Caught in the act

Jim McKenney
Sat, 21 Jun 2008 09:27:27 PDT
Off and on during the last two weeks I’ve had a table set up in the garden
on which I sort bulbs. We live in a very quiet neighborhood: usually the
only noises which accompany me in this effort are the singing of the birds,
the occasional splash from the pond or the sounds of squirrels snooping
around on the deck for peanuts. 

Late yesterday afternoon I heard what I thought were the squirrels overhead
on the deck, but then there was a flash. I looked up to see Wayne’s smiling
face: he had ridden over on his bike, sneaked up onto the deck and got some
photos of me working at my bulb sorting table. 

Take a look at:

Most of the news in the bulb sorting department is good, although there are
some disappointments. Some corms of Colchicum speciosum ‘Album’ which were
fine when checked about three weeks ago were found to have badly rotten
“feet”  (the long, narrow downward and sideways extension of the corm); the
rot had not extended up into the main part of the corm yet, so maybe I’ll
have something to work with from these.   Fritillaria messanensis gracilis,
which grew very well and produced two blooming scapes and a third which
tried to bloom, was found to have a partially rotten bulb. Fritillaria m.
messanensis on the other hand, which grew only haltingly and did not bloom,
produced a fine, sound bulb. 

The heavily limed bulbs of Fritillaria imperialis and F. persica which I
described in earlier posts mostly gave very encouraging results: all of the
F. persica look great (including two nice ‘Ivory Bells’) and one of two F.
imperialis looks fine, too. The other one has a rotten streak which I’m
trying to clean up. This same bulb with the rotten streak produced several
sound offset bulbs which show no sign of rotting (yet!). 

I’ve found that with frits, sometimes even the tiniest scrap of living
tissue can survive and be brought around eventually. Of course, sometimes
everything just rots leaving nothing to work with. As an example of just how
little it takes to keep some of these partially rotted bulbs going, consider
this. In August 2005 Jane McGary sent me a nice bulb of Fritillaria purdyi.
Although it did not bloom, it made good growth and produced a bulb larger
and with more bulb scales than the one planted. Then, for who knows what
reason, the bulb collapsed and most of it quickly disappeared. I was
heartbroken, but I sifted the medium very carefully to see if in fact there
was anything left. I found a scrap of bulb: this was not a small offset bulb
but rather the tip of a scale which had otherwise rotted away. I kept it on
a shaded windowsill, exposed to the air, for several weeks until I was
confident the rotting had stopped and a seemingly clean callus had formed.
This little scrap of bulb was between the size of a match head and a lemon
seed, but not as thick as either. Then I moved it to a zip lock plastic bag
where it would remain until autumn planting time. 

I checked it occasionally during the summer and eventually noticed that
something was happening: there was a bump on that little fragment of bulb.
Was it an eruption of mold? No, as it turned out, it was a nascent sprout!
This scrap was planted in my usual medium in the fall, and this year it put
up a healthy basal leaf. When I examined the bulb recently, I was pleased to
see that it had built itself up to the two-scaled stage. It’s still probably
years from blooming, but it’s going in the right direction. Here are some
images to show its progress:

Maybe in a year or two I’ll be able to post an image of the flower to the

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
My Virtual Maryland Garden
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society

More information about the pbs mailing list