Friday, July 20, 2018

Flora from Seven Continents

Pinus koraiensis 'Morris Blue'

I visited the Morris Arboretum (outside of Philadelphia) a couple of weeks ago. Previously I had been there once, I guess about 25 years ago. I was with plantsman Greg Williams on my first visit and he was anxious to show me a Pinus koraiensis that was particularly blue. He arranged to get cuttings for me that winter, and needing to call it something, I christened it 'Morris Blue'. At the time there was just one other P. koraiensis known to me that was selected for blue foliage: 'Silveray', which was of German-then-Dutch origin. 'Morris Blue' is equally as blue, plus it displays a fuller more bushy habit. On my second visit I couldn't find the pine again, but then I didn't look too hard because it was 95 degrees and I was exhausted.

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca' at the Morris Arboretum

Anyway, at the visitor center I picked up a map/guide that mentioned that the collection contained “more than 12,000 labeled plants of over 2,500 types from the temperate areas of North America, Asia, Africa and Europe.” What, nothing from South America? From Australia? From Antarctica? The brochure didn't explain what was meant by 2,500 “types.” Does that mean species and cultivars? For example, the arboretum contained a couple of large Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca', so I guess that was at least one “type?” – from the Atlas Mountains of northern Africa.

Flora Wonder Arboretum

In biology a taxon (plural taxa) is a group of one or more populations of an organism or organisms considered by taxonomists to form a unit. The taxonomy word is derived from Greek taxis meaning “arrangement” and nomia meaning “method.” The word type that the Morris uses is from Greek typos for a “blow, dent, impression, mark” from the root of typtein to “strike, beat.” The reason I wonder what was meant by “type” is because my Flora Wonder Arboretum also contains approximately 2,500 species and cultivars, and as I've boasted before, we have representatives from all seven continents. So – what then?

Colobanthus quitensis

Let's get Antarctica out of the way first. There are only two flowering plants from that continent – one is a sedge that I have no interest in, and the other that we grow is a cute pearlwort named Colobanthus quitensis. It's definitely a subject of conversation when we present the moss-like hugger in our 35,000-year-old pumice stones. I'll admit that the plant's flowers aren't showy – they are very tiny and white-gray, but the main reason why I grow the Colobanthus is because most people would probably think that no plant is native to Antarctica. In other words: it is one of my “trophy plants.”

Ursa Major

The name Antarctica means “anti-arctic.” It comes from the Greek word arktos which means “bear,” and in this case it's not the polar bear, but rather celestial constellations – the Great and the Little Bear – which are visible only in the northern hemisphere. You can look at it as that Antarctica is opposite the “land of the bear.” Our little Colobanthus is actually a much-studied plant because 1) it has managed to survive in a harsh climate and 2) due to global warming it is proliferating and spreading more southward. Remember that Antarctica has not always been the ice box that it is today. About 170 million years ago it was part of the super-continent Gondwana, and when that broke apart Antarctica drifted southward. What we known today was formed about 25 million years ago, but when it was further north it was blessed with a tropical or temperate climate and was covered in forests. You would not want to have visited the continent, or at least the Russian Vostok Station, on July 21, 1983, because the coldest air temperature ever recorded on earth was -89.2 C (-128.6 F).

The seven continents' size in decreasing order:
Asia 1st, then...
North America
South America

But hey, if #7 Australia is a continent, why not Greenland too? – it appears to be about the same size. Maybe on the map, but looks can be deceiving, Mercator, because Australia is 7,692,024 Km square and Greenland only 2,166,086 Km square. Besides Australia is on its own continental plate while Greenland is attached to the North American plate.

Leptospermum scoparium 'Kiwi'

Captain Cook
A fun native to Australia (and New Zealand) is Leptospermum scoparium, and the pretty cultivar 'Kiwi' features dazzling deep pink-red flowers. They aren't large, but they are borne freely, even at a young age. New growth is an attractive reddish-brown, and our plants grow into upright dense pillars. The catch is that 'Kiwi' is only hardy to USDA zone 8 (10 degrees F), but it is still worth growing even if you must consider it an “annual.” The word leptospermum is from Greek lepto for “slight, slender, delicate,” and sperma meaning “seed.” There are a lot of spermas for plants, for example you can get confused with names such as Leptospermum and Leucospermum, and I have grown both genera. The specific name of Leptospermum scoparium is from Latin scopa for “broom” or “broom-like.” It is also native to New Zealand, and there it is known as “manuka.” When Captain Cook first encountered it the locals were drinking and bathing in manuka tea. His crew was sick with scurvy and infections, but they apparently recovered by drinking the tea. Manuka honey is popular today, with “alternatives,” going so far as to market it for treatment of cancer, high cholesterol, diabetes etc., but the evidence is limited if it is effective for these conditions.

Wollemia nobilis

Honestly I don't grow much else from Australia due to hardiness issues, and also I really don't care for the flora. I grew the Wollemi Pine for a number of years but eventually it hit the top of the greenhouse. I moved it out and constructed a special plastic tent with a heater and it survived the winter, but unfortunately it perished this past year. One learns to accept death and extinction in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, and after all I am only borrowing trees in my life, a life that doesn't have so far to go.

Kniphofia rooperi

Besides the aforementioned Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca' that comes from the Atlas Mountains of north Africa, I grow a number of plants from South Africa, and some are surprisingly hardy. I first encountered Kniphofia rooperi at the Hillier Arboretum in southern England where it was lustfully blooming in mid-October. Though hardy to only 5 degrees F, one can mulch the crown and it manages to survive in western Oregon. “Rooper's red-hot poker” is native to the Eastern Cape of South Africa and it won an Award of Garden Merit from the RHS in 2004 – about the first year that I saw it. Subsequently I found it planted at just about every garden or arboretum that I visited in England that year. The name of Kniphofia honors Johann Hieronymus Kniphop (1704-1763) – what a name! – a German physician and botanist. The specific name honors Edward Rooper (1818-1854), an English landscape painter and botanical collector and illustrator who served in South Africa in the Rifle Brigade. He died from wounds at the Battle of Inkerman in 1854, but before that he sent seed and bulbs from South Africa to his father in Brighton, who in turn sent them on to William Jackson Hooker at Kew. So actually, the botanic name honors the Rev. Thomas Richard Rooper, the father, although son Edward did the dirty – the field – work.

Oxalis bowiei

Gladiolus dalenii 'Bolivian Peach'

I keep a pot in the greenhouse of Oxalis bowiei, at least that's what the label says. Quite by accident a Gladiolus is in the same pot, so the two South African genera take turns blooming. The Oxalis bowiei is a clumping species that doesn't spread like our oxalis weeds at the nursery, and the fall-blooming “wood sorrel” displays unusual pink-red colored blossoms. The glad looks similar to the cultivar 'Bolivian* Peach', but I don't know if it is because it magically appeared with the oxalis about 10 years ago. I don't know if either are hardy in Oregon so I keep the concoction inside. Horticulture is fun with certain plant combinations, even if they occur by accident, and like with my wife and myself – she Japanese and me American of German descent – we happily comingle.

*Not from Bolivia, South America, but rather found on a roadside near the town of Bolivia, North Carolina by Plant Delights Nursery.

Araucaria araucana

A lot of species from South America can be grown in Oregon, but my favorite has to be the “Monkey Puzzle Tree,” Araucaria araucana, from Chile. I regret that I didn't devote an acre to the species when I began my nursery 38 years ago. I have seen naturalized forests in Belgium and at Bedgebury in England and they are marvelous treasures. I encourage any young plantsman – or woman – to begin a grove if you can spare the land.

The former Araucaria in Forest Grove

I lamented earlier this spring the strange case in nearby Forest Grove, Oregon, where a deranged home-owner cut down a perfectly healthy monkey puzzle. It was growing in his front yard – the only tree in fact – and it had plenty of space so I could see no reason why it had to go. Its removal disappointed my 12-year-old daughter because I always chose the route into town so we would pass the tree. Then last week my wife called and enthusiastically announced that she had discovered another monkey puzzle that was larger and loaded with cones, and it was only a few blocks away from the fallen tree. I have mixed feelings about the rights of property owners, and certainly I have planted and cut down trees whenever I wanted. But with a town name like Forest Grove you would think the civic leaders would be more diligent about protecting the canopy. Maybe order the homeowner to undergo a mental evaluation first...

Azara microphylla 'Variegata'

Another Chilean native is the evergreen Azara microphylla, a small tree or large shrub which produces tiny vanilla-scented yellow flowers in late winter. Azara was always a tough sell for us because it is only hardy to 0 degrees, USDA zone 7, but we still produce the pretty 'Variegata' which is easy to root and is a good container plant. The genus name probably honors Felix de Azara (1742-1821), a Spanish naturalist who did research in South America. Where to place Azara botanically is not certain: for example Hillier puts it into the Salicaceae family while Oregon State University places it in the Flacourtiaceae family. The former is the willow family of course, while the latter has come into disuse, and whose former members are now scattered to the Achariaceae, Salicaceae, and other families.

Quercus garryana

Ok, let's head arriba, up to North America. There are so many North American plants that have been important for my career that it's difficult for me to choose one that “represents” America. Sorry to leave Canada out of the discussion, eh, but consider that the national mammal of America is the North American bison, the national bird is the bald eagle, the national flower is the rose, and the national tree is...Quercus, though nobody says which species. The oak was chosen in a nationwide vote hosted by the Arbor Day Foundation in 2001. From the first day of voting the oak surged into the lead and finished with 101,000 votes, followed by 81,000 for the redwood – though nobody defines the “redwood” which could be either Sequoia sempervirens or Sequoiadendron giganteum. Anyway the oak won as a collective group since there are more than 60 species growing in the United States, with at least one species growing in nearly every state. I have no problem with the oak, in fact I bought my Flora Farm property because I was so impressed with a huge Quercus garryana growing near the home.

Linnaea borealis

I don't know why Europe is considered a continent when basically it's just a large peninsula hanging off the western side of Asia, kind of like a big penis. Is the UK part of Europe any more after its Brexit vote? Maybe unity can be found when we consider Linnaea borealis since it is a circumboreal plant in the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae). The “twinflower” is a modest little thing, nevertheless it was reported to be the favorite of Linnaeus, thus it was named by his friend and teacher Jan Frederick Gronovious. What's funny is that Linnaeus named almost 8,000 plants, and even though he was known to be a highly arrogant man, he preferred the wimpy Linnaea to bear his name. Linnaeus self-deprecated himself when he wrote: “Linnaea was named by the celebrated Gronovious and is a plant of Lapland, lowly, insignificant and disregarded, flowering for a brief space – from Linnaeus who resembles it.” Please! By the way Linnaeus referred to his students as his “disciples.”


Our final continent – Asia – contains flora that defines Buchholz Nursery, in fact I suspect that Japan and China alone represent over half of the plants in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. The word Asia is first attributed to the Greek Herodotus (440 BC) in reference to the region known today as Anatolia (Turkey) or to the Persian Empire. The root has two possible sources: 1) from the Aegean root asis which means muddy and silty – a description of the eastern shores of the Aegean Sea and 2) the Semitic root asu which means “rising” or “light,” denoting lands to the east.

Camellia sinensis flower

Camellia sinensis plantation

Robert Fortune
I explained to my 12-year-old the other day that tea comes from China. Maybe so, she said, but “you also said you can make a manuka tea.” That's right, you probably can make a potable tea out of half the plants in the world, but the black tea – which we don't allow her to drink yet – comes from Camellia sinensis. Then she recalled the story of Robert Fortune who stole tea plants and tea-making secrets from the Chinese in the 1800's. She remembered the story because her sister keeps a windmill palm, Trachycarpus fortunei and Fortune stole that from the Chinese too. The English word tea is thee in Dutch, tee in Finnish, arbata in Lithuanian, herbata in Polish and tsai in Greek (from Slavic chai). In China it is pronounced tu, a word for a bitter herb. Still the word varies in China, such as cha in Mandarin, dzo in Wu Chinese and ta and te in Min Chinese.

Anyway, we've just finished a trip around the world and have visited the 7 continents. The study of horticulture allows you to easily do that, and it was relatively painless – right?

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Lunch with the Chadseys

Tobey's metal art

Tobey and I have been friends for 35 years. We started our nurseries at about the same time, in his case it was Meadowcroft Farm, and he grew pretty much the same plants as I do. Five years ago he closed his Oregon nursery and moved back to the East Coast where he and his wife Jayne are originally from. Often mutual acquaintances will ask about Tobey, how is he doing, and is he still pursuing his metal art? The answer is that he is good, and yes.

The Chadsey home

The Chadseys live in Pennsylvania now, just west of Philadelphia in the countryside. They're not far from some of my nursery customers, so Haruko, Saya and I made a “business trip” a couple of weeks ago – an expense write-off of course – to see how the couple is doing. We arrived at lunch time, a skill I have perfected for most of my life. Tobey manned the grill and Jayne did the rest, and believe me she is an accomplished cook and hostess. Let's examine what we had for lunch.

Cucumis sativus

The first course was a cucumber soup which looked good, but I had to pass on that, and Saya quickly explained that “he likes cucumbers but they don't like him.” Funny, as a kid I ate them frequently without trouble, but somewhere as an adult even one bite will last with me for the rest of the day. They have burpless cucumbers now, I'm told, like that should solve the problem. I know, I have tried them too, but even they don't prevent the regurgitation. So I wasn't off to a good start with Jayne, but she graciously allowed me to skip the soup and go to the main course.

Everybody else lapped up their soup and reportedly it was quite good. I got to thinking about cucumbers, which no Greek salad does without. The vegetable, Cucumis sativus, is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, and it is thought to have originated in India at least 4,000 years ago. Now it is grown all over the world and it is the fourth most widely cultivated vegetable. The Romans used cucumbers to treat bad eyesight, cure scorpion bites and they were carried around the waist by women wishing to have children. The Emperor Tiberius demanded to eat a cucumber every day, so in winter they were grown on movable frames to be exposed to the sun by day, then protected inside at night. The frames were glazed with “mirrorstones,” and according to Pliny they were “lapis specularis,” believed to be sheet mica.


Columbus brought cucumbers to Haiti in 1494, so you see he wasn't just a taker. Later European trappers introduced them to native Indians in the Mid-west and Rocky Mountains and they immediately integrated them into their fields. Today China is the world's leader in cucumber production with over 50 million tons per year.

I like the sound of the name cucumber. When the vegetable reached the Middle East the Sumerians called it ukush, or something like that. During the Akkadian Empire a “q” was put in front and it became qissu. Later the ancient Greeks, who lacked both “q” and “sh” sounds, dubbed it kukuos, and after them the Latin name became cucumis, then in Old French it was coucombre.

The phrase “cool as a cucumber” is due to the inner flesh – which is 95% water – being at least 20 degrees cooler than the outside rind.


I have broken bread with Jayne on a number of occasions and I have never once seen her serve anything other than healthy. She lived for a number of years in Italy so she is familiar with the benefit of a Mediterranean diet. The soup that I passed on, as my wife explained later, is called gazpacho, a classic of Spanish cuisine which originated in the southern region of Andalusia. It is usually eaten cold, particularly in the hot summer, and indeed the temperature was in the mid-90's during our visit. There are a number of theories as to the origin of gazpacho, one that suggests that Romans combined stale bread, olive oil, water and garlic. During the 19th century the red gazpacho evolved when tomatoes were added to the ingredients, and that is how Jayne served it. In hind sight I truly regret that I didn't at least taste one spoonful – it was rude and wimpy of me.


Italian immigrants
Tobey was grilling chicken and vegetables, and as I said, I went straight to the main course. The onions and zucchini hit my plate first and I quickly sated my watering mouth. Zucchini, or Cucurbita pepo, is also a member of the cucumber and melon (Cucurbitaceae) family, but I have no problem with it. Not surprisingly zucchini is derived from the Italian zucchino meaning a “small squash,” while the word squash comes from the native American word skutasquash, meaning “green thing eaten green.” The zucchini, like all squash, originated in the Americas and it was Columbus who introduced it to Europe. What we grow and consume today was developed in the latter 1800's in northern Italy. Most of us would consider a zucchini to be a vegetable, but actually it is a fruit, a berry in the botanical sense, and the specific name of pepo refers to the swollen ovary of the zucchini flower. The zucchini plant, while the family originated in the Americas, did not reach the United States until the 1920's, and the vector of dissemination was almost certainly by Italian immigrants.

Zucchini plant

Zucchini is easy to grow – in fact its fruit production overwhelms most home gardeners. The result is that one should also use it for various food preparations such as in soups or bread. Many people – even the poor – are too lazy for that, and in my experience: if I put 100 zucchinis on a table to give away for free to my employees, 99 will still remain a week later. That irks me of course, their spoiled demeanor, because I know that if I put 100 cans of Rock Star or Red Bull energy drinks on the same table they would all be gone in an hour.

Barbeque onions

One cannot eat a plateful of onions – just onions – but I can't imagine a barbeque without at least some. Old Chads stirred them in with the zucchini and I hogged up a good portion. The known world eats onions, and the name is from Latin unio for “oneness” or “unity.” In Brazilian Portuguese it is known as cebola; in Czech as cibule, in German as zwibel, in Romanian as ceapa and in Vietnamese as cu hanh.

Allium cepa

The “onion,” or Allium cepa, is thought to have originated in central Asia, and it has probably been cultivated for over 6,000 years. As a food onions are easy to grow and are less perishable than other items. In Egypt they can be traced back to 3,500 B.C., and besides as a food they were an object of worship that symbolized eternity, probably because the onion's anatomy of a circle within a circle. They were placed in the pelvic area of mummies, while King Ramses IV – who died in 1160 B.C. – was entombed with onions in his eye sockets. In the Bible (Numbers 11:5) the children of Israel complain about their limited diet forced by the Exodus: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic.” Later the first Pilgrims brought onions with them on the Mayflower, but also discovered that strains of wild onions grew in America and were consumed by Native Indians.


I suppose I committed another faux pas when I grabbed a slice of delicious looking bread from a plate sitting in front of me. I ate it without pause because the crust was perfect and the interior was heavenly. Neither butter nor olive oil was necessary to accompany the wonderful bread. Nearby was a bowl of diced tomatoes, absolutely blood-red with succulence, and incorporated was some green stuff – I don't know, probably basil. Anyway I gobbled that up too. Jayne didn't say a word, but when Tobey followed suit she pleaded that the tomato concoction was supposed to go atop the bread, and that it was a bruschetta presentation. My god, as guys we are just hungry, not culinary sophisticates.

Solanum lycopersicum

The tomato is the fruit/berry of the plant Solanum lycopersicum, a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The species originated in western South America, but was cultivated by the Aztecs in Mexico, and was known as tomatl (“swelling fruit”). The conquering Spanish called them “tomate” (fat water), and they eventually made their way to Europe during the 16th century. Linnaeus coined the specific epithet lycopersicum in his 1753 Species Plantarum, where it literally means “wolf peach.” Many Europeans were at first skeptical about tomatoes, one problem being that the soft attractive fruit resembled a woman's breasts, therefore it was a sinful allure. Some also thought they must be poisonous because pewter plates reacted to the tomato's acidic juice.

Walt Disney World record-setting tomato tree

I have grown all kinds of tomatoes, with the most successful being cultivars grafted onto vigorous superior rootstocks. They cost a couple of dollars more to begin with but the output is two-to-three times more than seedling grown plants. I've never set any growing records, certainly nothing coming close to Mr. Graham's record in 1986 of a behemoth cultivar of 'Delicious' weighing in at 3.51 Kg (7 lbs. 12 oz.). The largest tomato plant grown was the cultivar 'Sungold' and it reached 19.8 m (65 ft.) in Lancashire, UK in 2000. A “tomato tree” in Florida at the Walt Disney World Resort's greenhouse set a Guinness World Record by producing over 32,000 golf-ball-size tomatoes and a total weight of 522 Kg (1,151 lbs.).

La Tomatina

We remained well-behaved at the Chadsey table, unlike the 40,000 Spaniards at Brunol who throw 115,000 Kg (254,000 lbs.) of tomatoes at each other in the yearly La Tomatina festival. The visuals of hairy Spaniards in their speedos plastering each other can only be made possible with considerable alcohol consumption I should think. The origin of the festival is thought to have begun when some kids weren't allowed in a parade of enormous figures with big heads (Gigantes y Cabezudos), and in retaliation they grabbed tomatoes from a vegetable stall and threw them at the figures until the police broke things up. The following year the young people returned to the town hall square (on the same last Wednesday of August) and a tradition was born. The local council at first tried to ban El Dia de la Tomatina, but with no success, and I'm sure that today the economic boost from thousands of tourists will assure its continuation. You say “tomayto,” I say “tomahto”...

Solanum tuberosum

You say “potayto,” I say “potahto”... Our feast included cute little baby potatoes, Solanum tuberosum in the same Solanaceae family as the tomatoes. Potatoes are the world's fourth largest food crop – not just vegetable crop as the cucumbers – following corn, wheat and rice. Genetic testing has determined a single origin for potatoes in the area of southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia, and they were domesticated somewhere between 7,000 to 10,000 years ago.

The English word potato comes from Spanish patata which is the name used in Spain. Native to the Andes, the Quechua, call them papas. There are about 5,000 potato varieties worldwide, with 3,000 of them found in the Andes alone. Jayne was delightfully surprised when I said that you could graft a tomato onto a potato rootstock and both plants would yield fruit. “Say, what?” I repeated while she processed it visually in her mind. I know because I was impressed when I came upon a photo at the beginning of my career in The Grafter's Handbook by R.J. Garner.

Gallus gallus domesticus

As I said, chicken was the main course. Gallus gallus domesticus to be precise, and it is one of the most widespread of any domestic animal with a world population of about 19 billion in 2011. Genetic studies indicate that the fowl originated in Asia with the clade (from Greek klados for “branch”) found in America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa coming from the Indian subcontinent. By the fifth century BC domesticated chickens had made it to Greece and into Egypt by the mid-15th century BC where it was known as “the bird that gives birth every day.” Chickens typically live 5 to 10 years, depending on the breed, with the world's oldest being a hen that lived to 16 before dying of heart failure, according to the Guinness World Records.

Square watermelons from Japan

Beautiful watermelon followed the main course, so we were back in the Cucurbitaceae family with Citrullus lanatus. One can successfully grow watermelon in western Oregon – and I have – but commercially they come from the warmer regions of eastern Oregon. The species was once thought to originate in South Africa but that was a different plant from the watermelon that Linnaeus saw and named, which is from northeast Africa. As with the cucumber, the watermelon is a special kind of berry, botanically known as a pepo. The seedless watermelon was initially developed in 1939 by Japanese scientists, and today they comprise 85% of total watermelon sales in the USA. My 12-year-old daughter can practically eat a whole watermelon by herself, and at 91% water I guess it does her no harm. Japanese farmers show their cleverness by growing square watermelons – they don't roll around in the refrigerator, plus they make better use of the refrigerator's space.

Tobey and Jayne

The Chadsey's went to a lot of trouble for our lunch and it was the best meal we had on our week-trip to Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. When we said our goodbyes out in the 95 degree heat at the train station I shook Tobey's hand and hugged Jayne – the best part – and I mumbled something about her being beautiful. Unfortunately for her she had to go home and do the dishes.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Black Plants

16 years ago my girlfriend Haruko became my wife...and lucky me. She has improved my life and has also become famous in the community as an energetic volunteer, friend and counselor to many. Not only that, she is raising two incredible female children – not an easy task with their ages at 12 and 15 – but also she tends to her old husband to make sure he stays healthy and pleasant.

My favorite color: black

When we married she applied for her green card to allow her to remain in America, and so we went before a Judge-Woman of some title to obtain the American stamp of legitimacy, of legality. I assumed that we would be interviewed separately and asked personal questions that marriage-of-fraud or convenience would not be able to answer. For example: What did I eat for breakfast? What kind of music did I listen to? What was my favorite color? I coached my spouse that my favorite color was black, which surprised her. Alas, the Judge-Woman didn't ask us anything, and after she stamped the form we exited the federal building like two giddy lovers who got away with something.

Daughter Saya, actually facing the camera

So why black? I explained to Haruko that black does not exist to many as a color, that they think it is the absence of color actually. I don't agree – when I close my eyes I don't see red or blue. In the winter the majority of hours are dark, not white or pink or orange. At least in their youth, most humans on earth have black hair, not other colors. For me, black is a complement, a color that combines well with all other colors. White-and-black is great on the piano, black-and-white is cool and sophisticated in film and photography, and pictures are usually contained securely within a black frame. Our recent black USA President was a huge mistake, but at least we had to give it a try.

Abies koreana 'Green Carpet'

Abies lasiocarpa 'Hurricane Blue'

It is thought that tribes from the past – though there is no written evidence – used the Proto-Indo-European word bhleg for “black,” a word meaning “burn.” Later it became phlegein in Greek and flagrare in Latin, then the old English speakers (Anglo-Saxons) used the term blaec. What is confusing to modern scholars is that the word blac could also mean “white” or “bright.” I go through the same headache with my Japanese wife when she says that the word ao can mean “green” or “blue.” Huh – wait a minute – green and blue are very different; how can one word – ao – mean either color? She has explained it a dozen times before but it never really sinks in.

Robinia pseudoacacia 'Unifolia'

St. John in the wilderness
Black is a common name for some groups of plants. Robinia pseudoacacia is the “Black locust,” although its bark is reddish black and gray. It is called a “locust” due to Jesuit missionaries who supposed that the Robinia was the tree that supported St. John in the wilderness; the problem with that assumption is that it is native only to North America.* R. pseudoacacia has naturalized now in many parts of the world where it is usually considered an invasive weed. Locust leaves are compound, which means that each leaf consists of smaller parts call leaflets. These leaflets fold together in wet weather and at night, and the night closure, known as nyctinasty, is characteristic of Leguminous plants. The earliest recorded observation was made by Androsthenes when he noted the closing at night of the tamarind tree (Tamarindus indica). The genus name Robinia honors French botanist Jean Robin (1550-1629).

*The locust tree of the New Testament is probably Ceratonia siliqua (Carob tree) which is native to Syria and the Mediterranean basin.

Alnus glutinosa 'Imperialis'

Alnus glutinosa 'Razzmatazz'

Alnus glutinosa is commonly known as the “Black alder,” and it is native to Europe, northern Africa and southwestern Asia. It is a medium-sized, short-lived tree that tolerates poor or wet soils. I'm not sure why it is called black alder because the bark on young trees is greenish brown and on older trees it is dark gray. As the specific name glutinosa implies, the young green leaves and shoots are sticky with a resinous gum. It was first described by Linnaeus in 1753, and he thought it was a species of Betula (B. alnus), with alnus being the Latin name for alder. The word alder originated from Old English alor, from Old High German elira. I have grown only one cultivar of the monoecious A. glutinosa – 'Imperialis' – which I propagated by grafting onto our Oregon native A. rubra. One should graft low as the scion's caliper doesn't keep up with the rootstock. Another cultivar I have seen in the Sebright Garden is 'Razzmatazz', and it looked like fun so I bought one.

Picea mariana 'Aureovariegata'

Picea mariana 'Horstmann's Dwarf'

Picea mariana is the “Black spruce,” so-named due to dark cones and dark blue-green foliage, and indeed it was once known as Picea nigra. It is native to northern North America, from Newfoundland to Alaska, and mostly in Canada and in all three of the Arctic Territories. P. mariana can look scrappy in its native range, but then it has adapted to swamps in the boreal forests.* We propagate a couple of P. mariana cultivars, 'Aureovariegata' and 'Horstmann's Dwarf', by grafting onto Picea abies, and these grow well in either containers or in the field.

*“Boreal forests” generally refer to the more southerly part of the biome, and “Taiga” refers to the more barren areas of the northern part. The Taiga is the world's second largest biome (a major ecological community type) with the largest being the oceans.

Pinus thunbergii 'Kotobuki'

Pinus thunbergii 'Yoshimura nishiki'
Pinus thunbergii 'Nishiki tsukasa'

Pinus thunbergii is a species that is found near the sea around the coasts of South Korea and the Japanese islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku. It is the “Black pine”* while other Japanese natives like Pinus parviflora is the “White pine” and Pinus densiflora is the “Red pine.” The specific name honors Carl Peter Thunberg and was coined by Filippo Parlatore (1816-1877), an Italian botanist. We sell P. thunbergii into USDA zone 5 (-20 degrees) areas, but I think that our Pinus sylvestris rootstock allows them to survive, and I suppose that on its own roots zone 6 (-10 degrees) is more accurate). One very attractive cultivar is the dwarf 'Kotobuki', and according to my wife the name means “celebration,” “rejoicing” or “happy event.” The species is known for its silky white buds and they look like decorative ornaments among the pine's dark green foliage. The same is true of 'Thunderhead', but it is more open and grows three times faster than 'Kotobuki'. 'Nishiki tsukasa' and 'Yoshimura nishiki' were selected for their rugged looking trunks and they make good bonsai subjects.

*Kuro matsu in Japanese. Kuro means “black” and matsu means “pine.”

Rhododendron 'Black Magic'

There are a number of plant cultivars with “black” in the name, one such is Rhododendron 'Black Magic'. Its red blossoms are more dark than on most other red-flowering rhododendrons, but they are hardly black. The hybrid was made in 1982, with R. 'Jean Marie de Montague' as the seed parent and R. 'Leo' as the pollen parent.

Camellia 'Black Magic'

We also grow a Camellia 'Black Magic', my start coming from Roger at Gossler Farms Nursery in Oregon. Well, it's not black either, but the blossoms are deep dark red and appear very glossy. The large double flowers are so heavy that they droop downwards, but that's not a problem when the shrub gets large. The deep color is a nice backdrop for the flower's bright yellow stamens, and the serrated green foliage attractively resembles a holly. 'Black Magic' is new for me but it has been around for a long time. Nuccio's Nurseries of California introduced it in 1962.

Magnolia x 'Black Beauty'

Continuing with “black” cultivar names, we have Magnolia x 'Black Beauty' which is also far less than black. Actually it is a selection of M. x brooklynensis which is a hybrid of M. acuminata and M. liliiflora which was first raised at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1954. What is nice about the blossoms is the dark purple exterior and the contrasting pale white interior. Our trees bloom prolifically from late April to early May and it has become a good sales item for us.

Zantedeschia 'Black Star'

Diego Rivera - The Flower Seller, 1942
Zantedeschia is the “Calla lily,” a tuberous perennial in the Arum family. Sometimes you see 'Black Star' listed a species elliottiana, and other times as a hybrid, but in any case it is patented so we can't propagate it; besides the South African and eastern Africa genus is only hardy to USDA zone 8 (10 degrees F). It is thought the word calla is from Greek kallos for beauty, and it sure is easier to pronounce than Zantedeschia.* To many, especially in Mexico, white calla lilies symbolize purity and holiness and they're depicted in images of the Virgin Mary. They are also symbols for rebirth and resurrection because they bloom about the time of Easter.

*Linnaeus named the calla lily but it's a misnomer for it is not a true calla nor is it a true lily. The error was corrected by the German botanist Karl Koch when he renamed the genus Zantedeschia after the Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773-1846).

Fagus sylvatica 'Black Swan'

Fagus sylvatica 'Black Swan' is a weeping tree with dark purple foliage. I think the “swan” part of the name is due to the crook at the top of the tree resembling a swan's neck. Latin fagus is derived from Greek phegos for an “oak.” The common word beech is from Middle English beche and that from old High German buohha. In modern German the word for “book” is buch, with buche meaning “beech tree.” Therefore Buchholz means “bookwood” or “beechwood,” and I have been to the town of Buchholz in northern Germany near Hamburg.

Aeonium arboreum 'Schwarzkopf'

Aeonium arboreum 'Schwarzkopf'

Aeonium arboreum 'Schwarzkopf', the “black rose,” is not very hardy (25-30 F) but it is a fun succulent with very dark purple leaves. When in flower the yellow clusters hover over the dark foliage presenting a striking contrast. The species is native to the Canary Islands where it can grow up to 4' in height. There is controversy about the correct name of 'Schwarzkopf' because it is not certain where the plant originated. The cultivar name means “black head,” so 'Schwarzkopf' if in Germany, or 'Zwartkop' if it originated in Holland. In any case it received the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit in 1993. The generic name Aeonium comes from the Ancient Greek aionos for “ageless,” and the genus is a member of the Crassulaceae family. The word crassula is from Latin for “thick” or “gross.” Think crass.

Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl'

The English word pepper is from Greek piperi, and that from Sandskrit pippali for “long pepper,” and botanically black pepper is Piper nigrum. Also known as “pepper” is Capsicum annuum, and when Columbus discovered it in Caribbean gardens he wrongly assumed that Capsicum was the same as Piper. Capsicum was one of the earliest plants cultivated in the Americas, and there's evidence that it was used as food in Peru at least 8,000 years ago. Now it is an important ingredient found throughout the world, and you also have idiots who compete with eating the hottest of the chili peppers, and that is the “ghost pepper,” or bhut jolokia from the mountains of northern India. Eating one ghost pepper would probably kill most of us, but a recent winner, a 34-year-old dentist from Kentucky, ate a dozen of them on national TV. For what it's worth, he has red hair, but his colon no longer terminates with an anus.

Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl'

Anyway, the first time I saw Capsicum annuum used as an ornamental was at the North Carolina Arboretum where the cultivar 'Black Pearl' was used effectively in a mass planting. In spite of the specific name annuum which means “annual,” 'Black Pearl' is an herbaceous perennial and is hardy from zone 4 to 10. Besides the glossy black foliage, its black fruit matures to red, and they are known to be extremely hot. The genus name Capsicum is from the Greek word kapto meaning “to bite.”

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nigra'

The Japanese Hydrangea macrophylla should not be confused with Hydrangea aspera 'Macrophylla', even though the former's name indicates a large leaf. We used to propagate and sell the cultivar 'Nigra' but discontinued because Hydrangeas are considered low-value plants because big nurseries can grow them by the thousands. I still keep one in the collection and in winter I admire the nearly black stems. 'Nigra' has a “mop-head” flower so it is placed in the Hortensia group of H. macrophylla.

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'

Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' is the “Black Mondo Grass,” an herbaceous perennial in the Asparagaceae family, and its grass-like blades are very black if grown in full sun. Small white-to-pink flowers bloom on leafless stems that rise above the foliage. They aren't much, but they are followed by glossy pea-sized purple berries. The name ophiopogon is derived from Greek ophis meaning “serpent” and pogon meaning “beard.” Planiscapus refers to the flattened scape or flower stalk; for example a tulip blooms atop a scape (from Latin scapus for “shaft”). Mondo grass is also commonly known as lilyturf, but the “mondo” name is an earlier genus name of unexplained origin, and it certainly is not a Japanese name. Ophiopogon's name in Japan is koku ryu, meaning “black dragon.”

Acer palmatum 'Black Hole'

Acer palmatum 'Jet Black'

I am also guilty of naming maple cultivars with black in the names. Two recent introductions are Acer palmatums 'Black Hole' and 'Jet Black', and their foliage color is more accurately dark purple. 'Black Hole' originated as a seedling from the mother tree of 'Purple Ghost', and while some veining is visible the darkness prevails. 'Jet Black' was selected about the same time as 'Black Hole' but I don't remember its seed parent – perhaps it was 'Purple Ghost' as well. While my employees are hard working, there is a limit in how much they want to mentally invest in the company. That a named cultivar is different from its seedling offspring is a concept that they have decided is TMI – too much information – and I am being unnecessarily precise when I point out that their labels are not correct. It would be easier to leave the seedlings as unidentified instead of a label that reads: Acer palmatum 'Seedling from Purple Ghost', for example. They will never be interested enough in plants to read this blog – “I just work and you pay me mon.”

Paeonia 'Black Panther'

Viola lutea 'Blackout'

Iris 'Black Suited'

Iris 'Blackwater'

Other black plants that the reader might want to seek out include Paeonia 'Black Panther', Viola lutea 'Blackout', Iris 'Black Suited' and Iris 'Blackwater'.

Rhododendron blackii

Finally I'll mention Rhododendron blackii which I have never grown, having only seen it in the conservatory at the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden. It is a Vireya* rhododendron in the Section Envireya and it displays red tubular-shaped flowers. The species was collected in Papua New Guinea at an elevation between 2500-3300 m and was named for Michael Black of England.

*Vireya is a common name now, for the Rhododendron Section that contains them is now botanically known as Schistanthe.

Good night – turn off the lights.