Tuesday, June 12, 2012

South Africans In June

Kniphofia caulescens

Senecio macrospermus

Senecio macrospermus

Pelargonium luridum

Pelargonium leucophyllum

Berkheya radula

Hebenstretia sp

Hebenstretia sp

Freesia laxa

Geranium schlechteri
       This June so many things are blooming in my school garden.  It is the talk of the faculty, not a day goes by without someone complementing my garden.  My colleagues enjoy the brightly colored poppies and other colorful flowers which boldly proclaim their presence at this time of year.  But if they were to look closer, as the occasional horticultually informed visitors I bring to my garden do, they would notice that there are lots of plants that they have never seen before.  In fact I am certain some of these plants are not to be found elsewhere in New York, at least not yet.  This holds especially true for the numerous South African species I favor, and after last years mild winter, so many of them came through the winter with extra vigor.  Marginal things were greatly favored, and reliable things got an earlier start than usual. 
        Just some of the South African taxa I grow that have or are blooming are shown above, there are many other South African species in various stages of development in the garden.  Kniphofia caulescens is one of two kniphofia species to bloom thus far.  It makes an impressive clump, with multiple shoots and spikes.  Two plants bloomed from seed I got from Silverhill, and though one is smaller, I am hoping that they are cross pollinating so I can get more seed.  Earlier I had K. northiae, a wider leaved species, in bloom, and one of them seems to have self pollinated since I see seed pods forming.
       Three plants of Senecio macrospermus are in the garden, but only one is blooming thus far.  The grey foliage is interesting all by itself, and this species can get quite tall.  I know that Ellen Hornig grew superb specimens of this in her former Oswego NY garden.  I imagine one plant will be unlikely to set fertile seed, as self incompatibility is common in the Asteraceae, but if this is the case I will probably have better luck next year when the other two plants are likely to be large enough to bloom.  This yellow senecio reminds me of the ones I saw last summer in the mountains around Denver, but no Rocky Mountain species grows as tall as S. macrospermus does. 
         Pelargonium luridum continues to return yearly in its sheltered spot at the base of the wall, and this spring it is joined by several other pelargonium species.  These other species (and one hybrid) survived unprotected in the slope garden.  They include P. sidoides, pulverentulum, leucophyllum, and a hybrid I made between ionidiflorum and odoratissimum.  P. leucophyllum was given to me on my last visit to South Africa by the late Charles Craib.  He collected it on the Adriesberg in the Eastern Cape at high altitude, and was not sure of its identity.  I have identified it from descriptions in the Pelargoniums of Southern Africa series by JJA Van der Walt and P. Vorster. They illustrate and describe P. hypoleucum, a species with a more western Cape distribution, and in their discussion write about a plant of similar appearance that it found on the highest peaks in the Eastern Cape near the Lesotho border, and refer to it as P. leucophyllum.  Whatever my plant is, it is hardy so long as at least some foliage makes it through the winter, even if it is tattered come spring.  The foliage is richly scented, and the small lavender and white flowers appear on a spreading plant during spring and early summer. This species should be protected during bad winters, but this year no such protection was needed.
           Berkheya radula is not one of the really high altitude berkheyas, from what I can find out, thus I dug the plants in past years and overwintered them in my classroom.  This winter I left most of them outside, where they have done so much better and are now coming into full bloom.  It is self incompatible so to get good seed I need to have both of my 2 older plants blooming at the same time.  They are doing so now, and some of their offspring from preceding seasons will soon join them.  Should Silverhill offer more seed of it in the future I will order some more so as to widen the genetic pool so seed can be set more easily.   I like the soft yellow flowers intermingled with the bright red Shirley poppies, which themselves are doing splendidly this year from self sown seeds.
           Hebenstretia species is a cool little plant I grew from seeds sent to me by Panayoti from his first South African collecting expedition.  Some day I will find the data on this plant, but it grows easily from seed as an annual, but in years with mild winters it makes an even better perennial.  It looks like nothing one would find in the northern hemisphere floras, it has that Gondwanan look for sure.  The delicate foliage reminds me of some kind of conifer, but it is too soft in appearance and texture to be a  actually be taken for a conifer, and the crowded spikes of tiny white flowers with their bold bright orange markings do catch one's notice. It will flower off and on throughout the growing season.       
          Freesia (formerly Anamotheca) laxa comes in three basic colors; red, white, or blue.  The blue form is an obligate winter grower from the Cape, but the red and white forms are found in summer rainfall regions in South Africa, and are reputed to grow well in our southern states.  Against the wall they do well, perhaps when I get more I will try them in less protected locations to see just how much cold they can take.  They will sometimes die back in summer and try to grow again in fall, only to get cut down, but they reappear as soon as the weather gets warm again.
           The last plant pictured, Geranium schlecteri, also came to me from Charles Craib years ago, this time as seed labelled as G.wakkerstroomianum.  The latter species has more deeply notched petals than what I am growing, so I suspect it really is G. schlecteri.  After all plants in nature don't come with labels, and natural variation within a species is often more than one might imagine if one only sees the same plant as it is represented in gardens.  Actually this geranium is quite rare in cultivation anyway.  It  is a gently sprawling plant with single or paired flowers of a soft lavender.  The flowers appear through early summer and it will set copious seed, though it is a modest self sower thus far. 


Panayoti Kelaidis said...

Great pix: what a wonderful experiment we are conducting! For all the hundreds of South Africans we have grown at DBG, most of those you mentioned we do not have and haven't tried. What a great flora! Bravo, Ernie!

geranios said...

PK, let me know which ones you want to try, if I get seeds I can send them to you. I sent Mike K some SA flora seed last winter, hopefully he has them growing by now.