Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Winter's Wonders

Winter is a beautiful time of year here in southwestern Pennsylvania. The icy scene outside the window of my upstairs sunroom from a couple of weeks ago as we were under the effects of one of the coldest periods in the area since the 1700's is a testment to the wonders of nature. (The largest of those icycles are over 5 feet long!) While the temperatures dipped outside, I have been using the time to work with my gesneriads inside. It was a great excuse to stay indoors and enjoy those other wonders of nature - Petrocosmeas!

I decided to post some random comments about what was going on in the plantroom. While we are squarely in the middle of winter here, I am seeing the final days of the flowering season for the Petrocosmeas. This has been an atypical season for flowering this year. Usually, the Pets begin flowering for me in October and conclude around March. This year, they began flowering in early August! P. barbata, as usual, was the first to flower, and P. duclouxii and P. sp. 'Yumebutai' are rounding out the season as the last to flower...again, it is typical that these are the last, but they are much earlier than normal. We had a cooler and wetter summer, much cooler and wetter, last year, so I feel that the lower temperatures during the summer triggered an earlier season for the Pets.

The last of the seedlings from the P. 'Asa Blue' x begoniifolia cross are now blooming. The one above I had pulled out of the batch and named P. 'Keystone's Whipporwill'. It produces a large flower, with wide petals, giving the flower a nice, full appearance. The petals have a ruffling and notching that I find different and pleasing. This photo actually shows the color accurately, but the focus is poor...I apologize. The photos with better focus had the coloration all wrong. Many of the flowers show extra petals too, as does this one. I am evaluating it another year or so, and will perhaps release it if it meets my two main criteria....heavy flower production, and a reluctance to form offsets. So far, it looks quite promising. The negative is it's long peduncles, from the 'Asa Blue' parent. It was grown in low light this year, so I hope that with better light, they will be shorter and heavier. They did always support the large flowers, so that is good, but I just wish they were a bit shorter for a neater presentation of the plant as a whole when in flower. We'll see what another year of growth and another flowering season does for the plant.

Another species that tends to bloom later in the season for me is P. forrestii, seen above. This species has, for two years now, been the easiest species to use as a seed pod parent. So, if you want to try your hand a hybridizing...start with this species! So far, only two attempts to use it as a seedpod parent have failed. It has worked with species that would not cross with anything else. It's a prolific little species! It's positive qualities for hybridizing are it's neat, compact, perfectly symmetrical leaf habit. It forms a perfect, round, flat rosette. It is also very floriferous, over a long season, and flowers at a young age...all good traits for hybridizing. It's primary negative trait is the long, weak, wiry peduncles. They tend to get long and often form a tangled mess when the plant is in heavy flower. It has been recessive for the flower shape and the yellow blotch on the lower petals...neither of these qualities have shown up in a single seedling! It is dominant for the leaf shape, and the perfect symmetry of the rosette. Thankfully, those long, weak peduncles are about 50/50 in the progeny.

Finally, I thought I would throw in a couple of photos the "other" gesneriads! I actually DO grow gesneriads other than Petrocosmea! I have quite a large collection of other species from various other genera within the family. A couple of nice, uncommon species are in flower now.

Columnea raymondii is showing it's very first open flowers for me. This species is fairly new to my collection. I have always been a fan of the upright Columneas. This one came into my collection as a small cutting last July. It has been growing nicely on the windowsill of the upstairs sunroom, where it gets both eastern and southern exposure. I wish you could see these flowers! They are dramatic, striking, and very least they seem large to me. The flower above is about four inches from base to tip. The petals are a deep, glossy bright maroon/red color with a very heavy substance. The outside of the petals and the tube are greenish yellow. The flowers are underneath the large green red-veined leaves. If you can find this one, you MUST try it!
And last, but certainly not least....a coveted plant for me. I've been trying to find a source for the species Smithiantha aurantiaca for more than ten years...with no luck. When I mentioned this to a friend last spring, she promised to bring a plant to me at the Gesneriad Society Convention in the past July. The first thing I did was to remove a leaf and put it down to propagate. From that leaf I got three more plants. Now, I had insurance! The original plant went into a four inch pot under the lights on the light bench, and was wicked into a reservior of dilute fertilizer water and never allowed to dry out. It grew quickly into a large plant with bronze leaves covered in rusty red hairs. A couple of months ago, the first buds began to appear on a tall, upright central spike. The coloring of the flowers is nearly impossible to capture, but it is intense. This plant is the first thing my eye goes to everytime I enter the room. The blooms seem to be illuminated from within...a bright, cheerful orange color with red spots inside the throat. I'm so happy to have this rare beauty in my collection. I've been attempting to self pollinate the flower, with no success so far...perhaps that explains it's rarity. I'm hoping that it produces lots of scaly rhizomes, but as I said, I am also having good luck propagating it from leaf cuttings. Again, a must have if you ever have the chance to grow it.

So, even with the cold, crystalline, wintery world outside, my home is bright, colorful and filled with it's own versions of the "wonders of winter". I hope that yours is too!
Good growing!!!!!