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Blog Home : December 2006

- In the Clivia House

We get our Belgian Clivia from ID'Flor in Lochristi, Belgium. They are a seed strain of pastel to orange color. When shipped they are perhaps 30 months old(?) and about ready to bloom. The plants are medium sized to small-medium and stay that way while increasing readily by offsets. They are ideal for a windowsill Clivia. Some leftovers from 18 months ago, now in 2-gal. containers, are not much taller than the brand new plants when they arrive here.

We received our new shipment of Belgian clivias on Friday. The box had been sent air frieght from Belgium on ca. Thursday of the week before. It arrived at JFK on the following Saturday and sat in US Customs until this past Thursday, when it was released. It was immediately taken by our Customs Brokers to the USDA for inspection, then handed to FedEx for overnight shipment to us.

Irma and I started planting on Saturday and finished today, Monday. Andrea and the grandkids helped out yesterday. We did not run out of pots or potting mix! We pot in our usual gritty mix, in square plastic pots that hold about ¾ of a gallon.

About one-fifth of the plants seem to have an inflorescence starting to grow. One of them has color in the buds and would be in bloom in a few days if the sun were to shine each day; it won't.

If the weather would get a little warmer (the low this morning was 10°F), we could start filling the orders we already have for these Belgians.

- Where Did They Come From? Another New Clivia.

There may be another new named form of Clivia now, besides the older known species. The latter include the original four: Clivia nobilis, C. miniata, C. gardenii, and C. caulescens, all native to eastern South Africa.

Then the "Swamp Clivia" was moved from being thought a form of gardenii to its own species, Clivia robusta. And the outlying species, C. mirabilis, was discovered in the canyon at Oorlogskloof Nature Preserve in the Northern Cape Province. C. mirabilis is the only Clivia species known from the western part of South Africa; it grows in a winter-rainfall area, in a desert canyon.

Now a group have published a name for the Bearded Man Mountain form of Clivia, generally considered to be a natural interspecific hybrid between C. miniata and C. caulescens. They want to call it Clivia x-nimbicola -- the clivia growing in the clouds.

I've always felt that if this population reproduced as a stable entity from seed, then it deserved to be recognized as a species in its own right. The "x" in Clivia x-nimbicola indicates that the botanists who named it still think it is a true hybrid. So it is not a new species as such, but it does form a recognizable population with genetic traits from both parent species still recognizable.

The new hybrid is formally described and named for the botanical world in the publication, "A natural hybrid in the genus Clivia" by Z.H. Swanevelder, J.T. Truter, and A.E. Van Wyk, in the journal BOTHALIA, vol. 36, issue no. 1, pp. 77-80 (2006). It is also reported in CLIVIA 8, pp. 23-27, in an article by J.T. Truter, Z.H. Swanevelder, and T.N. Pearton. CLIVIA 8, the Clivia Yearbook no. 8, was published by the Clivia Society in South Africa in 2006.

So where do new named Clivia come from? They don't just appear out of nowhere one fine morning. They have usually been there for quite some time, growing un-noticed in the wild. What is new is the recognition of the uniqueness of these plants by a scientist, one who is a trained botanist.

The uniqueness may exist only in the eye of the botanist who describes it, but the newly named plant must at the least appear to represent a unique population to that scientist. Traditionally, plants were described and species defined solely on the basis of the physical structure of the plant, often based only on dried specimens stored in an herbarium somewhere.

Today, that uniqueness is just as likely to depend on the plant's DNA as on its external physical form. Clivia robusta was distinguished from C. gardenii on the basis of differences between their chromosomes, as well as on its unusual choice of habitats -- swamps and streams. Clivia mirabilis was distinct from all the other species of Clivia in the geographic location of its native habitat and by its growth habit, as well as in many details of its physical form.

Analyses of the DNA sequences of various sets of genes across these several species of Clivia have supported all these species determinations. Based on its DNA, Clivia mirabilis is more ancient than the other species, and is a sister to the group containing all the other Clivia species now known. Clivia robusta is indeed most closely related to C. gardenii but is nonetheless still distinct from gardenii.

Why Does DNA Matter?

DNA "matters" because it transmits the entire blueprint for a new plant from the parents to the offspring. You could think of the genes (the DNA sequences) as embodying the "essence" of the plant. This "essence" is almost the only thing passed down from parent to offspring. If you change the DNA, you change the cell in which it occurs. Such a change is a mutation. If that mutation occurs in the formation of a new seed, and the mutation does not kill the seed, then the offspring of the seedling that grows from that mutated seed can also have that changed gene.

Over a span of time, mutations occur in the DNA of any lineage of plants, and those that don't kill the plants accumulate in their offspring. The rate at which mutations occur naturally is quite slow. In the lab, we can speed this up dramatically by using chemical agents called "mutagens" or by irradiating seeds with x-rays or gamma rays. In nature, there are mutagenic forms of natural radiation: cosmic rays from outer space and radiation from radioactive elements like uranium and radium.

Over long periods of time, over eons, the mutations accumulate in nature at a more or less steady rate. By counting the differences between the DNA of one species of plant and that of another species, you can calculate approximately how long a time has passed since those two plants last had a common ancestor. That is how we can say that Clivia mirabilis is a sister species to the group containing all the other Clivia species now known. This means that it last had a common ancestor with the ancestor of all those other present species of Clivia a very long time ago. But it did have that common ancestor, once, way back then!

- Winter Lull

We have hit a lull in the greenhouses. Some of the new shipment of Belgian hybrids from ID'Flor arrived with flower buds started, and one was nearly in bloom, and one seed-grown Clivia robusta is in bloom with yellow flowers. Most of the seed berries on the clivias from last March are not yet ripe. The various Hippeastrum bulbs haven't gone dormant yet, so no buds are showing on any of them.

One batch of seed were almost ripe, so we harvested them and Irma planted them this week: Nakamura red (my #1388.A) X Conway's 'Doris' pollen). I hope we will see some red flowers out of these in 4 or 5 years. I gave these seeds the I.D. JES #2142.

Another batch ripened three weeks ago, a mis-labeled Conway that turned out to be a peach X a 'Victorian Peach'® from Victor Murillo (my JES #2081). Those seeds are starting to germinate under lights now. I suspect that the peach was a plant of 'Tessa', but it arrived here labeled 'Abigail'. Since it bloomed with peach flowers, it was certainly not 'Abigail', which is a nice red. But it could have been another of the Conway named peaches or even a stray seedling from his breeding program. We'll never know. I'll call this batch JES #2143.


The Lachenalia bulbifera are ready to bloom, spikes up and buds showing a bit of color.

First to bloom in my collection each autumn are L. rubida and L. pusilla. As they fade, the L. viridiflora come into flower.

The Lachenalia are faithful winter bulbs if not abused in summer. I've heard that L. rubida can be touchy, pots simply losing their bulbs between one season and the next. When it isn't from mice eating them, it is probably due to rot from some inopportune moisture in summer. Most of the others are if anything too prolific, steadily increasing until their pots are over-filled with bulbs of all sizes. As soon as I discard a bunch of surplus bulbs of a species, I'm sure to get a request for that one!

Obscure Small Bulbs

My Androcymbium and Massonia are mainly winter growing bulbs, small in stature and practically unknown outside the circles of bulb cogniscenti. Most are native to South Africa. If you want them, you generally have to raise them from seed. I tried three times to get Androcymbium pulchrum from seed before succeeding. The first "Androcymbium pulchrum" grew into a rather large, early-flowering Massonia, perhaps depressa. The second try grew into Polyxena ensifolia. The third time as charmed: I think they are really going to be Androcymbium pulchrum, and one of them is producing an inflorescence. I'll know for sure when I see the flowers.

I have a scattered few bulbs of various other Massonia in the greenhouse now too: M. pustulata, M. echinata, and M. jasminiflora are here. I had rather a lot of M. jasminiflora until one summer a couple years ago, when all of them but a single bulb died. The Massonia leaves are semi-erect to recumbant. The flowers are a cluster nestled down in the center of the leaves. They are quaint, if nothing else.

Besides Androcymbium pulchrum, A. europaeum is another winter growing bulb, this time not from South Africa but from islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Mine are leafed out, but the white flowers have not appeared yet. I have three separate clones, and they bloom in succession, usually not overlapping each other enough to allow cross-pollinating to produce seeds.

Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery recently reported in the Pacific Bulb Society on-line discussion group that some Massonia are winter hardy outdoors for him in North Carolina (USDA zone 7). I hope others in Zone 7 and even 6 will test various Massonia species for winter hardiness as well.

One species of summer-growing Androcymbium, A. melanthioides, is hardy here (USDA Zone 5) over winter in a coldframe. If I can increase the hardy strain enough, I want to eventually try some of them outdoors in the ground.

- Merry Christmas and El Niño

It's Christmas morning in central Indiana, and it's trying to rain. This brings me to El Niño, no pun intended. Actually, El Niño, the weather phenomenon, gets its name from its association with the Christmas season; El Niño is a Spanish term for the Christ child, hence the connection to Christmas.

I'm thinking just about the weather phenomenon in this instance. Its proper name is El Niño Southern Oscillation or ENSO. It refers to the state of the ocean and the winds in the Pacific Ocean. It is not surprising that the "weather" of the Pacific, the planet's largest ocean, can affect the climate of the entire planet. Water is much more massive than air -- the column of air from the surface clear up to outer space weights just 15 pounds, about 7 kilograms, per square inch. The result is that the water of the ocean can absorb and can give off vastly more heat than the atmosphere can hold.

There is a suspicion that global warming will increase the frequency and the intensity of El Niño in the future. As a result, we in the Midwest may be looking at milder winters over the long run. So far this winter, the coldest temperature here seems to have been about +11°F. That is USDA zone 8 maybe? We are nominally USDA zone 5, where the lowest winter temperatures are expected to fall in the range of -10 to -20°F.

This may be encouraging for some gardeners! We won't be growing palm trees here, but we should begin to see plants rated for USDA zone 7 routinely surviving outdoors in the ground for many years. So far, several Crinum species and hybrids have survived here, but mostly in very protected sites. Exceptions have been Crinum variabile and C. [bulbispermum X lugardiae], both of which survived several winters out in an open field. Now we have a few more varieties and hybrids lined out in somewhat exposed places, including two forms of Crinum lugardiae. Of course, unless we have a spell of arctic winter sometime in January, this winter may not be much of a test of their survivability.

We can still expect to have a real zone 5 winter every few years, to knock us back to the old reality. But it looks as if that old reality is waning, and such winters will probably become more and more infrequent. Get out the flower catalogs and start dreaming some more!

Lest you wonder, I see no doubt that Global Warming is happening, and it looks very likely that the activities of humans are driving it. Left to itself, the planet would probably be moving back into another Ice Age, since the last one ended ca. 12,000-16,000 years ago. As a scientist, I have to look at the hard facts, the real evidence. What I see indicates that global warming is well underway. Individuals and organizations for whom recognition of global warming might mean personal or financial inconvenience are still complaining and protesting; very few rational observers however doubt the reality of human-driven global warming. We're the cause of it, and we may be staving off the next Ice Age by our activities. I would prefer warming to glaciers, with limits.


- Happy New Year

Let me wish all a very healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year! May your plants grow, the weeds die, the flowers bloom, the butterflies abound, the seeds sprout, the birds sing for each of you.

A couple days ago, I explored the garden out back a bit. Way in the back, under a black walnut tree, the Galanthus elwesii are in bloom. Closer up, in the grove of trees in the middle of things, a few Galanthus nivalis are starting to poke up, and one lone greenish-grey Trillium nivale is showing above ground.

The daffodils are starting to push up above the ground here and there. I'm surprised they aren't up and blooming, after the mild weather we've had the past month.

In the big greenhouse, the Cryptostephanus vansonii have been blooming. These are close cousins to the Clivia, although no one has so far gotten a viable seed from crossing Cliva X Cryptostephanus so far as I know. Crypto. vansonii has small (ca. ½-inch) white flowers, sometimes with a pink caste.

Cryptostephanus vansonii (c) copyright 2006 by Shields GArdens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Cryptostephanus vansonii

I'm planting the Arisaema seeds I recieved from the Arisaema Enthusiasts Group (AEG) last spring. They have to be thoroughly soaked before they are planted. In the past, I have sometimes soaked them too long, and gotten no seedlings.

Once you get germination, the seedlings should grow for at least 3 months. This time of year, that means indoors under lights, or perhaps in a greenhouse. After about 3 months, they will probably start to yellow off their leaf or leaves. Then let the pots dry out well, and store them in a fridge for 3 more months. After this period of chilling, you can bring the pots back out to the warmth and light and water them again. You can get up to three "years" of growth in one to one and a half years this way. Then they will be ready to be planted outdoors in the following spring.

I'm watching and waiting for the Androcymbium pulchrum to bloom. The A. europaeum show no signs of flower buds so far. I wonder if these two species would cross?

I forgot to mention it when Crinum x-amabile bloomed in the house a couple weeks ago. The leaves of x-amabile are bronzed or reddish in bright light, the flowers are typical of the Crinum asiaticum type, with very narrow, linear tepals (i.e., petals and sepals), white on the inside, reddish on the outside. I also forgot to take a picture of it. Winter is when it normally blooms, if it's going to bloom that year.

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Last revised on: 31 December 2006
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