Saturday, September 26, 2015

Stout Grove, an Adventure in Botanical Geekery

Stream panoramic
Last weekend my family and I took a drive to the coastal town of Crescent City California where we stayed a night. On our journey home, we stopped in the little town of Hiouchi to visit the beautiful Stout Grove, located in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. The trees here are not as strikingly gigantic as the giant redwoods a little south, but they still dwarf even the tallest of us mortal hikers. Naturally, our daughter fell into a deep sleep literally as we turned off the 199, and despite our efforts could not be woken. We still had a long drive home to Rogue River, so we didn't want to awaken the tuckered out little girl (we had already been to the aquarium and the beach that day, so much running!), so Anna sat in the car and let me scope out the trail.

Stout Grove trail, Hiouchi, Oregon
Poison oak (Toxicodendron sp.) climbing a tree
I was dwarfed by the redwoods and Rhododendrons that dominated the canopy, as well as a few scattered hardwoods. Yet my focus is usually towards the forest floor during hikes in the hopes that I'll see something botanically enticing. I wasn't disappointed! I felt like a kid in a candy store. Yes, I'm a plant nerd, and proud of it!

Rhododendron sp.
Rhododendron sp.
Rhododendrons, I would guess macrophyllum, were a frequently encountered understory small tree or large shrub. They grew large searching for the light, becoming trees unlike the shrubby varieties I am used to seeing come out of the horticultural world.

Rhododendron sp.
Like the majority of the plants I encountered, the flowers were long gone. But instead of being disappointed I was excited to see different details of the plants I might otherwise not see if I were focused on the flowers (they tend to steal the spotlight). The opened capsules here were interesting, the seeds had long since fallen out. I wonder if birds eat the seeds and help in distributing them?

Oxalis sp.
Oxalis, perhaps oregana, was also common higher up on the trail, but I saw less of it the further down the path I went. It is lovely in bloom, appearing after many of the other forest herbs have flowered, at least in the larger redwood forests further south into California.

So much botanizing!
The sun was highly filtered through the dense canopy, forcing me to use the flash as I do not own a proper tripod (to be honest, I'd rather not carry one around).

Trillium ovatum
Geophytes are common here. Trilliums were almost everywhere, long past flowering. I like seeing the plants at different stages of growth, gives me a better understanding, deepening my relationship with them.
Trillium ovatum, everything is in "threes"
Immediately below this apparently highly sexually active individual (the plant, not me) were many seedlings, young plants that have not yet reached maturity. Observing the way plants grow in the wild can teach how to grow them in a garden. The ground here is probably always moist, or nearly so, from springs or some other kind of underground montane seepage. The seeds germinated in soil that was covered in moss and leaves. The slope assures that there is oxygen (no stagnancy) from the slow movement of the water through the soil.

Trillium ovatum seedlings
Trillium and Iris leaves
There were a few clumps of rhizomatous Irises around, but not terribly plentiful. I wont guess at the species, but I'm sure there is someone out there who can identify Pacific coast Irises by the leaves alone. I welcome their comments!

Achlys triphylla
Vanilla leaf, or sometimes called Sweet-after-death, is a name this species has earned from the vanilla-like scent of the dead or dried plants. In Spring a tufted flower spike emerges from each plant. They were a unique discovery for me, having never seen them before. Now, the next logical step is to purchase some for my garden (horticultural varieties, never wild plants!)

Achlys triphylla
Alectoria sp.
Not a moss, but a lichen. Many tree lichens are mistakenly called "moss" by the lay man, including me. Lichens are totally bizarre! They are not a single organism, but a composite organism comprised of algae living among a fungus, the sum having different characteristics than each constituent individually (though the specific algae and fungus are often never found without their counterpart in nature). Tree lichens, unlike rock lichens, don't feed on their substrate and are thus not parasites. They instead photosynthesize like plants, as well as requiring water (minimally is many cases) and minerals (particularly rock and soil lichen). I'm lichen it...

Ferns and mosses
The moist atmosphere created by the dense canopy facilitates humid conditions below, enabling the growth of mosses everywhere including stumps and rocks, which can then be colonized by pteridophytes (ferns, horsetails, etc.) and eventually more advanced flower- and seed-producing vascular plants.

Adiantum sp.
Many wood ferns cohabited in the moist understory, but the most attractive and delicate were the maidenhair ferns of the genus Adiantum (possibly the species aleuticum).

Clintonia andrewsiana
I was most delighted to find these blue berries! They are of the lovely Clintonia andrewsiana, the red Clintonia, from the red flowers produced in Spring. The plants grow from slender rhizomes.

Clintonia andrewsiana
At first I only saw the leaves, leading me to believe they were some type of orchid. When I saw the berries, I knew they were Clintonia. The highest number of plants I found were where berries must have settled: at the base of tree trunks on the upper side on the slope. This is also where the most debris would build up, so in the garden they would probably like to grow in a lot of decomposed leaf matter, yet no stagnant conditions.

I have often read or heard folks complain about soil requirements being stated as: "moisture retentive humus yet free draining," getting responses like this: "if it exists let me know so I may purchase some." The solution is simple: elevated garden beds, and a balance between available moisture (rain or irrigation) and the amount of "drainage material" added, chiefly sand or grit. In a climate like the UK, more sand may be warranted. Here in the dry West, less sand, or more irrigation. The elevation, by either piling the substrate high or actually building a bed out of wood or stone (or blocks) will keep conditions from stagnating, giving the grower more control over the amount of water in the substrate at any given time, but the actual substrate (how much "drainage material") is important here. Experimentation is key.

Cimicifuga sp.
I stumbled upon a few individuals of Cimicifuga, probably elata (though there is at least one or two other species in Oregon I believe). The flowers had long since faded, and the absence of berries signifies Cimicifuga rather than Actea, the former producing dry achenes rather than the fleshy berries of the latter (doll's eyes). I like the leaf colors and patterns, though it is probably the result of the leaves aging and beginning to go over rather than a unique sport.

In my garden, the leaves of Cimicifuga racemosa (not ramosa, that is a misnomer for C. simplex) have begun to die back and have not aged like this. The leaves can vary quite a bit, some being pinnately compound, others being bipinnately compound, and a very rare form of at least one species having leaves tripinnately compound (though it is speculated that this form has been lost in cultivation). My plants of C. racemosa exhibit both pinnate- and bipinnate leaf forms.

Cimicifuga sp.
I am one of the stubborn ones who refuses to accept the dumping of Cimicifuga into Actea. I'll admit that it is a prejudiced opinion that I do not like Actea, yet I do like Cimicifuga (the name as well as the plants themselves), and so the two must not be the same genus.

Vaccinium ovatum
At the start of the trail I had seen these leaves, but I had no idea what they were. Until I saw the berries further down the path. I didn't eat them because I didn't make a positive ID until I got home, and I never eat unfamiliar berries (because I don't want to die). This is huckleberry, ovatum has serrated leaves.

Vaccinium ovatum
Aster sp.
Asters were very common on the coast, and one of the only things flowering in many areas. These were growing in very dense shade, more dense than I imagined they could grow. I suspect they do receive at least some direct sun for at least part of the day, and maybe attracting pollinators into the depths of the woods.

I'm not sure what this was, but I'm sure it is a mint relative. The stem was square, the leaves hairy (slightly, but not at all scented), and the flowers resembling other mint relatives like Lamium and Stachys. It was growing in the rocks alongside the Smith river which cuts through the State Park.

Saponaria sp.
This was speculated by some kind peers who helped with the ID to be a Penstemon, Gentiana, and even a Dianthus. But it is most certainly a soapwort, Saponaria. The branching, leaves, and seed pods all match.
Saponaria sp.
The root is loaded with saponins which can literally be used to lather up and use as one would use any other soap. They may also keep voles or other pests from eating the plant?

Lophocampa maculata
This spectacular caterpillar will grow to become the Spotted Tussock Moth. They are probably toxic, signified by the bright colors.

Aster sp.
More Asters, these much more floriferous, were growing out in the sun by the Smith River.

Trientalis sp.
On my way back up, I spotted these charmers. The small vaguely Trillium-like plants bear one or maybe two flowers around early Summer.

Maianthemum racemosum
Another geophyte, these are stately plants which were very common all over the trail, but the dramatic lighting here was the best photo opportunity. At this stage they are producing red berries, as seen on another plant in the center left.

This single plant has elicited a lively debate among many members of a few Facebook groups I shared this with (in hopes of an ID)! Without flowers, plant identification can be very challenging. The three main contenders are suggested to be: Heuchera, Tellima, and Tolmiea. What do you think?

Goodyera sp.
The best treat of all was when I was almost back to the car, but I saw something white towards the ground in my peripheral. Upon close inspection it turned out to be the orchid Goodyera! I had encountered this genus before in Bandon OR under some low growing coniferous shrubs very close to the beach. It would seem it appreciates coniferous leaf litter.

Goodyera sp.
It was a fun hike, I hope to do it again some day. It would be amazing in Springtime.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro'
Much to my relief, we approach the end of Summer, and get a touch of Autumn as temperatures drop from too many uncomfortable 90°F days to the cool lower-60°F range. It is also the time that bulbs show up in nurseries and other retail stores! I go a little nuts this time of year. Seeing all the bulbs awakens the beast within, and my imagination races as I dream of what new bulbs I want to try and where to plant them. It's called plant lust, it is something us plant nerds experience quite often. I'd say the addiction is comparable to a drug or alcohol addiction ("I want bulbs!" becomes "I need a fix!"), but without all the negative consequences. Nobody is going to overdose on Narcissus... unless you eat them or otherwise "put" them into your body because they are über toxic, dude, but more on that later...

Hemerocallis 'Stella d'Oro'
This is the first ever bloom of this commonplace daylily hybrid in my garden. A handful of these were planted long before my wife and I moved to Oregon, but a lack of water and no fence meant they didn't get what they needed and were constantly grounded by deer (that is, eaten to the ground). They seem to grow happily in the shady forest garden, a bit smaller than they might get if grown in full sun. I like the late bloom! I'm always interested in extending the flowering season, particularly with "bulbs!"

Hemerocallis, though similar in flower to true lilies (Lilium) are in fact grown from a fleshy crown, not a bulb. There are about 19 species, all but one are a shade of yellow, all native to continental Asia. A single species is not yellow, but instead orange: Hemerocallis fulva, the tawny daylily. All daylilies that have any color other than yellow share Hemerocallis fulva in their parentage. By itself H. fulva is really quite invasive, spreading by stolons. The form most often encountered in American ditches and forest edges is a sterile triploid, though this doesn't slow its spread. Other species, and most hybrids, are well behaved garden plants that will form neat clumps. Most often the flowers last for a single day, but my experience is that they will sometimes last two or even three days. New buds are always being formed, so new flowers open frequently over a relatively long period.

Colchicum hybrid
I have had mixed success with bulbs, in general. My first attempts with bulbs ended in frustration as the tulips I planted were eaten by deer, and I did not consider the needs of the plants thus resulting in too much shade, not enough water, and plants that withered away leaving me in sad state. Well, this still happens and probably (hopefully) continue to happen so long as I continue to grow bulbs. It is the way of the amateur; embrace the reality of experiences, both the good and unpleasant, to find your way. So today I will share some of the small lessons I have learned and some things that are going on right now out in the garden concerning bulb gardening.

Colchicum hybrid
With most bulbs, they are planted in the late Summer or Autumn and expected to bloom in Spring. Most can safely be left in the ground (depending on the species and the region) and in fact do not like to be disturbed. I have been asked on multiple occasions: "Is it OK to wait until Spring to plant Spring-flowering bulbs?" The short answer is No. The reason is that while growth above the soil is not seen until Spring with the most commonly available Spring-flowering species, most Autumn-planted Spring-blooming bulbs send out roots in the late Summer or Autumn and initiate growth far before anything breaks the soil surface. Some bulbs (like some of my Alliums) actually have year-round roots unless the soil dries out, complicating transplanting or digging. Waiting until Spring to plant would be harmful, and may even kill the plant (something I observed with tulips). The best advice is to plant the bulbs as soon as they are in your possession, no need to wait!

The first bulbs I ever tried, some mixed Darwin tulips, I thought that some could be planted while the rest could wait a year before planting. What a dolt. What I hadn't considered was that bulbs are very much alive, living off of the stored resources in their scales (in the form of starches and a variety of random constituents). This is why when I checked the unplanted bulbs some time in Spring they had all shrunk three-quarters their size! They had used up most of their resources, and even after they were planted they had barely the strength left to send up a single leaf. I never saw them again. This was the reality of experience, and an opportunity to learn.

Colchicum hybrid
Colchicum is an "odd bulb" (actually a corm, similar to but different from the corms of  Brodiaea, Crocus, and Gladiolus) that is sometimes sold at nurseries in late summer alongside bearded Iris rhizomes. Many Colchicums are Autumn flowering, while some are tender and flower in Winter or in Spring. I have had mixed success growing these; Colchicum cilicicum does well while Colchicum speciosum and Colchicum 'Lilac Wonder' (a speciosum hybrid, I believe) have dwindled. Perhaps they need richer soil to flourish? I will try fertilizing them when they send up leaves (hopefully!) in Springtime.

Colchicum cilicicum with Forficula sp. (8PM)
Colchicum in my garden has been visited in the past by a variety of bees, including honeybees who sought them out, but since only one out of five or six corms bloomed this year, they have had much less attractive power. They have instead been visited by pincher bugs (Forficula sp.) at night and large carpenter ants by day. If bees had visited the flowers, I have missed it. I have on occasion found pincher bugs inside flowers at night, clearly feeding on nectar and not destroying flower parts, on a small variety of flowers including Chionodoxa earlier in the year and Echinacea. There is a familiar colony of carpenter ants that live in or around our well house; they are often found wandering around the bed that wraps around the front. On occasion they too will visit flowers, but just like the pincher bug, I doubt their effectiveness as pollinators.

Colchicum cilicicum with carpenter ant
Last year I was able to collect some large seeds from this Colchicum which I have now sown and will hope for results in the next year or two. My previous attempt of growing Colchicum seed (C. autumnale) was met will frustration and disappointment; first that the seeds did not germinate (I suspect they rotted), and second because I dumped the pot. My hope is now that there were a few good seeds in the pot and they will germinate sometime in the future wherever I dumped them.

Amaryllis belladonna
I pulled my car over one day while on my way home from work to take some photos of some naked ladies, or at least that's what I told my wife. The monotypic Amaryllis belladonna, with a common name that reflects the habit of flowering without the leaves, is the type species of the Amaryllidaceae, or aptly named amaryllis family. The family includes many known and obscure genera including Narcissus, Hymenocallis, Crinum, Lycoris, and Sternbergia to name a few of the better known genera. The common "amaryllis" for forcing is actually the mostly South American genus Hippaestrum, which does share a resemblance to true Amaryllis.

Amaryllis belladonna, about 3' tall
Many people, particularly from California, have been reporting that flowering of Amaryllis belladonna has been prolific this year. Multiple factors could be at work, but the most obvious of the possibilities is the severe drought that California, and much of the Western United States, has been experiencing, possibly an affect of El Niño. Added to that the monsoons that Southern California has had recently, these less-than-normal conditions may play a role in the increased flowering of the naked ladies. Here in Southern Oregon, we have had some light rain (not at all monsoon-like) that may have had some affect. This group of Amaryllis has been there for years, though I can't say for sure how long. I think I will try it in my own garden next time I see it available (normally in Spring).

So much potential!
Between collecting seed from my own plants and from the PBS seed exchange, I have now 32 new pots of sown seed! These are mostly bulbs. They were sown a few weeks ago, and kept moist. The pots are topped with grit, from a little to a lot depending on the seed's needs (surface sown or not). This year I am growing:
  • Allium amplectens 'Graceful'
  • Allium bolanderi var. mirabile
  • Allium cristophii
  • Allium oreophilum
  • Allium senescens ssp. montanum (misidentified in cultivation as A. tangutium)
  • Allium subhirsutum
  • Allium trifoliatum 'Cameleon'
  • Arctostaphylos viscida
  • Arisaema heterophyllum
  • Barnardia japonica
  • Brodiaea elegans
  • Colchicum cilicicum
  • Crocus goulimyi
  • Dichelostemma capitatum
  • Erythronium grandiflorum
  • Erythronium hendersonii
  • Erythronium oregonum
  • Erythronium revolutum
  • Helianthus maximiliani
  • Iris chrysophylla
  • Prospero autumnale ssp. latifolia
  • Pseudomuscari azureum
  • Triteleia crocea
  • Wyethia amplexicaulis
So you see they aren't all bulbs, some are native plants that I am growing to plant in my garden and for other gardens. One such destination for some of these will be the landscape in front of my work, a cabinet factory, where I have been allowed and paid to plant pollinator-friendly drought-tolerant plants! They have also given me a small budget to buy bulbs with (already spent!), more on that later.

I have been asked "what is grit and where do you get it?" Grit is just small gravel: pea gravel, chicken grit (make sure it is salt free, taste it), or even sifted road base (sifting out both large rocks and fine dust), so that you have a sharp material with pieces less than ¼" and nothing too fine. Sharp angled pieces are preferred over rounded material. The purpose is to hold the seeds in place, increase drainage and aeration, and in my experience make watering easier. The relatively heavier grit keeps the soil and seeds from floating when the pot is watered.

Seedlings of Prospero autumnale
My seedlings of Prospero autumnale that I had sown in Spring this year have persisted through the heat. i will try and keep them alive and green as long as I can, even through Winter if it is possible. I will fertilize and baby them. I had worried about their hardiness, but they came from plants grown in southeast Michigan where the climate is surprisingly similar based on Summer heat and unreliable snow-cover in Winter. I think that if I can bring these "bulblings" to maturity, they will do just fine here in Rogue River.
Narcissus 'Canaliculatus' bulbs
Along with seeds I am also buying bulbs. I had not pre-ordered any bulbs from specialty suppliers this year, but instead have "gotten my fix" of exotics from the variety of seed I am growing. As usual for this time of year, I always check the bulb displays in stores to see what they have this year. Aside from the usual mix of tulip hybrids and trumpet daffodils, I check for the current years variety of small bulbs and pseudo-species available, the selection tends to alternate from year to year. Narcissus 'Canaliculatus' is probably a variety or subspecies of the broadly-defined N. tazetta, differing primarily by the ridged leaves, thus the epithet Canal-iculatus.

This is a dwarf tazetta-type (having small scented flowers), and is said to prefer to bake in the Summer. I am trying this bulb in a few different locations, one irrigated and one dry. I find planting advice from gardeners around the world is best taken with a grain of salt, because my garden offers different variables. Planting the bulbs in two, or even three different locations with different variables (aspect, moisture, exposure, soil, etc.) will be the best guide for discovering what a plant likes. Wherever the plants are in their best character, show the best vigor, and persist (and increase) will be the best mix of variables for that plant.

Leucojum aestivum bulbs
Another new-to-me bulb is the snowflake, related to snowdrops (Galanthus). I've not had good results with snowdrops, getting a few leaves and maybe a single flower, but then nothing ever again. Leucojum is something I've never tried. Receiving only a few bulbs, I kept them together despite my advice in the preceding paragraph. I did some research on the growing conditions they like, and most accounts report they like Summer moisture. Thus I planted them in my rock garden in a low spot by a soaker hose where they will not dry out. Being in the Amaryllis family, I am counting on the plants and the bulbs to be toxic and so not eaten by the horde of resident plant-eaters.

Mixed Crocus corms
Against my best judgement, I plant a few extra Crocuses every year. They are eaten by ground and tree squirrels, gophers, voles, deer, and even wild turkeys. But, I have found a few spots they have been left alone... so far. In these spots I have planted a few more every year in the hopes that they will be ignored or overlooked by wildlife (except for bees!)

Though I only bought a few corms for myself, maybe 70 of mixes selections and species, I was given a budget of $100 to spend on bulbs to plant at my work! As far as bulbs go, $100 wont normally take you that far. But with a "buy-two get-one-free" sale at a local supermarket, I was able to get $50 in free corms resulting in 675 mixed species and selections! It is going to be epic.

Cyclamen hederifolium
While planting bulbs and tending to other end-of-year garden activities, it's important to take a look around the garden and enjoy the fruits of my efforts. This small Cyclamen flower is the first one to bloom in my garden, the start of a long bloom period and a long growth cycle that will last well into Spring,

Autumn blooming plants have an advantage over Spring and Summer blooming species because they lack the competition from many other flowering plants as in Summer, yet grow while there is still a relative abundance of active pollinators, unlike Spring when early on there are relatively few active pollinators. In other words, comparatively fewer plants bloom in Autumn, so pollinators have fewer choices. That said, Cyclamen in general are rarely visited by any pollinating insects outside of their native Mediterranean range where they are variably visited by bees and flies.

Box of goodies!
Good and bad strike a fair balance in the garden, although most often it seems unfair. I have lost more Alliums this year to various rodents than I can even know at this time, but it is a harsh reality in an area rich in wildlife. Fortunately, a friend who heard of my plight sent me some Alliums that are weeds in his garden. Finally, all my complaining has paid off! The package included bulbs of Allium cyathophorum var. farrer and Allium caeruleum. Two mystery species were also included, which makes the gift even more fun!

Received as: Allium sp? mauve ex china 28”
I was told that three of the species have perennial roots, while one goes completely dormant. This is one of the species with perennial roots, though I suspect it would behave similar to the plants of Allium cernuum and A. carinatum subsp. pulchellum that I have and keep roots all year so long as they are watered. The bulb then is sort of a backup plan, and would sustain the plants if the ground dried up. I potted this one and will observe it for a year before deciding where to plant it (caged of course). 

Received as: Allium ? purple drumstick
This is the one species that goes completely dormant. There are a number of drumstick Alliums besides the commonly available Allium sphaerocephalon. I have a number of A. sphaerocephalon growing around the garden, and they seem to do well in both irrigated and dry conditions. A. sphaerocephalon is similar to garlic and elephant garlic (A. sativum and A. ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum, respectively) by having bulbs comprised of a few thick scales rather than layers like an onion (A. cepa). The flowering scape grows out of the center of the scale, new scales are produced at the basal plate (the true stem of a botanically true bulb), then the main scale dies leaving the new outer scales to grow on the following year. A. ampeloprasum differs slightly by creating new scales spiraling the scape rather than around the basal plate as in garlic.

Wire "rodent proof" box
In response to the recent Rodent Wars in my garden ( hit reality show? No, too much foul language), I've resorted to building ½" wire mesh (aka hardware cloth) cages. The cages will protect the bulbs from rodents, above and below ground, while remaining unseen by being buried underground. They will not protect the plants from above ground destroyers of garden delights such as deer and in some cases wild turkeys or others, but will help avoid the tragedy of finding a scape that is attached to nothing underground. It is heartbreaking. This cage has an open top because the plant going into it, Allium cyathophorum var. farrer is in active growth.

Cage submerged to just below soil level
In the rock garden, I carefully excavated an area that will remain moist, a preference for the cage's new resident. There wasn't much in this spot thanks to some rodent who ate all the Alliums that had resided here untouched for several years. Various Sedums had to be moved, but they are just about the easiest plant to transplant, rooting almost anywhere they contact moist soil. The cage is submerged just below the soil level.

Allium cyathophorum var. farrer
According to the Pacific Bulb Society wiki: "Allium cyathophorum var. farreri is native to China where it grows on grassy slopes at high elevations. It has reddish purple flowers with stamens fused in a tube." I was also told by my donor friend that it is a weedy species. If that were true, I would be very happy! The plant is also said to appreciate moist conditions, so the dryness of the surrounding landscape would keep it from getting too comfortable.

Allium cyathophorum var. farrer planted and watered in the rock garden
The cage was filled partially with soil and sand, then the plant was added and soil filled in around it. Stones and replanted Sedums complete it. My concern now is that the leaves have begun to die, but I have hope because I have seen other Alliums behave this way. It was quite hot during planting, in the high 80's, so perhaps it is experiencing transplant shock. I will try watering it with a touch of hydrogen peroxide to help oxygenate the roots.

Colchicum cilicicum
The lesson today is to keep trying, and learn from tragedy. The lack of growth from other Colchicums in my garden signals to me that I should get more Colchicum cilicicum. And start using wire cages for everything, because who knows that those little bastards will eat next?