A week of paper wasps, fasciated lilies and crocosmia

A paper wasp nest

Look at this cute honeycomb nest. A small wonder of nature but not a welcome one. It is the nest of a paper wasp. I have lived my life blissfully unconcerned about these creatures. We have both the Australian and the Asian paper wasp in New Zealand, along with the more aggressive German and common wasp. Mark wages war every summer on the nests of the latter two.

The nest is fairly hard to spot in the foliage

Alas, a wasp from this nest that I hadn’t even noticed took exception to me cutting out some of the leafy tips of an over-large osmanthus. It stung me twice just below the eye and then buzzed me aggressively as I exited hastily. I didn’t even see it. I was more worried about getting to a mirror to work out whether it was a bee (in which case I would have needed to get the sting out) or a wasp. Mark went straight out and spotted the nest at eye level – he is observant, that man. They are quite hard to spot because there is not the busy coming and going that defines a common wasp nest. We looked on line and came to the conclusion that what he saw crawling over the nest was more likely an Australian than Asian paper wasp. Whichever, they are dead wasps now.

Left to right: German wasp, common wasp, Australian paper wasp, Asian paper wasp. Photo credit: unknown. All these wasps are unwelcome intruders to this country.

While unpleasant, two paper wasp stings do not appear to be as bad those from the larger common or German wasp. I kept ice cubes wrapped in cloth on them for an hour or more as required on the first day. The puffy swelling remained for another three days and the site remained tender to touch but not exactly painful, so it could have been much worse. At least I know what to look out for now.

We are past peak auratum lily season although there are still plenty in bloom as we enter late summer.

A mass of blooms on a single stem – a sign of fasciation

Here we have the curiosity of a fasciated lily, not to be confused with a fascinating lily unless you like freaks and novelties. It is an aberration in a plant, usually a seasonal deformity but not a lasting condition and it causes a flattening of the stem (basically it is two dimensional and ribbed) and a huge increase in the number of flowers but they are correspondingly smaller. The cause is unknown and it may stem from any number of things (including hormone spray damage but not in this situation) but presumably environmental because it does not appear to be a genetic issue in the plant. It is not likely to occur again in the same plant next year.

You can see the stem is very broad and ribbed. What you can’t see is that it is also almost flat.

I picked the white stem because the weight of the flowers was too heavy for the stem to hold it up but we have another example in the lily border which stands very sturdily, showing off its freakish growth. The local paper used to publish stories every year with some breathlessly excited gardener showing off their ‘special’ plant with its unusual head of flowers and flat stem but it is not rare and fasciation occurs across a wide range of plants. It is not generally stable or lasting but broccoli, apparently, is a freak fasciation that was stabilised. Google it, if you want to know more.

You can see a much fuller head of blooms and dense foliage on the fasciated lily in the centre

The crocosmias are starting to pass over but I like to line them up and compare them. Going left to right, we start with the common roadside weed. It is usually called montbretia in this country and while pretty, it is a seriously invasive weed. It washes down our stream in every flood and it is all down our roadsides but we certainly never introduced it ourselves. It multiplies readily both from the bulbs and by seed. Botanically, it is C. crocosmia x C. crocosmiiflora.

Second from the left is ‘Severn Sunrise’ and I am working to eradicate it from the garden. It appears to be just as invasive the common one and not much different in flower, habit or growth. I wonder if it is just a selection of the same cross. It may be more highly valued in countries where it is not such an invasive weed.

Third is red ‘Lucifer’ which is now listed as Crocosmia x curtonus (I see I previously found it as C. masoniorum × C. paniculata) so it has different parentage to the orange, weedy ones. It is by far the strongest growing one we have and certainly showy but also vigorous (read: the bulbs increase very rapidly) and it sets so much seed that I try and deadhead it to control it. I also need to thin out the bulbs which are getting a bit too determined to colonise and dominate the areas where they live.

Fourth along is one of my current favourite and the purest yellow with dainty blooms. It is just a chance seedling Mark picked up from the roadside so it will be the same cross as common montbretia (C. crocosmia x C. crocosmiiflora) but we have not had an issue with it seeding down. The bulbs increase readily but without free seeding, it is not a problem to keep it restrained and it seems to have a longer flowering season.

Second from the right is my newest addition – larger flowered and a pretty yellow but richer in colour so more apricot than pure yellow without quite getting to orange. I swapped some of our yellow one with Cemetery Sue at the graveyard to get this one and it is likely to be a named form but neither of us know the name. She has not had an issue with it seeding around so I am hopeful for its future in our garden.

The large bloom may or may not be ‘Star of the East’. It is certainly dramatically larger than all the others.

The last one is by far the showiest and I think it is probably ‘Star of the East’, judging from photographs. Although it may not be, because ‘Star of the East’ is just a selection from the same cross that gives us weedy montbretia and this bears no resemblance to that cross.  It is genuinely spectacular but certainly not vigorous. We have had it in the rockery for several years where it limps on without increasing as I would like it to and it seems to be sterile. Conditions are hard in the rockery and I think I need to lift it and move it to a more hospitable location with richer soil. I say this every year but this season, I swear I will do it. It is worth the effort.

Crocosmia are wildflowers of the grasslands in southern and eastern Africa. There are currently nine different species and they should not all be judged by their wayward, roadside weed family member. They are also not as invasive in less benign climates than ours.

Our yellow crocosmia in the Iolanthe meadow garden

16 thoughts on “A week of paper wasps, fasciated lilies and crocosmia

  1. Mark Boyd

    Hi Abbie, I have got a bronze leafed yellow flowering crocosmia. It came from Airlies a few years ago. I can’t remember it’s name. It’s also non invasive. A pretty addition to a border.

  2. tonytomeo

    Yellow montbretia is natural without any fancy breeding? The common roadside montbretia is a major weed here too. No one ever plants it intentionally. Some of us tolerate it in containment, mostly on perimeters of our gardens. When I was a kid, I noticed a significant colony that was blooming rich yellow in the front garden of a home in Montara. I doubted that it was an intentionally planted cultivar, but was not sure. The home was landscaped prior to about 1990, and the montbretia was removed. The orange sort regenerated in the roadside ditch, but without the yellow sort. I have not seen a yellow variant of naturalized montbretia since then.

      1. tonytomeo

        The yellow species or cultivars are sometimes available from catalogues, but they are not quite the same. (I do not know what the yellow montbretia I encountered was though, and it could have been one of those species or cultivars.) I know they those available from catalogues likely have less potential to be invasive, but I still find the yellow version of the common sort to be intriguing.

  3. Tim Dutton

    Commiserations on the wasp sting: the face is a bad place to be stung. I was stung on the wrist yesterday by what I think was a native mason wasp from the look of it. Today the wrist is swelling, as always happens when I get stung by something, though I was hoping it wouldn’t this time. It was tangled in some cobweb when I was tying up a tomato plant and lashed out at me when I brushed past it not realising it was there. I freed it from the cobweb afterwards: sorry about that orbweb spiders. We get a lot of the mason wasps busily building their mud nests in and around the house, but they’ve never stung anyone here before.

    A few years back we had a fasciated Francoa ramosa growing at the edge of the driveway, which looked pretty weird, but I can’t recall seeing anything else fasciated. Your lilies look MUCH nicer than that did :-).

    1. Abbie Jury Post author

      Haven’t been stunk by a mason bee before. At least I am not as allergic to wasps as I am to bees. That may have required medical treatment.

      We had a fasciated francoa, now you come to mention it. Now that I know it is a one season wonder, I will take more notice when I see it happening.

  4. Mark Hubbard

    We’re mercifully light on paper wasps in the Sounds this year, although I noted a nest under the gas BBQ yesterday. Last year I was taking out three or four nests every week: they build here on our sheds, house and structures.

      1. Mark Hubbard

        Yes, although the paper wasps though irksome aren’t that dangerous, it’s the German wasps that are the problem here, especially when they swarm and they go out hunting you. Every March/April when they’re taking protein a lot of us on the road run a vespexing day to keep their population down.

      2. Abbie Jury Post author

        My Mark is an old hand at locating German and common wasp nests here – has killed up to 27 in a season. I am by no means observant so am unlikely to spot the danger signs of nest activity. But the discreet nature of the paper wasps had Mark somewhat bemused – at least when their nests are small. Without the same comings and goings, unless you spot the honeycomb structure, there aren’t the same visual warning signs. But at least paper wasp stings are not as bad. And let us hope we never get hornets here!

  5. robynkiltygardensnz

    Your large flowered Crocosmia looks exactly the same as the one in my garden which I bought as ‘Star of the East’. I also have the yellow flowered one, which has bulked up and is quite floriferous this year! I love them in the garden at this time of year!

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