Thursday, December 29, 2011

Identify this Asteraceous plant

While exploring the mid-Applachian shale barrens, there was a rather impressive member of the Asteraceae that we found in a couple of locations.  I have yet to identify this plant.  Anyone out there have any ideas?

This plant formed basal rosettes of large, cordate (heart-shaped) leaves with undulating margins.  The towering inflorescence was born from the center of the rosette and plants could be found in both flower and with mature seeds as of late September.  The flowers superficially resemble those of the genus Silphium.  Any ideas?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lilies in December? Lilium superbum in Ohio

Although more common in Ohio than the rarely witnessed Lilium philadelphicum, Lilium superbum is at the edge of its range in ohio and can be considered locally abundant at best.   This species can be found only in the extreme eastern and a few southern counties of Ohio, and in Ashtabula county, I was told by a reputable local botanist that Lilium superbum "could probably be found along every stream in the county."  Ashtabula county is the north easternmost county in Ohio and many northern plants reach their southern limit here, some rarities include: Acer pensylvanicum, Streptopus amplexifolius, and Dalibarda repens.  So, with this in mind, and information from the OSU herbarium, I headed north.

One of the best populations of Lilium superbum can be found along the Grand River.  In some places, the habitat is pristine and undisturbed, resembling what many of the rivers in northeastern Ohio looked like in pre-colonial days.

Throughout the world, Sedges are touted as indicators of untrammeled habitat, and the great lakes region is no exception.  Carex emoryi is one of the defining species along this stretch of the Grand River and forms extensive colonies that hug the river's edge and stabilize the sandy river bank.  In areas where the current slows, this species grows as a monoculture, forming texturally pleasing undulating islands that dot shallow portions of the river.

My first plants of Lilium superbum in the wild.  In peak flower on July 13, 2010.

A typical form of Lilim superbum along the Grand River

In this area plants of Lilium superbum grow under forest, but the largest number of flowers per plant and most luxuriant growth was found on plants growing in forest gaps and edges.  The extra light is a great boon to their development.  The forest is composed of riparian species; Acer saccharinum, Acer rubrum, Platanus occidentalis, and Fraxinus americana.

These were among the largest plants seen that day.  My backpack is included for scale.  The plants were as tall as I could reach standing on my tip-toes (topping 260 cm).  Two months later, I collected seed from the same plants.

This plant was growing directly at the rivers edge and had over 20 flowers / flower buds; far more than seen on any other plants.

I am fascinated by the interaction between plants and their pollinators.  I was fortunate to witness two separate pollination events this day, both of which involved Papilio glaucus (eastern tiger swallowtail).  Lily pollen could be seen on the butterflies.  The abundance of tiger swallowtails was an indicator of the ample seed set to be found two months later.

The bluffs and floodplain forest along the Grand River harbors many wonderful plants that contributed to one of the most memorable botanizing experiences of 2010.  Here are some of them that would make excellent native plants for native plant gardens, perennial borders, rain gardens, bog gardens, and the like...

Symplocarpos foetidus (Skunk Cabbage)

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)

Apios americana (Groundnut)

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)

Smilax herbacea (Smooth Carrionflower)

Public Garden Visits: The Chadwick Arboretum Hardy Bamboo Trial Garden

The Ohio State University Chadwick Arboretum harbors some exceptional plant collections.  Among my favorites is the hardy bamboo collection.  While not an exhaustive collection bamboo taxa that are hardy in Ohio, the unique setting of the collection, and dedication of the area to nothing but bamboo, lend it an other-worldly feel that provides a much needed respite from the urban grind of the OSU campus.

Surrounded on all sides by pavement and walls, this unassuming bamboo garden serves as a model for other urban gardens and is an ideal use of this difficult planting site.  Two of my personal favorites can be found at the entrance.

 Shibataea kumasaca, the ruscus-leaf bamboo (referencing the resemblance of the foliage to the genus Ruscus, the butcher's broom).  This resplendent clump is still green and lush in December; the product of a very rainy spring and summer in central Ohio.   A curious and problematic feature of this plant is that in dry years it will develop severe chlorosis.  I have seen it in other regions of the U.S. and it definitely prefers a more strongly acidic soil.

A close-up of Shibataea kumasaca.  Browning of the foliage is characteristic of this species.

Sasa sennanensis is closely related to our native Arundinaria gigantea, the cane-break.  I have grown this species in the past and find it to be hardy and durable.  The more moisture it gets, the taller it will grow.  In dry years, it will be shorter.

The foliage of Sasa sennanensis

 Another view of the garden.  Note the two Pleioblastus selections in the center.The shorter of the two is Pleioblastus pymaeus var. distichus 'Wooster Dwarf',and the taller is labeled as Pleioblastus viridostriatus both are well-known for being embarrassingly aggressive in garden settings and they are best planted where they are surrounded by pavement on all sides, such as parking lot islands.  

This lush and exotic looking bamboo is Indocalamus tessellatus.  It is one of the least aggressive species in the garden and is likely at the edge of it's cold hardiness range.  Despite this it is a highly desirable garden plant.

  Two more views if Indocalamus tessellatus

Lilies in December? A Look at Lilium canadense

A recent post on Lilium iridollae has garnered some attention, and my attention has turned high summer, when several of Ohio's native lilies flower.  Although it was my original intention to post images and information about plants in 'real-time', one of the great joys of blogging is the opportunity to relive exceptional botanical moments, even during dark and dreary days of December.

I have been interested in species lilies for a number of years, and despite having grown a variety of them for my former employer, 2010 was the first time that I was really able to explore different regions of Ohio, locate populations of native lilies, and study them. I started with Lilium canadense.  In Ohio, this species can be throughout the eastern section of the state in glaciated and unglaciated of the Allegheny Plateau, but can be found in great abundance at the northern edge of the Cumberland Plateau in Adams, Highland, Pike, and Scioto counties.   With this is mind, I headed south from Columbus on July 8 2010.  I found the first Canada lilies growing in a roadside ditch in Pike county.

These Lilium canadense var. coccineum grew along a rural road in SW Pike Co.  The vigorous plants were protected from deer browsing by a nearby barbwire fence and were treasured by the owner of the property, who randomly appeared from the woods and engaged me in conversation.  This after I had not seen single car or person in the previous two hours.

Lilium canadense var. coccineum on a miserably hot July day in southern Ohio.

Isolated stems of Lilium canadense var. coccineum can be found along roadsides in the Shawnee State Forest region.  Large populations are uncommon.

The interior portions of the petals can vary in color. This one is particularly pale and mostly golden-yellow.

The largest population of Lilium canadense var. coccineum that I have found occurs in Scioto Co. and can be found along a state highway growing in a shallow ditch.


There are hundreds of plants in this population; some of them are over 240 cm tall and flower color varies from a pale rosy-red to scarlet-red.

At the germplasm center where I work, Lilium is a priority genus.  We are interested in growing various accessions of native lilies that have been collected across a geographical transect.  We are growing forms of Lilium canadense from various portions of the United States, but this form, brought to us by a good friend and coworker from Coos Co. New Hampshire, is one of the finest of them all.

Lilium canadense var. flavum is one of the most striking lilies.  In Columbus, OH, this genotype flowers about one month earlier than in it's native northern New Hampshire.

Another view of Lilium canadense var. flavum.  This genotype grows vigorously for us, but attempted pollinations produce mostly aborted seed.  Seeds that develop embryos will germinate and produce healthy seedlings.

More about Ohio native lilies in the near future

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Winter Flowering Orchids

There are many reasons to grow species orchids.  Conservation awareness, the challenge, being among the first to flower a previously unknown species, etc.  For as intriguing as they might be, many species of orchids are simply slow growing and can require a considerable investment in time before the first flowers are produced.  Over the past few several years, I have bought many species orchids seedlings.  For some reason, many of them are producing flowers for the first time this year.

Almost two years to the day, this is the first from flower from a batch of deflasked seedlings of Phragmipedium besseae 'Firehouse' x 'Cow Hollow II'.  It will be interesting to see if the seedlings vary in flower size/color, number of flowers per plant, vigor. etc.

Another beauty flowering for the first time is Sophronitis (now, and again, considered a Cattleya) cernua 'H & K' x self.  This came from Mountain Orchids in Vermont.  The color of the flowers in the photo is a bit misleading.  They are more of a peachy-orange.  This is a fantastic miniature orchid.

Although not the first time this bizarre species has flowered for me, it's a plant that I always seem to forget about until the flowers emerge in November.  Bonatea speciosa is a terretrial orchid native to South Africa.  While not difficult to grow, it appears to be nearly impossible to find in the trade.  This is strange considering the fact the it self-pollinates and sets copious amounts of seed that is apparently quite easy to germinate.  If anyone out there is interested...let me know!

Another view of Bonatea speciosa

I am quite smitten with the Dendrobium species of section Calyptrochilus.  These species have the capacity to bloom throughout the year, the individual flowers are very long-lasting and come in a wide-range of colors, and the are quite easy to grow in moist, shaded conditions.

 This Dendrobium glomeratum (sulawesiense) (also on the label from Andy's Orchids was "giant lawesii").  I have had this orchid for several years and it spent most of that time producing one vary large and long cane that has now produced this massive inflorescence.

As you can see, the inflorescence is as large as my fist!

Cattleya maxima is one of the most rewarding orchids that can be grown.  It grows well mounted or in a container, and blooms reliably each year.  My plant, originally obtained from the now defunct Hoosier Orchids, is spectacular this year.

The flowers of Cattleya maxima are fragrant and last for 3-4 weeks in prime condition.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rescuing Rarities: Lilium iridollae

Lilium iridollae is an almost mythical plant; it was described in detail by it's discoverer, Mary Gibson Henry, and since that time, few studies have attempted to study this intriguing species in greater detail.  Known in the vernacular as the Panhandle or Pot of Gold lily, this species inhabits a few of the westernmost Florida panhandle and adjacent Alabama counties.  The plant grows in saturated, sandy soils that are not typically conducive to lily cultivation; frequent companions are Sarracenia spp., Drosera spp. Eriocaulon spp., Polygala spp., and Magnolia virginiana amongst many others.  Like some of these associated species, Lilium iridollae has become increasingly rare due to habitat destruction and fire suppression.

I was initially attracted to this lily by it's rarity, reputedly hard-to-grow nature, and potential as an exceedingly attractive conservation subject.  I made some enquiries to governmental institutions, and with their help was able to obtain a quantity of wild collected seed from an undisclosed location in Florida.  This seed was used to set up a germination and plant cultivation experiment.  Information from such experiments can be used to propagate plants for re-introduction into the wild on conservation sites and to produce nursery propagated plants to fulfill public demand.

Most of what is reported about seed germination is anecdotal and this species is considered difficult to grow in garden settings, although Mary Henry was able to grow it from seed to flower in 5 years in her Pennsylvania garden.  The goals of this study are to elucidate an efficient germination protocol, and to determine optimum conditions for sustained growth in cultivation.

A simple seed germination experiment was installed.  Seeds were sown on slightly moist perlite
and subjected to one of three temperature treatments: 70F in light for 5 days followed by incubation in darkness at 70F for 5 months, 70F in light for 5 days followed by cold stratification, and an "outdoor treatment" (seeds sown in 50/50 silica sand/peat medium and placed in a moderately heated playhouse).  Excellent information on lily species germination can be found on the Pacific Bulb Society website: 

Lilium iridollae seeds sown on perlite in plastic bags.  The moisture level is critical and seeds/seedlings should be kept barely damp.  Seeds at the sides of the bag appeared to benefit from extra moisture and produced the best seedlings.

A L. iridollae seedling 2.5 months after being sown on perlite and incubated for 5 days in light and the rest of the time in darkness at 70F.  As suggested in the literature, the germination pattern of this species in delayed hypogeal, and the highest rate of germination and most vigorous seedlings were produced from seeds started at 70F.  Seeds sown on perlite and cold stratified for three months germinated only after transfer to 70F conditions, but seedlings germinated irregularly and were not as vigorous as seed incubated on perlite at 70F.

From left to right, L. michiganense, L. superbum, L. canadense var. coccineum, and L. iridollae (note the long roots of L. iridollae) after three months of growth in the greenhouse.

To compare development among species, I also sowed seeds of L. canadense var. coccineum, L. canadense var. flavum, L. michiganense, and two accessions of L. superbum.  L. iridollae germinated and developed more slowly than all other species.  Although four months at 70F is the general recommendation before switching the plants to cold stratification, I kept the L. iridollae at 70F for an extra months (5 total months) and the seedlings continued to develop.  After this they were transferred to 40F for three months.

On July 1, the seedlings were transferred to a 50:50 silica sand/sphagnum peat medium and irrigated with  reverse osmosis water.  Since it was quite hot at this time, the seedlings emerged immediately, grew throughout the summer and autumn, and are showing the first signs of dormancy as of this writing on November 29, 2011.  We have about 200 seedlings at this stage.

Seedlings are now quite robust and are being separated from community pots to maximize growth next season.  Progress of this work will be updated on this blog.

Lilium iridollae seedlings.  Photo taken on November 28, 2011.  Roots are 15-20 cm long!

Now, if I could only convince some kind soul to send me some seeds/plants of Lilium grayi and Lilium catesbaei.......

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Year of the Clematis

This past year I was fortunate to be able to travel widely in the U.S. for strictly botanical purposes.  While the primary intention of these travels was to search out an study Phlox, there were many other botanically interesting and ornamental plants that were incidentally encountered along the way.  One genus of plants that was a frequent and exciting surprise was Clematis.  It all started on the Edwards plateau of Texas...

As we traversed the rugged terrain of Lost Maples Natural Area, we caught our first glimpse of Clematis texensis peaking out from the base of limestone outcropping.

As we moved deeper into the canyon, we found C. texensis growing in boulder bars and scrambling over stunted shrubs.  These plants were larger and more floriferous than the plants growing in shade.

The brilliant red flowers set this species apart from other Clematis, and have tremendous ornamental value.  While there were no seeds ripe at the time, we serendipitously found a local native plant nursery (Natives of Texas Nursery, who was offering seedlings for sale.  For those interested in the native plants of Edwards Plateau, I highly recommend this nursery.  I was also able to acquire plants of Penstemon triflorus and Phlox villosissima (Phlox pilosa ssp. latisepala).

Clematis texensis in cultivation.

Sometime later during the dog days of late July, I was botanizing in southwestern Kentucky.  While looking for the exceedingly rare Phlox pilosa ssp. deamii, we came across the demure Clematis versicolor.

The two-tone flowers of this species are less flamboyantly colored than C. texensis, but possess a demure charm unique to North American Clematis species.  Fortunately we were able to collect some ripe seeds of this rarely grown plant.

The abaxial leaf surface (underside) of Clematis versicolor

As of this weren't enough, an early autumn jaunt to heights of Dolly Sods revealed a single, very large plant of Clematis occidentalis var. occidentalis growing amongst boulders.

This species was scrambling along the ground, not climbing and of the stunted trees in the area.  There were no flowers to be seen, but there was a surfeit of seed, and we were able to collect a pinch.

A slightly different perspective showing Clematis occidentalis ssp. occidentalis near Dolly Sods.

On the same trip we also witnessed two Clematis species endemic to the shale barrens of West Virginia and Virginia.  These shrubby species are quite rare in the wild and even more rare in cultivation.

This is not the greatest photo, but in the lower right corner is growing what appears to be Clematis albicoma or C. coactilis.  This clematis was growing in the heavy shade of stunted Pinus virginiana; the seed had already dehisced.

A second Clematis (C albicoma or C. coactilis) grew in more exposed situations in full sun.  These plants had more stems and were covered with ripe seed.  

We collected a small portion of seeds and some of them have already germinated.

On a somewhat related note, it is hard to ignore the pronunciation of the word "Clematis", which is frequently the fodder of conversation.  Whenever I am asked to weigh in on the subject, I say this, " because its grows upon a lattice, some people call it Clematis, but Mr. Webster won't cease to his until you call its Clematis."