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- Hardiness of Haemanthus. 2.

Hardiness in Cultivation

Inquiries in the plant lists and forums yielded a few more interesting examples of cold hardiness in Haemanthus.

Mark and Tony, both in North Carolina, each reported that he had had Haemanthus montanus survive one or more winters outdoors in the garden. I think they are both in USDA cold zone 7b. Tony noted that he had tried many other species of Haemanthus, and no others had survived his winters.

In Berkeley, California, they have been growing a wide variety of Haemanthus species outdoors in the ground in the U.C. botanic garden, and there have been no loses over a period of several years. It can get rather frosty in Berkeley in winter, but the temperatures do not usually stay below freezing for very long, as far as I can recall. Still, this is worth noting.

Haemanthus in Bloom

Haemanthus pauculifolius is in bloom just now in the Haemanthus greenhouse. Only one pot has a bloom so far, but maybe the others will follow in a couple weeks.

Haemanthus paucullifolius (c) copyright 2010 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Haemanthus pauculifolius Nr. 1804

Haemanthus pauculifolius is a dwarf evergreen species found in the Transvaal Drakensberg Escarpment. It is closely related to H. albiflos and H. deformis. The one or two leaves have a soft covering of fine, short hairs on the upper (adaxial) side as well as a fringe of fine hairs on the leaf margins. The pot in which the above plant is growing is 5.5 inches (ca. 13.5 cm) on a side.

To compare H. albiflos to this species, see my Haemanthus page at: http://www.shieldsgardens.com/amaryllids/haemanthus.html. Note that the "paint brush" in pauculifolius is much narrower than that in albiflos.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Arsenic and Aloe

Life with Arsenic

Arsenic is a chemical element related to phosphorus. Arsenic forms similar compounds to phosphorus, including arsenate, which is a direct analog of phosphate. It is, of course, very, very toxic.

Although I'm not sure of the genus and species for this new arsenic-incorporating microbe, I'm sure it is a member of the kingdom Archaea, the extremophiles. Various members of this group tolerate and grow at high temperatures that would kill bacteria, or in high salt solutions like Mono Lake, California, or at extreme pH values, or in mine tailings where toxic metals (like arsenic) are often found in abundance.

The new reports of microbes that have been grown on arsenate in place of phosphate are fascinating. We need to see where in the organism the arsenate is incorporated and how it works compared to phosphate.

For instance, how stable are the arsenate-ester bonds in arseno-RNA and arseno-DNA compared to the usual phosphate diester bonds? A trace of phosphate was apparently needed for these microbes to grow on their arsenate media. Where are those critical phosphates to be found? Does the arsenate analog of ATP form? How stable is it relative to ATP? How does the stability of an arsenate ester bond vary with salt concentration? With temperature?

It would be well to keep in mind, while reading the many sensational reports on this discovery, that these microbes have to be grown in the lab on artificial media to develop this high tolerance for arsenic. I suspect that, in an evolutionary sense, these bugs are no longer the same species that the researchers pulled from the muck in Mono Lake. A good source of comments and commentary on this topic might be Discover Magazine's 80beats on-line. I'm also looking forward to reading the actual scientific paper when my copy of "Science" magazine finally arrives.

Aloe microstigma

Late last winter I ordered a batch of Agave and Aloe plants from the U.C. Berkeley botanical garden, Paul Licht, director. One of them, Aloe microstigma, now has a bloom stalk up, and color starting to show in the lower-most flower buds. A quick poll of the Xeric World Forum showed that most respondants had their Aloe microstigma starting to bloom at the same time as mine.

This species is native to the Western Cape province of South Africa, which is a winter-rainfall area, as well as the Eastern Cape Province, which is a summer rainfall area. I presume that this plant can take some moisture year-round. I like the book, "Guide to the Aloes of South Africa" by Ben-Erik van Wyk and Gideon Smith (Briza Publications, Pretoria, Second Edition, 2003).

My plant came to me from Berkeley, which has a winter-rainfall climate. I suspect it is thoroughly habituated to a winter growing season, which would perhaps explain the late autumn flowering time.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Greenhouse in Winter

The Haemanthus House

My greenhouse number 2 is home to my Haemanthus bulbs, which share it with the Lachenalia and the succulents and cacti in winter. There is snow and arctic air right now on the outside of No. 2. The outside temperature this morning was +6°F (ca. -14 degrees C).

Greenhouse No. 2 (c) copyright 2010 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved. Outside view with snow.
Greenhouse No. 2 in winter

Inside, the gas heaters kept the temperature around 50°F (10 deg C).

Greenhouse No. 2 (c) copyright 2010 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved. Inside view with sun shining in.
Inside the greenhouse with the sun shining in our eyes

The bit of snow we've had has wiped most of the shading compound off the glass, letting in the pale winter sunshine. Sunshine is good, especially in winter!

Yeast Proteins Uncoordinated

It seems that a recent study of gene expression and protein synthesis in yeast has surprised scientists. The genes for the "housekeeping proteins" in the yeast turned out to be transcribed into messenger RNA (mRNA) on a random basis rather than in a coordinated manner.

Such random, disorganized behavior offends the sensibilities of the average scientist, and the researchers now suppose that the coordination must still be there, but probably at the post-transciptional stage. I can't help but wonder about that idea as well......

(Reported in The Scientist, from a paper published in "Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.")

Sources of Science On-line

Where can you get a daily newsfeed on what's new and breaking news in science? Here is a list of some possible sources I've run across:

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Arsenic in the Mix

Bugs that Live with Arsenic

NASA has hyped some work with bacteria (actually, proteobacteria, family Halomonadaceae, based on 16S rRNA) from the sludge in Mono Lake, California. The Microbes were grown on arsenic-containing medium with only a trace of phosphate present. The publication is in last week's SCIENCE EXPRESS online.

The problem is, they speculate that this bug uses Arsenate instead of Phosphate everywhere, even in its RNA and DNA. It is not clear to me that they rigorously demonstrated this experimentally. They still need to do a bit more chemistry on the RNA, DNA, and proteins from these bugs.

The skeptics are howling because the organic chemistry of arsenate suggests strongly that as soon as you put "arseno-RNA" or "arseno-DNA" into water, either would fall apart. If this "arseno-DNA" is stable in the bacteria, then there is some interesting chemistry waiting to be explained. This is novel enough that biochemists should remain skeptical until the details have been worked out. If a result is hard to believe, it is probably wrong.

See: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ in the Not Rocket Science blog for some of the early comments.

For more on this, including the paper itself, see:

When I first saw the news on this paper, over a week ago, I thought there really must be some mistake. Simple organic esters of arsenate are not stable in water. Arsenate must have been adsorbed on the particulates when they analyzed the arsenic-tolerant cells.

Having looked at the actual paper itself, I think there is a different question that needs to be addressed: How does incorporation into macromolecules change the chemistry of arsenate esters?

This paper does not answer any questions, in my mind. Rather it seems to validly raise a whole set of new questions about arsenate biochemistry.

  • Why does arsenate accumulate in these tolerant cells?
  • How does arsenate interact with AMP-ADP-ATP processes in these cells?
  • Where are the remaining phosphate groups in these arsenate-loaded cells?
  • Is the remaining phosphate essential where it is or is it randomly distributed?

The only way this paper relates to exobiology and life on other planets is in the wild fantasies of NASA's PR people.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Early Flowers and Cold Weather

Early Flowering Plants

There is an interesting piece in Science DAILY about the origins of flowering plants, "What 'Pine' Cones Reveal About the Evolution of Flowers."

It seems that working with gene expression, researchers found that the most likely start on the road to true flowers was when the male cones on some ancient gymnmosperm developed female parts as well.

Clivia in Bloom

Back in the big greenhouse, there are a few early blooms on some Clivia plants: a couple gardenii are in bloom, as well as robusta 'Maxima' and one or two interspecifics. No pictures as the shade system broke down in the fully shaded position, so everything is blooming a very pale pastel tint. Maybe we will get it repaired in the spring, and maybe not.

Clivia berries are ripening right on schedule. I'll get a few pictures of them one of these days and post here. One pink seedling has yellow berries. Actually, they are probably just yellow with very, very pale pink shadows left. I'll get the exact parentage when I take the picture.

How's the Weather?

In a word, "cold!" It has been unusually cold here for at least a month, or so it seems to me. The temperature was -3°F/-19°C this morning. Note the minus signs; and it isn't even January yet. The long range forecast for this winter called for milder but wetter conditions than usual. This was supposed to be due to the El Niño/La Niña cycle. We have had plenty of precipitation, but colder temperatures rather than milder. The gas bill for heating the greenhouses is going to be horrendous this month.

Haemanthus Hybrid

There has been some discussion in the Haemanthus Forum of the Scottish Rock Garden Club's web site of some canaliculate coccineus plants [canaliculate -- see Glossary]. Now, one member reports that Dee Snijman has identified them as coccineus-crispus hybrids in reply #159.

I have a few young seedlings of Haemanthus [coccineus x crispus] growing on here. It will be at least a couple more years before I see any blooms on them.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Broadband Internet Connections

Plant Lists Move

The series of plant lists here-to-fore hosted by Surfnet in the Netherlands have moved to a server at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. The lists I know of and their new URLs:

The master list is posted at: http://mailman.science.uu.nl/mailman/listinfo


Using cable internet has much to recommend it: For Comcast at least, our cable internet is less expensive ($59 per month with fixed IP). It is also faster, at about 20 MB/sec download and 4.4 MB/set upload. What's not to like?

Our experience with this provider has been very uneven. For months we have had to reboot the cable modem up to 5 times a day, to re-establish our internet connection. Only about 10 days ago did the connection suddenly become completely stable again.


DSL is digital internet service over your phone lines. It works over a simple twisted pair of wires, just like regular old-fashioned analog voice telephone service. The difference is that at the phone company's end of this twisted pair, the connection is to a computer. At our distance from the nearest server, our best download speed was 2.2 MB/sec and the usual is only around 1.7 MB/sec. Upload varies from 0.350 to less than 0.500 MB/sec. The cost is higher, at about $80 per month with fixed IP address. That amounts to $20 more per month for service that is roughly one-tenth as fast as cable.

On a cost vs. speed basis, DSL loses, hands down. The question we're trying to answer just now is the relative reliability of the two services. If the DSL shows the slightest sign of being unstable, it's out the window. If we decide to stick with the cable broadband service and it then becomes unstable again in a few months, I'm going to be really ticked off. What to do?

Fixed IP

Our IP number is our address on the internet, with a form similar to A fixed IP address stays the same day after day. Most private residential connections use a dynamic IP address, which changes everytime their connection to the internet is turned off and then on again. We keep our local internal network connected to the internet 24 hours a day. We need to be able to reach our server when travelling, so we need the fixed IP address. That adds something to the monthly cost, regardless off the type of connection.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Bulbs List Up and Running Again


The Bulbs-L list is settled in its new home at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. It's purpose is to encourage discussion and growing of all sorts of geophytes, and especially growing hardy bulbs in cooler climates. You can find out more about it and even join at http://mailman.science.uu.nl/mailman/listinfo/bulbs-l. You can direct questions to bulbs-l-request@science.uu.nl for help on how to use the list.

Hardy Bulbs

Let's see what bulbs are growing that are out of their usual comfort zone!

My list is about like this, to name some off the top of my head:

Crinum bulbispermum, selected clones
Crinum [bulbispermum x lugardiae] -- all survived
Crinum [bulbispermum x macowanii] -- a few survived for two winters
Crinum variabile -- all survived
Crinum [variabile x bulbispermum] -- all survived
Note: crinum bulbs need to be about 2 inches in diameter or larger to survive over winter outdoors in the ground in my garden.

Brodiaea californica -- in the rock garden
Brodiaea coronaria -- in the rock garden
Brodiaea pallida -- in the rock garden

Fritillaria -- many have survived a few years, none survive in the long term except:
Fritillaria acmopetala
Fritillaria camschatcensis
Fritillaria crassifolia kurdica -- flourish in the rock garden
Fritillaria pallidiflora
Fritillaria thunbergii

Gladiolus oppositiflorus salmoneus

Hymenocallis liriosme -- in a protected spot; being tested in the open field

Narcissus bulbocodium conspicuus -- for several years, then lost
Narcissus bulbocodium nivalis -- for several years, then lost
Narcissus calcicola -- doing well; blooms
Note: Other dwarf Narcissus tend to die here whether in the greenhouse in pots or in the garden in the ground

Nerine bowdenii -- only a few survived and none bloomed

Others may occur to me when Spring comes and they show up again.

The International Plant Protection Convention

The International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) is preparing a draft standard that will probably severely limit the international movement of plant seeds. Almost everything not already established in a country may be considered a potential weed. Contact your favorite plant society or seed exchange for their position, and offer your suggestions and support.

See the draft standard at: https://www.ippc.int/index.php (click on the hot link to go straight to the document).

Joyce Fingerut [Government Liaison; Director, Seed Exchange; North American Rock Garden Society, http://www.nargs.org] is leading the International Horticultural Seed Exchange Advocacy (IHSEA) group that is lobbying the USDA in all matters affecting import and export of plants by hobbyists. She needs the support of the plant societies. The Small Lots of Seeds plant import permit system is a direct result of Joyce's earlier efforts in this area. She deserves our support.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Hardy Bulbs


My post the other day of tender bulbs that are hardy here did not touch on one group that I am fond of: Corydalis.

Corydalis solida varieties do well here in open shade settings, as long as you don't let grass grow in among them. I tried naturalizing Corydalis solida and Fritillaria meleagris in grassy areas with only light shade. They were crowded out by the grass.

In the woodland garden, C. solida sets seed and volunteers come up in the gravel walks. In its place, it does just fine here. Most of my patches of solida are in areas that get at least a little irrigation in the driest parts of summer.

Corydalis lutea (properly now called Pseudofumaria lutea) has never managed to get established here, for some reason. It seems to die within a year each time I try it. C. ochroleuca (Pseudofumaria ochroleuca) lived and bloomed for several years but eventually died out.

Corydalis shanginii lived and bloomed for several years in full sun, but gradually disappeared. I suppost it was done in by the summer heat.

C. angustifolia 'Georgian White' not only survived, it blooms and increases. It also seeds around modestly, so I am very pleased with it. It is growing in a rough bed at the edge of the woodland garden. It gets some irrigation in summer, although I don't know whether it needs it or not. C. kuznetzovii lasted a long time, flowering every year, but did not seem to increase from one small clump.

Corydalis bracteata did well, survived, increased, and bloomed, in one small spot. Moved elsewhere, it simply disappears. It's a fine yellow Corydalis, but you have to guess at just the right place for it.

Numerous other species have survived here, even bloomed, for a few years. If they were less expensive I would recommend planting them again when they disappear. Since they tend to be had to find (Janis Ruksans is the only source I can think of for many), I've not replaced any of them. These included CC. caucasica, paczoskii, turczaninowii, wendelboi, and some others.

Corydalis kuznetzovii (c) 2008 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Corydalis kuznetzovii from 2008

I have found that the blue flowered Corydalis species, including elata, flexuosa, and linstowiana, are impossible to grow here except that linstowiana (ex Dufu) in pots did survive and bloom in the cool greenhouse. The linstowiana pots spent the summer outdoors in the lath house under occasional misting. The other blue ones appear to be hopeless.

Depending on the weather, the Corydalis should be blooming here in central Indiana in about two or three months. The bulbous one should be planted when they are dormant, usually in summer. The fibrous-rooted species should be moved whenever you can get them, using great care, especially if they are in leaf.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

- Winter Bloom

Hippeastrum aulicum

Hippeastrum aulicum is native to brazil. It has been said to sometimes grow as an epiphyte. I have to grow mine in pots, where they do quite well in the greenhouse all year around. The flowers are brilliant red, usually with a vivid green star in the center. The petals and flower form are somewhat variable, in my experiance. If the plant has flowers that open widely, and the petals and especially sepals are relatively narrow, the plant is what some refer to as "stenopetalum." This is not a recognized botanical taxon of H. aulicum, but it is a recognizable type of flower in this somewhat variable species. Steno- comes from Greek and means narrow or close.

Hippeastrum aulicum (c) copyright 2010 by Shields Gardens Ltd.  All rights reserved.
Hippeastrum aulicum

This one is not open as wide as some forms, but the sepals are almost as narrow as what we call stenopetalum. It was grown from seed from Mauro Peixoto. One of its siblings was more typical of stenopetalum, but I didn't get a photo of that one.

Aloe microstigma

My plant of Aloe microstigma came from the U.C. Berkeley Botanic Garden last spring. I was surprised to see it blooming this year. The species is native to the Eastern and Western Cape provinces of South Africa. The name microstigma does not refer to the flower structure but rather the the "small spots" on the leaves.

Aloe microstigma (c) copyright
Aloe microstigma

This species blooms in June in habitat (winter in the Southern Hemisphere). In my greenhouse, it is blooming in December (winter in the Northern Hemisphere), so just what we should expect.

Good gardening, from here in central Indiana


Look up technical terms in the Glossary of Plant Biology

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Last revised on: 27 December 2010
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