Tag Archives: hippeastrum aulicum

Nga Puawai o Matariki or The Flowers of Matariki

Hippeastrum aulicum

After I posted last week’s piece about Matariki – the Maori new year, the winter solstice and Magnolia campbellii, a loyal reader commented that no magnolias are opening where he lives so he went looking to see what could be his Matariki flower. He settled on Mark’s Camellia ‘Fairy Blush’ which felt like an honour to us.

I like the idea of people determining their Matariki flower. We had our first ever public holiday to mark Matariki last Friday and for many of us, it was special. Not only does it mark a point in time that is significant both spiritually and scientifically to the first people of the land here, it is the only public holiday that has a nation gazing at the stars and taking an interest in astronomy.

Friends invited us to lunch to celebrate the occasion. Home entertaining is back in these Covid times, at least for our demographic. I took a bunch of Hippeastrum aulicum and our hostess commented that she had no flowers in her garden. This wasn’t quite true. She had Alstromeria  ‘Indian Summer’ still blooming but nothing else I could see. It inspired me to come home and walk around the garden with my camera to capture some of the flowers we have in the depths of mid-winter.

A vireya rhododendron seedling

The subtropical rhododendrons are blithely unaware of the seasons, except for frost which makes them turn up their toes, and we have them in flower all year round. We have a mix of species, named hybrids and unnamed seedlings from crosses Mark has made. This is an R. hellwiggi seedling which means it is also sweetly scented.

Constant companion, new dog Ralph

Everywhere I go in the garden, Ralph is at my side. He does not, alas, show any respect for the garden at all and this morning knocked off the first open flower on a dainty dwarf narcissus. We have some work to do teaching him to respect garden boundaries.

Luculia ‘Fragrant Cloud’

It is luculia season and my favourite of these is the almond pink, scented blooms of ‘Fragrant Cloud’ which has a very long flowering season but generally flops if I cut them to bring indoors. I could do without the yellow totara to the left of the scene but the red form of our native cordyline works well. This luculia is rangy, brittle and lacks any merit in its form as a shrub but all is forgiven when it flowers.

Schlumbergera or chain cactus

Right at home under the rimu trees is the schlumbergera, commonly called chain cactus. We have a few different colours but this cerise form is easily the most obliging and showiest of them. These are plants that thrive in dry shade and, despite the cactus reference, have no prickles and spines. They are also dead easy to increase by just snipping off a length and tucking into a crevice with a bit of leaf litter to root into.

Camellia ‘Mine No Yuki’ with hanging tillandsia

It is of course camellia season and this is why I don’t love Camellia sasanqua ‘Mine No Yuki’ at this time of year. It doesn’t shed its spent flowers because the foliage is so dense and they sit around looking brown and sludgy. We only keep the plant because for the rest of the year we clip it tightly into stacked clouds and it justifies its existence for the form of the plant and healthy foliage. The flowers are a disadvantage, not a bonus as far as I am concerned.

That is a fine form of Spanish moss or tillandsia threaded on inverted, old, wire hanging baskets – a trick I learned from an Auckland gardener several years ago. His were more loved than mine but they add a detail suspended from the camellia branches.

Camellia yuhsienensis

We love Camellia yuhsienensis far more, enough to grow a fair number of them as specimen plants, particularly for winter interest in the Summer Gardens. It is meant to be strongly scented but it needs a warm day and a nose stuck right in the flowers to get much of a whiff so that is a bit hyperbolic. However, the bees love it and anything that feeds the bees in midwinter is a good thing.

Dudley and Ralph

I reached the the Summer Gardens and Dudley had risen from his retirement bed to join Ralph and me. Duds is a quiet, old dog and the arrival of Ralph has come as a bit of a shock to him but they co-exist harmoniously. Dudley has made it clear that ALL dog beds are his while Ralph has laid claim to all the dog toys and already destroyed some that had survived years of Dudley’s more gentle play.

The Court Gardens in midwinter

I was focusing on flowers that are coming out or at their peak in midwinter rather than the carryovers from autumn but I made an exception for the yellow Salvia madrensis which makes a great autumn/winter plant for frost-free areas with plenty of space and nothing delicate nearby for it to smother. It is showy but large and rangy.

Daphne Perfume Princess

I have to acknowledge Mark’s Daphne ‘Perfume Princess’. Sure, it is just a daphne but what a daphne. Vigorous, reliable, exceptionally large flowers and an exceptionally long flowering season. Very scented, of course, as daphnes should be. We had stock plants left in the nursery that I threaded through the house gardens so it is quite a dominant plant here for us at this time.

Lobelia physaloides
Look at those big, blue-purple berries on the Lobelia physaloides

Look at this lesser known NZ native – Lobelia physaloides! It is sometimes referred to as the NZ hydrangea, presumably because its lush foliage loosely resembles some of that plant family. To my shame, I missed the flowering on it but the photos on line do not show any resemblance to hydrangeas. It is the berries that are the most extraordinary feature, in both size and colour. It is another rare, endangered plant on our threatened list, mostly from loss of habitat. In the wild it is limited to our offshore, subtropical islands (Three Kings and a few others) and a few mainland spots in the far north. For the botanically inclined, there is a whole lot more information here about this interesting plant. We are very pleased to have three plants of it in the garden.

The early jonquils are promising spring

I didn’t focus on the bulbs this time. We are on the cusp of peak bulb season – the early snowdrops are opening, the first of the narcissi, lachenalias in red, yellow and orange, Cyclamen coum is at its peak. It may be midwinter but we are blessed with conditions that allow plant growth and flowering all year round.

Happy Matariki from Aotearoa.

Waiting for hippeastrum flowers

We only have two species of hippeastrum in the garden. And one hybrid that bravely lives on in the rockery despite never receiving any praise and I don’t even appear to have photographed it. Most people probably grow the hybrids rather than the species and they are a genus that lends itself to novelty status – enormous flowers and some odd variations that are not necessarily creations of beauty.

Hippeastrum aulicum in the garden

Hippeastrum aulicum in particular is a mainstay of our early spring woodland. I have always described it as looking more like a Jacobean lily. Because it thrives with us, we have a lot of aulicum though we don’t get seed on the plants in the garden. Mark says this is because we are not hot enough but it will set seed if brought under cover.

Hippeastrum papilio. It has taken a while to increase it from a single bulb but we now have two patches like this.

It has taken a while to build up H. papilio but we are on track now with quite a few flowering in the same woodland conditions that suit H.aulicum. They certainly have a wow factor as a garden plant but we don’t get seed. Whether this is temperature related or they are not self-fertile, we do not know.

Mark wondered if we would get any interesting variations if he crossed the two species, while acknowledging that it was more a cross of convenience rather than one based on using the best possible parents. He did it so long ago that he can’t remember now which species he used as the seed-setter. Nor can I remember how many years it is since I grew tired of the pots of seedlings kicking around the nursery so took it upon myself to plant them out. Maybe about eight years?

The plants have done absolutely nothing in the garden except grow larger in the intervening years. Until this week! Two are flowering, well over a decade after the cross was made. Curiously, they are flowering before either of their parents: H. aulicum is only just putting its flower spikes up and is still some way off showing colour and it will be October before H. papilio blooms. I probably planted out a tray of 40 pots all up so there are a whole lot more to come. Eventually.

Nothing to get excited about

So what did we get? I was a bit underwhelmed by the first one. It only has two flowers to the stem and really just resembles a larger version of H. aulicum, maybe with more prominent green veining. I prefer the original species at this stage.

It is big – much bigger than its parents. And showy. But is it an improvement as a garden plant?

The second one is certainly larger, showing considerable hybrid vigour. The flower spike is over a metre tall and the spike has five big blooms opening on it. It is another red with green veining. So it looks as though it will be big and showy, if big and showy is how you like your bulbs. We would be happy with smaller and more interesting. Mark’s only comment so far has been that it never was a brilliant cross in the first place but it was just to get some variation in the garden.

Maybe the other 38 or so will show more interesting variations over the next few years? A large part of gardening is optimism.

I see there are about 90 species of hippeastrum though most of the hybrids are from just six of the species – including H. aulicum which surprised us, but not H. papilio.

Exotica in the shade

Shade gardens we have a-plenty

Shade gardens we have a-plenty

Glory be, but I do love spring.  This month subtropical bulbs and orchids shout out to be noticed.

We have extensive shade gardens. It is an inevitable result of a large, mature garden with many evergreen trees dating back as far as 1870. We do a lot of what we call lifting and limbing – taking off lower branches and keeping areas open to the light, for there are not a lot of plant options when it comes to deep, dark shade. Beneath the mighty tree canopy, it is dry but frost-free with dappled light. Over the decades there has been much trial and error to find what will thrive in these conditions and the plantings have become increasingly complex.

Dendrobium Bardo Rose

Dendrobium Bardo Rose

By this time in spring, we are over peak season for cymbidium orchids but the Australian dendrobiums are a delight. These are much smaller and more mounded or clumping in appearance and they take care of themselves. We have found the Bardo Rose group to be particularly obliging and free-flowering in woodland conditions. Ours all came from the local Orchid Society, an organisation that we have found combines generosity with superior technical knowledge.

Pleione orchids in the woodland

Pleione orchids in the woodland

Pleione orchids do not last as long in bloom as many of the other orchids. Their flowers are soft rather than waxy but oh my, they make such a pretty carpet. It is easy for them to get swamped so we try and keep the area around them open but beyond lifting and dividing every few years, we just leave them alone. In our experience, the lovely yellow varieties do better in a climate where they get more winter chill. I think all our yellows have died out now but we have plenty in shades of lilac, purple and pure white. Most of our successful varieties came from the late George Fuller, orchid expert and former curator of Pukekura Park, and seem to have formosana in their parentage. If you want to build them up, a single bulb will usually set 2 offsets each season so you can double them every year.

Calanthe orchid - CopyThe calanthes are ground orchids and we have big clumps now because these obliging plants can just be left to quietly increase in size. These are fully evergreen and somewhat frost tender but they are a delightful sight through spring and they combine very well with clivias, ferns and even hostas.

Hippeastrums are a plant family that has been much hybridised but I am not entirely convinced that has been to their advantage. It is two species that we rely on, both South American. It was by chance we found they settled happily into woodland conditions. In full sun, they were ravaged by narcissi fly but in high shade they are fine. Apparently nazi flies, as they are often called, don’t like shade. H. aulicum is one of our early to mid spring mainstays, flowering consistently year in and year out while multiplying most satisfyingly. To me, they look like beautiful Jacobean lilies in the woodland.

Hippeastrum aulicum, one of our woodland mainstays

Hippeastrum aulicum, one of our woodland mainstays

Hippeastrum papilio has been a more recent acquisition for us and it is certainly spectacular, looking more like an orchid than the butterfly for which it was named. It is offered for sale but be prepared to pay a lot for a single bulb – maybe $30 if it is flowering size – because it takes several years to get to that point. I can’t think that we would have started with more than just one or two bulbs at that price. I see with a bit of dividing and replanting we now have about sixty but not all are flowering size yet. Mark has done some hybrids of aulicum x papilio to increase numbers and get some variety, but they have yet to bloom.

Hippeastrum papilio

Hippeastrum papilio

I will have to leave the arisaemas, trilliums and the Paris polyphylla for another time but will finish with Scadoxus puniceus from South Africa. Many readers will be familiar with the summer flowering red S. multiflorus ssp. katherinae, especially in the Auckland area because it was, and maybe still is, much beloved by landscapers. It is a mainstay of our summer woodland, but in spring it is the lesser known S. puniceus that is the showstopper. Growing from large bulbs which are slow to increase, the foliage is lush and the large blooms are curious rather than beautiful. S. puniceus is not widely available, but if you can find somebody with it, it is easy enough to raise from fresh seed as long as you are willing to wait quite a few years to reach flowering size.

The rewards are there for patient gardeners.

The lesser known Scadoxus puniceus

The lesser known Scadoxus puniceus

Text first published in the October issue of NZ Gardener and reprinted here with their permission 

Plant Collector – Hippeastrum aulicum


Hippeastrum aulicum

Hippeastrum aulicum

At this time of the year the big red flowers of Hippeastrum aulicum look like Jacobean lilies. We use it as a woodland plant because our past experience is that narcissi fly can devastate hippeastrums planted in the sun but the flies don’t go into the shaded areas to lay their eggs in the crowns of the bulbs. It takes a while for the bulbs to get large enough to flower but they are happy to be planted and left alone, gently increasing year by year so, after several decades, we have large clumps of them which oblige with gorgeous blooms in spring, standing 60 to 70cm high on strong stems. With us, they are completely evergreen though they may drop their foliage in harsher conditions.

A colourful woodland plant - H. aulicum

A colourful woodland plant – H. aulicum

Just for a change, the hippeastrum family doesn’t come from South Africa which is home to the majority of bulbs that we grow successfully here. Instead they hail from South America and this particular one is native to Brazil and Paraguay. H. aulicum is a species and not widely available though the curious H.papilio is sometimes offered for sale (expect to pay about $30 for a single, flowering sized bulb) and there are many hybrids which are brightly coloured, big flowered things for growing in containers. I am not so keen on the hybrids, papilio is less obliging as a garden plant but aulicum is both exotic to look at and a consistent performer.

Tikorangi Notes: Friday September 10, 2010


1) There is clearly no Dutch blood running in my veins. I am not generally a tulip fan but I am happy to make an exception for the Cretan species, Tulipa saxatilis which has just come into flower.

2) Taking a second look at camellias as garden plants despite the ravages of camellia petal blight – Abbie’s column (and de facto instalment on the Camellia Diary).

3) Garden hints for the second official week of spring – but we know that spring is well advanced here.

4) Counting down around the province to our annual Taranaki Rhododendron and Garden Festival.

Big clumps of Hippeastrum aulicum are just coming in to flower in our woodland
Big clumps of Hippeastrum aulicum are just coming in to flower in our woodland

Eighty feet of fallen Lombardy
Eighty feet of fallen Lombardy


The sad sight of a very tall Lombardy poplar lying on the ground has preoccupied us this week. We were standing in the shed last Friday watching a sudden wind hit our huge pine trees and as it was calm on the other side, we briefly thought that maybe one of the dreaded little tornadoes that can wreak havoc here was hitting us. Mark was wondering if he should shut the roller doors of the shed – is it better to close a building off or to allow air flow in a tornado? Fortunately it was not a tornado but it was quite fierce, very shortlived and so noisy that we didn’t even hear the tree fall. We found it the next day, upon the ground. All 80 plus feet (about 25 metres or so) which can make quite a mess. The toll included a big Loderi Rhododendron King George and about half of the Magnolia campbellii which is fifty years old. It has opened up our view of Mount Taranaki a little more but we are sad about campbellii and King George. We don’t care about the poplar which is no loss, but now we are worried about the remaining two poplars of similar stature.

Half the campbellii - killed in action
Half the campbellii – killed in action

Shame the poplar is no good for firewood
Shame the poplar is no good for firewood