Calochortus report

Jane McGary
Thu, 21 Jun 2012 16:27:45 PDT
The bulb house is a scene of drying foliage and seed capsules now, 
except for the far side of the "dry" bed, where the Calochortus 
species are in full bloom. The earliest to flower are in seed now: C. 
tolmiei, C. monophyllus, C. albus, C. elegans, C. coeruleus, C. 
umpquaensis, and C. uniflorus. Tall yellow C. amabilis is almost 
done. Just winding down is tiny C. coxii. The large mariposas -- C. 
venustus in many color forms, C. superbus, C. splendens, C. vestae. 
C. catalinae, C. argillosus, C. invenustus, and C. simulans -- have 
reached their peak. The strange little pink C. striatus has its last 
flowers open, as does another plant of the Southwest desert, deep 
orange C. kennedyi. A group of lovely C. concolor have opened in the 
past two days, these with central markings and brownish exterior 
flush. This morning a new one for me, C. dunnii, opened three simple 
white flowers with small dark nectary spots. Another rather plain one 
in flower is C. howellii, whose spots are greenish. C. longebarbatus 
is doing very well, which consoles me somewhat for not having its 
taller relative C. macrocarpus. Calochortus clavatus subsp. gracilis 
has been in flower for some time, but its larger relative, C. 
clavatus subsp. clavatus, is yet to open. Waiting to end the parade 
are C. palmeri, C. weedii, and C. plummerae, and the curious C. 
obispoensis with its little flowers that look like furry wasps. To 
see C. subalpinus, however, I'll have to drive up to the mountains 
nearby, as I've never been able to grow this plain little 
cream-colored one. And sadly I seem to have lost one of my favorites, 
C. amoenus, of which I had many that did not survive the move. My 
collection is also missing most of the species from the interior 
West, and I have none of the Mexican species.

I owe the majority of these plants to the seed collections of Ron 
Ratko, but some also came from seed purchased from Jim and Georgie 
Robinett and from the Archibalds, who collected in California a 
couple of times and in other years got seed from John Andrews. My C. 
kennedyi came from Sally Walker's seed list.

Despite the many different habitats from which these plants have 
come, I'm growing all of them in the same soil (now, sharp coarse 
sand with clay and compost down below, where the bulbs may eventually 
descend), and in just two different moisture regimes, one bed with a 
little water in the summer and plenty in winter, and the other less 
moisture in winter and none in summer. All of them have survived 
about 20 degrees F (minus 6 C) in my former bulb frames; in their new 
home they may be warmer because of the lower elevation and lack of 
east wind. They are flowering much better and making much bigger 
plants (depending on species) now that they're not in pots.

The flowers appear to be pollinated by both bumblebees and a small 
bee, and probably flies too. Last year they set seed well and I sent 
most of it to the NARGS exchange. Some rare kinds went to Oron Peri 
in Israel, for him to try in a climate that the southern Californian 
species in particular should love. This year I'll send some to the 
PBS BX so more specialized growers can try them. I'll give Dell Sherk 
a note to accompany it with tips for growing them from seed. I should 
warn you, though, that hybridization occurs readily between some 
species, especially in section Mariposa, subsection Venusti. I have 
what appear to be hybrids raised from wild-collected C. superbus 
seed, and I read that hybrids between it and C. luteus are frequent 
and appear much like what I have here -- basically pale yellow. I'll 
mark them with tape labels on the scapes so I'll know what seed I'm 
collecting, and the same for the best color forms of C. venustus.

This is a fascinating genus if you have the patience to raise them 
(flowering can take 4 or 5 years) and the room to accommodate them; 
they do best with a very deep root run, and many of them are tall and 
floppy, since they grow in nature in grassland and around shrubs they 
can lean on. Some of my tall ones are fortunately behind clumps of 
Regelia and Regeliocyclus irises, which are still in leaf at this 
time and hold the Calochortus up. C. venustus usually stands up well, 
though, even in wind. Other bulbs that flower at the same time 
include many Allium species and most of the western American 
Themidaceae (Brodiaea, Dichelostemma, Triteleia, Bloomeria). As far 
as I know, the only nursery selling mature material is Diana 
Chapman's Telos Rare Bulbs, from which I bought several special forms.

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

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