Pokemon Go at the SC Botanical Garden

This past Saturday afternoon I was in the SC Botanical Garden and couldn’t believe the hordes of people meandering in the Garden. Wherever I turned, I saw people staring intently at their smartphones as they walked along the duck pond or traversed the pine straw-covered slopes in the Camellia Garden.

I assumed that some of these visitors were students from my Fall Landscape Plant I.D. and Use class. Here they were, I imagined, less than two weeks from the start of the semester and they’re seeking-out plants from the 12 lists I shared with them in late July. I was ecstatic.

But I was wrong. One couple walked by me as I was photographing a cultivar of a


Smartphone screen of Pokémon GO’s Eevee Community Day

reblooming azalea, and I heard the fellow say, “Let’s look for the Abies.” I quickly stood up and asked him: “’Scuse me, did you say you’re looking for a fir? I heard you say Abies.” I was referring to the Japanese fir (Abies firma) in the Schoenike Arboretum. This conifer is not on our plant list because there’s only one in the Garden and it’s languishing in deep sh

He approached me and said, “No, I’m looking for Eevee.” Completely unaware of this genus or common name, this young man launched into a rapid-fire explanation of



Pokémon Go’s Eevee Community Day. I was stunned (glassy-eyed as well because of my inability to comprehend the difference between an Eevee and an Espeon.) These people weren’t looking for plants. They were looking for Pokémon creatures.

I stopped three more couples and discovered that each one of them was playing Pokémon Go. I wasn’t disappointed that the flora and fauna in the Garden were trumped by these Pokémon critters. These Pokémon players were outside and in the Garden on this hot, sunny, humid afternoon.

A short time later I ambled along the ’62 trail and bent down to examine a Henry’s voodoo lily (Amorphophallus henryi). As people shuffled behind me, I knelt down and

pushed a leaf away from the stem. I almost squealed with delight!


Fruit of Henry’s voodoo lily (Amorphophallus henryi).

Just inches from my hand was this blue spike of fruit. I expected the spadix to give rise to red fruit, but A. henryi produces blue fruit that look like miniature muscadine grapes. I was about to jump up and yell, “Hey, check out the blue fruit on this voodoo lily!” but quickly corralled my emotions and got back down on my knees to gaze at this stunning blue marvel. Now I know what it feels like to find an Eevee.

Bob Polomski (c) 2018


The connection between yoga and succulents

At the Clemson University library today I saw this sign: “do yoga…receive a succulent.” I was intrigued by this offer. I opened the door to the “Brown Room” and saw a large crowd of college-aged studentsIMG_3056 stretching in anticipation of the yoga class.

Do Yoga: receive a succulent

I asked the instructor: “What’s the connection between yoga and succulents?

The instructor replied matter-of-factly: “Yoga is cool. Succulents are cool.” Say, why don’t you join us?”

I said, “Thanks, but I’ve got plenty of succulents at home.”



The Hills Are Alive! Mountain-laurel Is Worth the Effort

Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful flowering evergreen shrubs or small trees in North America, mountain-laurel’s native range extends from New England to the Florida panhandle and west to Indiana. It’s widely distributed in the mountains with smaller natural populations in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain.

The springtime flowers, each 3/4 to 1 in. wide, are massed in 4-6 inch-wide inflorescences that range from white to pink and crimson and purple. The evergreen foliage is used in winter holiday decorations. Over time it can reach a height and width of 12 to 15 ft. with a gnarled, picturesque trunk.  The 2-5 inch long leaves emerge bronze and mature to lustrous dark green.

Unfortunately, mountain laurel is one of the more difficult plants to propagate in the nursery trade. Over the years an assortment of approaches have been proposed by nursery professionals and researchers. No consensus had been reached. However, the experts agree that some cultivars root more easily than others

Kalmia latifolia Bullseye 05_04_2015 SCBG

from cuttings. Cultivars that are easiest to root include ‘Bullseye’ (pictured), ‘Carousel,’ ‘Nipmuck,’ ‘Olympic Fire,’ ‘Pink Charm,’ ‘Pink Surprise,’ ‘Quinnipiac,’ and ‘Sharon Rose.’

Mountain-laurel tends to be challenging to grow in the landscape as well. While it can be found growing luxuriously in the wild without any human intervention, it doesn’t exhibit an identical performance in the landscape. In fact, many experienced gardeners have questioned their hard-earned skills when they watch their nursery-propagated mountain laurels turn brown and dry within the first few years after planting. My longtime friend, Dick Bir, recommends in his Growing & Propagating Showy Native Woody Plants (UNC Press, Chapel Hill) book adding a few inches of pine bark into the mineral soil before planting. He also recommends a location in light shade that receives a few hours of sun a day.  It should be an extremely well-drained, acid location.

Avoid the urge to apply copious amounts of fertilizer. Unlike the tomatoes, peppers, and okra in your vegetable garden, mountain-laurel is a light feeder that can be harmed with excessive fertilizer applications.

Mountain-laurel or calico-bush may be a tad persnickety in the landscape, but the extravagant flowers are worth your time and effort.

Bob Polomski  © 2017

Got daylilies?

Although daylily flowers last only a day (the genus Hemerocallis comes from the Greek hemera which means “day” and kallos means beauty), these no-fuss no-muss herbaceous perennials are the workhorses of the landscape. In fact, even the Department of Transportation uses daylilies. This summer as travelers cross the highways and byways of the Carolinas, look for sweeping beds of daylilies in medians and along bridge embankments. When the DOT grows daylilies, you know it’s a tough and attractive plant.

Daylilies provide a rainbow of flower colors that range from near-whites, pastels,IMG_0832 yellows, oranges, pinks, vivid reds, crimson, purple, nearly true-blue, and fabulous blends. Their clumps of arching sword-shaped leaves may be evergreen, semi-evergreen, or deciduous and vary in height from dwarf (under 6 in.) to medium (about 2 ft.) and tall (3 ft. and over). Their bloom season begins in mid-Spring and lasts into late summer.

Reblooming daylilies flower more than one time during a single season; some of them bloom early-May or June–and then repeat in the fall. Others have a succession of bloom periods, one shortly after another for several months. Reblooming types include the 3 ft. tall Starburst series, which come in a variety of colors, as well as the 2 ft. high ‘Black-eyed Stella’ (yellow with red eye), bright yellow ‘Happy Returns’ and ‘Stella de Oro’, and the red ‘Pardon Me.’Daylily6_19_05[1]

With over 58,000 cultivars of dayliles, you’re bound to find one that you like. There are selections with semidouble and double flowers. The tetraploid types have unusually heavy-textured petals. (Visit The American Hemerocallis Society www.daylilies.org/ for a gardener-to-gardener discussion of diploids vs. polyploids.)

Daylilies need about 6 hours of sunlight each day, although they will tolerate light shade but will produce fewer flowers. They spread from suckers to form a dense mat, so expect to divide them every 3 to 6 years.

If you have a drab-looking space that needs some sprucing up this summer, choose low maintenance daylilies for their versatility and their gorgeous flowers.

Bob Polomski  © 2017

Growing citrus outdoors

Raising citrus in USDA cold hardiness zone 8a–outside of the traditional citrus-growing regions–is made difficult both by minimum winter temperatures, and by fluctuations in temperature that interfere with citrus achieving maximum winter hardiness. However, a four-year evaluation of citrus cultivars in Savannah, Georgia when the winter temperatures dipped to between 13 and 18 degrees F. suggests several possibilities. (See “Field Evaluation of Cold Hardy Citrus in Coastal Georgia” by M. Rieger et al., HortTechnology Vol 13, No.3, 2003).  Among the survivors were  the mandarins ‘Owari’ (grafted on sour orange rootstock) and ‘Changsha’  (own-rooted),  a citrangequat ‘Mr. Johns Longevity’ (both own-rooted and grafted on ‘Carrizo’ citrange rootstock), and the orangequat ‘Nippon’ . These plants experienced some defoliation and minor shoot dieback, but they fruited consistently on an annual basis.Citrus 10_24_2013 BP

To improve any citrus plants chance of survival, plant in a well-drained location in full sun, preferably at the top of a southfacing slope with protection from prevailing winter winds.  Planting in raised beds will improve drainage and will encourage the soil to warm up more quickly.

Young trees are less cold tolerant than mature trees, so care during first three growing seasons after planting is critical for their long term survival.


Keep the tree well-watered and avoid fertilizing between Aug 1 and Feb. 15 to avoid encouraging growth that can be injured by frosts. For more information about growing citrus and other tender plants visit the Southeastern Palm and Exotic Plant Society web site. Also, see Hardy Citrus for the Southeast by Tom McClendon.  The following chart prepared by Tom McClendon appeared in the Southeastern Palms newletter (Spring 2011, Vol 19-1).  Reprinted with permission.

Variety USDA Hardiness Zone Evergreen Taste
Morton citrange 7B Mostly Sour
Benton citrange 7B Mostly Sour
Trifoliate citrangequat 7B Nearly Sour
Thomasville citrangequat 7B/8A Fully Semi-sweet
Dunstan citrumelo 7B/8A Nearly Sweet
C. taiwanica 7B/8A Fully Sour
Ichang lemon 8A Fully Sour
Yuzu 8A Fully Sour
Taichang 8A Fully Sweet/Sour
Yuzuquat 8A Fully Sour

Bob Polomski  © 2017

False indigo for Mom

If you panicked and just remembered that today is Mother’s Day, you probably bought a florist hydrangea with its bowling ball-sized pink or blue flowers and colorful foil wrapping. Fine, but doesn’t Mom deserve more than this impulse purchase? Next year, consider giving her a false or wild indigo (Baptisia [pronounced bap-TIZZ-ee-uh]). For years I’ve written and spoken about this easy-to-grow and enjoy herbaceous perennial that blooms reliably every year during Mother’s Day.
False indigo  is a native American perennial comprised of 15 species and sbaptisia-australis_purpleeveral naturally occurring hybrids that offer a range of flower and leaf colors. Many years ago native Americans and early settlers relied on false indigo to create colorful yellow, brown, and green dyes. In fact, the scientific name is derived from the Greek word, bapto, which means “to dip” or “immerse.” Indigo, a highly sought after and rare color among natural dyes, was actually extracted from the leaves and stems of the yellow-flowered Baptisia tinctoria.
For years false indigo wallowed in obscurity, which surprised me. Depending on the species and cultivar, false indigo flowers come in deep blue to yellow (B. tinctoria) or creamy-white (B. bracteata).  At this time of year tall spikes of pealike flowers rise above the three-lobed leaves to provide a three- to four-week long display. Eventually they give rise to black seed pods that remain for most of the summer. Some folks consider the ripe, charcoal-black seed pods as having ornamental interest. I like the noise the pods make when I shake them, which reminds me of a baby rattle. When planted in a well-drained location in full sun, expect false indigo to reach a height and spread of 3 to 4 feet by the end of the season.
Besides its leaves and flowers, I love Baptisia for its drought tolerance and sheer ruggedness.  It’s a great “starter” plant for new gardeners because false indigo quickly recovers from any mistakes. For example, years ago my six-year-old son harvested all of the new shoots as they poked through its mulch blanket in mid-April. He thought that if the shoots looked like asparagus, they must be asparagus. I was mortified when I saw him carrying an armful of wild indigo shoots in his arms and a beaming smile on his face. (I was also floored by my son’s gustatory interest in asparagus.) No problem. The wild indigo responded by producing more asaparaguslike shoots that bloomed magnificently.
An added bonus to growing false indigo are the flowers that provide sustenance to bumblebees and leaves that feed the larvae of a variety of butterflies that include wild indigo duskywing, frosted elfin, eastern tailed-blue, silver-spotted skipper, and sulphurs.
In 2010 false indigo was recognized as a rising star when blue false indigo () was selected as the Perennial Plant of the Year™ by the Perennial Plant Association. Although its specific epithet, australis, is Latin for “southern,” it happens to be one of the most adaptable of native species growing across a range of USDA cold hardiness zones.
As a result of its growing popularity, from 2012 to 2015 the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware conducted a trial of 46 different selections from 11 different Baptisia species and cultivars.  For the mid-Atlantic region (USDA hardiness zone 7a/7b) the Mt. Cuba Center recommended these top 10 cultivars for their garden worthiness: ‘Screamin’ Yellow,’ ‘Lemon Meringue,’ ‘Ivory Towers,’ ‘Blue Towers,’ ‘Purple Smoke,’ ‘Cherries Jubilee,’ ‘Sunny Morning,’ ‘Blueberry Sundae,’ ‘Dutch Chocolate,’ and ‘Crème de Menthe.’
It’s not too late to get Mom a false indigo and a nice card with these words: “Mom, you remind me of false indigo. You’re tough, durable, and beautiful.”
Well, you may not want to use those exact words.  But you can’t go wrong by calling Mom and false indigo “beautiful.” Happy Mother’s Day!
Bob Polomski  © 2017

Red buckeye is a feast for gardeners and wildlife

Although red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) lacks the refined and symmetrical stature of commercially successful small ornamental trees, it makes up for it with an impressive show of 6- to 10-inch long salmon- to cherry-red floweraesculus pavia_R Polomski spikes borne at the ends of its branches. These hummingbird magnets emerge in April and coincide with the spring migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds. The nectar also fortifies other pollinators including eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies, bumblebees, and carpenter bees.

In nature this large shrub to small tree (10 to 20 ft.) grows wild in floodplains and swamp forests throughout the southeast; however, I’ve seen it successfully cultivated en masse in woodland gardens, as accent or specimen plants in landscapes, and in downtown city parks

Once the flowers have faded I enjoy the dark green palmately compound leaves and smooth gray bark. Later in the season potato-shaped husks that arose from the flowers mature and split open in September and October to reveal 1 to 3 shiny brown nut-like seeds. The seeds are poisonous and avoided by most wildlife, but relished by squirrels.

Red buckeye checks out and goes dormant by September with no colorful fanfare. However, when provided with moist, partially shaded conditions, the leaves will turn yellow.

I accept the early departure of red buckeye as it disappears in my landscape. Its leafless branches receive quizzical looks from friends and passersby who typically ask: “Is it dead?” Despite its forlorn look in the fall and winter months, red buckeye will always have a place in my garden. Its flowers sustain my spirit and they nourish the bodies of well-traveled, winged pollinators.

Bob Polomski  © 2017