Monday, October 14, 2013

Bits and Pieces

Ginkgo biloba 'Marieken'

Ginkgo biloba 'Mariken' or 'Marieken', which spelling is correct? I've seen labels from Europe where both spellings are employed. One was from Holland and the other from Germany, but I forget which came from which country. I know a Marieke of Dutch origin, and she says that the ie would be correct, and that's what we have used over the years. It doesn't matter really, because we're talking about the same plant.

Ginkgo biloba 'Marieken'

Ginkgo biloba 'Marieken'

Mareike Van Nymwegen

But maybe I'll change to 'Mariken' and be more cooperative with what most other nurseries use. The origin of the plant was as a witch's broom mutation on a Ginkgo in Kronenburger Park in Nijmegen, Netherlands. In 1998 nurseryman Piet Vergeldt (who has been mentioned in Flora Wonder Blog many times) gave it the name of Mariken Van Nieumegen, after a famous female from medieval literature. I'm not certain how he went from Nijmegen to Nieumegen though. The female in question spends seven years with the devil, and then she is miraculously released. The earliest known version of the story was printed in Antwerp in 1515, and although the exact origins of the story are not known, it became wide-spread quickly. To add further confusion to the spelling, Eugen d'Albert put the story to opera in 1923, and named it Mareike Van Nymwegen. I don't know the story or the opera any more than that, or why the devil released the girl, but maybe she was just too much for him to handle. I've met women like that.

Cupressus cashmeriana

Cupressus cashmeriana is a beautiful species of "Cypress," although its origin is absolutely not in Kashmir. The species features long pendulous sprays of soft gray-blue foliage and rich brown exfoliating bark. Cashmeriana was originally thought to be from Kashmir because it is found around sacred places there. Natural stands have recently been discovered in Bhutan where it occurs exclusively, or in mixed evergreen broad-leaf forests at low elevation. Sadly the species will not take Oregon's cold winters, so I no longer grow it; but when I sold my last tree I felt some remorse. To propagate cashmeriana, we would use Thuja occidentalis 'Smaragd' as rootstock, and the root and top were perfectly compatible, or they "copulated perfectly," as the Europeans say. One could also graft onto other Cupressus species of course, but I found it odd that the use of Thuja occidentalis 'Pyramidalis' did not lead to a successful graft union., What difference does it make, I wondered, why one occidentalis cultivar would be perfect, and the other not. It also seems odd that the species was discovered (or rediscovered) only in recent times, since five trees in Bhutan's Yangri Chu Gorge measure between 242-311 feet (74-95 meters) tall, making cashmeriana one of the tallest coniferous species on earth. What else is hiding in there?

2,475,576,000 ticks (if we're lucky)

Employee Seth did the above feet-to-meter conversion for me, and accomplished the task in just one second via google. The meter has been officially defined as the length of the path travelled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458ths of a second. Seth is fast, but not that fast. Speaking of numbers, the number of seconds that the average American has to live is 2,475,576,000, which is also the approximate number of times an American's heart will beat. But more if you are one who gets excited easily.

Aquilegia longiflora

Ilex aquifolium 'Britebush'

Ilex aquifolium 'Night Glow'

Back to plants, the name Aquilegia is derived from Aquila, the Latin word for "eagle," because their spur-like appendages can appear like the outstretched talons of an eagle. The common name "Columbine" is from Latin columba which refers to "doves," as the inverted flower looks like five doves nestled together. I have read that Ilex aquifolium received its specific name for the barbed tip of the leaf which resembles the beak of the Aquila, or eagle, and has nothing to do with "water." But I've also read that "aquifolium" is from Latin acus, or "needle."

Mahonia aquifolium

Thomas Jefferson

Cornus nuttallii 'Colrigo'

We also have Mahonia aquifolium, which is a genus of American and Asian shrubs in the Berberidaceae family. Mahonia is named for Bernard McMahon (1775-1816), an Irish-American horticulturalist who dealt with some of the plant collections from the Lewis and Clark expedition. McMahon was considered to be Thomas Jefferson's gardening mentor, and his classic work, The American Gardener's Calendar was Jefferson's horticultural "Bible." In 1818 the botanist Thomas Nuttall honored McMahon by naming the West Coast shrub for him. Nuttall was himself honored with the name for Cornus nuttallii, our "Western or Pacific Dogwood." The flower of this "dogwood" is the official flower of Canada's British Columbia, while the flower of relative Cornus florida is the state flower of Virginia, Missouri and North Carolina. In the Victorian era, the flowers of dogwoods were presented to women by interested suitors to indicate interest; but if not accepted it meant "Buzz off, buddy." God...gawd, women can be so cruel.

I sweated and froze while I trudged on ignominiously. That is my summation of my experience working in a Dutchman's nursery in Oregon in the early 1980's, when at the same time I was starting my own business. I learned quite a lot about what not to do with my company, so the experience was priceless, actually. The Dutchman's son was a total knucklehead, and he was fond of the saying, "If you're not Dutch, you're not much." If he had to write down that statement, he would use your instead of you're. With a head the size of a schoolbus, there was actually very little inside. But times were good and so he prospered...but now times are not good.

Masayoshi Yano
Peter Gregory

Reuben Hatch
Nelis Kools

Talon with Mr. & Mrs. Van Hoey Smith

Steve Hootman

...I continue, although I'm no more smart than the Dutchman's son. We were simply dumb in different ways. Besides, his late father was elected (hoisted or foisted?) into the Oregon Association of Nurserymen's Hall of Fame. I would never be considered for that award, for which I am very grateful. Believe me: if elected, I will not serve. I do observe my own Plantsman's Hall of Fame, however, and you won't find any of my inductees included in the OAN's hallowed enshrinement. My Hall of Famers don't carry the OAN's signature bruised back, which results from patting each other on the back so many times.

Picea glauca 'Albertiana Conica'

I've searched in vain for the article I read years ago about the origin of Picea glauca 'Albertiana Conica', the very common "Alberta Spruce." I thought it was in Songberg's The Reunion of Trees, an excellent account about the introduction and dissemination of plant species from the wild into our gardens. The particular focus of the book is to highlight how Harvard's Arnold Arboretum was most instrumental in the process. Or maybe I read it in Arnoldia, the official publication of the Arnold Arboretum. In any case, it detailed the adventure in 1904 of two Arnold Arboretum botanists, J.G. Jack and Alfred Rehder, who were waiting for a train in the northern Rockies near Lake Laggan, Alberta. The train was delayed, so they decided to botanize the area. Four individual spruce plants were noticed that were dwarf, compact pyramids. One or all of the trees, presumed to be seedlings from a witch's broom, were taken back to the Arnold, propagated, and hence a popular garden plant came into existence. One must wonder, then, if all Alberta Spruce today are derived from one particular clone, or from all four. How convenient it was in the old days, when you could dig up plants and transport them into the USA without any paperwork or government bureaucrat getting involved. The government exists now primarily to indulge itself, rather than to serve the public.

John Mitsch

Picea glauca 'Blue Wonder'
Picea glauca 'Sander's Blue'

Concerning Alberta Spruce, at the beginning of my career I discovered that John Mitsch of the famous Mitsch Nursery was growing a blue form. I didn't understand why he was unenthusiastic about it, because I supposed that it should be worth millions. He explained the reversion problem, and also that the ones that were most vibrantly blue would soon perish. I bought starts anyway – I think it was Picea glauca var. conica 'Sander's Blue' that I started with, and I was going to show John Mitsch a thing or two. Eventually I discovered the problems for myself, and of course old Mitsch was correct. I've tried others too, for example 'Arneson's Blue', 'Blue Wonder' and 'Alberta Blue', but all of them eventually died of excessive blueness or reverted. Monrovia Nursery – or I should say Lowe's Box Store – claims that 'Alberta Blue' "does not revert back to green." Ok, go for it Box Store, maybe I just don't know how to garden correctly.

Calocedrus decurrens

Calocedrus decurrens 'Berrima Gold'
Calocedrus decurrens 'Variegata'

I like the Calocedrus genus, the "Incense Cedars," and we grow two species, decurrens and macrolepis. Calocedrus comes from the Greek word callos, meaning "beautiful" or "nice," because of its resinous characteristic, and kedros, Latin for "Cedrus." Trees are usually tall and narrow and some specimens can live up to 1,000 years. The foliage gives off a pleasant odor when crushed, and the wood is the preference for cedar chests and pencils. It is soft with a straight grain, and it can be whittled down easily, a plus for pencils. One of my most favorite of heroes, Henry David Thoreau, had parents who ran a pencil-making factory in Massachusetts, and Henry made a significant improvement in pencil design. He also invented raisin bread: what a guy.

Calocedrus macrolepis

Calocedrus macrolepis

Calocedrus decurrens is a West Coast native, extending all the way down to Mexico, but my favorite place to see the species is on the little side road into the origin of the Metolius river in central Oregon. Calocedrus macrolepis is the Asian version of Calocedrus, but unfortunately it is hardy to only zone 8, and I've never planted one outside. Last winter we successfully grafted some onto decurrens, and in a year or two I will plant one of these into the garden. Macrolepis has larger sprays of foliage than decurrens, and they are a beautiful silver blue on the undersides.

Cathaya argyrophylla

Cathaya argyrophylla

Cathaya argyrophylla

Cathaya argyrophylla

I walked past my oldest Cathaya argyrophylla and noticed a fresh batch of small cones, silver-green in color, and clustered into groups of three or more. The old pollen flowers from spring are withered and brown. Cathay is the English version of Catai, another name for China. This evergreen conifer was discovered in 1955, but it was held onto tightly by the Chinese. There were even reports that four men were executed for trying to smuggle Cathaya out of the country. Whether true or not, it served notice to Chinese plant smugglers I suppose. I received seed from an unnamed source in the 1990's, and that was the beginning of my oldest specimen. We have attempted to propagate by rooted cuttings in winter, but the success rate is very low. Cathaya is very beautiful for its soft green needle color with silvery undersides (argyrophylla = "silvery leaves" in Latin), and is hardy to at least USDA zone 7, possibly 6. Cathaya is its own conifer, different from all others; with perhaps Pseudotsuga being its closest relative.

Seattle, Washington

Sell the Land?

How can you sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people.

Chief Seattle 1854

Seattle, Washington


  1. Just installed a nice Mariken this past spring... Sure hope it colors as well as the one you've shone in your posts. L

  2. I agree with your disdain of the OAN. I could start a rant, but I don't want to bore you.
    The point I want to make is that OAN is a group of people who attempt to manipulate legislation in an effort to squeeze the blood out of a population ripe for exploitation. In this case, the undocumented worker. These are fine, family oriented people with a sound work ethic. They suffer minimum wage, few or no benefits, back breaking work and harsh and/or unsafe working conditions. All because it is better than conditions where they come from. And all the while, at least in good times, owners pile up the cash.
    Entrepreneurs deserve rewards for their efforts; but at what cost to their employees?
    It is an industry which begs to be unionized.
    Sorry, I started to rant again.