Jim Shields' Garden Notes
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Blog Home : April 2007

- Midwest Clivia Group

On Thursday of this past week, we had a visit from a group of students at the Indiana School for the Blind. Most were legally blind but had enough vision to get around the greenhouse without help. Besides the school bus driver, a couple teachers and parents came along. They tested the Clivia flowers to see if any had fragrance. I lost my sense of smell years ago, so I never know whether a flower is perfumed or not. My clivias were too far along this time to have any fragrance left, if they ever had any.

Yesterday, Saturday, March 31st, the Midwest Clivia group got together for our annual meeting. Barbara and Rashid Qureshi drove over from St. Louis with a car load of Clivia plants to show us. Rimmer de Vries drove down from Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his huge dark red Clivia miniata in his SUV. Rimmer got the plant from his parents' collection, so it's been around his family for a long time. He has it growing in a 10-gallon container, and it pretty much fills it all the way up! David Freeman drove his mother up from Kentucky to see the clivia plants. Kevin Akins drove over from Columbus, Ohio, with his SUV full of clivia plants in bloom. Susan Meagher (sounds like "mayor") and husband Steve came over from just up the road. Our daughter Andrea, son-in-law Randy, and the two grandkids were also here for the day.

Ruth Kassinger flew in from Washington, DC, for the day just to talk to a gang of clivia lovers. Ruth is working on a book on the subject of conservatory gardening; she hopes to have one chapter on Clivia. Kevin gave her a dwarf Chinese, in bloom, as a souvenir to take home. We wish Ruth the best of luck with her book!

The Midwest Clivia Group is an informal regional organization affiliated with the North American Clivia Society. We in the MCG have no officers, no dues, and our only regular function is the annual get-together at Clivia bloom time.

I was too busy to think of taking pictures. Sorry about that! Kevin invited the group to meet at his place in Columbus, Ohio, next year. We'll need to meet a week earlier, around the 22nd of March, 2008, to catch more plants in bloom than we had this year. So mark your calendars for next spring's meeting of the Midwest Clivia Group in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday, March 22nd, 2008.

My few blooms came two or three weeks ago, and last week's several days of clear, sunny weather heated the greenhouse up enough to make all the clivias in flower go over. That sufficed to have most of the blossoms falling off the umbels by yesterday.


- Hippeastrum evansiae

One of the most attractive of the wild Hippeastrum species is H. evansiae, a medium sized yellow flower on a small plant. These are native to the Andean region of South America, in Bolivia. There are a few other yellow-flowered species, including H. aglaiae. An old yellow hybrid is the so-called "EAxE" or [(evansiae x aglaiae) x evansiae].

My two clones of evansiae are now in flower, and I've crossed them with each other. In a few weeks, we'll see if I get any seed.

Hippeastrum evansiae clone #1 (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd. All rights reserved. Hippeastrum evansiae clone #2 (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd. All rights reserved.

Clone #1 on the left is nearly pure yellow, while clone #2 on the right has traces of pink color on the tepals. The flowers are 4 to 5 inches across, on scapes 10 to 15 inches tall.

I'm more concerned with getting fertile seeds of the wild Hippeastrum species into circulation than I am with making interspecific crosses between the species. A year ago, two clones of H. aglaiae bloomed together, and I crossed those two, got good seed set, and have a couple pots of healthy young seedlings growing while having had a few seeds left over to send to a grower in South America so that he could propagate it.

I'm also growing numerous Brazilian species from seed: aulicum, brasilianum, calyptratum, glaucescens, morelianum, psittacinum, reticulatum striatifolium, and striatum. Only one pot of striatum are old enough to bloom; this batch looks to me as if its intermediate between flammigerum and typical striatum (see entry for March 18th, below).

The exotic-looking species, Hippeastrum cybister, has been incorporated into "Dutch" hybrids. One of the best is 'Reggae' which looks like cybister on steroids.

I have had trouble getting my seedlings of H. cybister to grow beyond a certain point. Phil Adams, of Southern Califonria, offered me the following advice, based on his growing experience:

"As for cybister, I have finally -- after several years of growing it -- found out what it seems to like here in Los Angeles. It must not be kept chilly during the winter; I'd say a range of 55 or 60°F at night to a maximum of 75°F in the day. Also, it needs to be kept in rather dry winter soil during winter dormancy. The bulbs need to be covered to the neck -- not exposed. And last, the potting mix should be excessively gritty/sandy with very little plant matter (humus). During its growing season (which is summer here), I often give it a 0-10-10 liquid fertilizer. Just thought you'd like a bit of my experience, just in case it might help you out."

It looks to me like I'd better stop leaving my dormant H. cybister pots in the greenhouse over winter -- it gets down to 40°F in there, and not above 50°F for weeks at a time in December and January.


- Solomone Clivias

We've added a new line of Solomone clivias to our catalog, and I'd like to talk about just what a Solomone clivia name implies. Most people who have heard of clivias have also heard of Solomone Yellow clivias. Solomone also offers pastel, red, cream, orange-flowered variegated, pastel variegated, yellow variegated, light peach, and watercolor washed lines. There are probably more lines, but I remember these because we have listed these.

All Solomone plants (unless specifically designated as clones) are grown from seed. They are selected or classified only after they have bloomed at least once. The lady in charge of the greenhouse, Marisol, sorts the plants by color and foliage, once they are in bloom.

These would probably have to be registered as "Groups" if Solomone were to officially register his names. Clonally propagated varieties are easily recognized as "cultivars," but a seed grown line that is selected after bloom is, to my way of thinking, more than a mere group. Since the old designation of "strain" was abolished, these could not be registered as strains -- but as far as I can see, that is exactly what most of them are.

The "Watercolor Washed" lines (pink and pastel) are characterized by having bitone petals and sepals. That is, the pink or apricot color on the petals is darker in some areas, lighter in others. The Solomone Watercolor Wash plants are similar to the Conway Particolor varieties in this respect.

A Solomone Watercolor Wash Pastel

The Solomone Charm series are selected for both plant and flower size. The "Charm" plants have shorter leaves than the standard Solomone Clivia plants, and the flowers are smaller. The Charms are selected by color as well, there being Charm Yellow, Charm Pastel, and occasionally, Charm Pink types.

The Solomone Variegateds are selected of course for leaf variegation. Leaf variegation often shows up in apparently unvariegated plants later on, and often in F2 generations of seedlings from unvariegated plants, we see scattered seedlings that show some variegation, at least while they are young.

So the Solomone Clivia types are pretty consistent as they come from the Solomone nursery, but their breeding is unclear, as Marisol makes no attempt to track the actual breeding of any given plant. We leave this as an excercise for the Clivia hobbyist, to sort out the breeding from his or her own subsequent breeding of Clivia.


- Repotting Clivias

We've been getting inquiries about how to repot and divide a large old clivia plant. I'll try to answer those here.

The first step is to remove the entire plant, with roots and potting soil, from the old container. This can be a real challenge, if the plant has been growing undisturbed in the same pot for ten or fifteen years. If possible, I recommend that the container be removed from the plant in pieces.

For clay pots, tap the pot around the sides with a hammer until it cracks into manageable pieces. For plastic containers, use a stout, sharp knife and carefully cut from rim to base at three or more points around the rim, until you can lay the vertical strips out flat and move the plant off the old container.

Now, at this point a decision needs to be made. Are you going to really break up the clump, or should you just pot it up into the next larger size container? As long as you can still move the larger container with the plant in it, I strongly suggest potting up rather than dividing. There is nothing so magnificent as a huge, old clump of Clivia with a dense stand of shiny green leaves and, in spring, a half dozen or more scapes in bloom all at the same time!

The best time to do this is probably in spring, just after the plant has finished blooming. The plant needs to be in active growth at the time it is divided, or it may go into shock and just sit there for a year.

If you must divide, now comes the tricky part. If there is any potting soil left in the root ball, try to work as much of it out as possible. Discard the old potting soil. Then cut it apart, carefully.

For the cutting tool, my first choice is a very stout, large, sharp knife. The blade should be 8 to 10 inches long, and sturdy enough to have no risk of snapping. You want to cut through the underground rhizome, which is probably ¾-inch in diameter, without butchering all the roots.

The best way to do this is to cut down from the top, between the individual fans or divisions of the plant, to separate the fans from each other at the rhizome. Cut carefully, making a fresh vertical stab into the root mass for each separate division or fan.

After you have made your main cuts, you need to start trying to work the separate divisions out of the clump. The roots will all be intertwined and entangled, so some root losses are unavoidable. Just do the best you can, working a few divisions loose, then trying to untangle their roots with your fingers. It can be hard work for a very large, old plant.

Once the divisions have all been separated from the clump, you should leave them dry and open to the air for a week or two to let the damage to the rhizomes and roots heal. Put the plants in a shaded spot for this, out of any direct sun and protected from any rain.

After a couple weeks, you can at last pot up the individual clivia plants. Use your favorite clivia growing medium, if you have one that you know works for you with clivia plants. If you don't know what to use, I strongly suggest you use either a medium to small mesh orchid growing mix (bark chips, coarse perlite, vermiculite, and chunks of charcoal) or else a standard cactus and succulent potting mix.

When watering the newly-divided plants for the first time, I like to use a dilute solution of soluble plant food like Peters 20-10-20 and a growth stimulant like Hi-Yield Vitamin B1 with NAA. Use the plant food at one-quarter label suggested strength, and use the Vitamin B1 mixture at ½ tablespoonful per gallon.

Good luck!


- The First Flowers

On Tuesday evening, April 17th, NOVA on PBS broadcast a program on the search for the first flowering plant, as well as touching on the tremendous botanical diversity of China. Dan Hinkley, our most famous living plant exporer, was also featured.

If you missed it, try to catch any repeat showing that PBS may scehdule. Meantime, for a botanical take on the program, look at Carlo Balistrieri's web page at: http://www.botanicalgardening.com/hinkleyonnova.html . This page is part of Carlo's blog, and it's a good one.

The angiosperms (true flowering plants) go back a long way, at least as far back as the Jurassic era, over 140 million years ago. The first flowering plants appear to have developed when the dinosaurs were roaming the earth.

The oldest living flowering plants appear the be the obscure Amborella, found on one island in the East Indies. Certain waterlilies are almost as old, it seems.

We are still learning fascinating new things about plants. For instance, SCIENCE NEWS, a weekly newsletter or magazine about science, reports (vol. 171, No. 13, p. 205, March 31, 2007) that the contemporary plant family Hydatellaceae, long thought to be just a group of odd grasses, are actually most closely related to waterlilies and as such are one of the oldest flowering plants. They are not grasses at all! All this came from more careful looks at their physical anatomy, after findings that their DNA was not like that of grasses after all. This was originally published in the journal NATURE, in the 15 March 2007 issue.

The Hydetallaceae are small grassy-looking plants native to India, Australia, and New Zealand. They tend to live in water. Their "flower" turns out to be a cluster of highly modified individual florets. See: http://tolweb.org/Angiosperms/20646 for a look at the phylogenetics of the angiosperms.

For an overall look at the Tree of Life project on the web, go to: http://tolweb.org/tree/phylogeny.html . It is a terrific resource for tracking the phylogenetic relationsships among living (and extinct) organisms. Highly recommended.

SCIENCE NEWS is published weekly by Science Service, 1719 N Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. To subscribe, call 1-800-552-4412.

Good gardening,


- Florigen Defined

The new edition of Science in the News, the daily e-mail newsletter of Sigma Xi, reports on the discovery of the gene that controls the start of flowering.

One of the reports is from the laboratory of George Coupland at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Germany. The original article can be found online in SciencExpress .

In the following, I quote or paraphrase material from Coupland's paper.

The gene, Flowering Locus T, encodes a protein (FT) that acts as a long-distance signal to the plant that it is time to flower. They created a fused gene between the Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) gene and the FT gene, and expressed it in Arabidopsis. They could then track the fate of the expressed FT protein by the fluorescence of the attached GFP moiety.

It is now understood that, in Arabidopsis, long days trigger flowering. The first step that has been worked out is that the long day length causes activation in leaves of the CONSTANS gene (CO), which is a regulator of transcription. The CO gene product activates the FT gene in the leaf, and the FT protein is synthesized in the leaf.

Coupland has now shown that the FT gene product, a small protein related to RAF-kinase inhibitor, is released from the leaf tissue into the vascular system. The FT protein travels through the stem to the apical meristem (the plant's main growing point). This is the step that was tracked using the GFP-FT hybrid protein.

In the meristem, the FT protein activates the floral meristem identity gene, APETALA1. The APETALA1 gene product then directs the meristem to develop into a flower shoot.

A previous report, from a lab in Sweden, had claimed that an RNA was the long distance signal that told the growing shoot to become an inflorescence. That report has subsequently been retracted. Coupland et al. show clearly that it is the FT protein and not any RNA molecule that carries the message from leaves to meristem.

This carries the unravelling of the mystery of flowering further steps backward along the pathway that started with the overly simple ABC mechanism of 10 years ago. APETALA1 was the "A" in the ABC mechanism.

Good gardening,


The journal SCIENCE is published weekly by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Subscribers to SCIENCE can download the PDF file of the original article at: SCIENCEXPRESS

Sigma Xi's e-newsletter Science in the News is distributed by e-mail five days a week year-round.





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