The Difference a Week Makes

A week ago, when I left home for a trip to Washington and Oregon to gather information for a 2017 garden tour, rain had finally returned to the Upstate, thank goodness.  Afternoon thunderstorms had popped up in our area in June and July, but my garden received no measurable precipitation for nine weeks.  Not even a sprinkle.  Temperatures, on the other hand, reached into the upper 90s almost every day.

The relief of those first rains continued throughout my absence (it was even drizzling when my plane landed just before midnight) and as I examined the garden on this first morning at home, I found tiny flower buds beginning to form on the dogwood trees (for next spring’s blooms) and a variety of mushrooms.

I know practically nothing about mushrooms, other than they are the fruiting bodies of fungi that break down organic material such as dead wood.  I enjoy eating the ones grown for culinary purposes, but don’t have the expertise to collect from the wild.  Nonetheless, they are a very welcome sign that our summer drought has abated, at least for now.

The recent wet weather has also given the cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) the courage to bloom, though the flower stalks I found are just half their usual height of 15 to 20 inches.

DSC_4099

Tipularia discolor

Common throughout the Southeastern US, this native terrestrial orchid is found in moist, humus-rich soils of deciduous forests.  Moths pollinate the plant.  Interestingly, a specialized structure that contains the flower’s pollen, called a pollinaria, hitches a ride on the moth’s eyes for transfer to another flower.

 

 

 

Beachside Beebalm

A crazy thing happened on the way to the wedding last week.  Well, not really “on the way,” but I couldn’t resist using a funny line.  It actually happened the day before the wedding when the bride and groom and several family members walked to the beach to see where the ceremony might take place.

So, what happened?  In several locations between beach houses, I spied an unknown herbaceous plant, about 30-inches tall with pinky-purple tips, that was literally humming with bees and other insects.  With more important things at hand, I stayed focused on the moment but made a mental note to scrutinize and photograph the plant later.

Monarda punctata commonly know as spotted horsemint.

Monarda punctata commonly know as spotted horsemint.

Now that you’ve seen the mystery plant, I hope you’re not laughing at my expense. I have the uncomfortable notion, especially after examining the USDA plant profile showing the extensive range of our native Monarda punctata, that I might be the last gardener in the Carolinas to know this mint, commonly called spotted horsemint or spotted beebalm.

Hmm.....beebalm or phlomis?

Hmm…..beebalm or phlomis?

Even worse, after seeing the plant up close, I admit I still couldn’t figure out what it was. At first I believed it was a beebalm, but when I couldn’t find a similar beebalm on the internet, I thought perhaps a phlomis (because of the number of flower whorls). Clearly, I was lost without my plant reference books. Finally, I had the good sense to email Terry, my “go to” friend for plant ID, and she immediately provided the name.

Many areas near the beach, from sun to part shade, were packed with hundreds of these plants, so the native obviously thrives in sandy soil and dry heat, and self-seeds freely. Interestingly, its pale yellow flowers are rather inconspicuous, but each flower head rests upon a showy circle of leafy bracts in an eye-catching shade of pink to lavender. The lance-shaped foliage smells amazingly like oregano, and I’ve since read it can be used as a substitute.

Bumble bee coated in pollen.

Bumble bee coated in pollen.

Most amazing of all, however, was the number and variety of insects visiting the flowers. Reliable sources say the plant also attracts butterflies, though I don’t recall seeing any.

As an interesting side note…..we had planned on a florist’s bouquet for the bride, but when the time of the wedding was moved from early evening to daybreak (because of the extreme heat), we realized the flowers wouldn’t arrive in time, so I offered to pinch-hit. Then, I had a fleeting thought of adding some of the “pink blooms” seen at roadside to a home-made bouquet before my brain leaped to “bees at wedding = not good.” You’ll be glad to know, I’m sure, that sanity prevailed and the flowers rustled up at a local grocery store worked out just fine.

Our "little miss" holding the bouquet for the bride.

Our “little miss,” happily holding the bouquet for the bride.

 

 

 

Almost Wordless Wednesday–July 13, 2016

DSC_0515

Grand Teton National Park, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, April 26. Keep your eyes on the big boys, front and back.

 

DSC_0517

Are you sure you want to stay there?

 

DSC_0521

Are you REALLY sure you want to stay there?

 

DSC_0522

Wait for it…

 

DSC_0523

Wait for it…

 

DSC_0525

Wait for it…

 

DSC_0527

 

DSC_0528

Ha, ha, ha…made you move!

 

DSC_0536

Annoying tourists!

Trillium by Seed

With garden travel and GFWC meetings claiming nearly all of my time in the past month, it’s been a good while since I’ve been able to write for pleasure.  This week, with a family wedding within sight, is no exception, but something happened yesterday I can’t wait to tell you about.

Despite our recent hot and dry weather, it occurred to me that the terrestrial orchids might be flowering in the woodland, so I headed towards the river to look. I didn’t find any orchid blooms, but I did notice that many of the Little Sweet Betsy Trilliums (T. cuneatum) are dying back.  When I bent down to examine one, I reached out and touched the large, burgundy seedpod that had formed at the tip of the stalk, and the pod separated from the plant.  In fact, it easily squished between my fingers like an overripe banana.

DSC_3044

Trillium cuneatum dying back as they typically do in July, including a seedpod that squished between my fingers and a second plant with an intact pod.

I had never paid any attention to trillium seedpods in the past. What an amazing discovery!  I could see the pod was filled with 60 or more seeds, each about the size of a bb with a large elaiosome to one side.  An elaiosome is a lipid-rich structure eaten by ants that entices the insects to gather the seeds and move them away from the parent plant, aiding the germination and spread of the species.

What a bonanza! Dreams of thousands of tiny trilliums instantly popped into my head.  Sadly, the excitement lasted roughly 10 minutes—the time it took me to get back to the house, google “trillium grown from seed,” and read it takes nearly two years for seedlings to sprout.  This fun, I’m afraid, will have to wait until retirement, which is six (or more) years away.

I found a fabulous article about the process, however, on the Mt. Cuba Center website. Mt. Cuba is a botanical garden in Delaware (50 acres of display gardens and 500 acres of natural lands) devoted to native plants and ecosystems.  The fascinating piece on growing trillium from seed, written by William Cullina, Director of Horticulture at the Coastal Botanical Garden of Maine and previous Director of Horticultural Research for the New England Wildflower Society in Massachusetts, can be read here.

DSC_3059

A closer look at the trillium seed, each with a large elaisome.

While I will not be growing trilliums from seed anytime soon, I plan to take Cullina’s advice to collect seeds and plant them in the woodland garden where I want to establish new colonies. Plus, I’m super excited to have this new info and eye-opening experience with one of my favorite plants.