Hear, Hear…lend me an ear

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

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)

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 Hil (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

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’

Goin’ Bananas

We’re always on the search for new bananas that will be winter hardy without protection in our Zone 7b winters, and two that have looked great so far are the South Asian native Musa balbisiana (Northeast India to South China) and the Northeast Indian native Musa nagensium var. hongii. If these continue to thrive, we will propagate these so we can share.

Musa balbisiana
Musa nagensium var. hongii

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.

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

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 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 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

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 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’

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 Rose’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Berry Awesome’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Cherry Crush’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Cotton Candy’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Magenta Magic’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Mini Me’
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 ‘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 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 ‘Gennen’
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 ‘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’

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.

Amazing Angolans

Gardeners in Zone 7b wouldn’t typically think of Angola (tropical West Central Africa) as a place to search for hardy perennials, but we’ve been thrilled with the performance of two natives of the region, Crinum fimbriatulum and Crinum jagus. The reason we kill so many plants is we try things that people with better sense would assume wouldn’t have a chance of the proverbial snowball.

Crinum fimbriatulum is flowering now for us, while Crinum jagus bloomed a few weeks earlier. Crinum fimbriatulum is the taller of the two, with spikes reaching nearly 4′ tall. Our plants were planted in 2009. They thrive in average to above average soil moisture.

Crinum fimbriatulum

Crinum jagus has been in the ground at JLBG since 2015. It’s a much shorter plant with 2′ tall flower spikes, but with incredibly lush, attractive foliage.

Crinum jagus ‘Mayan Moon’

Perennial Gathering

Just back from the Perennial Plant Association meeting in Lancaster, PA, held in person for the first time in three years. It was like a family reunion after such a long period of no contact, except via Zoom. Over 450 people from around the world showed up for the first year back.

The Perennial Plant Association is a professional organization for people involved in production, sales, trials, research, landscaping, or growing perennials. The annual meetings consist of a week of talks, tours, and a trade show. There are plenty of tour options, so attendees can select whether they are more interested in landscape design, retail, or production.

Briggs Nursery booth at PPA trade show in PA

Aris Greenleaf is a large liner producer, who also has a trial garden. Sadly, non of the trial plants here had been planted more than a few months.

Aris Greenleaf production and shipping facilities
Aris Greenleaf trial garden

Cavano’s Nursery in nearby Maryland, was one of several top notch perennial growers we visited.

Cavano’s Nursery tour
Cavano’s Nursery

North Creek Nursery, a leading producer of native plant liners in PA, hosted the group for an amazing dinner

Dinner @ North Creek Nurseries
North Creek Nurseries production greenhouses

Owner Ed Snodgrass welcomed the group to his Emory Knoll Farms, an “off the grid” nursery that only produces plants for green roofs. 100% of their power is produced by solar panels on site.

Ed Snodgrass

For those unfamiliar with green roofs, shingles are replaced with plants, which help insulate the structure, while also reducing runoff.

Green roof planting at Emory Knoll Farms
Green roof plant production at Emory Knoll Farms

What interested many on this tour, was their use of an outdoor version of a Stanley Steamer, for weed control. The manufacturer, Weedtechnics is out of Australia, but has a few US distributors.

Steam is applied too kill weeds as you would clean a carpet. The steam only penetrates the ground to 5 mm, but that’s enough to kill both the weed and weed seed, without bothering nearby plants. This is certainly a technology many of us on the tour will be investigating.

Weedtechnics tractor mounted weed steamer
Weedtechnics steamer in action

We visited the amazing Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, a place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several times over the last 30 years. The gardens have undergrown a dramatic facelift that made a great garden even better. It was great to catch the native Zigadenus glaberrimus in full flower by the lower pond.

Zigadenus glaberrimus

The amazing Chanticleer Gardens and Longwood Gardens both hosted the group for two incredible dinners and a chance to stroll the grounds. At Chanticleer, we caught the water lotus (Nelumbo) in full flower, looking eerily like something from the Little Shop of Horrors.

Nelumbo @ Chanticleer Gardens

Of course, we are all there to see the latest and greatest in new plants, and these gatherings never fail to show us something new we need to try. Below are the latest from the world of echinacea breeding.

Echinacea ‘Rainbow’
Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ @ The Perennial Farm
Echinacea ‘Tres Amigos’ @ The Perennial Farm

Lysimachia lanceolata ‘Burgundy Mist’ and Sorghastrum nutans ‘Golden Sunset’ are two new US natives that are just hitting the market.

Lysimachia lanceolata ‘Burgundy Mist’
Sorghastum nutans ‘Golden Sunset’

Of course, in addition to the plants, these meetings are also about the people and the networking that these meetings afford. It was great to see two former JLBG’ers in attendance, Adrienne and Jon Roethling. Adrienne is now the Director of the Paul Ciener Garden in NC, and Jon heads up the grounds at Reynolda House and Gardens.

Adrienne and Jon Roethling

And it was great to catch up with Simple, the Roving Garden Artist…one of the most “out of the box” designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Simple, The Roving Garden Artist

It was a lovely surprise to run into an old friend, plantsman Barry Yinger, who was in town, taking a break from his Sanseveria conservation work in Tanzania to visit his sister, and happened to be staying next door to the convention.

Barry Yinger

It’s always great to catch up with old friends, Nanci Allen (long time PPA director), and Allan Armitage (retired UGA professor). You never know who you’ll run into at these meetings. If you work in the field, check out the PPA, and perhaps we’ll see you at a future symposium.

Red Kidney Vetch

Flowering now in the rock garden is the European native, Anthyllis coccinea…aka: red kidney vetch. This small rock garden legume (Fabaceae) is still in its first full year in the ground, having been planted last June…so far, so good.

Laosy Mytilaria

Okay…everyone raise your hand if you’ve grown Mytilaria laosensis. This odd monotypic genus, native from Southern China to Laos, is first cousin to the also virtually unknown genus Exbucklandia, both in the Witch Hazel family, Hamamelidaceae . Since we’ve had our Exbucklandia in the ground since 1997, we though it was worth trying its cousin.

Our Mytilaria is Dan Hinkley’s collection from Huanan…probably the first accession in the country. Dan has actually never put one in the ground and told me that it would certainly die when we hit 27F. Well, we’ve dropped to 25 so far, and it still looks great, so we’ve already pushed the envelope. We truly have no idea what temperatures it will take, but that’s why we trial plants. As the late JC Raulston used to say, “Unless you’re killing plants, you’re not growing as a gardener.”

Bottlebrush Splendor

Because we’ve had three consecutive mild winters, we’ve had some survivors that probably wouldn’t have made it through a normal winter. One of those plants is Callistemon viminalis ‘Light Show’, which is looking really superb this fall. Perhaps this year, we’ll get back to our more normal winter low temperatures of 5-10F, but in the meantime, we’ll enjoy these amazing trial plants.

It ain’t worth a thing if it ain’t got that bling!

Apologies for commandeering the famed Duke Ellington line, but it seems appropriate for the new Colocasia ‘Waikiki’.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Waikiki’

When we first met Hawaii’s John Cho in 2003, we knew some special elephant ears would be the result of our collaboration, but it was hard to imagine something like the seriously tricked-out Colocasia ‘Waikiki’. Almost every year, John, who has now retired, but is still actively breeding elephant ears, travels to JLBG to evaluate his new hybrids at our in-ground trials and make future introduction decisions. There are some seriously amazing new selections starting down the introduction pipeline.

Colocasia trials
Colocasia ‘Waikiki’
Colocasia ‘Wakiki’

Colocasia ‘Waikiki’ will be released from Plant Delights Nursery on January 1, so if you like this, mark you calendars and stay tuned to the website.

A little purple meatball

We trial several hundred newly developed plants each year, and most never grace the pages of a PDN catalog, either because of performance or a lack of uniqueness. One that has fascinated us is Dahlia ‘Grandalia Burgundy Improved’. With a height and spread of 20″, you’d swear that this dahlia had either been regularly clipped or sprayed with growth regulators, neither of which are the case. The gem has been looking quite incredible in the garden, as it moves into its third year of trial. Obviously, it’s a perennial here in Zone 7b, but would be tender farther north. We’d love to hear your thoughts..