Friday, December 28, 2007

More endangered natives from Plant Delights

These pics taken at Plant Delights show two endangered indigeonous species that they grow to perfection. Spegelia gentianoides is a lovely pink endangered wildflower that resembles a pink gentian when in bloom. The flowers are closed for the greater part of the day, but do open later on to form a flared tube with five points. I had trouble growing my first plant from Plant Delights, it developed black lesions on the leaves and stems. This time I fungicided the hell out of it, and it seemed to do better this time, but then died back during the fall. So I brought the pot indoors and am pleased to see that it is resprouting nicely right now. Hope I can keep it happy in 2008. Gaillardia aestivilis var winkleri is unusual for its soft pink color in an otherwise hot colored genus. This endangered Texas native spreads by means of underground stolons, and hopefully will get through the winter up here. I placed my plant right against the wall in my school garden, so its roots should be well protected against severe cold. The shoots have died back so I will have to wait until spring to see if it made it. PD also had a purple flowered selection that I will have to order or pick up on my next visit.


These pics were taken at the Strybing Aboretum in San Francisco last August. They show two rather different species of Bomarea, a horticulturally interesting but poorly known genus of vines related to Alstroemeria. They are spectacular plants from central and South America, and are rarely if ever grown here in the East. I've grown some from seed in the past, and have some others right now at school grown from both seed and purchased plants. They aren't the easiest things to manage indoors because they are vines, and I found out when growing them at NYBG years ago that they did not appreciate total drought during dormancy either. I hope next summer to have flowers on some of the ones I am growing now. I am keeping them in growth through the winter, and they appear to be fine so far. One I am particularly curious to see the flowers of was started from refrigerated seed given to me many years ago by a collector from Peru, so I have no idea what species it is. In fact, it seems as though the classification of this genus is a real mess, but one thing is for sure, any species you might come across will be a worthwhile addition to any plant collection.

Senecio inaequidens

Another of my wild collected introductions, Senecio inaequidens is a weedy plant in its native South Africa, but those same characteristics make it a reliable self sowing annual in New York. It starts producing yellow daisies under an inch in diameter in June from self sown seedlings, but really comes into its own in September as flowers multiply on the rapidly growing plants. The flowers resist light frosts so they add welcome color when most other flowers are down for the count, usually sometime in November in our climate.
During an exceptionally mild El Nino winter back in the 90's, plants did come back from the roots both in the Bronx and in my Tuckahoe garden, so it might be a hardy perennial in the lower reaches of Zone 7. Nonetheless it reseeds profusely, so it will always be back, but fortunately excess seedlings are easily pulled so that it is no problem to keep it under control.

Pelargonium sidoides

I realized after I posted about P. "Burgundy" that I should have included a photo of P. sidoides in the post. Here it is, blooming in my school garden. Note how dark the flowers are, much more so than "Burgundy" is. "Burgundy" also produces more elongated foliage bearing stems than does true P. sidoides.
I believe that P. sidoides has been used as a respiratory medicine in traditional African medicine (and in Europe), and I would expect P. reniforme to have similar pharmaceutical properties. Unfortunately this poses a danger to these plants in the wild, as they are gathered as "muti" by traditional healers in their homeland. They could be easily cultivated in areas with appropriate climates so as to relieve pressure on wild populations.

A Cotula from the South African Cape

This annual Cotula was collected by myself in the southwestern Cape during the early 90's and has shown itself to be an adaptable, if short lived, tiny garden flower. In nature it would germinate during the fall and grow and bloom in winter and early spring, but here it can self sow and germinate in spring as well as fall. Of course, fall germinating seedlings are dispatched by our severe winters. I had it self sowing for years at the NYBG in sandy soil in a spot near a greenhouse, as well as in pots in the greenhouse. I resurrected refrigerated seed this spring and started a few pots under lights, and set them outside when the weather was settled. They started flowering under lights indoors, with tiny white 3/8" discs (no petals) on stems that emerge from a delicate jumble of lacy, finely divided light green foliage. After being put out in the garden, they bloomed and seeded profusedly, finally expiring when it got too hot in July. Right now I am finding seedlings in pots indoors and I anticipate I will also find seeds germinating in the garden next spring. Any ideas as to which species it is would be welcome.

Erigeron divergens

I collected seed of this fleabane in the early 90's on the Apache Trail outside of Phoenix, AZ. Unlike many arid land species, this flower does not disappoint when grown in the more humid East by either dying from fungal problems or producing huge leaves and few flowers. It blooms quickly from seed and soon covers itself with flowers that go on and on till frost. For me it behaves as a resowing annual, and for many years plants persisted in outdoor containers on a small terrace at home. It is one of those plants that never seems to disappear, always popping up in unexpected places from self sown seed. This year I transplanted seedlings from the containers to a sunnier spot in the school garden and they went bonkers, producing loads of flowers and many minute seeds. It grows about a foot tall, with narrow linear greyish leaves and lots of slender flower covered branches.

Sinningia species in the classroom

Last spring I had two nice species of sinnigia in bloom in my classroom. The most stunning of the two is S. sp "Ibitioca", an unpublished species from Brazil, which I grew from seed. With its graceful, rich purple hanging flowers and plush neat foliage it is a real winner of a houseplant, far nicer in my opinion than the large commercial "gloxinia" hybrids. Although it grows in very sunny locations in the wild, it does not seem to demand unusual amounts of light to flower indoors, just bright light as for any of the other larger sinningia species. It does go dormant, and right now new shoots are emerging so it will be time to water it again and wait in anticipation of another spectacular display.
Sinningia aggregata normally has red/orange colored flowers,but a yellow form is well known among gesneriad growers. While not a spectacular species, it does bloom for a long time, and is easy to grow and bloom. It will seed readily if hand pollinated, but the stems are brittle when handled, so care must be taken not to break branches off when handling the plant. It also has a dormant period, but tends to send up new shoots rather quickly.

A Wonderful Rose Grows in West Virginia

While on vacation during early July in the land of my birth and early childhood, the lovely mountains of southern West Virgina, my wife and I chanced upon this amazing rose display just outside of Bramwell, WV. The plant had evidently spread, rooting wherever it touched the ground, making a large patch full of flowers spilling over the rocks near the road's edge. I dug up a small sucker and successfully reestablished it in a pot back home in NY. It survived last winter outside in my backyard, and has grown larger but not flowered yet. I need to find a place in the ground for it, but can't think of a location large enough to comfortably accomodate its potential spread.
I do not have any idea what cultivar this is, but it might be a cross with a wild species of rose. The single flowers appear to be too large for any of the local native species of Rosa, but it is not a common hybrid either. Any help with ID from rose experts would be greatly appreciated!

Global Climate Change in NY

Last January (Jan 7, to be specific) I took these pics in Eastchester, NY. It was a first in my life of observing plants--seeing calendula in full bloom in early January in southern NY! While we had reasonably hard frost in December of 2006, the latter part of the month and early to mid January were exceptionally warm, allowing the calendulas to bloom in this favored location among south facing rocks. Dandelions and candytuft nearby also were blooming as well. While this winter doesn't seem to be as mild, there does seem to be a trend towards less severe cold and greater survival of plants considered to be not hardy in our zone. Good news for zone pushing gardeners like myself, but bad news for the native flora and fauna, as they need more time to adapt to climate change than will likely be the case.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Pelargonium "Burgundy"

The pelargonium hybrid to the right/bottom (pic taken at Plant Delights) often is mistakenly called P. sidoides in horticulture, but in fact is a hybrid between P. reniforme and sidoides. I consider P. reniforme and sidoides similar enough to be grouped into a single, variable taxon encompassing a variety of plant and foliage forms and flower colors. When I was engaged in doctoral research at Cornell, I made several crosses between sidoides and reniforme, and the resulting hybrids were also fertile. Other people, such as Michael Vassar, have also made similar hybrids, although I do not know who made "Burgundy".

I am growing at least 4 different forms of P. reniforme, and have grown a couple of others in the past. These forms have stems arising from a tuberous root network, green to grey green small (one inch) to large (3 inches) foliage, and magenta or pink flowers. The most spectacular and distinct form I grow is a form collected and given to me by Fiona Powrie (shown on the left/top), formerly of the National Botanical Garden at Kirstenbosch in South Africa. It has huge thick tomentose leaves, very short stems, and well branched sprays of pink flowers. I observed numerous healthy plants of it growing on the "African Hill" at the botanic garden at UC Berkeley last August, to which I had brought it several years earlier. It also sets the least seed of all forms I have grown, and may merit separate species rank. Another form given to me by the late Joan deVilliers of Johannesburg, SA is the best grower, flowering well when set out in the garden during the summer. It is more typical of what is considered reniforme, having green foliage and magenta flowers. Another form from Logee's, and thus probably from England, has small tomentose leaves and pink flowers on a plant with elongated stems.

I also grow P. sidoides, including plants originally from wild collected seed from near Plutosvale in South Africa. Variation appears to be less than what I have seen in P. reniforme, as all forms I have grown have silverish foliage and very deep burgundy, nearly black, flowers, much darker than "Burgundy". Stems are very short, and flowers are fragrant at certain times of the day, a rare feature among pelargoniums. Robin Parer has seen P. sidoides in the wild, and told me that it did show much more variation in nature. I suspect that wherever P. reniforme and sidoides overlap in nature they would create hybrid swarms that might explain some of this variation, or, another interpretation could be that they are merely forms of the same taxon.
Any form of either species (or their hybrids) are easy growing plants which merit a place in a pot or in a sunny garden for the summer. Both species have survived mild winters outside with mulch for protection in the Bronx when I worked at the NYBG, but plants will do better if lifted and brought indoors for winter. Cuttings root easily and tuberous roots can be divided to produce more plants.