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- Nerine Again

A White Bowdenii

This is an all white form of Nerine bowdenii. The bulbs came from the Croft Nursery in the Eastern Cape Province in 2000 as tiny bulbs. This is the first to bloom, so it took nine years to get here. Croft Nursery has moved in the meantime and is now known as African Bulbs in the Western Cape Province.

Nerine bowdenii white form (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved..This plant has the wider petals of the Eastern Cape Province forms of bowdenii but with a hint of the ruffling of form Wellsii from the Drakensberg.
Nerine bowdenii, white form

Growing Nerine from Seed

A lady from Portland, Oregon sent me an e-mail asking about growing Nerine from seed. I thought this would be a good place to answer her inquiry.

Nerine have small, fleshy seeds that cannot be forced into dormancy, a trait that is referred to as "recalcitrant." Similar seeds are found in other Amaryllis Family genera, including Clivia (1) and (2), Crinum, Brunsvigia, Haemanthus, Hymenocallis, and Scadoxus.

These seeds germinate almost as well lying on a tabletop as when planted. They should all be started by pressing part-way into the surface of a moistened, well-drained potting mix. Take great care not to break off or damage the thin white shoot that the seed sends out. For the potting medium, I prefer a mixture of ProMix BX or HP with Biofungicide, made by Premier in Canada, mixed with sand and small mesh granite grit. The pots are set in a tray and placed under fluorescent lights. Water regularly from below.

I have my lights in a basement room where the temperature is between 68°F and 76°F summer and winter. The lights are on a timer and are turned on for 16 hours each day.

I try to keep the seedling bulbs growing continuously for the first 18 to 24 months if possible. After that, allow the bulbs to grow on their natural growth and dormancy cycles.

Some species grow very slowly from seed. N. bowdenii and also sarniensis can take 5 to 7 years or longer to reach bloom size from seed. N. krigei can take at least as long.

Growing seedlings of bowdenii, krigei, or laticoma in crowded conditions merely retards their growth and prolongs the already lengthy wait for them to reach flowering size. Nerine bowdenii and sarniensis seedlings do not like to be disturbed. Start your seeds in pots large enough to hold a mature bulb, so you do not need to transplant the young bulbs before they have bloomed.

Nerine like most amaryllids seems to need to get a certain minimum biomass accumulated before they will bloom. Even when they reach that apparently critical mass, only about one out of three bulbs of bowdenii will flower in any given year. This genus is not for the impatient or the greedy!

Other species, especially some of the dwarf ones, can bloom in only three or four years from seed. Of these, I recommend Nerine filifolia, filamentosa, appendiculata, and the dwarf from of angustifolia.

For more on the various species of Nerine, see: http://www.shieldsgardens.com/amaryllids/nerine.html and to order some, see our bulbs price list.

The most spectacular Nerine are the many colorful hybrids of Nerine sarniensis (see this blog, October 27, and the Exbury/Vico Nerine web site.) They come in colors from white to pink to peach to orange, red, and burgundy. Some of the older hybrids are aneuploids and do not breed readily with any other hybrids, but most of the Rothschild-Smithers hybrids are probably diploids and fertile with each other.

Some of the forms of Nerine bowdenii should be interfertile with each other, and it has been said that bowdenii has been successfully crossed with sarniensis. I've not seen any plants that I thought were bowdenii-sarniensis hybrids, however.

I have failed to successfully cross most other species onto bowdenii, but I did get one cross, [krigei x filifolia] that appears to be a true intermediate between the two parental species. I have failed to get hybrids with laticoma using krigei, filifolia, and bowdenii. I have even found that some crosses of one bowdenii variety onto another bowdenii type will not take, so you need to experiment to find what crosses you can make in Nerine.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


- Indian Summer

El Niño

Our Indian Summer is probably connected with the current El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean. I've not been following this one closely, but it is expected to give the Midwest a milder and drier winter than usual, while the Pacific Coast should be wetter than normal. A mild winter here in Indiana would be quite alright with me, but we'll see.....

Yesterday was a beautiful Indian Summer day here in central Indiana. "Indian Summer" refers to summer-like days that occur in mid to late Fall, after we have had several nights of frost. Yesterday was dry, sunny, and warm, with the afternoon high temperature about 72ºF (ca. 22ºC). My daughter and I took our dogs for a walk on the Monon Trail (an abandoned railroad right-of-way made into a long walking and biking trail).

We had beautiful Fall colors until about a week ago, when it rained and took all the leaves down to the ground. Now we have raked some of them up and we have hauled in the bagged leaves that our friends Terry and Kathy pick up from their lawn on the far northern side of Indianapolis. Composted leaves are fantastic materials for building soil, making new flower beds, and mulch to suppress weeds in summer.

Hardy Gladiolus

Besides the usual hardy glads such as Gladiolus communis byzantinus, G. italicus, G. imbricatus, and G. caucasicus from the Meditarranean and Eurasia, I have had a few corms of Gladiolus oppositiflorus salmoneus from South Africa survive the winter outdoors in the ground for several years.

Gladiolus oppositiflorus salmoneus (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved. This glad comes from the Drakensberg, the mountainous escarpment that marks the edge of the high central plateau or High Veld of South Africa. At points, the High Veld reaches 3,000 meters (about 10,000 ft.) in elevation To the east, the low coastal plain, the Low Veld, is warmer and wetter. A few South African bulbs are hardy here in the Midwest, including Galtonia sp., Crinum bulbispermum, Crinum variabile, and this Gladiolus species.
Gladiolus oppositiflorus salmoneus

I've lifted my two surviving clumps of this glad, since I want to increase them in pots before I line them out in the beds again. Otherwise they will gradually dwindle away.

Another hardy glad of South African origins is G. x-gandavensis, which has primrose yellow flowers. Unlike oppositiflorus, gandavensis actually increases nicely in beds here.

There is a primrose yellow form of Gladiolus dalenii, and the form of this old hybrid is very much like that of dalenii. Still, dalenii does not seem to be hardy outdoors here -- but there are so may local ecotypes of dalenii, that there are very probably some quite hardy forms if you could find them or their seeds. So I'm pretty certain that gandavensis is descended from a very hardy form of dalenii from crosses made somewhere in the past couple of hundred years.

Gladiolus x-gandavensis (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.Both gandavensis and oppositiflorus have long since finshed flowering and had their tops killed back by frosts. If I were going to lift and propagate gandavensis, right now is when I should do it. But not this year. Instead, I think I'll take Emma for a walk.
Gladiolus x-gandavensis

Happy Birthday

Today is my sister's birthday. Happy Birthday, Linda!

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


- Odds and Ends

Bar Codes for Species

The following item as taken from the November 9 issue of the the Sigma Xi/American Scientist e-newsletter:

Plant Experts Unveil DNA Barcode

from BBC News Online

Hundreds of experts from 50 nations are set to agree on a "DNA barcode" system that gives every plant on Earth a unique genetic fingerprint. The technology will be used in a number of ways, including identifying the illegal trade in endangered species.

The data will be stored on a global database that will be available to scientists around the world. The agreement will be signed at the third International Barcode of Life conference in Mexico City on Tuesday.

"Barcoding is a tool to identify species faster, more cheaply and more precisely than traditional methods," explained Patricia Escalante, head of the zoology department at Mexico's National University (UNAM), which is hosting the gathering.


I assume that rare and endangered species will be bar coded first. It will be interesting to see which genes or other DNA sequences they have chosen for this new system. Will they manage to sort out the species of Trillium in the area around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? The numerous but almost extinct species of Hippeastrum in South America? How about all the dwarf Narcissus species in Spain and around the Mediterranean? Try this site for more information: http://www.barcoding.si.edu/

Growing Nerine from Seed, continued

Malcolm A. in the U.K. responded to my post to the Pacific Bulb Society list on growing Nerine from seeds with some very helpful comments.

He got one Nerine bowdenii bulb from seed to first flower in just two years. He keeps the plants growing continuously, allowing no dormant period; and he waters and feeds the seedlings regularly. He also notes that N. sarniensis seedlings grow more slowly than bowdenii and that [bowdenii x sarniensis] seedlings grow faster than pure sarniensis.

I'm going to step up my feeding and watering of Nerine bowdenii seedlings. If you have had experience growing Nerine from seed, please share your observations with us. E-mail your comments to me at this blog and I'll post them here for you. (My web ISP does not seem to have a fancy blog system, so we do it all by hand.)

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


- Conservation by Intervention

Human-Assisted Plant Migration

In the face of changing climate, plants are being squeezed out of their traditional habitats by not just human pressure alone. The changing climate is making things too hot for a lot of plants. The following is from the November 11th Sigma Xi - American Scientist daily e-newsletter. My apologies to Sigma Xi for picking up items from them two days in a row, but news about plant conservation is rare and hard to come by; we can't afford to ignore any of it.

A Hunt for Seeds to Save Species, Perhaps by Helping Them Move

from the New York Times (Registration Required)

CHICAGO -- Pitcher's thistle, whose fuzzy leaves and creamy pink puffs once thrived in the sand dunes along several of the Great Lakes, was driven by development, drought and weevils into virtual extinction from the shores of Lake Michigan decades ago.

But in the 1990s, seeds collected from different parts of the thistle's range were grown at the Chicago Botanic Garden and planted with the help of the Morton Arboretum along the lake, in Illinois State Beach Park, north of Chicago near the Wisconsin state line. The plants from Indiana's dunes to the south are doing well; the plants that had come from the north are failing.

With those mixed results in mind, scientists from the botanic garden are sending teams out across the Midwest and West to the Rocky Mountains and Great Basin to collect seeds from different populations of 1,500 prairie species by 2010, and from 3,000 species by 2020. The goal is to preserve the species and, depending on changes in climate, perhaps even help species that generally grow near one another to migrate to a new range.

Discussion of this item was picked up in the e-mail list of the Pacific Bulb Society, and Paul Licht, director of the U.C. Berkeley Botanical Garden pointed out that this work by the Chicago Botanic Garden is part of a larger program. To quote from Paul's posting:

"The program referred to here is part of the larger 'Seeds of Success' program (http://www.nps.gov/plants/SOS/index.htm) designed to 'save' many plants. Here at Berkeley, we are involved in collected about four dozen native Californian species as part of this program which focuses on more or less common species. In addition, we have been collecting and are now introducing several extremely endangered local species under the sponsorship of the Center for Plant Conservation.(http://www.centerforplantconservation.org/)."


The U.C. Botanical Garden has more conservation projects underway.

Boyce Tankersley, Director of Living Plant Documentation at Chicago Botanic Garden, then took up the story:

"The CBG studies with respect to assisted migration are ongoing and the causes of some of the problems associated with Pitchers Thistle were only recently determined.

These kinds of projects are relatively unique because they require very long term investments of staff and financial support. We are very fortunate to have been able to assemble those in one place, at least for the Pitchers Thistle.

The Science staff working on this and other conservation efforts either at the species or ecosystem levels are now located in the new Science Center."


The Center for Plant Conservation is located on the grounds of the Missouri Botanic Garden in St. Louis. I visited the CPC on a trip to St. Louis about a year ago and had the pleasure of hearing the CPC story from the director herself, Dr. Kathryn L. Kennedy. They welcome the support of the plant-loving public! I encourage everyone to look into and support this activity.

It would seem reasonable to start with common species, but of course they are common because they have a high survivability; they are very adaptable. The rare ones are rare because they do not have this capability! They are rare because they cannot adapt to new and changing environments. These are almost the definitions of 'common' vs. 'rare'. So success with rare and endangered species of plants is likely always to be difficult to achieve. Niche species will always be a great challenge to keep alive as the planet changes.

If you plant new seedlings of a rare plant back into the same place where it is going extinct, it is not unreasonable to expect that the seedlings will be affected at least as much as the existing plants by whatever forces are driving the extinction. You would need to find new locations, and make the new spots safer for the plants than the original habitat was.

Change is inevitable and on-going. Remember that everything growing in the Midwest above ca. latitude 40ºN was not there 20,000 years ago. There was just a mile-thick layer of ice. The plants have had 20,000 years to migrate to where they are now. The next migration, unfortunately, may have to be made in 100 years instead -- that is where I can see human intervention being useful and indeed necessary. We can move plants from one mountain that's becoming too warm to another that is higher or farther north, and perhaps they will survive a while longer.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


- Weather and Bloom


November has been very mild so far, with only light frosts overnight and afternoons about 55ºF to 68ºF (ca. 13ºC to 20ºC), about 3 to 15 degrees F (2 to 8ºC) warmer than average for this time of year (autumn). November has also been quite dry, after a very wet October (over 5 inches/125 mm of rainfall, vs. about 2.5 inches/62 mm on average).

Bloom in the Greenhouse

All the tender plants except the Cymbidium orchids are already long since inside the greenhouses for the winter. The plants of Cymbidium are starting to bud out now, so we should have flowers before Christmas. We will move the pots inside the greenhouse before there is a hard frost (temperature lower than 28ºF/-2ºC).

The only outdoor flower still in bloom is Crocus cartwrightianus, which is pushing its last new flowers out of the ground. All else is finished for the season.

Inside the greenhouses, the Lachenalia are starting to bloom, with L. rubida and L. viridiflora both flowering just now. Lachenalia pusilla finished blooming weeks ago, and L. (Polyxena) ensifolia has finished blooming. Massonia echinata is in full bloom, and Massonia pustulata and M. depressa are in bud.

Narcissus cantabricus foliosus is in bloom, after having been repotted in August 2008. A few pots of Nerine bowdenii are still blooming, although most of the bowdenii have finished. Nerine undulata is starting to bloom, and when it finishes, the Nerine will be over with until next summer.

Two large Zantedeschia aethiopica cultivars are starting to bloom; with luck, they will continue off and on for the next few months.

Occasional Clivia are in bloom now (C. robusta, some miniata Belgian hybrids) but their main bloom isn't expected until March.

This is the quietest time of year for us.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


- Planting Spring Bulbs

What to Plant Now

This is late in the season to be planting your spring flowering bulbs, unless you are planting tulips and lilies. In fact, this is generally the ideal time to plant bulbs of Tulipa and Lilium. It is too late to plant Narcissus, which need the warm weather of late summer to develop their root systems.

I grow very few tulips here, since the large hybrids don't last long for me. The problem is heavy clay soil and very wet summers, both of which are less than perfect for tulips in their summer dormancy. Some of the dwarf Tulipa species and hybrids do much better here, and we had them for quite a few years. None of them seem to be permanent here, unfortunately.

Lilium Black Beauty (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved. Lilium henryi (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Lilium 'Black Beauty'Lilium henryi

Lilium bulbs should not be stored out of the ground, which is precisely what the Dutch mass producers do. They should be transplanted in late autumn -- right now -- rather than being offered to people in spring and in late summer, as the mass marketers do. Only two Lilium have lasted any length of time here: L. 'Black Beauty' and L. henryi. I think I should plant lots more of these two varieties. (Note: I had 'Black Beauty' mislabeled as 'Black Dragon' in the initial version of this blog.)

Dwarf Narcissus Species

I had an inquiry about how to grow some dwarf Narcissus species. The questioner lives in Pennsylvania, but I answered of course for Indiana; the differences should not be too great, but there are some.

I have Narcissus calcicola growing well in a raised bed "rock garden." N. fernandesii and N. willkommii also grow there and bloomed for several years. N. assoanus only lasted a couple years in the rock garden and then disappeared.

This bed is 12 to 18 inches high, with the top layer being sandy river bottom silt with a limy character; it has lots of shells of dead snails in it. Under the sandy silt, there is a thick layer of pea gravel. Finally, the base layer is #8 river gravel (about 1/2 to 1 inch diameter pebbles). Fritillaria crassifolia kurdica thrives there too, even seeding around modestly. Two species of Brodiaea live in the same bed and come back and bloom every year.

"Calcicola" means loving lime or living in lime. That may be why N. calcicola does so well in this particular bed. It clearly tolerates very cold winter temperatures with the ground frozen to a significant depth. Jane McGary noted that her calcicola do very well in her acid soil in Oregon. The difference in amounts of moisture between Indiana and Oregon may be important in this regard.

In more conventional beds, not elevated, N. bulbicodium conspicuus and N. b. nivalis lived for awhile and even bloomed a couple times. N. asturiensis does as well as any garden hybrid Narcissus in an ordinary bed here.

None of the species named here did well inside my cool greenhouse (lowest temperature T > 32ºF or 0ºC). They did better outdoors, even if they did not survive forever outside. Summer rain may have hurt them, but they seemed to need the freezing temperatures of winter to grow and bloom.

Books on the Web

A member of the Pacific Bulb Society list posted a note about an on-line library of scanned books. This one is particularly appropriate to those interested in plants: the Biodiversity Heritage Library. I downloaded a book on Lepidoptera of India by F. Moore from 1893 (PDF file with over 300 pages). This web site has books going back to the 15th century. Check the site out; you'll probably be fascinated!

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


- Seed Dispersal and Red Lists

Seed Dispersal in Trillium

Discussions in the Trillium-L list have convinced its members, including me, that seed of Trillium are principally spread about by ants, yellow jackets, and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Russell Graham in Oregon found this link: Cornell University. So we have scientific evidence that deer are active dispersers of seeds.

It seems likely that other animals that like ripe fruit and berries might also fill the same function, where they still exist with wild Trillium colonies. For instance, black bears surely must like ripe Trillium fruit as much as deer do. I would expect raccoons to similarly enjoy an occasional ripe Trillium fruit for lunch. I know our local raccoons at this time of year leave lots of persimmon seeds in their scat.

George Africa from Vermont sent me these comments and observastions on this topic:

"Deer are frequent here and regularly eat the seed pods from trillium. I have been trying to increase my collection of grandiflorum and it's always a close battle to stay a day ahead of insects and deer. We have a large population of bear here too. Sunday night I was out looking skyward to observe the meteor showers and I heard something behind me. Flashlight came upon two glow-in-the-dark yellow eyes and (s)he wasn't out for meteors. Turkeys were reintroduced in Vermont in the 70s and now they are everywhere. They bed down in the trilliums and eat the pods too. I suspect the bear do but haven't seen them or looked to verify signs."

The question is, in which animals that eat ripe Trillium fruits can the seeds survive and emerge in viable condition? Accoding to John Gyer, there are doubts that the seeds would survive the digestive processes in carnivores, nor the gizzards in birds like wild turkeys and other fowl. So wild turkeys, bears, coyotes, and even raccoons might be precluded as effective seed dispersal agents for Trillium. John does suggest that some kinds of birds might spread trillium seeds. We need to check this out.

The way to demonstrate that a large mammal is a dispersal vector for a plant species is to grow that plant from the droppings of the animal in question. It might be more practical to feed ripe Trillium berries to captive bears and raccoons.

Narcissus cantabricus in Bloom

Narcissus cantabricus foliosus (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved. This tender dwarf Narcissus has survived 8 years in my greenhouse, but rarely bloomed. In August 2008, I finally repotted it. After spending a year recuperating from the transplant (or more likely from 7 years of neglect) if is blooming its head off this year. Repotting helps!
Narcissus cantabricus foliosus

South African Red List

Justin Smith in the Pacific Bulb Society list found this terrific link for anyone intersted in plants of South Africa:

You need Excel or a compatible spreadsheet program to open this file. The parent site for this file is SANBI: Biodiversity Policy and Planning. For a searchable on-line database of names and their status (synonyms, nomina nuda, etc.) use this link:

Coffee Shops -- A Bit Off-topic

Today's Wall Street Journal has a piece on the demise of the coffee shop. The writer claims the late 19th and early 20th century coffee shops in Vienna were the sources of all the new ideas of their times. Now, places like Starbucks are feeble shadows of those classic coffee shops. The silence is broken only by the faint click of people posting to their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Where are today's intellectuals? Maybe they all have jobs, unlike most of the folks hanging around coffee shops a hundred years ago.

In Indianapolis, we at least have Martha Hoover's excellent Café Patachou and Petit Chou establishments. They have the best croissants in Indiana! They make wonderful omelettes. Their tomato atrichoke soup is outstanding.

We stopped at Petit Chou at Clay Terrace yesterday afternoon for tea. I had a croissant with ganache cream (fancy chocolate sauce); positively decadent. I'll have to go back before Thanksgiving for another. Now if I can just get them to make croissants filled with almond paste....

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


- Christmas Flowers for the Holidays

Christmas Flowers

As far away as Europe, the Christmas season brings "Amaryllis" (Hippeastrum hybrids) and Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) into the stores and homes. Regardless of what eslse is blooming, these seem to be the most popular flowers for the holidays.


The traditional flowering houseplants for the Christmas holiday season are poinsettias, Euphorbia pulcherrima, native shrubs of Mexico in the family Euphorbiaceae. Whereas you once had your choice of red or red, you can now choose from colors from red to pink to white to even blue or green (these last thanks to food dyes). Although perennial in mild climates, these are best treated as throw-away annuals in colder zones. Remember, the "petals" are leaves or bracts that develop striking colors to attract pollinators to the small, almost insignificant flowers in the center of the cluster of colorful bracts.

Poinsettia (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved. Poinsettia (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Poinsettia (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved. Poinsettia (c) copyright 2009 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Poinsettias Seen at Kroger and at Habigs

The colors seemed rather conservative so far, with no garish blues and only a subdued orange color seen.


You should be able to find potted Dutch Amaryllis bulbs in garden centers now. If you force them, you should be able to have them blooming by Christmas. These "Amaryllis" are actually hybrids in the genus Hippeastrum in the family Amaryllidaceae. Although most of their wild South American ancestors are adapted to seasonal growth during a rainy season, these modern hybrids can be manipulated to bloom at various times of the year. Although we often call them "Dutch Amaryllis," they are as likely to come from South Africa or from India as from The Netherlands.

I haven't seen any Hippeastrum in bloom so far this season, but these bulbs in bud at Habig's Garden Shop in Westfield will probably be in full flower in another couple of weeks.

Hippeastrum 'Cape Hatteras' (c) Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.This one grows commonly in gardens around Cape Hatteras. I like the bold colors and the simplicity of the flower.
Hippeastrum hybridum "Cape Hatteras"

Don't throw these bulbs away after they finish blooming! Set them in a warm, sunny place and keep them watered. Feed lightly with a soluble bulb flood. We recommend Peters or Jack's Professional Peat Lite (20-10-20 with micronutrients). In September or October, before frosts start, move the plants to a protected but cool area, decrease watering, and let them rest. After a month or so of resting, repot the bulbs and start watering again. Move to a warm, brightly lit area, and watch for the new bud to appear. The cycle is starting all over again, and you can keep this going for as many years as you care to.


The giant Florist's Cyclamen are a far cry from their wild ancestors! The commercial plants are derived from Cyclamen persicum, native to Iran and surrounding areas. The flowers on the florists' hybrids are huge compared to those of the wild species. The florists' plants come in plain or frilled forms and in colors from red to pink to white, including some picoteed types (if I recall correctly).

These are also perennials, and should go through the summer indoors, when you should keep them dry and warm. Repot in autumn when you see the first new growth starting. The tubers will probably not divide, but they should just get bigger and bigger with the passing years. Feed the same thing as we recommend for amaryllis and other bulbs.

Other Florists Plants

Paperwhite Narcissus (c) Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.Paperwhite Narcissus, Hydrangea, Kalanchoe, Christmas cactus, and more things are on offer at various places. More later.....

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


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