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JEARRARD'S HERBAL


10th July 2016

Utricularia dichotoma
Hot weather all week has slowed the clocks until the seconds tick by like tired tortoises. It has been exhaustingly humid when it hasn't actually been raining. The greenhouse feels a long way away and when I am down there the house disappears in the distance. Quite literally yesterday, when mist hid the sun and then set about hiding everything else. By nightfall it had built into something just short of useful rain everywhere except the nape of my neck, where I hate being trickled.
Utricularia dichotoma is appreciating the weather. At this time of year it is always in danger of drying out and a thick cloak of mist has condensed sufficiently to replenish its reserves. I don't grow many Utricularia nowadays, the majority are simply not hardy enough for my unheated greenhouse, but U. dichotoma is widespread through Australia and New Zealand and seems hardy. This clone is the common one in cultivation, possibly the only one. The floras describe the species as variable but I haven't seen any others. During the winter it fills a water lily basket with overlookable foliage and then in summer it produces a cloud of violet flowers just when I need something to garnish the strawberries (don't eat flowers, children, you won't attract butterflies).


10th July 2016

Echinopsis rigidissimus var. rubispinus
Among the cacti the hot humid weather has been less appreciated. I have a large tub of Echinocereus rigidissimus rubispinus, the red spines sprinkled over their bodies like hundreds-and-thousands. This year the little fat shapes erupted in tufts of cotton wool. To start with (and without my glasses) I thought they were an army of mealy bugs but it soon became clear they were flower buds forming. Quite by chance I went into the greenhouse the day they opened and was just in time to take this picture as they started to fade. By the next morning they were gone.
E. rigidissimus is found from Mexico north into Arizona and New Mexico. The red spined variety occurs variably in Mexico. Plants in cultivation have almost certainly been selected for the deepest colour over several generations. Pictures of plants in habitat show a pinkish tinge that blends with the brown and grey substrate and probably serves as camouflage but plants in cultivation are less subtle. The big pink flowers are very variable, the only unifying features are "big" and "pink".
Last time I grew the species I took delight in its remarkable colour and form. It died about five years ago in a cold winter. When I replaced it, I decided to grow a big clump of seedlings and this is the result. Since then I have seen it by the hundred growing shoulder to shoulder in a nursery covering the bench like a prickly quilt of wonder, and that's how I want it!


10th July 2016

Disa hybrids
Disa hybrid may seem a strangely vague name for these plants, but it is the best I can do. Not that I don't know the parents, but the seedlings form a grex that hasn't been named. The RHS have a marvellous Orchid Grex search engine online that confirms it. These seedlings are raised by cross pollinating two clones of the Unifoam grex. I nearly said two distinct clones of the Unifoam grex but that wouldn't be true. The two plants are very similar. So these plants are Disa Unifoam (which I now refer to as 'Clone 1') x Disa Unifoam 'Majestic'.
Orchid growers seem to be strangely averse to self-pollinating their hybrids to get an F2 generation, yet this is where the variability is to be found. I don't understand why, and I have long since given up asking. Back in 1891 the Veitch Nursery crossed D. uniflora with pollen from D. racemosa and raised the grex D. Veitchii. Since then the offspring have been back-crossed with D. uniflora four times to get the Unifoam grex. I wanted to know if D. racemosa still played a significant part in the make-up of D. Unifoam. From the uniformity of these seedlings I would say the answer is no.
Last week I was watching the buds with interest as they swelled. Almost beige as they formed, they suddenly flush orange in the last days and open to scarlet. I was looking at them with a friend tying to decide on the best of them. We both agreed which one it was, but the difference is almost imperceptible. I will save the best for the sake of curiosity, but it's not an improvement on the parents.



10th July 2016

Acis autumnalis Brown Scape
During the week, before the mist turned to rain, I was lying in bed wondering why I hadn't collected and sown the Cyclamen seed. I meant to do it, I was looking forward to doing it, but I never actually did it. I didn't work out why. Something held me back and it wasn't just shortage of time. The bed is naturally the best place to consider Cyclamen. My mind wandered to the plants in the garden and the thought that a spell of rain now would stir the dormant flower buds into the first signal of autumn. And then the rain came. I went to look this morning, and they aren't up yet. I was relieved, but not for long. In the greenhouse the first blooms on Acis autumnalis have opened.
I'm not sure why I like these early warnings of the change of season. They are a cool breeze at the hottest times. If I get time I will go down to the coast and look on the south facing slopes for Prospero autumnale, still better known as Scilla autumnalis, the small blue flowers are probably appearing already. They will be long gone by the time the autumn gales actually hit the shore.
The Acis that was once a Leucojum will lead to the first autumn snowdrops, the Nerine and the onset of winter. I have just given somebody a bulb of Galanthus 'Three Ships'. Its flowering will mark the season tipping into spring.
The bed is a good place to think these thoughts, but a hammock would be better.