As Promised…. Colocasia Tubers

Colocasia Esculenta, purchased as a tuber from Easy To Grow Bulbs this March.

Colocasia Esculenta, purchased as a tuber from Easy To Grow Bulbs this March.

When Kathleen, at Easy To  Grow Bulbs,  and I chatted on Friday morning about our two Colocasia tubers which never grew, she promised to put replacement tubers in the mail that day.

June 30 2014 Colocasia 001

And, as promised, they arrived in today’s mail.

If you’ve never seen a Colocasia esculenta  tuber, here is your chance.  They will sprout roots, then leaves, once planted.

June 30 2014 Colocasia 003

Kathleen explained that our previous tubers most likely rotted due to too much moisture in the soil after I moved them out to the garden.  I planted them out with the third, which was in active growth, even though they had not yet sprouted any leaves.

Big mistake.  I should have given them more time to break dormancy in individual pots.

This is the surviving Colocasia when I planted it outside on June 7.

This is the surviving Colocasia when I planted it outside on June 7.

Kathleen gave me careful instructions for planting these replacement plants. 

I’ll plant them in good potting mix in 6″ nursery pots, water lightly, and then keep them out of doors away from direct sun until leaves appear.

The soil should remain only slightly moist until the plant is actively growing again.  Too much moisture, in combination with summer heat, will cause rot.  Heat is necessary to break dormancy and initiate root growth, so I need to make sure the soil stays on the dry side initially.

Once growth is underway, Colocoasia enjoys moist soil.  They appreciate full sun to light shade, and need plenty of room to expand.

C. "Black Magic" from the Michigan Bulb Co., finally received earlier this month.

C. “Black Magic” from the Michigan Bulb Co., finally received earlier this month.

Esculenta” is Latin for “edible.”   Colocasia esculenta, native to southern Asia, is one of the earliest cultivated crops; with evidence of its cultivation as a major dietary staple more than 5000 years ago in India.

All parts of the plant are poisonous when raw; but the tuber, once soaked and cooked, is mashed into a  delicate and delicious paste.  In Hawaii, the dish is known as “poi.”

We won’t be eating these lovely rhizomes.  We will grow them to enjoy their beautiful foliage.  And best of all, our herd of deer won’t try to eat them either!

Thank you, Kathleen, for all of your assistance with our Colocasia plants.  Thank you for replacing the two which rotted before they had a chance to grow, and thank you for explaining the process from the bulb’s point of view.

Your gentle instructions should have us on the way to Colocasia success!

The Colocasia on June 20.  See how fast it is growing?  These are heavy feeders.  If you plant them, amend the soil, keep them moist, and feed every few weeks for the most impressive growth.

The Colocasia on June 20. See how fast it is growing? These are heavy feeders. If you plant them, amend the soil, keep them moist, and feed every few weeks for the most impressive growth.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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Elephant Ears: Always More to Learn

Colocasia Esculenta, purchased as a tuber from Easy To Grow Bulbs this March.

Colocasia Esculenta, purchased as a tuber from Easy To Grow Bulbs this March.  This plant will grow to 5′ tall.  Canna “Australia,” also purchased from Easy To Grow Bulbs,  (with burgundy leaves) and Cannas from a friends garden, behind.

It seemed simple enough at the time:

I added three Colocasia esculenta tubers to my spring order at Easy To Grow Bulbs.  I was also ordering tubers for Canna Lilies and Gloriosa Lilies.

Easy To Grow Bulbs is one of my favorite online vendors.  Their stock is of high quality, their prices fair, their selection intriguing, and their customer service excellent.

Black  Purchased from Plant Delights Nursery

C. “Black  Runner”Purchased from Plant Delights Nursery

A bargain at around $7.00 each, these huge tubers arrived healthy and ready to grow.

I filled plastic boxes with fresh potting soil and planted the entire order the day it arrived, carefully following the  enclosed instructions.   The instructions suggested planting about 8″ deep, so I used a deep Rubbermaid container.

I watered at planting time to moisten the mix, but then kept the lid on waiting for the plants to grow.

The boxes of dormant tubers were fine down in the workroom, where I could keep an eye on them.  I checked the soil several times, found it slightly moist, and so just gave them time.

After a few weeks, the Cannas were growing well;  so we moved them up to the garage where they could get some light.  It was still a little too cool to plant them out in the garden.

C. China ordered from The Michigan Bulb Co.  This is one of the replacement plants they sent.

C. “Pink China,” ordered from The Michigan Bulb Co. This is one of the replacement plants they sent.

I could see root growth in the box with the Colocasia, known as Elephant Ears, but no top growth yet.

Finally our cool spring warmed up enough to plant the Canna Lilies out.  I had ordered Colocasia from several different sources, and also had one plant which grew in a pot all winter in the garage.

The others had arrived already in leaf, and so I moved them out to the garden a few at a time throughout May.

C. "Blue Hawaii," wintered over in the garage.

C. “Blue Hawaii,” wintered over in the garage.

Finally, a beautiful, strong leaf emerged on the Colocasia esculenta  grown from a tuber.  I moved the box up to the brighter garage, and waited for the other two tubers to leaf out.

But nothing happened.

Believing they probably needed more warmth, I took the box out to the garden one warm day in late May.  These were the last of the Elephant Ears planted in our new sunny border.

Still following directions, I dug three deep holes and amended them with compost.   I planted the leafed out plant first.

 

Camma. "Tropicana" in the foreground, from Easy to Grow Bulbs.  C. "Esculenta, and the tiny little C. "China Pink" from Michigan Bulb Co.  At least it has survived.

Canna. “Tropicana”  and C. “Australia” in the foreground,  from Easy to Grow Bulbs.                Colocasia  esculenta, and the tiny little C. “China Pink,” from Michigan Bulb Co., beside the Canna.    At least it has survived.

It had a huge healthy root system, and I tried to plant it at about the same level it had been growing in the box.

But here is where the mystery begins:  the other two tubers showed no evidence of growth.  I planted them anyway, believing they would begin to grow at any time given the warmth of early summer.

The tubers were all the same variety, and looked nearly identical when they arrived.  One would think that given exactly the same conditions, they would respond the same…. Wouldn’t you?

So I’ve faithfully watered my newly planted Cannas, Colocasias, Sages, and Hibiscus several times a week, when it hasn’t rained, to get them properly established.

 

June 27, 2014 garden 026

And of course I’ve watered the spots where the tubers were planted- just to help them along.  After all, we all know that Colocasias like moist soil and need plentiful water to support their huge leaves.

So when no growth appeared by late last week, I was truly puzzled.  In fact, I was very naughty and gently dug into one of the planting areas to see what was going on.

On hands and knees, I dug around gingerly, expecting to hit a green shoot at any moment.  Until I hit a pocket of greenish beige slime….

The tuber had rotted.

How is that possible?  I did everything right, didn’t I?

Colocasia, "Black Magic,"  shipped from the Michigan Bulb Co. earlier this month.

Colocasia, “Black Magic,” finally shipped from the Michigan Bulb Co. earlier this month.  

This morning I called Easy To Grow Bulbs to talk with them about the problem with the Elephant Ears.  And I was delighted to meet a very knowledgeable gardener, and “bulb whisperer,” named Kathleen.  After listening patiently, and asking a few questions, Kathleen launched into teaching/ coaching mode and taught me something new.

She explained that although all of the tubers may look identical, they are all individuals, have their own genetic blueprint, and so will break dormancy on their own schedule.

Some may be a little earlier, some a little later.  It is actually a survival mechanism so that if an early frost comes, the later individuals will survive.

It isn’t unusual for some tubers to begin growing, while others wait another few days or weeks to break their dormancy and begin growing.

The time when they break dormancy is the tuber’s most vulnerable time, when a small factor can make the difference between growth and rot.

June 27, 2014 garden 023

Like Caladiums, Colocasia enjoy moist soil when actively growing.  But, soil that is too moist, before their leaves have grown in , can easily kill them.

Kathleen reminded me that just as we humans must exhale, so tubers must be able to relieve themselves of too much moisture.

Plants exhale through their leaves.  Both Oxygen and water vapor exit the plant through the stomata in the cells of their leaves.  Giving too much water in the soil, before the leaves have formed, is deadly.

And that is where I went wrong.  When I planted the still dormant tubers out into the garden before they were growing, they were both wet and warm, and so rotted.

June 20 Between 090

I should have planted out the one actively growing plant, but left the two dormant tubers in the original planting box until they showed top growth.  Each plant must be treated as an individual.   Lesson learned.

Kathleen was very understanding and patient, and put two replacement Colocasia tubers in the mail to me today.

And she gave me precise instructions on how to care for them until they break dormancy and are ready for their places in the garden.

I feel like I made a new friend today; and will absolutely turn to Easy To Grow Bulbs again, as I have so often in the past, for bulbs, roots, and tubers of all sorts.

I’ll save Kathleen’s instructions for another post when the tubers arrive, so you can see them.

You probably know that the tubers of Colocasia are a delectable staple of the Pacific Island diet.  Have you ever eaten Poi?  If so, you have eaten Colocasia.  The leaves are poisonous, but the tuber can be cooked, mashed, and eaten.

I would much rather grow them than eat them, and am looking forward to watching these enormous and beautiful plants grow.

 

June 7, 2014 garden 019

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Surprise!

Lycoris radiata, in its first season of bloom in our garden.

Lycoris radiata, in its first season of bloom in our garden.

The surprise spider lily, Lycoris radiata, is one of the beautiful surprises of autumn.  This lovely red lily appears quite suddenly, usually after a heavy rain.  In the southeastern United States is has earned the name, “Hurricane Lily” because it so often appears right after the heavy rains of a hurricane.  It is always a happy surprise to see its beautiful blossoms pop up out of the Earth.

September 24 2013 garden 023

 

This sterile bulb, native to Asia, has an interesting growth pattern.   It blooms in late August or September, over several days.

 

Oct. 2 2013 surprise lily 001

The bulbs divide and produce multiple bloom stalks over the years.  These bulbs don’t like to be disturbed once planted.  The flower is a surprise, partly because no foliage appears before the bloom.  After the flowers fade, the long, strap like leaves begin to appear; hanging around throughout the winter, and making food for the following season’s blooms.  The blooms and leaves rarely appear at the same time.

Although Lycoris radiata is native  to China, it has also been widely grown in Japan for centuries.

The first  bulbs came to the United States sometime in the 1850s.  Early sailors who visited Japan after it opened for trade with the United States brought them back and introduced them into American gardens.  Many sources credit Captain William Roberts with being the first to introduce Lycoris to North America.  Interested in botany, he is said to have brought home three Lycoris bulbs from his trip.   His wife, Lavinia, was an avid gardener with hundreds of roses in her garden, and they likely were a gift for her.  His personal diary, a transcript of which is in the archives at Tryon Palace in New Bern, NC, indicates that Captain Roberts may not have traveled to Japan until several years after the date given in most sources for his trip.

Most current cultivars of Lycoris radiata are hardy in zones 6-9.  Other Lycoris species and hybrids are hardy as far north as zone 4.  More complete information is available from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC, which carries an extensive inventory of Lycoris bulbs.  Bulbs are also available from Easy To Grow Bulbs.

 

September 24 2013 garden 025

Lycoris should be planted in good soil, in a location with full to part sun, about 8” deep, and at least 6” apart.  Like daffodils, once planted, they can be expected to come back year after year.  Also like daffodils, Lycoris are extremely poisonous.  Deer, voles, rabbits, squirrels, and other hungry creatures leave them strictly alone.  This is another good plant for patches of sun in a forest garden, because they won’t be destroyed by the wildlife.  Although the plant is poisonous, Lycoris nectar is still an important late season food for nectar loving insects.

Lycoris  bloom most often after a heavy rain.  In a dry autumn, they may bloom late, or not at all.   Moist soil is important for good growth. Their unpredictability is part of their beauty.

 

This clump of Surprise Lily was already growing in the garden when we moved in.  It surprised and delighted us when it suddenly appeared that September, and continues to bring a smile each year it blooms.

This clump of Surprise Lily was already growing in the garden when we moved in. It surprised and delighted us when it suddenly appeared that September, and continues to bring a smile each year it blooms.

 

In fact, in Japan, they are planted around homes and rice paddies to keep mice away.  They are an important flower in Japan.  Not only do they signal the beginning of autumn, but they are important in family life.  Lycoris bulbs are often planted on the graves of loved ones as a sign of respect and love.  Lycoris features in several traditional folk tales based on the fact that the flowers and leaves are never present at the same time.  Although Lycoris are long lasting cut flowers, they are rarely used as cut flowers in Asia due to their association with death and separation.

Although Lycoris radiata are red, other Lycoris species and cultivars come in white, yellow, pink, orange, and light lavender.  All are hardy, easy to grow plants, which bring surprise and delight to an autumn day.

( Much appreciation to Perry Mathewes for giving additional information on Captain William Roberts, based on his reading of the transcript of Captain Roberts’s diary while he was curator of the gardens at Tryon Palace.)

All photos by Woodland Gnome

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