February 26, 2012

South African Bulbs - Peak Week

Gladiolus splendens, is a tall, red-blooming species that looks nothing like the hybrid summer-blooming forms most people are familiar with.

Late February and Early March marks an important time of transition in the the plant collectors greenhouse. It's the start of autumn in the southern hemisphere, and spring, in the north, and plants react to the lengthening day light, and the brighter sun. We, as humans working cubicles and under florescent lights sometimes miss this subtle seasonal shifts, but there is nothing subtle about how the plants react. This is the season of orchids, since many bloom now ( as they do in the autumn) than in any other time of the year, and, this is the season for many bulbs which naturally want to grow with the lengthening daylight, ( which is why spring flower shows are scheduled for this time of year).

South African bulbs are the stars in the greenhouse this cold February Sunday. After missing a snowstorm by a mere 50 miles this weekend, ( it did snow in upstate New York, yet we only enjoyed the beauty of blinding snow squalls and fierce winds). 

The brilliant carmine-red of Gladiolus splendens can be seen from across the garden. Native to the Roggeveld Escarpment in South Africa, where it grows near streams, these winter-blooming gladiolus make excellent cold greenhouse flowers, but the plants themselves are rarely attractive. The wiry-stemed gladiolus are weak, since they are designed to grow through scrub growth and grasses. A little creative staking is often needed.

Pink Velthiemia make cheerful potted winter-blooming bulbs, but the pale-yellow form of Velthiemia bracteata is less common. Here, V. bracteata 'Lemon Flame' begins its season - the flowers are almost open.

A Velthiemia bracteata 'Lemon Flame' blooming in a Guy Wolff long-tom pot.

Even less common, Velthiemia bracteata 'Rose-Alba', has ivory and salmon blossoms, along with wavy, bluish leaves.

Lachenalia aloides var. peasonii, a selection of Lachenalia aloides with only two colors in the blossom, instead of the four colors typically seed in L. aloides var. quadricolor. The term 'aloides' means that this species has blossoms that are reminiscent of the aloe, another South African native.

I am sparing most of you the boring photos of Romulea, the many species of this crocus-formed South African that also bloom in tiny pots around the greenhouse. This one is blooming in a pot of seedlings labeled Romulea hartwegii ( I never know if these are the true species or not, without properly keying out. For now, I will leave it as R. hartwegii since I doubt many of you will actually care. I love the tiny Romulea species, for the always surprise me with they flowers on sunny winter days.

A few more Clivia that are blooming right now. This cross, again, another C. miniata x C. gardenii has darker trumpet shaped blossoms.

This variegated-leaved Clivia has wide leaves, and wide blossoms that have a broad, yellow center , very much like many of the early 20th century French forms. It was raised from seed that we brought back from Japan. SO many clivia are blooming now that it's hard to keep track.

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