Photo Tease

If you’re searching for a bloom pic to go with this morning’s garden column in the Greenville News, look no further…

February bloom of jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor)

February bloom of jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor)

Part of the fun of writing for publication is never knowing exactly what will be included and what might be put aside.  In the case of the winter-blooming jewel orchid, however, I felt certain you would want a chance to admire its flowers.

For those outside the Upstate, here is a brief synopsis of the plant story…

Jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor), a terrestrial plant native to the forest floors of Indonesia and Malaysia, is prized for its foliage as well as flowers.  In fact, some say there’s no such thing as an “out of bloom” jewel orchid, because the eye-catching leaves create interest throughout the year.

White, winter-blooming flowers are held aloft on foot-long spikes which emerge from tips of the orchid’s creeping stems.  Though small, more than a dozen blooms ornament each spike, and many spikes can flower in tandem for an impressive display.

Unlike some of its finicky kin, Ludisia discolor is a compliant plant with a tough disposition; with the right growing conditions, it can be cultivated with moderate maintenance and care.  Typically grown as a houseplant that may be moved outdoors in summer, bright indirect light is preferred.

The orchid is surprisingly tolerant of indoor heat in winter, but requires careful watering.  Add moisture when the soil mix has begun to dry, but before it’s completely dehydrated.  If kept consistently wet, however, the plant will suffer.

Fertilizer can be applied sparingly or more often, as long as a dilute mixture is utilized.  A balanced liquid fertilizer, such as 20-20-20, is recommended by experts.

Propagation is easy.  New plants can be made by rooting cuttings in water.  The orchid can also be started by firming a snip directly into a moist, well-draining potting mix.  Older plants can be divided to increase plant vigor by simply splitting the root ball in two or three pieces and then replanting each section in fresh potting soil.

Ornamental foliage of jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor)

Ornamental foliage of jewel orchid (Ludisia discolor)

 

Bloom Alert

After another round of slushy snow on Wednesday and Thursday, today is bright and warm, so it’s been hard to stay focused on work.  Needing a break, I pulled my wellies on after lunch for a quick walk to see if any of the woodland natives had “endeavored to persevere” through our extremely cold winter.  I hoped to discover a sign or two of Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), my favorite spring ephemeral, but couldn’t find a trace.

Surprisingly, however, many of the Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy), which I rescued from a nearby area of development last spring, are up and already in bud.  There’s still no sign of other, established trilliums.

Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy)

Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy)

Erythronium americanum, commonly called trout lily for its speckled foliage, is even further along.  One bud has apparently been eaten by a critter, but the rest are within a few days of opening.   The plant, given to me by a friend from her garden in 2013, has bulked up since last year.

Erythronium americanum (trout lily)

Erythronium americanum (trout lily)

I also found foliage of Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid), easily identified by the dark coloring on the underside of its leaves.  The foliage will die long before flowers appear in late summer.

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

I often refer to the terraces that extend down to the Reedy River at the rear of our property.  In the upper right-hand corner of the photo below, you can barely see the retaining wall that supports the back garden.   And just to the left of the photo is a second, but shorter, retaining wall.

Woodland between house and river.

Woodland between house and river.

Each neon-pink flag marks a spot where an herbaceous plant grows.  Though unsightly now, they help me remember where it’s safe to add new natives, and they’ll be removed when the area is better established.

The garden surrounding the house contains many non-native ornamentals, while the terrace closest to the river cannot be kept clear of non-natives because of periodic flooding.  The woodland shown here, about a quarter acre, is a haven for native plants only.

Weekly Photo Challenge–Rule of Thirds

Though winter remains in full force, I was at Litchfield Beach this past weekend and took advantage of the free time to get to know my new camera a bit better with a series of seagull photographs. One goal was to capture a shot to meet this week’s photo challenge, Rule of Thirds.

As noted by WordPress, “The Rule of Thirds is a photography concept that puts the subject of the photograph off-center, which usually results in blank space in the rest of the image. If you focus closely on your subject and use a wide aperture, your photograph’s background will also be beautifully blurred in that blank space. The blurred area behind your focal point is referred to as bokeh, and when executed well, it adds depth and artistry to an otherwise simplistic photograph.”

Here is the photo I thought best met the challenge…

DSC_0806

And here are a couple more I like, just for fun.

DSC_0744

DSC_0809

Frozen

Residents of the Upstate woke to a winter wonderland today, but what looks like snow is actually ice.  After a couple hours of sleet on Monday afternoon our precipitation turned to freezing rain and then back to sleet as darkness fell.  This morning we have a coating of ice on trees and shrubs, plus more than an inch of sleet on the ground and roadways.

Camellia japonica 'Memphis Belle'

Camellia japonica ‘Memphis Belle’

Native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) coated in ice.

Native flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) coated in ice.

Looks like Big Red is parked for today.

Looks like Big Red is parked for today.

Needless to say, the feeders have been busy.  Plus, my visiting grandchildren, Caitlin and David, helped me tear old bread and mix it with seed for those that feed from the ground.  While the birds have been busy warming up, we’ve been busy watching from the windows.

Male Northern Cardinal, looking for a spot at the feeders.

Male Northern Cardinal, looking for a spot at the feeders.

The long view...

The long view…

 

How Birds Stay Warm

It’s sleeting in the Upstate this afternoon and snow is forecast for evening, so I’ve filled my bird feeders to the brim.  Feeding birds in winter, especially when the weather is frigid, is important because burning calories is the best way for birds to create body warmth.  Providing high-calorie seed and suet is almost as good as supplying an electric blanket.

Left to right:  female Downy Woodpecker,  female House Finch,  three Goldfinches (one female and two males just beginning to show color), and a male House Finch (red face).

Left to right: female Downy Woodpecker, female House Finch, three Goldfinches (one female and two males just beginning to show color), and a male House Finch (red face).

Birds have other tricks for keeping warm too.  Their feathers have an oil coating that insulates and helps keep them dry.  Old feathers are molted in autumn, so new, thicker, and more numerous feathers are produced just before the coldest time of year.  And when the temperature drops, they fluff their feathers to add a layer of insulating air, just like a down jacket.

Evergreen conifers are the bird’s best plant friend in winter, sheltering them from predators, precipitation, and blistering winter winds, so they seek out these densely branched trees and shrubs.  Some evergreens also provide food in the form of nuts, seeds, or berries.  A few of our natives, such as junipers and cedars, make a cozy bed & breakfast for both resident and migrating birds.

The toothpick-like legs of birds are covered in tiny scales, similar to our fingernails, which keep them from becoming frost-bitten.  The legs also have a unique circulatory system with arteries and veins lying side by side, so the blood returning to the body is heated by that being pumped to the bird’s feet.  When you see a bird hunched over its legs, you know it’s really frigid.

Left to right:  male House Finch, female Northern Cardinal, and two female Goldfinches.

Left to right: male House Finch, female Northern Cardinal, and two female Goldfinches.

Understandably, larger birds deal with cold better than smaller ones.  In fact, the smallest can lose as much as ten percent of their body weight overnight in bitter weather.  Birds can shiver like we do, using their flight muscles to stay warm.  And some, like chickadees, can slow their metabolism to conserve energy in a state called nocturnal hypothermia.  In this torpor, the heart rate is lowered and the body temperature drops 10 to 15 degrees, or even more.

Others, such as the Eastern Bluebird, will roost together in tree cavities or birdhouses to stay warm.  One winter, I was surprised to see 16 bluebirds enter a single bird box to coop together in a snowstorm.

Two female Downy Woodpeckers have a spat while a Tufted Titmouse visits the safflower feeder.

Two female Downy Woodpeckers have a spat while a Tufted Titmouse visits the safflower feeder.

Currently, my garden is home to a suet feeder and three seed feeders, one each filled with niger seed, black oil sunflower seed, and safflower seed.   The suet draws smaller woodpeckers, such as the Hairy and the Downy, plus the Carolina Wren.   The niger seed is a favorite of the Goldfinch, the black oil sunflower seed draws the Red-Bellied Woodpecker and the Nuthatch, and the safflower seed is eagerly sought by the Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Chickadee.

Weekly Photo Challenge–Symmetry

This week’s photo challenge is symmetry, which gives me an opportunity to revisit some shots I took in Italy this past September.  Here are just a few favorites…

Villa Gamberaia

Villa Gamberaia

Windows

Windows

Pantheon

Pantheon

 

 

Dreading Another Winter Blast

It’s been a harried week after a successful Greenville Master Gardner Symposium on Saturday, an event which requires 10 months planning and then a week of all-hands-on-deck.  And today, just when I was getting my feet under me again, I take a look at the forecast and see we have another round of artic weather arriving tonight, which is really depressing since the poor camellias (which have struggled to open all winter) will be blasted again.

The forecast calls for five nights below freezing, with three hovering around the 20 degree mark (-6 C) and a possible ice storm on Tuesday.

Good grief, will spring never come?

Bird supply store

Bird supply store

Thankfully, I have this sweet “bird supply store” from one of the symposium vendors, Holland Home Pottery, to remind me of warmer days ahead.  When hung in the garden, the store makes a pretty accent and provides handy materials for nest building.  Think how fun it will be discover some of these colored threads tucked in among a nest’s twigs and grasses.

The crimson Camellia japonica bloom, plucked from a neighboring garden as it was just opening, is very popular in South Carolina.  If I’m not mistaken, it is ‘Professor Sargent’, a 1925 cultivar developed at Magnolia Gardens in Charleston.