Jim Shields' Garden Notes
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Blog Home : January 2007

- Happy New Year (2)

I kept poking around in my files after I posted yesterday, and found a few images of Androcymbium. These are A. europaeum and A. melanthoides (syn. striatum). I also added images to the links on Androcymbium in yestgerday's posting.

Androcymbium melanthiodes (syn. striatum)

Androcymbium europaeum

I also saw late yesterday that the Androcymbium pulchrum is almost in bloom. I'll add a picture of that flower as soon as it's ready to be photographed. In the meantime, there is a nice little picture of this species in its native land at: http://www.botanicalsociety.org.za/default.php?pageID=ccu/ccu_gallery.htm

Do a search on Google Images under "Androcymbium" and you'll get over 100 hits.

- Hardy or Not

We have been talking about Hippeastrum for the past couple of days in the Bulbs-L list (on Surfnet). Then a discussion on the PBS list turned to hardy x-Hippeastrelia. Adam F. in Chicago has one that has survived the last two very mild winters outdoors in the ground in his garden, albeit in a very protected spot. Tony Avent at Plant Delights has been growing seedlings from x-Hippeastrelia outdoors in North Carolina (nominally USDA zone 7b). Jim Reese grows a lot of his own hybrid Hippeastrum in a suburb of Chicago, including a few that survive the winter outdoors, planted deep, right up against the foundation of his greenhouse.

While we're at it, we might as well mention that Rhodophiala bifida (triploid form) from gardens in Texas is also hardy outdoors in the ground here in Indiana.

I have some bulbs of Rhodophiala bifida (diploid, fertile form) in a pot in the greenhouse. I have heard that the diploid form is not so hardy as the triploid. This would parallel the situation in Lycoris, where Lycoris radiata radiata (triploid form) is hardy here outdoors, but the diploid, fertile form, Lycoris radiata pumila, is not.

So you folks out there who like hardy bulbs should get some of these things going, and work on crosses. The method is simplicity itself: make lots of crosses, grown lots of seedlings, plant them all outdoors when they get fair sized, and let Mother Nature and Charles Darwin do the rest. When any survivors get big enough and bloom, cross them and repeat the whole process.

Why are the triploids hardy in the cold North when their diploid cousins are not? It might be because they have extra amounts of a few critical genes that promote cold hardiness. For some genes, having three copies of the gene allows the cell to produce more of the gene product than having only the usualy two copies does.

And why would x-Hippeastrelia (a hybrid between Hippeastrum and Sprekelia) be hardier than Sprekelia alone? Perhaps because the hybrid has two very different sets of genes, and they may together produce an array of gene products that helps the hybrid survive colder weather than either pure parent species alone can manage.

Genes matter.

- Breeding Hippeastrelia

In a past issue of BULBS (pub. by International Bulb Society), Ben Zonneveld reported on a Hippeastrelia he has. Its parents were a hexaploid Sprekelia and a tetraploid Hippeastrum. In yesterday's PBS list, Ben stated that crossing a Hippeastrelia with a Hippeastrum yielded only apomictic seedlings, while crossing Hippeastrelia with a hexaploid Sprekelia "did give me genuine intermediates. All was checked by measuring nuclear DNA content."

Ben is a retired biologist at the University of Leiden in The Netherlands. He uses flow cytometry on cell nuclei to measure the DNA content of the nuclei. Given fresh tissue samples, he can compare to putative parents in a relatively fast and easy way -- if you have the expertise and a working Flow Cytometer apparatus.

I did not get any seeds from pollinating a couple of Hippeastrelia that bloomed here last year. With Tony Avent's comments (see yesterday's blog, below) on hardiness of Hippeastrelia seedlings outdoors in North Carolina, I'm curious to see what they would do here.

The hardiest Hippeastrum is said to be Hippeastrum x-johnsonii. I believe this is a sterile triploid, but I could be mistaken. We used its pollen last year and got some seeds which germinated, but johnsonii itself set no seed pods at all for us. From what others have reported, johnsonii may survive outdoors in colder climates but does not bloom.

- Firing up the Hybrid Hippeastrum

All this talk about Hippeastrum is very timely. Bulbs bought fresh for the holidays this year will probably have bloomed by now. Bulbs we have carried over, and perhaps even grown for several years, are probably not ready to bloom yet. It's time for us to get them ready!

All they will need, if they have been well-grown, is a little warmth, a little fresh medium, and some water. This should release them from their suspended growth and let the bloom scape emerge. So it's time to repot the older bulbs we have had for a year or longer. Mine have by now settled in their pots, so that the roots must make do with a volume of only about half the pot.

I gently knock the bulbs, with roots and potting mix intact, out of the pot. I shake off all the loose old potting mix. Then I either use a new pot or roughly clean the old one of larger bits of old mix. Now I fill the pot half full of fresh potting mix. For this I use my all-purpose gritty mix, made up of Premier Hort's Promix BX (with Biofungicide if you can find it) + rough brown sand + granite chick starter grit (ca. 1/8th inch mesh) in a ratio by volume of 2 to 1 to 1.

We set the bulb with its root ball on the surface of the fresh potting mix, tuck in stray roots, and fill up to above the roots with more fresh mix. Settle everything well by gently shaking or tapping the pot, then set the repotted bulb in a warm spot. If there is any green showing, make that a warm, sunny spot. Now water once lightly.

The fancy hybrid Hippeastrum, so-called "Dutch Amaryllis," are tetraploids. They have ca. 44 chromosomes in the nucleus of each cell. For the most part, they cross with each other very readily. So you can start breeding your own examples of the fancy flowers, just by spreading a little pollen around when they are in bloom.

Some of the new exotic looking hybrids are triploids, made by crossing a fancy tetraploid hybrid with one of the much simpler looking, much more exotic looking wild species, which are for the most part diploids. The diploids have 22 chromosomes in the nucleus of each cell. A triploid will therefore have 33 chromosomes (half of 22 + half of 44 is 33). The triploids are likely to be sterile and so of no use to us in breeding. Pity!

- Flowering in the Greenhouse

Blooming in the greenhouse today: The little yellow "onion" Nothoscordum dialystemon, which I used to think was an Ipheion. Also in bloom: Nerine undulata, a larger form than the one that bloomed about a month ago in the same greenhouse. And finally, Lachenalia bulbifera with its orange, tubular, pendant blossom. We haven't had much sunshine this winter, in spite of the mild temperatures, so it's pretty leggy. And of course, Androcymbium pulchrum is still in bloom too.

Buds are showing up on just a few in addition: Lachenalia aloides and Scadoxus puniceus are in bud. A pot of Onixotis triquetra is sending up a bunch of scapes. A plant of Massonia echinata has been in bud for over a month now, as well.

I've repotted almost a dozen of the Dutch Amaryllis (hybrid Hippeastrum) bulbs. Many are nice and fat (by my standards anyway), but a few have dwindled to a diameter of no more than 2 inches. Seven that look like they ought to bloom this year are in the bedroom on the sunny south windowsill. The rest are in the greenhouse, where it is not going to be very warm until the sun comes out again.

According to the weather forecast, the coming week will be seasonably chilly, with most nights getting down to or a bit below freezing. At those temperatures, the greenhouses all stay quite cool unless the sun shines.

In anticipation of Hippeastrums blooming soon, I have been inquiring about the ploidy and fertility of Hippeastrum x-johnsonii, the hardiest of the Hippeastrum tribe and common in older gardens in the Southeast. It is sometimes a bit fertile, but no one has suggested what its ploidy might be. I assume either diploid or triploid, but I really don't know.

- Hippeastrum

I have been wondering about Hippeastrum x-johnsonii. Here is something I found on the web:

Hippeastrum x-johnsonii [Hippeastrum reginae X Hippeastrum vittatum] apparently originated in the 19th century in England. It is said to be the hardiest of the Hippeastrum, and is widely found in old gardens in the Southeaastern USA, where it appears to be somewhat naturalized. It is fertile but a reluctant parent.


Hippeastrum x-ackermanii is the hybrid [Hippeastrum aulicum X H. x-johnsonii] and looks very similar to x-johnsonii.

as paraphrased on my web page at:


I don't know for sure but I think H. vittatum is a diploid. H. reginae is a diploid. So H. x-johnsonii is probably a diploid too. H. x-ackermanii should also be a diploid. There is a nice picture on the Landspro.com forum on Amaryllis. Scroll down the page to see the image of H. x-johnsonii.

- The Plant Lab

I've been meaning to mention the progress on the plant lab. This is a room in the basement that was meant for use as a plant lab when this house was built, over 25 years ago. It has been slow going, but we are getting there. The big thing was putting in cabinets and a sink with running water and drain this past year.

Then we bought a used glove box from a medical equipment reseller in St. Louis. That needed new gloves, which we now have. It also needs a sterile air supply and a vacuum system; these I do not have yet. The glove box is intended to provide a sterile environment for working with plant tissue culture. My fear is that it will turn out to be a white elephant, if it proves unsuitable for the t.c. work.

Laboratory (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.  Laboratory (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.

We have a couple of microscopes, one a high power three-objective monocular, and the other a binocular dissecting microscope. These just about cover the minimum practical range.

We have a couple of balances, which could easily have cost more than the microscopes. We went for inexpensive. One is an electronic microbalance, for weighing to the nearest milligram. The larger one is for making up stock solutions. We make up the soluble fertilizer feed solution here, for the big greenhouse.

You need something for autoclaving culture media. We have a large stove-top pressure cooker that should work for that. We plan to heat it on a portable butane gas heater, from a turkey deep frier that was on sale cheap.

What else do you need for a lab working with plants and tissue culture? We have an inexpensive pH meter, which is a necessity. One needs some hotplates, some magnetic stirrer plates, and a lot of glassware. Of the latter, we need more erlenmeyer flasks (pyrex or kimax) of various sizes, more graduated measuring cylinders of many sizes. We have a couple sizes of disposable plastic beakers, and a few sets of pyrex glass beakers in a variety of sizes. We need lots of sterile, disposable pipettes in a variety of sizes.

Chemicals: you don't use "chemicals" so much as reagents. In a lab that is in a non-laboratory building, you need to avoid storing or using significant amounts of volatile organic liquids. The dangers of fire or explosion are far too great to risk. We use simple inorganic salts for buffers, nutrients, and other reagents. We have a little denatured ethyl alcohol on hand for dissolving substances not easily soluble in water. We have solid organic reagents like agar, glucose, and sucrose on hand in moderate amounts.

- Snow on the Ground

There is actually snow on the ground! I thought this was going to be a virtually snowless winter, but no, here we are -- snow on the ground. Even if it's only 2 or 3 inches, it's still snow. Since this is Sunday, we don't even have to go out in it.

A couple days ago, I did check greenhouse no. 2, where the Haemanthus, Scadoxus, and Lachenalia are growing. There are 4 pots of Scadoxus puniceus with scapes coming up now. The other plants of S. puniceus may be on strike, protesting their being forced to survive in only 1-gal. size pots. They definitely do better in 2-gal. size containers. First flowers will be open in a week or less.

Lachenalia aloides quadricoloris is now in bloom, and looks terrific. The yellow species, L. reflexa, is starting to bloom as well, and there are still flowers on L. bulbifera. L. carneus and L. violacea are in bud, but have no color showing yet.

Onixotis triquetra has its first flowers open just now.

One of the hybrid Hippeastrum is in bloom. This looks like the one Steve P. sent me from Cape Hatteras, where it is widely grown in gardens. It has two scapes in bloom, one with 6 bud and the other with 8 buds. Wow! Too bad the tag got lost sometime around here. I'm storing some of the pollen, just in case I find a use for it.

Hippeastrum 'Chico' is a commercial clone from H. cybister breeding. I suspect it's a triploid, but don't actually know. It certainly looks like cybister. I intend to store the pollen from 'Chico' too, to test on various other Hipeastrum as they flower.

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Last revised on: 21 January 2007
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