (l), John Cho (r)

JLBG staff members, Jeremy Schmidt and Zac Hill spent most of the morning working with Robert and John on the time-consuming evaluation process.

Robert Bett (l), Zac Hill (c), John Cho (c), Jeremy Schmidt (r) evaluating elephant ear plants
Robert Bett (l), Zac Hill (c), John Cho (c), Jeremy Schmidt (r)

After lunch, Jim Putnam from Proven Winners, joined us to see which remaining plants struck his fancy for potential introduction into their branded program. As you can see, lots of amazing plants didn’t make the final cut, which is necessary, since we’ll need more room for the new selections.

John Cho, Robert Bett, Jim Putnam inspecting the colocasia selections
John Cho, Robert Bett, Jim Putnam

Plants selected for introduction are then sent to a tissue culture lab to be produced for the next step, which is grower/retailer trials. If these are successful, and the plant can be multiplied well in the lab, the plants are scheduled for retail introduction.

Hopefully, by now, most folks are familiar with our 2020 top selection, Colocasia ‘Waikiki’, which hit the market this year. There are more really exciting new selections in the pipeline, but we can’t share photos of those quite yet…stay tuned.

 Colocasia 'Waikiki', our top 2020 colocasia selection
Colocasia ‘Waikiki’

Mid-Summer Surprises

We’ve just enjoyed peak surprise lily week at JLBG. The lycoris season starts for us in early July and continues into early October, but the last two weeks of August is peak bloom. Below are a few samples from the last few weeks.

The first two image are our field trials, where lycoris are studied, photographed, and evaluated for possible introduction.

Surprise lily field trials - JLBG
Lycoris field trials @ JLBG
Surprise lilies in our field trials - JLBG
Lycoris field trials @ JLBG

There are only 6 lycoris species (despite what you read on-line). Four of these have foliage produced in spring, and two have foliage that emerges in fall.

Lycoris longituba is a spring-leafed species with flowers that range from white to pink, to yellow/orange.

Lycoris longituba 'Early Riser'
Lycoris longituba ‘Early Riser’
Lycoris longituba 'Trumpeteer'
Lycoris longituba ‘Trumpeteer’

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

Lycoris chinensis 'Piedmont Gold'
Lycoris chinensis ‘Piedmont Gold’

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

Lycoris sprengeri 'Soft Cloud'
Lycoris sprengeri ‘Soft Cloud’

Lycoris sanguinea is the fourth spring-leafed species, but one that performs quite poorly in our climate, and consequently rarely flowers for us.

Lycoris radiata is one of only two fall-leaved species. Lycoris radiata var. pumila is the fertile form, while Lycoriis radiata var. radiata is sterile and consequently never sets seed. There is little variability with regard to color, but there is great variability with regard to bloom time. Lycoris radiata is the earliest lycoris to flower in July and the last lycoris to flower in October.

Lycoris radiata 'Fourth of July'
Lycoris radiata ‘Fourth of July’
Lycoris radiata with white pollen
Lycoris radiata with white pollen

Lycoris aurea is the only other fall-leaved species. In appearance, it is indistinguishable from the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis, except that the foliage emerges six months earler.

Lycoris aurea 'Landing Pad'
Lycoris aurea ‘Landing Pad’

Lycoris traubii is a hotly debated plant in taxonomic circles. Occurring only in Taiwan, some taxonomists insist on it being its own species, while other simply find it a form of the mainland Chinese Lycoris aurea…similar to the debate about Taiwan’s political status. Until we see other evidence, we view it as a form of Lycoris aurea.

Lycoris aurea var. traubii
Lycoris aurea var. traubii

All other lycoris are hybrids. Sadly, botanists continue to name new lycoris species, but after having grown each, we have yet to find any that are anything more than a previously named naturally occurring hybrid. Below are a few of the validly named hybrids.

Lycoris x albiflora is a group of naturally occurring crosses between the two fall-leafed species, Lycoris aurea and Lycoris radiata. Most emerge yellow and age to pink-blushed. If these hybrids cross back to the Lycoris radiata parent, the hybrids take on lovely orange shades.

Lycoris x albiflora 'Yellow Cream'
Lycoris x albiflora ‘Yellow Cream’

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

Lycoris x caldwellii 'Gold Crown'
Lycoris x caldwellii ‘Gold Crown’

Crosses between the fall-foliaged Lycoris radiata and the spring-leafed Lycoris sprengeri have been made more than any other interspecific lycoris cross. We currently grow over 200 clones of this hybrid, with flower colors that range from solid pink to bright red, and everything in between. Backcrosses onto one parent or the other influence the flower color expression.

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

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

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

Lycoris x sprengensis is a cross between the spring-leafed Lycoris sprengeri and the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis. The flower buds almost all show a blue tip, whose color disappears as the flowers age.

Lycoris x sprengensis 'Lemon Cheescake'
Lycoris x sprengensis ‘Lemon Cheescake’

Lycoris x straminea is very similar in appearance to Lycoris x albiflora. The only difference between the two is that one parent of Lycoris x straminea is the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis instead of the fall-leafed Lycoris aurea. Interestingly, Lycoris x straminea is fertile, while Lycoris x albiflora is not. Because Lycoris x straminea is fertile, it can be crossed back onto its Lycoris radiata parent, created some stunning orange-hued flowers

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

Most Lycoris x straminea clones open pure yellow, and acquire a reddish-orange blush as they age, from the Lycoris radiata parent. You can see an example below with two images taken 2 days apart.

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

Lycoris ‘Peppermint’ is an old passalong hybrid of two spring-flowered species, known and sold as Lycoris x incarnata…a cross of Lycoris longituba and Lycoris sprengeri. Our studies, however have shown that this plant could not have arisen from such a cross. In hybrids between a spring and fall-leafed species, the offspring always has foliage that emerges in early fall (September, October). The foliage on this emerges in late November, and the only way this could happen if the hybrid included 2 spring species and 1 fall species.

The only species that could provide the red color is the fall-foliage Lycoris radiata and the only species which could contribute the white color is Lycoris longituba. The other parent must be a spring-foliage species, so the only option is Lycoris sprengeri. We now feel confident that this hybrid could only have occurred with a cross of Lycoris sprengeri x radiata x longituba. We call these hybrids, Lycoris x longitosea (longituba x rosea).

Lycoris 'Peppermint'
Lycoris ‘Peppermint’

To determine which lycoris will thrive in your hardiness zone, simply look at when the foliage emerges. The fall-foliage species/hybrid are best from Zone 7b and south, although some will grow in Zone 7a. The spring-foliaged species/hybrids should be fine in Zone 5, and possibly as far north as Zone 3.

While lycoris will grow and flower in sun, they perform far better in filtered deciduous shade, where the foliage will have some protection from the ravages of winter. The amount of light they receive in summer when they have no foliage isn’t really relevant to their performance.

Crinum Time Again

Re-appropriating a line from the late Buck Owens, it’s crinum time again. Crinum lilies begin their flowering season in our climate around April 1 (frost permitting). Some bloom for a short number of weeks, while other rebloom for months. Depending on the genetics, some crinum hybrids start flowering in spring, some in summer, and others in fall, and a few flower during the entire growing season.

Crinum ‘High on Peppermint’ is one of our newer named hybrids, which starts flowering for us around June 1, and hasn’t stopped yet.

Crinum 'High on Peppermint'
Crinum ‘High on Peppermint’

Crinum ‘Superliscious’ is another of our new hybrids that starts flowering July 1, and has yet to stop. Now that our evaluation process is complete, we’ll start the propagation process.

Crinum 'Superliscious'
Crinum ‘Superliscious’

Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is an incredible hybrid from the late Roger Berry, entrusted to us to propagate and make available. That’s a tall order since it’s one of the slowest offsetting crinum lilies we’ve ever grown. Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is a hybrid with the virtually ungrowable, yellow-flowered Crinum luteolum, which hails from Southern Australia. For us, Crinum ‘Southern Star’ doesn’t start it’s floral display until August 1.

Crinum 'Southern Star'
Crinum ‘Southern Star’

Yucc’ing it up

We’ve been playing around with yucca breeding for almost a decade, and now have hybrids that include from 3-5 different species. Here’s a shot of one of our evaluation beds when it was in full flower recently. Flower spike height ranged from 3′ to 10′. There should be some wild and crazy introductions once our trials are finished.

Image of Yucca in full flower at the JLBG evaluation beds
Yucca in full flower at the JLBG evaluation beds

Afternoon Delights

Plant breeders are an odd sort…people who are never satisfied with their results, and as such are always looking to improve even the most fabulous creation. We’ve been dabbling with crinum lilies for several years, and the first photo below is one of our newest creations, Crinum ‘Razzleberry’, which is rather amazing. Despite this success, we return to the breeding fields to see what else awaits from additional gene mixing.

Image of flowering Crinum 'Razzleberry'
Crinum ‘Razzleberry’

Crinum flowers typically open in early evening…5-7pm for us. The first step in breeding is to remove the petals, to have good access to the male pollen (the powdery tips atop the six pink thingys), and the female pistil, the single longer thingy with a dark pink knob at the top and a bigger knob at the bottom. Most crinum pollen is yellow, but depending on the parentage, some hybrids have white pollen.

Close up image of Crinum stamen and pistil
Crinum stamen and pistil

Close up image of Crinum stamen and pistil
Crinum stamen and pistil

The male thingy is known as a stamen, comprised two parts, the filament (the pink thing), and the anther (the part with the pollen). The female parts are known as the pistil, comprised of the ovary (bottom), the style (the pink thingy), and the stigma (the sticky knob at the tip.

In breeding, the anther is removed and the pollen is dusted on the stigma of a different plant to make the cross. Crinums produce an insane amount of nectar, so crinum breeders are constantly dodging sphinx moth pollinators, as well as dealing with the ant superhighway below as they haul off the nectar.

Image if ants carrying off nectar of crinum
Nectar ant interstate highway

If your cross is successful, you will have seed forming in about a month. The seed are quite large, and must be planted immediately, since they have zero shelf life.

Crinum seed pods
Crinum seed pods

Once the seeds germinate it normally takes 4-5 years for your new seedlings to bloom. During the first several years you can evaluate vigor and growth habit, but the final evaluation can’t be made until it blooms.

Crinum seed after pod is opened
Crinum seed after pod is opened

For Crinum Out Loud

Our OCD is on full display with many of our plant collections including the summer-flowering Crinum lilies. Our collections here at JLBG have now topped 400 crinum taxa. In addition to collecting the best plants from other breeders, we have also been making a few of our own selected hybrids. Below are a few photos of plants we have recently selected and named. None of these are available yet, and most will still be a few years away, while we build up enough stock to share.

If you’ve never grown crinums (first cousin of hippeastrum), they form huge bulbs, and thrive in full sun in average to moist soils.

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

Oldham’s Azalea

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

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

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

To Cercis with Love

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

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

White Spring

Two shrubs that celebrate the end of winter for us are Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’ and Exochorda ‘Blizzard’. Here are photos this week from the garden. Loropetalum ‘Snow Panda’ in an amazing selection from the US National Arboretum, while Exochorda ‘Blizzard’ is a creation by NC State’s Tom Ranney, combining three species to create this stunning hybrid. The Loropetalum is winter hardy from Zone 7a-9b, while the Exochorda should be fine from Zone 4a-8b.

Loropetalum chinense ‘Snow Panda’
Exochorda ‘Blizzard’

Happy Weeper

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

Raisin’ Cain

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

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

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

Canary Treasure

This is our first flowering of Dracunculus canariensis, the rare cousin of the more commonly-grown aroid Dracunculus vulgaris. Dracunculus canariensis hails from Madeira (reportedly extinct) and the nearby Canary Islands, all off the coast of Morocco.

We inherited our specimen from the late plantsman, Alan Galloway, who planned to cross it with Dracunculus vulgaris. The task now falls to us. Both species have a similiar chromosome count of 2N=28, so this should be a easy cross by saving pollen. To us, the flower smells like watermelon rhine, which is a nice change from the more offensive smell of its sibling.

Flame Thrower

Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’, a JC Raulston Arboretum release from NC State woody plant breeder, Dr. Dennis Werner, was just awarded the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Plant of the Year for 2021. In Europe, Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ is marketed as Eternal Flame. Here is our plant at JLBG this summer. Congratulations to Denny and the Arboretum for this huge honor!

Casting About

Over the last few years, we’ve been growing more and more aspidistra (cast iron plants) from seed in the garden. Here are a few of our more interesting seedlings. The first is from our search for a narrow-leaf selection of the common Aspidistra elatior, which has been christened A. ‘Thin Man’. The second is a streaked and spotted form that we named A. ‘Zodiac’. The third is a yet un-named seedling from Aspidistra ‘Snow Cap’. Surprisingly, the white leaf tip trait comes consistently true from seed.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Thin Man;
Aspidistra elatior ‘Zodiac’
Aspidistra elatior JLBG-035

Sibling rivalry

As a plant breeder, one of the cool things we get to do is observe the diversity that arises from a single cross. In some cases, the diversity shows up in the first generation (F1), while in other cases, the first set of offspring need to have sex with each other for the diversity in the offspring to reveal itself (Mendelian genetics). Fortunately, with agaves, we can see quite a bit of diversity in the F1 populations.

Below is a cross we call Agave x amourifolia, which is our cross of Agave ovatifolia, pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox of Hort.), and lophantha. Here are three of our selected seedlings from that cross.

Plant #1 below is showing the large size of Agave x pseudoferox and the color of Agave ovatifolia (blue), with little visible influence of the narrow leaf, yellow-centered Agave lophantha.

Agave x amourifolia

Plant #2 below show more color influence from Agave x pseudoferox, but with the compact form influence of Agave ovatifolia.

Agave x amourifolia

Plant #3 below shows equal parts Agave x pseudoferox and ovatifolia, but also, what appears some leaf narrowing we would expect from Agave lophantha.

Agave x amourifolia

Below is Agave x flexiferox, created from a cross of the small Agave flexispina x the giant pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox (Hort.). Plant #1 shows the small size of Agave flexispina, with the greenish coloration of Agave x pseudoferox.

Agave x flexiferox

Below, Agave x flexiferox ‘Megalodon’ shows the larger size and overall coloration from Agave x pseudoferox, with some added blue tones from Agave flexispina.

Agave x flexiferox ‘Megalodon’

Below is Agave x victoferox, a cross of Agave victoriae-reginae x pseudoferox. Plant #1 below shows the form and size of Agave victoriae-reginae with the color of Agave x psedoferox.

Agave x victorferox

Hybrid #2 below shows the teeth from Agave x psedoferox (victoriae-reginae has no teeth), and a size intermediate between the two parents.

Agave x victorferox 2

Hybrid #3 below shows a larger size and more teeth due to more genes from Agave x pseudoferox. The teeth are much smaller because of the Agave victoriae-reginae genes. The splendid compact form also comes from the Agave x victoriae-reginae parent. This cross almost resembles the Northern Mexican Agave montana.

Agave x victorferox 3

We hope this gives you a small peek into the world of plant breeding and the subsequent evaluation and selection process.

America Held Hosta

There’s a reason hostas are the #1 perennial in the US. The incredible diversity of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors are one, combined with the array of climates in which they thrive. It’s long been rumored that hostas don’t grow well here in Zone 7b, but that simply isn’t the case if you prepare your soil properly (lots of compost) and allow for plenty of summer moisture.

Below are a few hosta cultivars that are looking particularly nice this week at JLBG. Of course, the proverbial deer-in-the-room is that hosta make quite the tasty buffet for both humans and wood rats. Deer fences and organic sprays all work, but the breakthrough will come when CRISPR technology is used to implant the Capsaicin (pepper) gene in hostas, rendering them too hot for most deer.

Here are a few of our favorites this week. Hosta ‘California Gold Rush’ has shown incredible vigor.

Hosta 'California Gold Rush' in the garden
Hosta ‘California Gold Rush’

Love the over-the-top waviness of Hosta ‘Wheee!’

Hosta 'Wheee!' in the garden
Hosta ‘Wheee!’

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’ has it all…vigor, size, ruffles, a nice flower show, and great leaf coloration. Did I mentioned that it’s also very sun tolerant if the soil is moist?

Hosta 'One Last Dance' in the garden
Hosta ‘One Last Dance’

Hosta ‘Coast to Coast’ is also very sun tolerant with amazingly corrugated leaves and great vigor on a fairly large clump.

Hosta 'Coast to Coast' in the garden
Hosta ‘Coast to Coast’

Hosta ‘Do Wap’ is one of our yet to be introduced hybrids from our work to create blue hostas that hold the color well into the summer.

Hosta 'Do Wap' in the garden
Hosta ‘Do Wap’

Hosta ‘Pie ala Mode’ didn’t get a lot of fanfare when it was introduced, but this has been exceptional in our gardens at JLBG. Hope these entice you to explore this amazing genus.

Hosta 'Pie ala Mode' in the garden
Hosta ‘Pie ala Mode’

When is a May Apple no longer a May Apple?

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

Redneck Lupines on Parade

Our baptisia introductions are looking absolutely fabulous this week. Here are a few in case you missed the first weekend of our open house. Baptisia ‘Aspriing’ (top) with its long spikes of lavender blue flowers, followed by the incredibly dense flowering Baptisia ‘Blonde Bombshell’. Next is our Baptisia ‘Cherry Pie’, which brings a new color to the genus, and ending with Baptisia minor ‘Blue Bonnet’ with it’s enormous blue flowers. Baptisia are a North American genus of long-lived perennials that can grow equally as well with cactus or as a marginal aquatic…as long as they have full sun.

Baptisia ‘Aspiring’
Baptisia ‘Blonde Bombshell’
Baptisia ‘Cherry Pie’
Baptisia minor ‘Blue Bonnet’

Catch the Flame

Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ – from the breeding work of Dennis Werner

You don’t want to miss the first annual Southeastern Plant Symposium, Friday, June 7 and Saturday, June 8.

Hosted by the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden, this symposium caters to plant nerds from across the region and beyond. We are bringing in some of the best of the best to talk about cutting edge horticulture. We have plant explorers, plant breeders, nurserymen, and other experts for a two-day, plantaholic binge. This will also be a great opportunity to get your hands on some really rare, new, and very choice plants.