Henry’s Lily discovered circa 19th century, flowers in an Adelaide garden in 2016

Lilium Henryi

(The first flower on Lilium Henryi or Henry’s Lily)

By flowering in Adelaide on January 17th it helps connect me in 2016 to a man who could not be further removed from me even if he tried. This man was the Irish plantsman and China expert Augustine Henry. He worked from 1881 as a doctor in Shanghai, China. In 1882 he was sent to the interior to study plants used by Chinese herbalists. By the end of his Chinese sojourn, he had collected over 15000 specimens for Kew Gardens. 5000 new plants were among these. Among them was an orange lily that he discovered in the limestone gorge country of Hubei, home to the massive Three Gorges Dam. My lily is descended in a sense from that distant plant, both in terms of years as well as physical miles. As I look at the flower, I wish I had met Henry, who was a man of science who also knew Yeats and Shaw and retired from China as a Mandarin. In England he helped to set up departments of forestry at a number of universities.

Even though this lily can grow up to eleven feet tall, it hasn’t done badly in a pot in half shade here. Perhaps it will feel at home and reach full potential if I plant it in the limestone soils of Adelaide after it finishes flowering for this season.

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Euphorbia tirucalli – a childhood memory that turns out to have been a bit of a monster.

Ruma Chakravarti

euphorbia tirucalli (own)3
There are some times in life when coincidences can pile up and make you wonder. The other day I was part of a secret Santa on a gardening page and the only plant my gift receiver was hoping to receive was one called Euphorbia tirucalli. I didn’t know what it was but when I Googled the image it turned out to be something I had driven past every weekend for nine years of my life. It is also called the pencil plant. I knew it through out my childhood as kraalmelkbos or milky fence bush. Sadly I was not able to send it to her as the local Bunnings nursery has a very limited sense of adventure when it comes to plants. But at least I now knew what the giant candelabras of branches that lined every highway in East Africa in the seventies were.

Tirucalli is not a nice…

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Spider wasp vs. spider: Garden epic

Ruma Chakravarti

Yesterday I went outside to the patio to be greeted by a very large spider apparently struck dead while doing yoga. Now, this is not a normal event even by my very strange and relaxed standards, but I can swear that the arachnid looked exactly like it had bent over to touch whatever passes for toes on an eight legged freak with its pedipalps and keeled over from a heart attack in the process. I was still wondering about how the spider had learned yoga when my own morning calm was disturbed by a fairly long shape flying about my feet and knees. When I looked closely I saw the usual warning colours of orange and black which told me that the flier was either not friendly or pretending to appear not friendly. I have to add here that I have not seen this particular kind of flying insect very…

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