Titanotrichum Or Treat

One of the plants I associate with fall is Titantrichum oldhamii (gold woodland foxglove).   The flowers look like candy corn.  From the outside they are costumed in a bright canary yellow that can rival any sugar maple's foliage, and looking inside the flowers is a smoldering burnt red throat. 

Also, my first encounter with this Gesneriad was in the fall of 2011 with Jon and Adrienne Roethling in Wyatt LeFever's garden in Greensboro, NC.  They had taken me to see his garden on an cool, overcast day and built up his horticultural reputation by saying he was the breeder of the Forsyth daylily series.  The garden certainly did not disappoint.  Before even looking back at photos, I remember a towering Magnolia macrophylla that Wyatt at one point sported a leaf as a temporary umbrella and the surprise of seeing Cylcamen flowering in his lawn.  Some gardeners can't even grow them in garden beds, and here they were in the turf! 

We rounded a corner in his garden and I remember Adrienne commenting to him about how his Titanotrichum was beginning to flower.  To me it looked like a hot-rod colored Digitalis flower.  I added it to my mental plant wish list as we continued to tour his garden. 

 
 See? Candy corn.  

See? Candy corn.  

 

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Seeing it at Wyatt's inspired me to purchase one a little over a year ago, and it's been blooming on my patio in a container for weeks now.  The indeterminate inflorescence keeps elongating and throwing them out. 

 
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I haven't always been as impressed with it.  Earlier this year the plant did an odd thing.  It put up an inflorescence that resembled something in the amaranth family.  I was quite confused.  At first I thought it was actually a different plant that had somehow seeded in.  Or, maybe it had not enough energy to fully develop flower buds and needed a few more years before it actually bloomed.

 
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However, from my investigations I learned Titanotrichum can actually produce two different types of inflorescences!  Depending on the time of the year, the inflorescence can either sport a shoot that contains thousands of small bulbils for vegetative propagation (much like the little black bulbils on some lily scapes, but smaller) OR it can produce a flowering inflorescence.   The research says the plant produces the bulbil-producing shoot during short days and flowers during long. 

In an inspection of the inflorescence one morning earlier this month, I counted nine flowers blooming and one in bud.  However, this morning it's flowerless.  The inflorescence is continuing to elongate, but I don't see any more yellow flower buds at the top.  So, I assume it's made the switch back since we just started autumn? 

I'll keep a watch on it in future weeks.  Even though this plant tricked me with it's weird inflorescence, it's always a treat to learn about a plant that breaks the mold.