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’

The Little Asparagus that Could

In 2006, NC plantsman, and our long time customer, Graham Ray of Greensboro, emailed to see if we were interested in a dwarf Asaparagus densiflorus (Sprengeri) fern that he grew in his rock garden, and had been winter hardy for several years in his Zone 7a garden.

We had already worked with several asparagus species for years, and have a great fondness for the ornamental potential of the genus, so of course, we jumped at the opportunity. We were perplexed, however, how a dwarf version of the marginally hardy Asparagus densiflorus could have survived in Greensboro, which is a 1/2 zone colder than our garden south of Raleigh.

Despite our skepticism, we planted our new treasure in fall 2006, which thrived here, despite our winter hardiness concerns, not blinking during three upcoming single digit F winters. A few years later, we sent a plant to our friend Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan for further testing. Despite their winter temperatures well below 0F with no snow cover, it thrived there also. What was going on, we wondered, since this simply shouldn’t be possible.

A mature plant of the dwarf asparagus fern, 'Graham's Cracker' growing in our rock garden.
Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’

Our mystery was finally resolved this summer when taxonomy researchers from the University of Georgia, working on the phylogeny of the genus Asparagus, learned of our extensive collection of Asparagus species, and came by to take samples for their research. This fall, we got word that our dwarf plant which we had named Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’, was in fact not a selection of the common hanging basket species, Asparagus densiflorus, but was instead a seedling of the Zone 4 hardy Asparagus cochinchinensis.

As we re-traced the plants origin, it turned out that Graham had purchased the plant here at Plant Delights, as a dwarf seedling he found in one of our sale house flats, which our staff had failed to notice.

Above is a photo of a mature plant of Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ at JLBG, which has finally reached a whopping 15″ in height…a perfect plant for the rock garden or in larger bedding schemes. Like the species, the fall foliage is a brilliant gold.

Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ in fall

And here’s mama, Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’.

Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’

Precious Metals…Investing in Silver

We have been fascinated with hardy cyclamen since the 1960s, but in recent years have spent a bit of time isolating some of the best silver-leaf variants that showed up in our seed pots and getting these established in the garden. These silver leaf oddities can be found in the wild, although they are fairly rare. In cultivation, however, they come fairly true (50%) from seed.

Through Plant Delights, we offer these as seed strain cultivars, under the names below…when available. A new crop of cyclamen will go on-line January 1, and there are some real beauties. Here are some images from the garden this week. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.

Image of Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Cloud' in the garden
Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver Cloud’
Image of Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Swan' in the garden
Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver Swan’
Image of Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silverado' in the crevice garden
Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silverado’

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

That won’t grow here!

I wish I could count how many times we’ve been told, “That won’t grow in your climate.”. Our contrarian streak has led us down many interesting paths, with quite a number of surprising results.

The most recent is Chrysophyllum oliviforme. Over a year ago, we planted seed grown plants, native to the recently hurricane-ravaged Sanibel Island, Florida. This species is native to Southern Florida, the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, and Belize. With that distribution, it should have no chance in our winters, but, despite die back during last winter’s low of 16F, it returned, and is now approaching 4′ in height. I should add that our plant was planted on a very exposed site, with no protection.

Is it going to be a long-term plant….probably not, but there is obviously more winter hardiness than most informational sites would lead us to believe. I should add that we planted two seedling, and the other one planted nearby, succumbed to the winter temperatures. If you never take risks, you’ll rarely get to experience the joy of amazing surprises like these.

Chrysophyllum oliviforme
Chrysophyllum oliviforme

Bifid Rhodophiala

The genus rhodophiala is in a state of flux. Some taxonomists believe the genus actually doesn’t exist and should be merged with rain lilies, while others consider it a perfectly valid genus with 27 species. Oh, the joys of taxonomy. To most gardeners, the genus rhodophiala are simply dwarf hippeastrum (horticultural amaryllis), the most commonly grown of which is the South American Rhodophiala bifida, which ranges natively from Southern Brazil into adjacent Argentina.

Rhodophiala bifida starts flowering for us in mid-August, alongside the emerging foliage. Most Rhodophiala on the market are the clonal Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’, brought to the US by German born Texan botanist, Peter Henry Oberwetter circa 1890. This clone is virtually sterile when grown alone, but will produce viable seed when grown adjacent to another clone.

Below is the clone ‘Hill Country Red’, followed by some of our selected seedlings, all photographed here at JLBG over the last couple of weeks. The best conditions are full sun to light filtered shade, and average moisture to dry soil.

A flowering clump of Rhodophiala bifida 'Hill Country Red'
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’

Rhodophiala bifida ‘Harry Hay’ seems to be the only named clonal selection grown in the UK. We imported this during our 2020 UK trip.

Close up of Rhodophiala bifida 'Harry Hay'
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Harry Hay’

Rhodophiala bifida ‘Carmencita’ is our first named introduction, released in 2017.

Rhodophiala bifida 'Carmencita' in our crevice garden
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Carmencita’

Rhodophiala ‘Red Waves’ is our 2nd named selection, not yet introduced

Close up pic of Rhodophiala bifida 'Red Waves'
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Red Waves’

The rest of the clones below are our selected seedlings still under evaluation

Rhodophiala bifida JLBG-018 in the trial gardens
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG-018
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG-017 in the trial gardens
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG-017
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-14 in the JLBG/PDN trial garden
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-14
Close up of Rhodophiala bifida JLBG20-07 in the trial garden
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG20-07
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-003 in trial garden
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-003
Close up of Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-06
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-06
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG19-02
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG19-02
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-08
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-08
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-04
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-04
Close up of Rhodophiala bifida var. granatifolia
Rhodophiala bifida var. granatifolia
Close up of Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-16
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-16

Below are two fascinating plants from our breeding. The first is a cross of Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba. In theory, this bi-generic cross shouldn’t work, but the flower arrangement sure resembles a lycoris more than a rhodophiala.

Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba
Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba

This cross is of Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima is another impossible bi-generic cross. Notice the three petals are one size, and the other three petals are larger. We’ve never heard of this happening in rhodophiala, so perhaps we’re on to something.

Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima
Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima

The only other Rhodophiala species, which we’ve had any luck with is the Chilean Rhodophiala chilense. Below are two forms, both of which flowered this spring.

Rhodophiala chilense
Rhodophiala chilense
Rhodophiala chilense in the crevice garden
Rhodophiala chilense

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.

Image of a mat of Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes)
Antennaria parviflora (little-leaf pussytoes)

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'
Sabal palmetto ‘Bald Head’

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.

Very Variegated

This spring, one of our flats of Rohdea japonica seedlings turned up with an inordinate number of variegated seedlings. In a flat of approximately 1,000 seedlings, we typically expect 3 – 10 variegated offspring, when the parent plant has white streaking in the middle of the leaf (L2 layer).

All of the variegated seedlings were removed and potted individually last week…all 300 of them. It will be fascinating to see what unique forms result.

Gussied up Ostii

One of our Paeonia ostii seedlings flowered well for the first time this year, and turned out to be semi-double flower instead of the typical single flowers. We’ll continue to observe it in future years and make sure the trait is stable, but if so, this could be a lovely addition to the world of hardy tree peonies that tolerate heat as well as cold.

Who is Molopospermum?

Chances are pretty good that few US gardeners have grown molopospermum. We’ve long been fascinated with members of the Apiaceae family (think carrots, celery, Queen Anne’s lace, etc.). Not only are most members culinary/medicinal, but they are also great host and food plants for insects.

Several of the Apiaceae family members are great for garden design, because they possess an airy fern-like texture. One such plant that I’ve long been fascinated by is the monotypic Molopospermum peloponesiacum. Despite the specific epithet indicating that it’s native to the Peloponnesian peninsula (Greece), such is not the case. An error was made when Linnaeus named the plants, that has never been correct. Molopospermum is actually native to the Alps and Pyrenees, spanning from Spain through France and into Italy, where in grows in open woodlands.

We weren’t sure if it would survive our hot, humid summers, but after finally tracking down seed, we have several thriving plants in the garden from a 2018 planting. Although we haven’t had any flower yet, we await the 5′ tall spikes.

Blackburn’s Palm

We love plant mysteries, and Sabal ‘Blackburniana’ fits the bill nicely. This pass-along seed strain has been considered by some to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor, while others consider it to be synonymous with Sabal palmetto, yet others consider it to be Sabal domingensis. Whatever it is, our plant is looking quite good in the garden. After growing it, unscathed, since 2008, we finally decided to propagate some for the upcoming Plant Delights catalog. If you know any more historical background about this curiosity, please share.

Pink-a-Blue

We always love seed set on the love lily, Amorphophallus kiusianus. This species is one of the few amorphophallus which sets seed without a mate. The seed start out a raspberry pink and gradually mature to blue. Seed can be planted once they turn blue, but will not germinate until the following June.

Bletillas everywhere

Not only are bletillas one of the easiest ground orchids to grow in the garden or in containers, they are also one of the few that are easy to grow from seed. We’ve been growing seedlings for the last decade and having discarded several thousand plants (hint…they are all nice), we’ve narrowed them down to our final few selections, a few of which are pictured below. In addition to the differences in flower color, flower size, ploidy level, there are dramatic differences in flowering season and height.

Below is a Peter Zale hybrid, Bletilla ‘Candles in the Wind’, which Plant Delights will be introducing in spring. The floriferousness and height are the first two things you notice…there just aren’t many 4′ tall bletillas. In the eight years we’ve trial this, it has spread from a small plant to form a 6′ wide patch. This is a truly astonishing selection.

Bletilla x brigantes ‘Candles in the Wind’