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Blog Home : December 2007

- Haemanthus pauculifolius

The only thing blooming in the greenhouses at the moment is the small Harmanthus pauculifolius, which we could call the "Dwarf White Paintbrush." This is a rare species, described less that ten years ago. It was found in the Drakensberg in South Africa. "Drakensberg" means "Dragons Mountains." These are not mountains so much as the crumbling edge of the high, flat, central plateau (the High Veld) of South Africa. The eastern edge of the plateau, where the terrain drops rapidly to the low, flat coastal plain, is also referred to as  The Escarpment." The Escarpment viewed from the lowlands (the Low Veld) to the east looks like a range of mountains. These are the Drakensberg.

>Haemanthus pauculifolius at Kirstenbosch (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Haemanthus pauculifolius

Haemanthus pauculifolius normally has only one or two leaves, hence the name, from Latin "paucus" = few and "-folius" = -leaved. The leaves are small, as isa the bulb. The leaves are covered with fine, short hairs, giving them a velvety texture.

The flowers occur in early winter (December in the Northern Hemisphere, June in the Southern). The florets are white and enclosed as a group within erect, green bracts. The umbels are narrower than those of its relative, H. albiflos.

Although apparently relatively rare in nature, H. pauculifolius produces numerous offsets in cultivation as well as seeds. It blooms when no other plants in the Haemanthus-Scadoxus group are in flower, and it is compact and nearly evergreen; so it should make a nice houseplant. Given the ease of propagation, I'm surprised it has not become common in commerce. We certainly have plenty of them in our greenhouse.

Good gardening,


- Hippeastrum ("Amaryllis" in commerce)

Our first real snow of the season here in central Indiana, and the first to stick around, started late last night. It's stopped now, leaving us with a not-so-bad 3 to 4 inches on the ground. The wind is out of the North and the air is cold, about 26°F (about -03°C). It sure feels and looks like winter.

There is very little blooming in the greenhouses now, so we are turning our attention to getting plants ready for spring. The watering has been turned back to once every 21 days in the big greenhouse. The struggle for the next month or two will be to keep the temperatures in the greenhouses where we want them to be. Number 2 greenhouse was too cool this morning, thanks in part to a gas heater that did not want to work. Fortunately the other two gas heaters were working as they should. So I turned on a couple supplemental electric heaters, until I can get the heating/cooling people out here to see what is wrong.

Now is a good time to start thinking about amaryllis bulbs (actually Hippeastrum) for bloom in the house. The Dutch Hybrids are available everywhere now, and are more or less guaranteed to bloom right out of the box.

Maybe I can deal with some of the Dutch hybrid amaryllis when they start blooming here in a month or so.

My interest here is mainly in the wild species of Hippeastrum from South America. They are hard to get and trickier to grow than the hybrids in commerce. Some of the recent hybrid introductions, however, are selections or hybrids of the wild species. Hippeastrum cybister in particular has yielded some beautiful new introductions in recent years.

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

Among species that are becoming a somewhat available to connoisseurs in specialty plant groups, like the International Bulb Society, are a couple very rare species that are spectacular: Hippeastrum harrisonii and H. intiflorum. I have odd bits of information about these and some other wild species in my amaryllid web site at: http://www.shieldsgardens.com/amaryllids/hippeastrum.html

A wonderful plant, but one I found hard to grow, is Hippeastrum leopoldii (sometimes called neoleopoldii). This species needs a growing area that is warm all year round; my greenhouses are too cold in winter for it to thrive.

A pretty little plant from Bolivia is Hippeastrum evansiae. Its flowers are pale lemon yellow, sometimes suffused with light pink as the blossom ages. I discussed this species on April 11, 2007.

A species I seem to have no photos of is Hippeastrum aglaiae, native to some temperate areas of Argentina. The somewhat small, trumpet-shaped flowers are white to cream. As I recall, there were three flowers in the umbel. The scapes seemed a bit tall, perhaps 15 to 20 inches high. I had two clones of this flower at the same time a couple years ago, and I got a nice batch of seeds by crossing them. I planted some but gave the rest away. These two bulbs have not bloomed since then.

I'm compiling a database (in Microsoft Access 2000) of Hippeastrum species and some notes on their culture. In the meantime, a partial list of species names (those I think are probably valid) is in my amaryllid web site at: http://www.shieldsgardens.com/amaryllids/HippeastrumList.html if you are curious. Someday in the future, we can expect Drs. Alan Meerow and Julie Dutilh to publish a comprehensive revision of the genus Hippeastrum. That should make the botanical status of the many Hippeastrum names floating around a lot clearer.

The best way to get wild Hippeastrum species is from seed. Collection of bulbs from the wild is virtually impossible, and very often illegal, even if you could find any in the wild. Bulbs growing in cultivation can be the source of seeds, and there are occasional offers of such seeds through the International Bulb Society, from the on-line Brazil Plants club, and various other plant societies and on-line groups.

I'll discuss growing Hippeastrum from seed in another posting someday soon.

Good gardening,


- Winter Chores: Starting Seeds

Winter is here, of course, and going outdoors is not my first choice of things to do. The greenhouses are in low maintenance mode, even those where things are actively growing. One thing that always needs doing is planting more of the seeds I always have sitting around. This is a good time to plant some of the winter-growing species, and even some of the summer growing types. In either case, the planted seeds will go on a shelf under the lights for many months. The limiting factor is always the shelf space under lights.

Planting Hippeastrum Seeds

We used to germinate papery seeds, and especially Hippeastrum seeds, by floating them on water in a clear glass or plastic container covered with clear Saran ® plastic wrap and setting them under the lights.

That works, but you have to remember to plant the germinated seeds in regular seed starting mix before they rot. It is also very easy to damage the radicle (the first root), which can be fata to very young seedlings.

So now we start them in pots. A communal pot is filled ¾ full with seed starting potting mix, then that is covered with a layer of sand about ½ inch thick. the seeds are inserted vertically (on edge) half way into the sand. The pot is covered with clear plastic wrap and set is a pan or saucer of water until the potting mix and sand are thoroughly wetted. Finally, the pot is placed in a saucer on a shelf under the lights. Water is kept in the saucer and the plastic cover is kept in place until it looks as if all the seeds have germinated and are showing some green leaf. Germination is not necessarily as complete as in the floatation method, but after germination there are far fewer losses due to handling the delicate young seedlings.

This same methid, on edge in sand, works well with Rhodophiala, Zephyranthes, Cyrtanthus, and even Worsleya. It should be noted here that the floatation method definitely does NOT work for Cyrtanthus.

Starting Clivia and Haemanthus Seeds

Fleshy seeds like Haemanthus and Clivia are started by planting on the surface of the usual seed starting mixture. We push the seeds part way into the firm potting mix. The pot is then placed into a pan or saucer of water and left until the potting medium is soaked completely up to the surface. The pot or pots are finally set in a tray or large saucer, placed on a shelf under lights. No plastic covering is used. Then the tray is placed in a shelf under lights.

Growing Seedlings On

Clivia, Cyrtanthus, Haemanthus and Hippeastrum seedlings are kept under lights for at least a year, and usually for 18 to 30 months. They received water whenever dry, and there is no resting period. Seedling bulbs in the Amaryllis Family can be kept in continuous growth for up to two years without any dormant or rest period. Hippeastrum seedling bulbs can be kept in continuous growth until they flower. This avoids what can be huge losses if small seedling bulbs are allowed to dry out.

Communal Pots or Individual Pots

In the past, I have ruined many Haemanthus seedlings by disturbing the young seedlings before they were large enough to tolerate it. As damaging as letting them go dormant at too young an age, transplanting seedling bulbs before they are 3 or 4 years old can set them back so that they take many years longer to bloom than otherwise.

For this reason, All our Clivia seeds and many of our Haemanthus seeds are started in idividual pots. Clivia seeds are planted in individual 2¾-in (70 mm.) square pots that are 3¾ in. (95 mm.) deep. They stay there until their roots begin to grow out the drainage holes in the bottom. They can be transplanted into a large pot with minimal disturbance of the roots.

Haemanthus and Crinum seeds are planted in individual plastic pots 5½-in. square by 6 in. deep.

Seed Starting Mixtures

My favorite mixture for starting most seeds is made by mixing 2 parts by volume Promix BX Biofungicide with one part by volume of brown fill sand. The use of the Biofungicide form of the Promix allows us to keep the potting mixture moist at all times without increasing the danger of fungal infection. The biofungicide itself is a natural strain of Bacillus selected because it preys on fungi. It is not a "GM" (genetically manipulated) organism,

We sometimes start Crinum seeds in our usual gritty mix for mature bulbs. This is made by mixing 2 parts by volume Promix BX Biofungicide with one part by volume of brown fill sand and 1 part by volume of granite chick starter grit (about 1/8th inch or 3 mm mesh).

Good gardening,


- Massonia

South Africa has huge numbers of bulb species. Some, such as Crinum and Haemanthus, are well known in many areas. Others are small in size but much larger in numbers of species. The bulbs occur across several plant families, but have some traits in common. They are few-leafed; the leaves may lie prostrate on the ground; the flowers are often sessile; the bulbs often grow several inches below the soil surface.

The Hyacinth Family, Hyacinthaceae, is well represented with many genera in South Africa. One of the less well known of these is the genus Massonia. There are about a half dozen species to be found in some bulb encyclopedias, although there may be many more in nature. All seem to be winter growing plants, and are found mainly in the winter rainfall areas of the Cape provinces.

Massonia generally have two leaves, which lie prostrate on the ground. In my greenhouse here in central Indiana, they are more often semi-erect. The flowers are usually white or very pale shades of pink or yellow. The stamens are longer than the petals and sepals.

The largest species seems to be Massonia depressa, with leaves that reach 6 to 7 inches in length and width. Other species tend to have leaves only 2 to 3 inches long and wide. M. depressa has smooth leaves that are dull green to grey-green. The flowers are many and white, sessile (i.e., borne at ground level).

Massonia sp. cf. depressa (c) copyright 2007 by Shields GArdens Ltd.  All rights reserved. Massonia sp. cf. depressa flowers (c) copyright 2007 by Shields GArdens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Massonia cp. cf. depressa

Massonia echinata is probably the most common and most widely distributed species. It has leaves that are usually smooth, but some plants have "pustulate" leaves, with many raised bumps on the upper surface.

Massonia echinata (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Massonia echinata in bud

Massonia jasminiflora is a species that almost always has pustulate leaves. The flowers are white, with small reflexed petals and sepals.

Massonia pustulata (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Massonia pustulate in bud

Massonia pustulata has the pustulate leaves of its species name, but in a rather more intense form - at least on the plants I grow.

The best way to get these and related species is from seed vendors in South Africa. My favorites are Rod and Rachel Saunders' Silverhill Seeds, http://www.silverhillseeds.co.za/, e-mail <silverhill@yebo.co.za>; Dawie Human, Lifestyle Seeds, e-mail <lifestyleseeds@gmail.com>; and Gordon Summerfield's Indigenous Bulbs & Seed, <summerfields@telkomsa.net>. Remember that when importing seeds, you can save yourself a lot of money for phytosanitary certificate fees by getting a free Small Lots of Seeds import permit from the U.S. Department of Agriculture; for more information, see: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/import_export/plants/plant_imports/smalllots_seed.shtml

Plant the seeds in the autumn and grow in a cool greenhouse. Day-night fluctuations in temperature may aid in germination of the seeds. A day to night temperature drop of 20 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit is not unusual in their natural habitats. The bulbs will want to go dormant when the hot weather returns, and you may experience losses of young seedling bulbs the first couple of summers.

You can find more information about Massonia in these books:

Good gardening,


- Odds and ends

May your holidays be warm and happy. May the New Year bring you whatever good the old year failed to deliver!

So, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, a Merry Yule, Winter Solstice, Saturnalia! I may have missed a few. In any case, this is winter in the Northern Hemisphere, a time that tends to be bleak and uncomfortable if left to itself. Our flowers are deserting us, so let's be thankful for our friends.

We wish all the best for you, your families, and your friends.

Jim & Irma Shields

Now to the greenhouse, or rather to Hoosier Orchid Company's greenhouses. I've neglected my little collection of orchids badly over the past 5 years, and so I've lost most of them. For some reason, we didn't visit Hoosier Orchids last year. So yesterday, we drove over to the northwest corner of Indianapolis, on West 82nd Street, to visit Hoosier Orchids. Harley Rhodehamel, the owner's father, was the one we knew; Harley has passed away, but his son's orchids are still there!

My excuse for going was that I had run out of the fine mesh orchid potting mix I use and which I always get from Hoosier Orchids. The real reason was to see what they had in bloom!

Slc. Sun Rise Doll (c) copyright 2007 Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Slc. Sun Rise Doll

Irma liked this little dwarf cattleya type: Slc. Sun Rise Doll (Slc. = Sophrolaeliocattleya) with its 2½-inch red flowers. We bought it. They had several other dwarf cattleya types as well, some with mostly yellow flowers. The name is in grex format, so this is probably one of a batch of similar seedlings.

Dgmra. Flying High 'Hawaii' (c) copyright 2007 by Shields GArdens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Degarmoara Flying High 'Hawaii'

I like the Oncidium types, and they had quite a selection of mostly yellow to almost pure, deep, purple-brown. I bought this one: Dgmra. Flying High 'Hawaii' (Dgmra. = Degarmoara = Brassia x Miltonia x Odontoglossum). This one is a clone, so the plants were likely propagated in tissue culture.

Cymbidium pink hybrid (c) copyright 2007 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Cymbidium, pink hybrid

Finally we decided on this Cymbidium hybrid as well. This is what I would call a "medium sized" Cymbidium. The leaves and scapes are 25 to 30 inches tall. Besides this rosy pink color, they had cymbidiums with rich green flowers and several plants with very pale, creamy pink flowers. I didn't see any grex or clone names on the cymbidiums.

Having brought two bags of the fine mesh orchid mix home, I've now set to work repotting my old surviving orchids and trying to salvage as much of them as I can. You really need to repot orchids more often that once in every 5 to 10 years!

I found three spikes started on the plants I was repotting. Now that was a very nice surprise. We'll see how they do, since I repotted two of the three anyway. I'll hold the third until after it has finished flowering.

I've an old Cattleya hybrid that was a huge mess, mostly dead and dried up old stems, roots and pseudobulbs. I chopped it up into living sections as best I could, but I'll be surprised if any of those divisions survive. And there are still several more plants to go.....

Good gardening,





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