If at first you don’t suceed, plant and plant again

One of my most lustful plants has been the super cute Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata. I first ran into this fascinating poinsettia cousin at the Denver Botanic Gardens in the 1990s, and have subsequently killed it 5 times, prior to the construction of our crevice garden. Now, our specimen below is 2.5 years old and thriving. The key is perfect drainage and no water in the winter.

Below is a giant clump, which we saw in the wilds of South Africa in 2005. These massive clumps are considered to be well over a century in age, so our little patch has a lot of growing to do.

Image of Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata HCG form growing in our crevice garden.
Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata HCG form
Image of Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata in the wilds of South Africa.
Euphorbia clavarioides var. truncata in the wilds of South Africa.

Planting for Halloween

With enough plant diversity, there are all kind of possibilities to target floral interest for certain seasons or even holidays. Since the Halloween season is just past, here are a couple of seasonal favorites.

If there’s ever been a plant designed for the Halloween holidays, Cuphea micropetala has to be near the top of the list. This amazing perennial hails from the subtropical regions of Central and Southwestern Mexico. Below is our plant on Halloween this year. Flowering for us typically starts in early October. Despite its warm origins, it’s a reliable perennial here in Zone 7b.

Cuphea micropetala, a great Halloween plant
Cuphea micropetala

The other can’t miss seasonal favorite, is our 2005 introduction of Gladiolus ‘Halloweenie’. This crazy gladiolus from South Africa, skips the typical spring flowering season, and instead, starts flowering the week of Halloween.

Gladiolus dalenii 'Halloweenie'
Gladiolus dalenii ‘Halloweenie’

Are you a Stones Fan?

Just like the rock group of the same name, these fascinating living stones also look quite old and wrinkled. The genus Lithops are tiny succulent plants native to the deserts of South Africa. Despite virtually all references on-line, they make great garden plants…as long as you have a crevice garden, and grow them when they will not receive any rain in the winter months. These are 4 1/2 years old from seed.

Our plants of Lithops aucampiae have just started their flowering season last week, having sailed through winter temperatures of 16 F last winter, and seemingly enjoyed our hot, humid summers. We’re hoping for single digits F this winter, so we can really put them to the hardiness test. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the fall flowering season.

Lithops aucampiae beginning to flower
Lithops aucampiae

Arrange your Asparagus

Asparagus virgatus is undoubtedly one of our favorite textural perennials. How many evergreens do you know that thrive in shade with such an amazing texture, and can be cut for flower arrangements. If you’ve ever worked with cut flowers, you’ll recognize this as “filler” that you purchase with your flowers to add 3-D texture to your arrangements. Few people, however realize that it’s an easy-to-grow garden perennial.

Although in the wild, it grows along streams, it has proven to be one of the most drought tolerant plants we grow. In terms of light, an hour or two of morning sun is fine, but this South African asparagus species much prefers light shade all day. Unless winter temperatures drop below 10 degrees F, the amazing foliage stays evergreen. Hardiness is at least Zone 7b and warmer.

Image of Asparagus virgatus in the garden
Asparagus virgatus

Oh, Katherine!

I can’t imagine a summer garden without the South African woodland bulb, Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. katherine. This amazing bulb in the Amaryllis family, grows best in light, open shade, where it bursts forth sans foliage in late June. This clump is right outside our kitchen window, making it hard not to smile. Hardiness is Zone7b and warmer.

Summer Blue Genes

Agapanthus ‘Navy Blue’ is looking quite regal this week in front of a patch of bronze fennel as a backdrop.

Agapanthus ‘Twister’ looking lovely with Sanguisorba ‘Little Angel’ as a backdrop.

African Gold and Picasso

Below are two variations on a theme…calla lilies in the garden. Here is Zone 7b, both are reliably winter hardy in the ground.

The striped-leaf selection of the winter-blooming South African native, Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘African Gold’ has looked fabulous all spring, where we have it planted in a seep, which gets full sun for 3-4 hours in the morning.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’ is a hybrid, created using several of the summer-flowering South African native calla lily species. Here it is in our garden in mid-June, where it gets 4-6 hours of sun daily, and the soil stays reasonably moist.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’

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

Deliciously Succulent – Bergeranthus

The South African (Eastern Cape) Bergeranthus vespertinus has been absolutely fabulous this late winter/spring season. Here it is growing in one of our rock gardens, where it is mostly protected from winter moisture. (Hardiness Zone 7b and warmer…at least)

Stock Split

Not only did we have 100% survival on our living stones (Lithops aucampiae ssp. koelemanii) in the garden, despite low temperatures of 15-16 degrees F, but they are now in the process of splitting, which is sort of like giving live birth. Splitting happens after flowering, and followed by a subsequent dormancy. The plant divides and the new plants absorb the of the old foliage…sort of like The Blob movie. We were fortunate to catch the process visually for the first time this week.

Lithops aucampiae ssp. koelemanii

Palm-leaf Oxalis

One of our winter garden favorites is looking so good right now, that we had to share. Oxalis palmifrons is an amazing, but slow-growing rock garden gem, that hails from the South African karoo. We offered this through Plant Delights almost a decade ago, and it will be some time before we have enough to offer again.

Oxalis palmifrons

Raising Rabieas

We have long loved small crevice-sized succulents, but have also killed far more than our share, due mostly to our wet, cold winters. The newest star in our trials is the South African, Rabiea albipuncta, a first cousin to the better known, Delosperma. We should mention, that new DNA research has actually suggested a name change to Nananthus vittatus would be more correct, so we’ll be re-tagging shortly.

This gift from Denver Botanic Garden plantsman extraordinaire, Panayoti Kelaidis, has thrived in the gardens since 2018. We actually tried this back in 2004, but our site simply didn’t drain well enough in winter. This image was taken here at JLBG on February 2 this year, which shows how insanely tolerant the flowers are of cold weather. We hope to make this available next year through Plant Delights Nursery. This gem forms a substantial caudex, and as such is highly prized by bonsai enthusiasts.

Rabiea albipuncta

Tender Mason’s Lily

Here is the reportedly tender Massonia depressa from South Africa in full flower in our crevice garden. I should add that this photo was taken 2 nights after we recorded 16 degrees F. I guess when the source of all worthwhile information, Wikipedia, says “When cultivated in a temperate environment,¬†M. depressa¬†does not tolerate freezing temperatures, so must be grown under glass in a cold greenhouse or similar.” we should take that as fake gardening news. Hmmm.

Massonia is a genus of bulbs in the Asparagus family, related to the more familiar genus scilla. Winter hardiness of this species is….well, still to be determined, but we’re good to at least Zone 8b so far.

Beyond Flowers

We love the appearance of plants like agapanthus in the fall, long past the season when the showy blue flowers graced the top of each now browning stalk. In fall, it’s more like looking out on a mass of punk rock hairdos. These garden features are so much more interesting than flat beds of mulch, created far too early by garden neat freaks. This is the cultivar Agapanthus ‘Prolific Blue’ which puts on a superb fall/winter show.

Where Lycoris end, Nerines begin

Two cousins in the Amaryllis family are the genus lycoris and nerine. While most lycoris (China/Japan) thrive here, the same is not true of their South African cousins, nerine. It’s been rather frustrating trying to find the same season-ending success with nerines, as we have with the summer flowering lycoris.

Consequently, we’re celebrating over the performance of Nerine angustifolia. We picked up this gem from a South African nursery several years ago, and despite it being native to swampy grasslands, it has thrived for us in the unirrigated, dry berms that lead to our parking lot. Here it is in its full splendor this fall. We think this has immense horticultural potential.

Been Watching the Stones

We’ve tried growing living stones (Lithops) a few times over the last decade in the garden, but could never get them to last longer than a couple of years. We weren’t loosing them to cold temperatures, but to moisture. So, when we built the crevice garden, lithops were one of the first plants we wanted to try again. We designed the crevices with overhangs to keep water completely off certain special plants, and that’s where we planted our seed-grown living stones.

For those who haven’t grown these irresistible gems, Lithops are South African succulents in the Azoiceae family, native to very dry and mostly tropical regions. They are prized for their odd appearance that consists of only two camouflouged succulent leaves.

We’ve never been able to coax a lithops to flower until last week. In their new crevice home, several finally decided to bloom this fall, with a sucession of flowers that still continues. We are currently growing only one species, Lithops aucampiae, but now that we’ve been successful, we’ve planted seed of more species to try. It takes us about 18 months from seed to get a plant large enough to go into the garden.

Despite everything written about lithops being tropical, we have not found this to be the case. Like so many plants, not enough people have been willing to experiment in colder climates in the right conditions. Of course, if you believe everything written on line, you’ll know for sure that they can’t take anything below 40 degrees F. Hint…ours have made it fine in the garden to 13F, so we expect them to tolerate even colder temperatures if kept dry. Wish us luck and be sure to check out the stones growing in the crevice during our next open house.

Captain Kirk’s Crinum

About the same time that America’s Captain Kirk blasted off into space recently, we were enjoying his namesake here in the gardens at JLBG. Crinum kirkii is a fantastic dwarf crinum lily to only 18″ tall, that is sadly almost never seen in commerce. Full disclosure…Crinum kirkii was actually named for botanist Sir John Kirk, who found and sent this previously undescribed species from his outpost in Zanzibar to Kew Gardens in 1879.

Crinum kirkii has thrived for us here in Zone 7b since 2012. Our plants of this African species are from Tanzania. Perhaps one day, we can produce enough of these to share.

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?

Welcome back, Katherine

Every year around July 4, we celebrate with our own horticultural fireworks show as the South African Scadoxus multiflorus ssp. katherine bursts into flower. Here are our plants at JLBG this week. This amazing bulb requires light shade to grow and thrive. Anyone whose woodland gardens suffers from the summer doldrums, would do well to include Katherine. Hardiness Zone 7b-10.

Ammocharis…the neglected amaryllid

Since we don’t have an open house in June, I wanted to share photos of Ammocharis corranica in flower now. This easy-to-grow amaryllid has thrived in the gardens at JLBG since 2004. First cousin to the better known genera like amaryllis, crinum, and lycoris, the South African ammocharis makes a very short, but incredibly showy bulb for a sunny garden spot.