Wednesday, June 3, 2020

First major heat wave victim: Grevillea 'Kings Fire'

Last week, temperatures jumped from the high 70s to the low 100s in just a couple of days. I was groaning, but I do that a lot—and I have a cool house to retreat to.

This poor baby wasn't so lucky. In fact, it's the biggest victim of this mini heat wave:


It's my prized Grevillea 'Kings Fire'. Last week, it was blooming merrily. Now it looks like a hair bleaching experiment gone horribly wrong:


What happened? Was it the sudden jump in temperature? Was the soil just a bit too dry? 

I honestly don't know. This grevillea has been in this spot for almost two years, and it thrived—until it didn't. Plants work in mysterious ways.

My first instinct was to cut it back hard, almost all the way to the ground, to encourage new growth from the base. Some grevillea species have a lignotuber, a swollen root crown with dormant buds from which new stems can sprout after a fire. Other species rely solely on seeds for reproduction. (Manzanitas, interestingly, fall in the same two groups.)

Since it's a bit hard to get to the base of our 'Kings Fire' to see if it has a lignotuber (and it's too hot outside anyway), I decided to look at its parentage for clues. According to the U.S. plant patent application, Grevillea 'Kings Fire' is a hybrid between Grevillea nivea (female parent) and Grevillea 'Crowning Glory' (male parent). 

'Crowning Glory' is synonymous with 'Lasseter's Gold'. According to the August 2018 newsletter of the Australian Plant Society Geelong, 'Lasseter's Gold' is believed to have originated from a seedling of 'Golden Lyre'. 'Golden Lyre', in turn, is a hybrid of Grevillea formosa × Grevillea 'Honey Gem'. And 'Honey Gem' is a hybrid of  Grevillea banksii and Grevillea pteridifolia

Is your head spinning yet?

After I'd determined all that, I happened to come across this article about Grevillea 'Scarlet Moon', the Australian name of 'Kings Fire', on the website of the Friends of Kings Park (the 1,000 park in Perth, West Australia where 'Kings Fire' and its siblings were hybridized). This article confirms my findings, i.e. that the parentage of 'Kings Fire' includes these species:
  • Grevillea nivea
  • Grevillea formosa
  • Grevillea banksii
  • Grevillea pteridifolia
While I wasn't able to find a handy list of grevillea species that have a lignotuber, I stumbled across Flora of Australia, Volume 17A, Proteacea 2, Grevillea on Google Books. This 1981 reference indicates whether a grevillea species regenerates from seed or lignotuber:
  • Grevillea nivea (no entry since species wasn't formally described until 2009)
  • Grevillea formosa (regenerates by seed only)
  • Grevillea banksii (regenerates by seed only)
  • Grevillea pteridifolia (one form of this species does have a lignotuber)
Upshot: It doesn't look good. I also consulted with my buddy Troy McGregor, Queensland expat, plantsman extraordinaire and the mastermind behind Gondwana Flora, and he concurs that the probability of our 'Kings Fire' making a comeback is very low.

I won't do anything for now. Another mini heat wave is on the way, and the spring planting window has closed. But in the fall, I'll have to remove it unless something miraculous happens.

In the meantime, here are some photos of better days:





After the frantic bout of Googling that yielded the information for this post, I've come to one conclusion: I really need to get out more.


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16 comments:

  1. Ouch. That poor plant. I had a Grevilea Long John do the same thing. Actually, it turned brown. It was jammed by the extreme heat here in Palm Springs. I had just bought it and it was still in its pot when it happened. Probably was grown by the ocean, so not at all ready for the onslaught of 100+ everyday. I decided to let it be, but kept watering it. Slowly there were signs of green, literally one small leaf at a time. Eventually it has recovered, is now in the ground, growing and blossoming. So I say, don't give up.

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    1. That gives me hope. I won't do anything for a while, except keep a close eye on it for any sign of life.

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  2. Sorry to see such beauty vanish. I babied mine along and it never did anything. Gone. Meanwhile 'Superb' blooms on and on.

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    1. Hurray for 'Superb'. I agree, it's bullet-proof. It's in bloom virtually year round. And yours is leagues beyond mine even.

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  3. I have to say after the relatively mild summer last year these two spring heat events have been a rude awakening. I hope this isn't a precursor of things to come this summer. I think I only have one casualty, a Fuchsia that has only been planted for a few weeks . Fuchsias are always a crapshoot but they are one of my 'things' so I tolerate the ups and downs. I would be very sad to loose something the size of your Grevillea !

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    1. I love fuchsias but I've all but given up on them for that reason. Ditto for begonias with fancy leaves. (I'm just saying that until I fall victim to the siren song of the next one I see.)

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  4. Wow, that is a loss. Looking at what dies and what survives a heatwave seems a lot like looking at a neighborhood following a fire or an earthquake - there's no obvious rhyme or reason to why one structure is demolished and another looks untouched. I was surprised by what got toasted during our early heatwaves and what sailed along unscathed as well but I was fortunate that I didn't have any outright deaths this time. Of course, our temperature didn't soar as high as yours did.

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    1. You're right, no rhyme or reason. I have some neoregelias that get more sun than I thought they would be able to take, and they're as pretty as ever, even after the heat. And seemingly tough plants like my grevillea die. Go figure.

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  5. This is very, very sad. I was so impressed with the Kings Fire at RBG I had to get one. I'm trying to grow it in Washington near the Olympics. I'm not overly optimistic about the outcome, but I'm trying.

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    1. You might be surprised. It might actually do better at your place than here. I know that Ian Barclay of The Desert Northwest in Sequium grows quite a few grevilleas.

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  6. So disappointing however, don't give up. Standing joke in our household is when I threaten to remove a plant they miraculously perk up. Might be a coincidence too but does seem to get results. There have been devastating losses here of junipers after our winter. Thinking is it was due to early warm weather while still lots of snow on the ground reflecting the sun. Gardening is a lesson in optomism.

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    1. I agree, every gardener is an optimist at heart. Otherwise why bother!

      I think of junipers as indestructible. I'm so sorry to hear so many died.

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  7. And my 'King's Fire' because unbearably chlorotic which is why I pulled it, but put up with intense reflected heat off the house and walkway and was kept very, very dry. I was just thinking the other day that it flowers so profusely that I would happily grow it in a container until it's not happy anymore -- same thing with Euc. 'Moon Lagoon.' Some plants are not made for the long haul but still so beautiful!

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    1. My Grevillea 'Superb' has had issues with chlorosis over the years, but a generous application of sulphur in the fall usually helps.

      My 'Moon Lagoon' are doing well (I have three) but as you said, that can change on a dime.

      The only plants that live longer than you want them to are weeds.

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  8. Replies
    1. It's the circle of life. I try to look at it calmly. I try.

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