Sunday, February 5, 2017

Winter-blooming Chains of Glory a.k.a. the Lightbulb Plant

After the holiday Paperwhite and Amaryllis flowers decline, there is usually a dearth of flowers at the Red House Garden until the blooming of earliest spring bulbs.  This year, however, my Chains of Glory is in bloom.

Chains of Glory plant
I bought this Chains of Glory plant, or Clerodendrum smithianum, three years ago from Logee's, a well-known nursery down in Connecticut that specializes in rare and tropical plants.  (They are known as a mail-order nursery, but if you ever have the chance to visit their greenhouses, it is well worth the trip!)  I am extremely negligent of my houseplants, so the fact that this one has survived to tell the tale is an indicator of how hardy it is.

Clerodendrum smithianum
Clerodendrum smithianum is actually a shrub or small, multi-stemmed tree native to Thailand that can grow up to ten feet tall.  For use as a houseplant, it is recommended that it be pruned after its winter blooming to keep it a more manageable size.  My plant has managed to stay nice and small thanks to two battles with spider mites and one unexpected and drastic pruning by a plant-hungry cat.  (Like I said, this plant is impressively hardy.)  When a mature plant is in full flower, the effect of multitudes of cascading flowers makes it easy to see where it gets its nickname 'Chains of Glory'.

Another common nickname for this Clerodendrum is the 'Lightbulb Plant', which I personally love.  Before the flowers fully open, they do rather look like little white lightbulbs.  I've also seen it called 'Indian beads'.

Lightbulb Plant
Clerodendrum smithianum is hardy to zone 9b, and prefers full sun to part shade, though direct afternoon sun can burn the leaves.  I have mine on a shelf near a south facing window.  It is a very long blooming plant as the flowers slowly open, starting with the top and working their way down. Mine has been in bloom for a month and is still going strong.  It is said that it can bloom twice in winter, so I am excited to see how long it will be in flower.  When grown in warmer climates, it can bloom for months.  It is a great plant for a hanging basket or as a patio plant, and it is sometimes even grown as a bonsai.  Chains of Glory likes fertile, well draining soil, and the soil should look dry before watering again.

Clerodendrum smithianum
Many Chains of Glory plants have both dark red stems and red star-shaped sepals which are quite showy in contrast with the white flowers.  My stems do age red, but the flower sepals of my plant are all light green with just a touch of red on the tips.

As far as botanical nomenclature goes, Clerodendrum smithianum's past appears to be quite mysterious.  Some online resources seem to think that C. smithianum is synonymous with C. schmidtii (also syn. C. hastato-oblongum C.B. Clarke).  This plant was first documented by E.J.Schmidt, a Danish oceanographer and naturalist who collected plant specimens from Koh Chang Island in Thailand in 1899, and catalogued by C.B. Clarke, a British botanist who worked at Kew.

Clerodendrum smithianum = Clerodendrum schmidtii ?
Other online resources, on the other hand, seem to think that C. smithianum is synonymous with the more similarly named C. smitinandii, a different species of Clerodendrum that was collected a few decades later by Tem Smitinand, a Thai forest botanist, and likely categorized by the American botanist H.N. Moldenke.

Clerodendrum smithianum = Clerodendrum smitinandii ?
All of these are known as 'Lightbulb Plant' or 'Chains of Glory'.  Is my Clerodendrum smithianum just another name for a different species, or is it its own separate one?  If anyone else knows, let me know! 

(p.s. If you would like to go down the rabbit hole with me, there is a paper published by botanists in connection with Chulalongkorn University that describes and illustrates the differences between the two other species.  My C. smithianum seems to resemble C. schmidtii the most to me, but I am no botanist.)

**UPDATE: I e-mailed Logee's and they replied back that it is, indeed, the same plant as C. schmidtii.  Mystery solved!

Whatever its origins, having a plant that blooms in the depths of winter is most definitely a thing of beauty!

Monday, January 23, 2017

And Fall Chores Become Winter Ones...

It's been a mild winter so far.  Snow has come only a few times, just to cover the ground and then melt away.  I should be grateful for the thaws, as I am still working on that whole garden-clean-up-before-winter thing.

Don't come up yet, daffodils!
Towards the end of last year I didn't blog or even manage to get out in the garden very often.  End of the year chores were left undone, and the garden left to just do its own thing (more than normal, anyway.)  Life was too busy and full, full, full.  And then too empty.  Last fall, both of our beloved cats, one after the other, were diagnosed with lymphoma.  Both of them ended up passing away shortly before Christmas.

I keep expecting to see these two little furbabies around...
Back to the topic of gardening (who's cutting those onions? *sniff*), we did manage to get a few fall chores done.  With surprisingly superb timing, I got the last of my fall bulbs planted right before the first real snow of the season hit.

one of those beak, wintery days
In fall we also accomplished the much-needed task of moving our clump of young white birch trees out of a spot that was too hot for it.  In just one year, the roots of the birches had spread far beyond their branches, and it was unexpectedly quite the chore to move it.   (After digging out and moving that clump, poor Mr. Red House was very glad to go back to the office on Monday.  He said it was far less work than helping me in the garden.)

trying to dig out the roots of the small birch clump
I now find myself solidly in the middle of the winter season with the fall clean up continuing sporadically on mild January days.  Thanks to those January thaws, however, many of the garden beds have finally been cleaned up and a lot of the fall gardening chores (the ones that are going to get done, anyway) have finally been accomplished...

The local robins volunteered to clean up my winterberries for me.
...that is, except for my greenhouse cleanup.

I have to admit that at this point I am rather afraid to even look in my greenhouse, unsure of what I might find in there after all the tomato and pepper plants were abandoned and left to fend for themselves for the winter.

I should probably get on that.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wishing You a Merry Christmas!

It's been a busy and taxing last couple of months, and I am so very thankful for a week of relaxing and spending time with family and loved ones.  I hope the same for you all this holiday season!

I wish you all blessed and peaceful holidays, safe travels, and a happy New Year!

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