Saturday, April 30, 2022

Florida's spring bulb mania

I got this beautiful variety from my neighbor, who was even
more of a Hippeastrum maniac than I am, but without a name.
 Last week, I extolled the virtues of tulips, daffodils and other spring bulbs, which we don't have in Florida, except for what we can scrounge up in grocery stores and florist shops. So we have no mania here, unless...

We do have spring bulbs here, commonly called Amaryllis. We don't have the massive displays, or the number of varieties to be found in tulips, but some of us have our own private manias, filling up every available spot in our gardens with what I consider to be equally elegant and equally anticipated spring displays.  I alluded to them twice already, in Theme and Variation - the Amaryllidaceae and in My Pandemic Garden 1. Winter and Spring

One of the true Amaryllis species from
South Africa, A. belladona.
By Discott - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

First of all, they're not really in the genus Amaryllis, which consists of two species native to southern Africa. What we call by that name, through historical confusion, are in  Hippeastrum, a genus of some 90 species native to tropical America. So much for the botanical geekery. 

Though roughly the same shape as tulips, Hippeastrums are bent to the side, an adaptation for pollination by hummingbirds, and they have inferior ovaries, which means the seed capsules develop below the tepals, rather than above them as in tulips. 

Over 600 hybrids and cultivars have been developed, drawing upon several of the wild species, much of it in Holland, the international center of bulb mania. Colors range mostly from red to pink to white, while some have an orangish tint. Some yellow-ish varieties have been bred, but there are no true brilliant yellows, and if you see blue Hippeastrums for sale, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you for cheap! There are no true blue or purple pigments in the genus. Some may be dyed the way they dye those horrible blue Phalaenopsis you see in grocery stores sometimes.

One of the species Hippeastrums my neighbor had,
probably H. reginae.

The early varieties appear as early as March, depending on the weather, and the parade of later varieties can continue into early May. Each stalk typically produces 4-8 blooms, and flowers can last up to a week. So with my brief betrayal to see the tulips in April, I didn't miss much. 
At the show in Keukenhof, only a few Hippeastrums from
the greenhouse were on display.

So one can create his or her own spring spectacle with these subtropical beauties.

The common large red cultivar, whose flowers can be up
to six inches across.

A pretty, pink variety, probably "Apple Blossum."

Hippeastrum papilio, the Butterfly
Amaryllis, is a species said to be
epiphytic in nature. It is said to bloom
better if crowded in a pot, and that the
roots need good aeration.

This is a seedling from one of the large red
commercial varieties. The color is true, but
the flowers are substantially smaller.

I don't personally care for doubled flowers 
other than roses, but this one came from my 
neighbor and I didn't have the heart to turn it

This variety, "Minerva," with white stripes remains my favorite of all the

Friday, April 22, 2022

Tulip Mania

Tulips come in a range of colors and 
patterns, featuring mostly reds and
Having been essentially house-bound for the past two years, I  recently had the good fortune to visit the Netherlands with my family. Most specifically I wanted  to see the famous tulip displays at the Keukenhof Garden. The garden is located at the village of Lisse, in the middle of the bulb-growing region of the country, a 40-minute bus ride from Amsterdam. I was lucky to arrive at the peak of the tulip display in mid-April. I wasn't alone!

The garden is only open to the public from mid-March to early May each year the Amsterdam Tulip Festival. People come from all over the world for the display that features 800 varieties of tulips, along with daffodils, hyacinth, crocus, fritillaries, and grape hyacinth. Covered pavilions also host displays of orchids, anthuriums, and  orchids.  

Prior to the pandemic, about 1.5 million people, or about 26,000 per day, visited during the brief season. With the garden closed for the past two years, pent-up tulip cravings brought crowds rivaling those at Disney World the day after Christmas. This is the present-day version of tulip mania.

There are about 75 wild species of tulips, native to southeastern Europe, the middle east, and central Asia. From these, thousands of cultivars and hybrids have been created. 

Two wild Asian species of the genus Tulipa on display at Keukenhof Garden. (this article at least has
some genuine wildflowers!)

The original "tulip mania" occurred in the Netherlands during the 17th century. This was at the height of the Dutch empire and prosperity, and the Dutch were the leading growers and breeders of tulips and other bulbs at that time. Rare varieties sold for hundreds or thousands of Guilders. I don't know how much a Guilder at that time was worth in today's dollars, but I'm sure it's a lot. Tulips and tulip "futures" were traded on exchanges similar to our modern stock exchange.  An investment frenzy began in 1634, creating the first recorded investment "bubble." When the tulip market collapsed in 1637, huge fortunes were lost.

Today, many of you in temperate parts of the world can enjoy the fruits of the Dutch tulip breeders efforts in your own backyards and local parks, though we in Florida are restricted to paltry, short-lived potted specimens from our florists and grocery stores!

In any case, now enjoy the pictures of tulip mania 2022 in Koekenhof.

A bed of brilliant orange and yellow tulips
near the front entrance.

A "river" of grape hyacinth meanders through banks lined with daffodils.

Rare varieties of tulips are displayed inside
 the Willem-Alexander Pavilion.

A bed of orange and yellow tulips in front of a river of pink hyacinths.

A bed of crown fritillaries.

Yellow Cymbidium orchids in suspended glass vases, in the Beatrix Pavilion.

The spectacular display of roses in the Oranje Nassau Pavilion.

In Amsterdam, potted tulips line the square near the Rijksmuseum.

An embankment near the Amsterdam waterfront is filled with Daffodils that
reappear year after year without human help.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

My Pandemic Garden 2. Summer and Fall

 With summer heat and humidity, only the most rugged flowers, fruits, and vegetables will thrive.

June. Summer officially arrives and the more feint at heart blossoms of spring give way to the tropicals.

Summer brings tropical members of the Lily
Family, like these Gloriosa rothschildiana from 

The yellow blooms of Gloriosa greenei are not as common
as their red cousins.

The flower spikes of Curcuma zeodaria, a relative of the turmeric plant, emerge
before the leaves in early summer.

Okra blossoms will be followed quickly by their
goo-filled fruits.

Blue flowers are uncommon in the Amaryllis
Family, but are standard in the Lily-of-the-Nile

July: Tropical blossoms and fruits continue.

The flowers of the passion fruit, Passiflora edulis, appear in succession during
the warm weather, each resulting in a fruit about a month later.

The nodding flowers of Agapanthus inapertus major.
a relative of the Lily of the Nile, appear in  July.

Heydichium gardnerianum, a member of the
Ginger Family, produces its cylindrical masses
of golden-yellow flowers in July.

August: The heat and rain continue, ripening guavas, passion fruits, and okra, with some Hibiscus and Cannas for color. 

This pendant, red, double variety of Hibiscus is one of the few that continues
to bloom in hot weather.

September: Shortening days bring out some new blossoms.

Billbergia pyramidalis, a member of the Pineapple Family,
produces small blue flowers nestled inconspicuously amidst
bright red bracts.

My favorite cattleya, which has endured heat, 
near-freezing temperatures and neglect for 40
years, produces its flowers also with the 
decreasing daylength of September.


Banana flowers appeared in October this past 
year, and the fruit ripened in April.

November: Some flowers oblivious to seasonality continue, along with ripening fruits.

Sweet potato vines, with their edible young
shoots, have grown rampantly all summer. 
Occasionally a flower will appear, reminding
us that the sweet potato is a member of the
Morning Glory Family.

Cannas have been with us all year, and will 
continue to bloom if the weather remains mild.

Fresh Goji berries, Lycium barbarum,  appear in the Fall or sometimes in the Spring, avoiding both cold and hot weather. They are a member of the Tomato Family.

December: Of course, what would December be without Poinsettias?

A commercial Poinsettia farm in Florida readies its products for market in late November and early

Planted out at home, Poinsettia can become a permanent shrub or small tree, until it freezes anyway~
The microscopic flowers are embedded in green-yellow cups amidst brightly colored leaves, or bracts,
creating the illusion of a giant flower.

My Pandemic Garden 1. Winter and Spring

Red Anthuriums are tolerant of cool weather,
and if the temperatures stay above 32 F, they
add a welcome bit of color in January. 
I usually write about wild flowers and wild places here, but for the past year I have been on an extended expedition to my backyard! So what you will see in this post are descendants of wildflowers that are well adapted for central Florida gardens. The first installment covers winter through spring, the only part that most of our visitors from up north ever see. As long as it doesn't actually freeze during the this time,  the display of colorful flowers never ends.  

Pelargoniums are native to South Africa, where
rain falls and flowers bloom during the cool
winter and spring,  so they are
quite at home here in central Florida.
January: In a mild year, many tropical plants continue to bloom this month, including Anthuriums and Hibiscus, along with plants that prefer cooler climates anyway. It is the season for leafy green vegetables like mustard greens, bok choi, green onions, and lettuce.

This yellow Hibiscus is one of my favorites, and kept blooming through the month.

Winter continues, but it is springtime for Azaleas and Camellias

The Himalayan Azalea is the most spectacular blooming shrub
of central Florida's winter.

Camellias are popular winter bloomers 
throughout the milder parts of the southeast.

March: Florida's spring is in full swing, and for us, amaryllis blooms replaces the tulips and daffodils of the north.

Amaryllis (genus Hippeastrum) come in many shades of red, pink, orange and white.

This yellow Laelia can bloom just about anytime, but had
a spectacular display this year during March.

For the second year in a row, my blue bearded
iris has bloomed. Only the "reblooming"
varieties do well in Florida. Others require more
winter cold to set flower buds.

Mulberries begin as catkin-like clusters of tiny flowers. The ovaries then swell, first turning red,
then black,  superficially resemble blackberries.

April: Amaryllis continues to bloom, and the harvest of mulberries lasts until the middle of the month, and we have some new additions:

Alstroemeria bloom in April and May.

Blossoms of the guava tree begin appearing in April, harbingers
of fruit to come in the summer.

Gardenias make their presence know by
their fragrant scent as much as by their dazzling
 white flowers.

Daylilies start in April with one bloom per stalk, and run into May.

May:  Though summer weather is here, spring continues with more slowly emerging flowers.

Easter lilies cast aside after the holy week in years past, continue to multiply and bloom year after
year, but typically about a month after Easter.

I got seeds of this mystery variety of hollyhock from a friend. Most
traditional varieties won't do well down here. Have to start these in the
fall to get blooms in the spring, for they will wither away in hot weather.

Most standard varieties of morning glory, like this "Heavenly Blue,"
have to be planted from seed early in the spring for blooms in May.