Saturday, December 31, 2016

Drimia (aka Urginea) maritima

Drimia maritima with Biscuit 

Drimia maritima
I would rather be posting an image of this plant in bloom, but I have a hunch it will never bloom here. Or at least it will not bloom here until I can provide it with more space and more light. I naively thought it might be possible to grow it in a cold frame. Now that I've seen just how big it is, it's obvious that it will not fit into any cold frame I have here. So it's being grown as a house plant (some might want to add "when it should be grown as a greenhouse plant").

As it turns out, it's a very handsome foliage plant - at least it is in the early stages of its vegetative growth.

That's Biscuit, our twelve pound ShihTzu, reluctantly providing scale in one of the images. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Dryocopus pileatus the pileated woodpecker the Urban Ornithoscopist

A sighting of these striking birds, the largest woodpeckers likely to be seen in North America, should make the day for most casual birders. I've been fortunate to live in pileated habitat for over a half century, and I see these birds frequently (and hear them!). And it's still always a thrill. 
Wayne photographed this pair in the Waverly-Schuylkill Park only two blocks down the hill from our house. 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer
Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer
Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer
Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

Megacyllene robiniae the locust borer

When the Urban Ornithoscopist is not out spotting birds, he’s got his eyes open for anything else of interest. The Urban Ornithoscopist wears several caps well: here Wayne is in Urban Entomoscopist mode.
The beautiful beetles seen here are locust borers, a type of long horn beetle. It’s amazing, isn’t it, how well the color of the beetle matches the color of the goldenrod. Many of the photographs of this species on the internet show it, as it is shown here, on goldenrod. The goldenrod seen here is the garden cultivar Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks'.

In the nineteenth century the locust borer (now M. robiniae) and the hickory borer (M. caryae) were, not surprisingly, confused: they look alike.  But the adults of some populations emerged in the spring and laid eggs on hickories. Other populations emerged in the fall and laid eggs on black locust.   Rather than being one species with two seasonal broods, they are distinct species. At that time they were both placed in the genus Cyllene (or earlier Clytus).The name currently used, Megacyllene, is derived from the classical Greek words for “big Cyllene”. 

In one of the images above there are five different insects: can you spot them all? 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rosa 'Little White Pet' and companions

fresh cuts from the CGPs
a late September bouquet

Rosa 'Little White Pet' (l) and R. 'Meidiland White' (r)

A quick walk through my CGPs this afternoon provided the flowers you see above. The silvery foliage is that of Artemisia absinthium, the asters are Aster tataricus and Aster laevis (aka Symphiotrichum laeve). The roses are 'Awakening', 'Meidiland White' and 'Little White Pet'.

'Awakening' is from the same protean seedling which gave us 'Dr W. Van Fleet' and 'New Dawn'. These three roses came from the same seedling, and thus form a clone (in the original sense).

'Little White Pet' also has an interesting history. Early in the nineteenth century, when noisette roses were being raised in numbers, a cross between a noisette rose and Rosa sempervirens  resulted in the climbing rose 'Félicité et Perpétue'. Later in the nineteenth century the dwarf form now known as 'Little White Pet' was discovered on a plant of  'Félicité et Perpétue'.  So,  'Félicité et Perpétue' and 'Little White Pet' also form a clone.

The rose 'Meidiland White' was raised almost exactly a century after 'Little White Pet' was discovered. 'Meidiland White' lacks scent, while 'Little White Pet' is well scented. 'Meidiland White'  blooms profusely throughout the growing season. 'Little White Pet' also blooms throughout the season, but not as profusely. The sweet scent guarantees it a place in this garden.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Geothlypis trichas Common yellowthroat:The urban ornithoscopist number 3

Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat 

Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat

Geothlypis trichas Common Yellowthroat
This little charmer is not common in the way that crows, sparrows, starlings and the like are common. But if you spend time in suitable habitat, you stand a good chance of seeing them. And the striking colors of this bird make it one you are not likely to forget. The yellow really glows.  Add to that its call, one easily remembered.
Wayne took these images from inside his house. He evidently keeps his windows cleaner than some of us do.
In older books it was called the Maryland Yellow-throat, but in one form or another this species - in season - is found throughout the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Central America.

Colchicum bivonae

Colchicum bivonae 

Colchicum bivonae 

These images show off well the rich color. shapely form and handsome tessellation of this species. All of the tessellated colchicums are favorites here. This is another plant acquired in 2006.

Colchicum 'Violet Queen'

Colchicum 'Violet Queen'

Colchicum 'Violet Queen'

Colchicum 'Violet Queen' in 2006

This is one of my favorites. I've got only one healthy plant right now, but it seems to be going in the right direction. It bloomed last year, and it's blooming again this year. I've had this particular accession since, I think, 2006. The name appears commonly in the lists, but the material being sent out now is frequently misnamed. So if you've got the real thing, hold on to it!
'Violet Queen' is well over one hundred years old. Be generous with the TLC!

Viola grypoceras v. exilis 'Sylettas' the cyclamen-leaf violet

Viola grypoceras v. exilis 'Sylettas'

Viola grypoceras v. exilis 'Sylettas'

Viola grypoceras v. exilis 'Sylettas'

It might be hard for some to believe, but this little charmer is in some gardens regarded as a little devil. It definitely lives in the fast lane. Individual plants are short-lived, and they seed about prolifically. The flowers are not much bigger than a lusty house fly, and their color is quiet.
But those leaves: I'll gladly forgive its bad habits if I can have those leaves!
We can't blame the violet for another annoyance associated with it: it's got name problems. The mouth-full which appears in the post title above is the currently accepted name among taxonomists. But nurseries are apt to sell it as "Viola koreana", a name not published formally. And the cultivar name is sometimes given as Syletta, Sylettas, Styletta and so on.
I say it's worth the bother.
One more interesting note: Viola grypoceras was named by Asa Gray, the nineteenth century Harvard botanist who was the first to call attention to the similarities of the flora of eastern North America and Eastern Asia, Japan in particular. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Tattered Sunshine comes for a visit

Tattered Sunshine 1894 Nelly Kennedy
The painting here, Tattered Sunshine, is a precious memento of my mother's grandmother, Nellie Kennedy. My sister and I share him, and for a while it's my turn. He will eventually go to my niece. Nellie signed the painting and dated it, but the date is difficult to read. It might be 1894.
We know very little about Nellie Kennedy. She married a Daniel Aloysius Gillin who was appointed to the rank Cadet of the United States Military Academy 1893. I've found on-line records of a Daniel Aloysius Gillin who worked in the Government Printing Office during the 1908-1912 period. They lived on A Street NE on the fringes of Capitol Hill. Nellie had time to paint, and her brother who lived with her ( my mom called him Unc and he was a favorite) played the guitar. A picture exists of Unc sitting on the front porch of the home (walk through that neighborhood and you'll see many like it) holding a guitar. There's a family story that Unc had a girlfriend he visited every Wednesday.
Did Daniel Aloysius graduate from West Point? So far, I have not been able to discover that. He might have died about 1920 because that seems to have been  about when Nellie and the daughters moved back to Philadelphia. It's all mostly guesswork on my part.
Update, February 3, 2017: evidently Daniel did graduate from West Point - we've found a telegram addressed to him in which he is requested to return tickets to an affair sponsored by his West Point class because the president needed the tickets. POTUS or president of his class - I'm not sure yet. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Welwitschia mirabilis

Welwitschia mirabilis 
In the image above you see this year's crop of Welwitschia mirabilis. These were sown on August 21:  as you can see, they don't waste any time getting started. Eight seeds were sown, six have germinated. Last year's crop was lost to an experiment: I had read that the frost resistance of Welwitschia was untested, so I left them outside during a light overnight freeze. They didn't like it! One was dead the next morning, and the others limped along during the rest of the winter, never recovering their former strength. One by one they died: the last one to die almost made it to the time of year when I would have put it out back into the sunshine.
I was going to try to get one established in a very protected cold frame which is nestled against the house wall. But now I'm having second thoughts. 

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba

Gloriosa superba
Gloriosa superba

Superb indeed, and in several respects. The brilliant color combination, the exciting form, the ease of culture in our climate all make this a very likable plant. For years it was assigned to the lily family, but more recent treatments place it in the Colchicaceae with Colchicum and Androcymbium and its near relatives Littonia modesta and Sandersonia aurantiaca. 
In the wild, it has a wide distribution in Africa and Southeast Asia. As that suggests, this plant thrives in heat. The flowers are well adapted to heat: they last and last even through periods when the daytime temperatures regularly reach up into the 90s F. That's one of the things which make these plants such great choices for our summer climate.
The rhizomatous corms (like those seen in some Colchicum) fork at the growing point yearly. For commercial purposes the two forks are split apart and sold separately. Each can be the size of a large man's finger.
These plants will survive the winter outside in the ground if sited near a house wall. I have not tried them out in the open. 

Gentiana 'True Blue"

Gentiana 'True Blue' 

This is now in full bloom, and as you can see the bloom is very abundant indeed. And it has turned out to be easily grown. It's been in full sun - or as close as this garden comes to full sun - all season, so that answers the question about its sun tolerance. But does it need full sun? When I bought it, I had it in mind for a shady late fall border with Tricyrtis. But it's not even fall yet, and both the gentian and the toad lilies have been in bloom for weeks. Will there be anything left when autumn actually arrives? It looks as if that border I imagined will be a late summer border. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Zephyranthes smallii

Zephyranthes smallii 

Zephyranthes smallii 

Here's a rain lily which has a very distinctive look. To me it looks like a tulip flower. And it has a nice fragrance. It's said to be a natural hybrid between Zephyranthes pulchella and Z. chlorosoleln. My bulbs came from the bulb exchange of the Pacific Bulb Society about a month ago. No sooner did I plant them than they popped into bloom. The type locality for this species is Brownsville, Texas, so I'm assuming that it will require winter protection. We'll see - I've got enough bulbs to experiment.  

Portulaca 'Rio Grande'

What a color! It reminds me of the color of the so-called Austrian copper rose, Rosa  'Foetida Bicolor'.
And what are these large-flowered, broad-leaved portulacas? To what species are they assigned?  I'm not sure. The several which I have tried have been good garden plants, although they don't seem to bloom every day. I'm going to try to keep this one going throughout the winter. 

Polianthes 'Pink Sapphire'

Polianthes 'Pink Sapphire' 

Polianthes tuberosa, the tuberose, must have been one of the earliest plants to be introduced to Europe from the then newly discovered Mexico. It was growing in European gardens in the seventeenth century. It's not known as a wild plant, and until very recently tuberoses came as two sorts: single and double, both with white flowers.
Now a small range of tuberoses in colors is being marketed. Here's one of them, Polianthes 'Pink Sapphire'. It seems to be a vigorous grower, but the scent is light and the pink color fades quickly to a whitish color. The real test will come in future years: will it bloom reliably? 

Some of my Virginian relatives

Wayne has been doing some genealogical investigation of his family lately, and he went on to check out my family, too. He found an image (not the image shown here)  of my paternal grandfather's grave stone online, and that got him interested in the location of the cemetery. We typically visit friends on the Northern Neck a couple of times a year, and in doing so pass that cemetery just east of Montross, Virginia.  We took that trip again on August 24, and this time we stopped at the cemetery to find the grave stones. I had been there once and maybe twice in the distant past, so I shared Wayne's curiosity about this cemetery.
We had no trouble finding the head stones: the graves of the Carvers, Robertsons and a a few McKenneys are lined up prominently along the west side of the cemetery.
In the images above you see the stones for my paternal grandparents - both died long before I was born, and before my father brought his new bride down to Virginia to meet the family. I know almost nothing about my paternal grandparents other than that they both died young and had a farm in Caroline County, Virginia. That they came to be buried in Montross was no doubt due to the fact that my maternal grandmother was a Robertson. I'm not aware of any other McKenneys buried there.
The third head stone is that of Nannie Lee Robertson. Our family knew her as Nan Lee. She summered in Montross and wintered in Danville; she never married and was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She visited us once at our home in Silver Spring, Maryland, and that visit provided the following funny story. As I mentioned, my dad grew up on a farm. After Nan Lee arrived for her visit and we had settled down for conversation, she noticed the family dog Scrapper there in the living room with us. Nan Lee turned to my father, and rather crisply inquired "Ashton, you don't allow the dog into the house, do you?" At that, I blurted out "Nan Lee, he sleeps in my bed!".  We never got to know her well, although I do vaguely remember running into her on Connecticut Ave downtown one day: I think she was in town for a DAR meeting. She remembered me as "Ashton's son" but not by name.
Nan Lee and the Carver connection provided me with a bit of a legacy. Uncle Arthur Carver owned the bank and the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Montross back in those days. When Nan Lee died, she left each of the children of her nieces and nephews Coca-Cola stock. I'll bet most of my cousins cashed it in right away; I didn't. I still have mine, and it has grown enough, should the need arise, to keep me comfortable on many a rainy day - and to provide one more happy memory of Nan Lee.  
For a bit more about Uncle Arthur Carver's place,  see here:

Calydorea amabilis

Calydorea amabilis 
Like some other tropical irids, the flowers of this species last only a few hours. In this case those few hours are in the morning. And the flowers are about the diameter of a quarter. And the colors are very soft. And if there is a fragrance, I have not noticed it. So, let's add it up: fleeting flowers, small size, inconspicuous color,  no scent - a plant designed to be overlooked?
On the other hand, it does take care of itself. Other than bringing it in for the winter, it's carefree. And my single plant does set abundant seed freely.
At first glance this looks a lot like Iris dichotoma. 

the frisky mattress

Wayne and I went bed shopping last week. I had had my eye on a certain bed at IKEA for a couple of years, and while we were there the other day I saw that it had been discontinued and was on sale. That did it: I bought the bed. At first I considered having the store deliver it to the house, but then decided to see if we could load the bed into his hatchback. He has much better packing skills than I do, and I was counting on him. Somehow we got it all stuffed into the car, and off we went. Once we got home, I decided to temporarily put the pieces in the living room - I needed a nap.
Two days later we tackled the job of putting the bed together. We started at about 3 in the afternoon, worked until about 7 and then took a dinner break. After dinner, we were at it again. We put the finishing touches on the bed at about 1 A. M.
Once the bed was together, we took on the mattress. The mattress came rolled up and was bigger than some people. We were puzzled about what we would have to do to get the mattress into its functioning shape. I figured we might be in for a surprise when we unwrapped it, so I asked Wayne to do the honors with the unwrapping while I stayed handy with the camera. We did get a surprise: that's what you see above.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Achimenes and Colias eurytheme

This was to have been the summer I built a wall to test out some gesneriads as garden and rock wall plants. Earlier I acquired dozens of Achimenes in nominally five varieties  from an on-line source. They were alive,  growing and full of promise when received. Now that they are beginning to bloom, the rest of the story has emerged. So far, none seems true to name. Most of the plants which have bloomed so far are like the one in the image above. That might be the old,  well-known variety 'Purple King' (but that's not the name under which it was received). Whatever it is, it makes a handsome plant.
The butterfly in that image is an orange sulfur, Colias eurytheme; I found it dead on the sidewalk at an interstate rest stop. I was in such good condition I collected it.
Another plant has bloomed in white - but it's not the promised 'Ambroise Verschaffelt'. And another has bloomed with bluish flowers which are very handsome - but again the name does not match the flower.
A group of Sinningia speciosa has produced the same result: handsome, lusty growers and beautiful in bloom, but not a one true to name.    

Friday, August 5, 2016

Amorphophallus konjac Konnyaku

Konnyaku: Yam Cake 

Amorphophallus konjac inflorescence 

The botanical name konjac should be pronounced kon-yak: what looks like a "j" is the symbol used in botanical Latin to represent the "'ya" sound. See the top  image where the name is given as konnyaku. The bottom image shows the plant in bloom years ago - that was a big one!

The flowering of the titan arum at the U.S. Botanic Garden has brought on a tizzy of chatter about its smaller relative, Amorphophallus konjac. This can be grown as a garden plant here, and it usually survives the winters here without problems. 

In the  image above you will see a package of what's called "yam cake" - it's made from the starch derived from the corms of Amorphophallus konjac. This plant is widely grown in Asia as a field crop (forget shade!) for the starch derived from its corms. I've even read about a small production effort going on in California.   

Years ago I dug some corms in the fall and stored them on a shelf in the basement. Months later, in the middle of the night there was a loud crashing sound in the basement. I thought at first that a raccoon had gotten into the house and was knocking things down.  I went down to investigate and found nothing suspicious. And then I saw it: one of the large corms had started to sprout, and it had pushed itself off the shelf making the crashing noise as it came down.

The really repellent odor of the inflorescence comes from the spadix (the thing sticking up in the middle of the "flower") . Cut that off and you can enjoy the spathe (the calla lily thing) indoors without the odor: just what some might want for a goth wedding. 

Everyone calls these and the "flowers" of the titan arum flowers. Actually, the true flowers are tiny little yellow bumps on the base of the spadix buried deep inside the spathe. In this case what we call the flower is actually the entire inflorescence. But then, a daisy is also an entire inflorescence and not a true, single flower; and we all call it a flower. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Gray tree frogs: the urban batrachoscopist

The urban batrachoscopist
Video: Wayne E. Crist
Text: Jim McKenney

In his spare time, the urban ornithoscopist  keeps eyes and ears out for other activity. Here’s a great frog report: gray tree frogs singing in numbers in response to the day’s rain storms.

The rains we had last week brought out the tree frogs in numbers. It’s not unusual at this time of year to hear one calling – and sometimes being answered – in the evening; but on Saturday evening, July 30 and into Sunday July 31 they were really partying at a pond near the Grosvenor Metro Station.
I probably left Wayne’s place at about 10:30 P.M. Saturday; as I passed the pond area I opened my car window to hear if there was any amphibian activity. There sure was: they were goin’ to town. When I got home I called Wayne to alert him. Once he realized the level of activity, he got a flashlight and his camera (a camera which records videos with sound) and headed out. What you see here is the result of that, videos made in the first hour of the new day. To make the videos (there are others), he held the camera in one hand and a flashlight in the other. 

These are the frogs which generations of herpetologists knew as the gray tree frog, Hyla versicolor. The taxonomy of these frogs is now much more complicated – and not yet resolved. Have too many cooks spoiled the soup here? At first glance it seems that way, but Google the various online accounts and see for yourself. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tricyrtis formosana 'Spotted Toad' and Gentiana 'True Blue'

Tricyrtis 'Spotted Toad' and Gentiana 'True Blue' 

Tricyrtis formosana 'Spotted Toad' 
Gentiana 'True Blue'

I binged on Tricyrtis this year, ordering about a dozen and a half sorts for trial. The idea was to have a border of these combined with some of the easier gentians for autumnal interest. But here it is the eve of August, and some of the Tricyrtis and gentians are already in bloom. It's hard to believe that there will be much left for the autumn.
So I'll change the plan and enjoy them while I can. 

Sinningia speciosa

Sinningia speciosa 
Sinningia speciosa 
Sinningia speciosa 'Carangola' 

The Sinningia speciosa are starting to bloom. The white-flowered one, the cultivar 'Carangola', was the first to start, several others in the red-purple range have also started to boom. Except for 'Carangola',  these were acquired by mail order earlier in the year. They don't look anything like the pictures in the catalog, but they are still beautiful. They have been outside since the danger of night frosts passed. They are growing well, and the plants themselves are bigger than I anticipated.

These were acquired as part of my "gesneriads as rock garden plants" experiments. Gorgeous, aren't they? And maybe too much so for the rock garden, even in the dog days of summer. This species in not winter hardy here, but the corms are easily dug and stored dry. They were to have been planted in a new rock wall, but the wall has yet to be built. I've learned one important thing so far: they seem to perform well in our summer weather. The one time I tried them, African violets, given the same treatment, did not do well as summer garden plants here. Once the heat kicked in, they quit blooming.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Hosta clausa

Hosta clausa 

Hosta clausa 

I'm not a big hosta enthusiast, but the genus Hosta does include a number of forms which do interest me. The hosta crowd seems to be focused on the leaves; I'm focused on the inflorescence and the individual flowers. In general, any plant which has a cluster of leaves low to the ground from which a comparatively tall inflorescence arises appeals to me.
The species shown here, Hosta clausa, fits that description well. Flower color in most hostas is their weakest point: all of those washy pinkish lavender colors do nothing for me. Some of the white-flowered ones are good: I don't think I'm off the mark when I say that Hosta plantaginea is the best flowering plant in the genus. There is a small range of species and hybrids which share an appealing color with Hosta clausa: H. ventricosa and H. venusta come to mind right away.
Some, maybe all, of the forms of Hostas clausa are stoloniferous and left to itself it will form a very natural looking clump.
It gets it name from a peculiarity of its flowers: they do not open. Latin clausa means closed.