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.