Tag Archives: arisaema dahaiense

Blurred lines

One of the access paths linking the park to the avenue gardens

When you garden on a town section, boundaries are usually clearly defined, most often by fences or hedges. Some lucky gardeners are in a situation where they can visually *borrow* a wider view of the neighbours or maybe some bush or landscape to draw the eye out from the rigidly confined boundary. More often, the situation imposes limitations that mean the garden has to be inward looking and confined to its allotted space. Some people like that sense of a contained space, accentuating it further with tall fences. Whether you see that as security and privacy or self-imprisonment depends on the individual.

It is different when you garden in the country and that clear definition of an end point is arbitrarily imposed on a larger landscape. Or not, as the case may be.

Scadoxus to the right, calanthe orchids to the left along with self-sown ferns and tree ferns – subtropical woodland, I guess

I had never really thought about what Mark was doing in one area where our avenue gardens meet the area we call the park. I had vaguely noticed that he was drifting down the hill with some plantings of pretty choice material like some of the interesting arisaemas, calanthe orchids and scadoxus, but in a casual, naturalistic manner. We were in that area together recently when he commented that he was attempting to blur the line between highly cultivated garden and wilder areas, to transition seamlessly. It was like a penny dropping for me. Of course that is what he was doing.

Arisaema dahaiense!

This inspired me to get into that area where I have never done anything  before, bar the occasional quick tidy-up. It was a perfect place for a few clivia plants. I am trying to rehome the last of the clivias red, orange and yellow that had been potted up by the last of our nursery staff and that must have been back in 2011. They are amazingly resilient plants. Some were in very small planter bags and all that has happened in the intervening years is that the pots have been moved out of the former nursery area and beneath trees. They have not been fed, let alone nurtured and loved but still they are green (some more greenish than dark green), many are flowering and seeding. Enough is enough, I thought. These need to planted out.

Having seen the occasional garden that suffers from the ABC syndrome (another bloody clivia, mass planted), I have been trying to drift them through the shaded areas, mostly areas that are loosely maintained at best. It takes longer to plan a drift than a mass planting and drifting a couple of hundred clivia plants without making them a mass takes a while.

Yellow seeds from last year’s flowering, visible here, will flower yellow.

Not for us all the yellows in one area, oranges in another and reds elsewhere. There is nothing wrong with that. I have seen it done and it is what I describe as the ‘landscaper look’, usually done with plants that have been purchased and are identically matched, being the same clone. It is just not our style. We prefer a looser look, using seedling raised plants so there is subtle variation,  the mix of colours being more suggestive of the gentle hand of Nature enabling plants to seed down in situ. Which they will do over time – we have clivia seedlings popping up around the garden but to leave it all to Nature will take longer than we have left. We are just hurrying the process along by a decade or two when we use established plants.

If you are going to raise your own seed, it pays to start off with the best parents. This means selecting the ones that flower well every year and have the best flower heads of the type you want. For showy garden plants, we want ones with fuller heads rather than too many with the hanging bells. The red clivia seed will eventually bloom orange and red; yellow clivias come from yellow seeds. True. I am not sure what colour seeds the peach ones have (we only have a few in the new peach shades) and we don’t have any of the green and white clivias in the garden yet.

When I think about it, blurring the lines are the tool we use to get to a seamless transition between different garden spaces. The soft transitions within the garden are all part of refining our thinking about how important it has become to us, personally, that we garden confidently with a strong sense of place, as referenced in this piece I wrote in March last year.  


A quilted flower

The quilted spathe of Monstera deliciosa with the distinctly phallic green fruit from a previous bloom to the right

I had not noticed until yesterday that the interior of the spathe on the Monstera deliciosa is delightfully quilted. For quilting enthusiasts, they are hexagons – six-sided figures. The spathe is the curved hood on the flower – botanically a modified leaf but most of us will continue to call it a flower. Some readers will know the monstera better as the fruit salad plant – most often seen as a house plant or perhaps more as an office plant where there is greater space. I would rather doubt that it flowers, let alone fruits, when it is treated as an indoor plant.

We have it as large, shade plant, climbing our trees and furnishing some of the back areas of the woodland gardens where it never gets frosted. It is a bit rampant, a monster even, although easy enough to cut back when it roots its way along the ground. It is more difficult to contain when it romps its way up the trees because it puts out strong aerial roots all the way and our largest ones are now a good ten metres up the trees. Looking tropical, even in the depths of winter. Fortunately, this is not a plant that will smother or strangle its host tree.

Monstera deliciosa can indeed be a monster plant when liberated in the garden

Our plants set fruit but we are not hot enough to ripen them to the allegedly delicious stage. Sometimes we get them to the point where the segments are ripe enough to fall apart, as they do, but the taste, while somewhat ‘tropical fruit salad-y’ in flavour, remains too sharp to eat many. A bit like cut glass, we say, which is apparently to do with oxalic acid. Our guess is that in hotter climes, the oxalic acid is less dominant.

Coming back to the flowers, I hadn’t really noticed how lovely they are until I saw this one yesterday and noticed the matching quilting on the central spadix (which develops into the phallic shaped fruit) and the interior of the spathe which embraces it.

Arum lilies, photographed in somebody else’s garden

“Aroids”, Mark said which had us googling a few other plants with flowers of similar form which were otherwise totally different and yes, they are all members of the araceae family, though not all are members of the aroid sub family.  Arum lilies are probably the best known. Arums are a great deal more prized overseas than in New Zealand. Here, they are seen as an indicator of poor land management (our pioneer roots are as farmers in this country), invasive and widely banned from sale but not on the total eradication list, as far as I know. As a garden escape, the problem with arums is that stock don’t eat them and they are difficult to control once they have established themselves. I once wrote giving advice on how to get rid of them. The coloured calla lilies are still grown as ornamentals but I dug most of mine out this year. I found them shy flowering and they didn’t justify the garden space. Too much foliage for too few blooms.

Arisaemas we grow a-plenty. Theirs is a very curious plant group, though not beautful in the usual sense. A. dahaiense

What surprised me more was to find that arisaemas and lysichiton are also members of the araceae family. They have the distinctive hooded flowers, but that is about all that looks the same as monstera or arum. I am sure I have photographed the lysichitons here (unromantically referred to in common parlance as ‘skunk cabbages’) but I can not find the photos in my files. We have both the yellow American species (americanus) and the white Asian species (camschatcensis) which we grow as bog plants.

Alocasias also belong to the same family. This includes taro, which is widely sold in New Zealand because it is a food staple for Pacific Island people, though it has never made its way into the general diet of most others and I admit I have never tried it. It has never been touted as delicious. Should you happen to be in Missouri, the botanic gardens there have the world’s largest collection of members of the araceae family. Munich Botanic Garden also has a splendid collection owing to world expert working there, the ever-handy internet tells me. I was just a bit surprised by the diversity of araceae we grow here. I was looking up the toxicity because some can cause burning of the skin and I wondered if it was connected to the aroids. But no, it appears that it is only a characteristic of some family members – chemically speaking, calcium oxalate crystals in the form of raphides. So now you know. This will explain the sensation of eating tropical flavoured glass shards when sampling the monstera fruit that are less than perfectly over-ripe.

Arisaema sikokianum – not easy to keep going as a garden plant but eye-catching

The curious arisaemas

Delighted by A. dahaiense

Delighted by A. dahaiense

Not all flowers are beautiful, but my goodness arisaemas have curious flowers and equally peculiar propensities.

Arisaema ringens has been around New Zealand gardens for a long time – sometimes called Jack-in-the-pulpit though that is more correctly used for the American species, A. triphyllum. While A. ringens has handsome, glossy foliage, the flowers hide beneath in such seclusion that you are likely to miss them entirely.

The last twenty years have seen an influx of new Asian and Japanese species to the country, many of which have piqued the interest of collectors. Even now, the choicest ones are difficult to source – often more a case of who you know rather than where you can buy them. And if you get hold of them, some are very difficult to keep going, especially in garden conditions as opposed to nursery pots.

Arisaema tortuosum

Arisaema tortuosum

Not all are devilishly difficult. A. tortuosum is easy and will seed down freely, a bit too freely, we find.  It makes a big patch, maybe 75cm tall, with the green hooded flowers sitting above the foliage. We find it is perfectly happy in the border right beside the house on the eastern side where the only water it gets is run off from the adjacent path.

Arisaema speciosum

Arisaema speciosum

A. speciosum is another easy variety in semi shade. It has handsome foliage, lovely mottled stems and curious flowers in burgundy-brown that really do look like hooded cobras. But the issue is that the flowers are held beneath the foliage so unless they are planted on a slope or on a margin where you can see into the patch, you may miss the flowering season. The early summer blooming A. candidissimum is one of the prettiest forms and is not difficult to grow with its palest pink and white hooded blooms appearing before the foliage dominates. It also multiples well.

Mark's A. sikkokianum hybrids

Mark’s A. sikkokianum hybrids

Mark's sikokianum hybrids (3) - CopyAnd then there are the tricksy ones, few more so than the Japanese A. sikokianum with its phallic spadix and hooded spathe rising prominently above the foliage. It is a show stopper in spring, though definitely curious rather than beautiful. After many years of growing it, I can tell you that it is difficult. We have never seen it increase from the corm. Growing well, it will set seed but these need to be raised in controlled conditions because it will not seed down naturally here. Even then, the patches tend to get smaller with time, rather than larger. It was for this reason that Mark experimented with hybridising it, to try and get increased vigour. This is known as hybrid vigour, in a similar way that the controlled breeding of designer dogs can make the offspring a stronger genetic strain than the highly refined parentage of pure breds. It has worked for us. The offspring carry all the best characteristics of A. sikokianum but they grow more strongly and are reliable as garden plants. Few would pick the difference to the lead species, but we know they are actually hybrids.

Arisaema dahaiense

Arisaema dahaiense

For sheer bizarre appearance, the more recent acquisition of A. dahaiense has to take the cake. It is very peculiar and not a carnivorous plant, though it looks as if it should be. The mottled, frilly flange is particularly striking. Because we are gardeners rather than plant collectors, the fact that this large-flowered curiosity has settled down quite happily in the leaf litter of open woodland conditions is a real bonus.

Peculiar propensities?  Arisaemas are hermaphrodites. When they are young or growing weakly, they are male. Only when conditions are right and the plant is strong, do they become female and therefore capable of reproduction. Then if they need a wee rest, maybe after a season of prolific seed set or drought, they revert to male again. Is this a metaphor for the human condition, some may wonder. I could not possibly comment.

A. taiwanense seed

A. taiwanense seed

If you notice a vague visual similarity to the mouse plant (Arisarum proboscidium), the striped Arisarum vulgare or arum lilies you are correct. Though not close relatives, they are all aroids in the Araceae plant family. Arisaemas go dormant in late summer and grow from corms – often roundish balls or larger round discs, though speciosum corms can look more like something unfortunate that the dog has left behind. Some species set copious amounts of seed which can be attractive in itself in autumn, though it helps to know your species. I remove the tortuosum seed because it can spread too freely whereas the speciosum seed, while abundant, has not created problems for us.

If you really want to know more about this plant genus, the gold standard reference is currently still a book, a proper book, not the internet – “The Genus Arisaema” by Guy and Liliane Gusman.

Arisaema candidissimum

Arisaema candidissimum

010 - CopyFirst published in the December issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission.

Flowering this week – Arisaema dahaiense

October 27 2009 001 (Small)

Not quite a mouse eating plant, but truly remarkable - A. dahaiense

In a quiet moment in the middle of our garden festival last week, Mark must have been suffering from boredom to be so mischievous as to tell a garden visitor that this flower had just eaten a mouse. She actually believed him too, until he twiddled the long tendril which comes out from the flower and resembles a mouse tail. She wasn’t sufficiently gullible to believe that the mouse was still alive. But this extraordinary flower is decidedly reptilian in appearance.

You certainly won’t find this plant on the shelves at your local garden centre. Mark spent many years hoping to be given one of the rare bulbs and it finally came to pass last year so this is its first flowering for us. At this stage, it is strictly who you know when it comes to acquiring this plant. Dahaiense comes from the Yunnan area of China although this strain was collected somewhere round the Burmese border area. In the wild, it has been photographed at close to two metres in height but our plant has yet to reach anywhere near that stature.

There are a whole range of different arisaemas and some are much more spectacular than others. They are a most curious genus being true hermaphrodites. When the plant is strong and robust, it becomes female and able to set seed but when it is immature or feeling a little weak and poorly it becomes male and is only capable of pollen donation. We will say no more on that topic.

Mark has spent some years gathering all the different species available here and hybridising to get some unique forms to use in the garden. He has a large number of spring flowering plants which hold their cobra-like heads above the foliage (most species hide their flowers below the leaves) and his summer flowering forms extend the colour from the more usual brown or greenish flowers into pinks and burgundies. They are not pretty but they are certainly interesting and nobody else has bedding plants quite like our arisaemas. Dahaiense has opened a whole new range of possibilities as a pollen donor this year.