Friday, November 22, 2013

A Carolina Wrap-up

The Sarah P. Duke Garden

"God Almighty First Planted a Garden
And Indeed it is the Purest of Human Pleasures"
-Francis Bacon

The last scheduled day of the Maple Society tour in North Carolina began at the Sarah P. Duke Garden in Chapel Hill. Mrs. Duke was the wife of Benjamin Duke, one of the benefactors of Duke University. And indeed the chapel of Chapel Hill was next to the garden, up on...a hill. Duke Gardens is said to be one of the premier public gardens in the USA and contains "55 acres of specialized gardens in the heart of Duke University," and receives more than 300,000 visitors per year. I was anxious to verify its status, because in my biased mind I often do not agree with what the public likes.

Manihot esculenta 'Variegata'

Manihot esculenta 'Variegata'

The first plant to catch my eye was a maple leaf-like bush in the middle of an annual planting. It was very showy with sharp variegation, but unfortunately it had no label. Later that morning I asked a garden employee for a name and she replied "Manihot." I must have had a puzzled face, for she quickly added, "tapioca, you know?" Ah, tapioca then, and I realized that I had never thought about the origin of tapioca, even though I like the pudding a lot. Manihot esculenta is the species, and it is native to northeast Brazil where the plant is named "mandioca," while its starch is called "tapioca." The native Tupi people called it tipi oka, and that meant the process by which the starch was made edible.

Manihot grahamii

Manihot grahamii was also growing in the garden, a "tropical" that is said to be hardy to USDA zone 7. The interesting foliage dies back each winter, but resprouts again in spring and can shoot up to ten feet tall. I am in no way a "tropical kind of guy," and don't grow these things in my garden – or haven't done so yet – but what the heck, maybe I'll pursue the hardy tapioca and add some verve to my image.

Thelypteris kunthii

Thelypteris kunthii

A long planting of Thelypteris kunthii lined both sides of the main path into the garden and looked fresh and attractive. The species is the most common of the "maiden ferns" native to the Southeast and all the way into Texas. When happy it can grow to four feet tall, then the foliage turns to bronze in fall, then to dead in winter. The species name honors Carl Sigismund Kunth (1788-1850), a German botanist who specialized in the flora of the Americas.

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

The White Garden

Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka'

Muhlenbergia capillaris 'Alba'
Here and there I would find a Camellia in bloom, and I supposed that if you grew even a modest collection, there would be one in flower every month of the year. Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' was jumping the gun on the holiday season, for we were still in October, while Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka' was serene in the White Garden. The genus name was coined by Linnaeus to honor Georg Kamel, even though the Jesuit botanist Kamel never worked with Camellias. The sasanqua species is native to China and Japan where they have been cultivated for centuries. Sazanka is the Japanese name for the shrub, while gaijin (non-Japanese) use the word sasanqua. Also in the White Garden was 'Alba', the white form of Muhlenbergia capillaris, growing next to the Camellia.

Alstroemeria psittacina 'Variegata'

Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum 'Variegatum'

There were quite a number of variegated plants in the Duke Garden. At first I assumed that Alstroemeria psittacina 'Variegata' was a Hosta, but it was a colorful form of the "Peruvian Lily" from South America, although 'Variegata' was selected in Japan and features red flowers. One hopes that in Japan the plant goes by a better, a more poetic name. Also variegated green-and-white was Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum 'Variegatum'. God, there's a mouthful of Greek-Latin for you. This species is known as the variegated "Solomon Seal," and is a selection that blooms with small tubular bells in spring. The genus name is derived from Greek poly for "many" and gona for "knee-joints" due to many joints in the rhizomes. It is not clear how the name "Solomon Seal" originated, but one theory suggests that the cut roots resemble Hebrew characters.

Phyllostachys viridis 'Robert Young'

The bamboo Phyllostachys viridis 'Robert Young' made a bold statement in the landscape. The species can grow to thirty feet tall and can spread – slowly they say – but in my garden it didn't take long to become a problem. The genus name comes from phyllon meaning "leaf" and stachys meaning "spike." In China the bamboo is a major source of paper pulp, is used in construction scaffolding, and of course, is known for its edible shoots. However, in my garden, it is a complete thug.

Buxus sinica var. insularis 'Justin Brouwers'

We were almost ready to depart, but I lingered in the White Garden near the entrance, because I have learned that it can take up to a half-hour for our group to finally find their seats. Probably the greatest treasure was a formal dwarf hedge of Buxus sinica 'Justin Brouwers', not for the plants themselves, but for rain drops captured on spider webs. Nearly every plant displayed a unique pattern of sparkling drops, and I am unable to conclude which one I liked the best. The Duke Garden was nice – lovely many would say – and would serve as a great backdrop for a wedding. But it wasn't my favorite stop on the tour, and their collection of maples was not remarkable; I had a good time but probably will never return.

Charles R. Keith

Pines in the Keith Arboretum

In great contrast to Duke was the Charles R. Keith Arboretum, a collection of trees that I could more easily relate to. The Arboretum was founded by Dr. Keith and began in the 1970's, and now comprises 4,000 labeled species on 25 acres within 82 acres of conserved land. The only problem is that Dr. Keith is in his 80's and he has no idea what will happen to the collection when he is gone. It was estimated that it would take five million dollars to endow the arboretum, while he jokes that he is $4,990,000 short. Dr. Keith warned us that the grounds were "rough," not at all like the slick Duke garden from where we had just come. But we found everything to be in good shape with the grass nicely mowed and easy-to-find labels on the specimens. Dr. Keith was likable, witty and knowledgeable, so, with his trees, there was nothing more we could ask for.

Acer pubipalmatum

We were the Maple Society, after all, and we were treated to mature specimens of quite a diverse collection of Acer species and cultivars. The obscure Chinese species, Acer pubipalmatum – some prefer the specific name pauciflorum – is gaining in popularity in the Southeast, and one reason is that it grows well and displays excellent orange-red autumn color. The specimen in the Keith Arboretum was larger than any I had seen before, and while the foliage was still green, I found the trunk to be ornamental. Of course pubi refers to the short hairs noticeable on the leaf in spring. It is in the section palmata, and in a sense it can be referred to as a "Japanese Maple," and most of us would not think of it to be a separate species from palmatum. I had seen pubipalmatum before in Europe, at Belgium's Arboretum Wespelaar for example, but only acquired one in a small pot at the Carolina Maple Society auction the night before. My new findling is totally deciduous now, and I can detect a couple of shoots that look graftable for this winter.

Acer olivaceum

Acer oliverianum

Acer olivaceum is a rare green-leaved Chinese species, commonly known as the "Olive Maple" due to the olive-green leaves. The species should not be confused with Acer oliverianum, the "Oliver Chinese Maple," named in honor of Daniel Oliver (1830-1916) who was keeper of the Herbarium at Kew Gardens. I have a nice oliverianum in my collection, but don't grow olivaceum. Both species can be propagated via seed or rooted cuttings. Dr. Keith seemed pleased that he was growing the more rare of the two.

Acer barbatum or saccharum ssp. floridanum

Acer barbatum or saccharum ssp. floridanum

Acer barbatum is the "Southern Sugar Maple," and grows as far south as Florida, and as far east as Texas and Oklahoma. Basically you can consider barbatum to be a "Sugar Maple," the Acer saccharum from the north, except that barbatum has smaller leaves and seed, and can survive more harsh extremes such as intense heat. Of course maple syrup can be extracted from barbatum, except the trees are smaller and less productive than its northern sibling. Most authorities now list Acer barbatum as Acer saccharum ssp. floridanum.

Acer serrulatum

Acer buergerianum

Acer buergerianum

Acer serrulatum was also represented, an endemic to Taiwan, and is the largest maple to that island/country. It is closely related to species oliverianum, and has been listed as Acer oliverianum ssp. formosanum. Formosa is the previously used name for Taiwan, the island off the eastern Chinese mainland, and Ilha Formosa is the Portuguese name for "beautiful island." Acer buergerianum was immediately identifiable by its shaggy trunk, even before I looked up at the canopy or at the label. I regret not having planted one thirty years ago, but you know the old saying: the second best time to plant a tree is today, but the best time to plant a tree was yesterday. Acer buergerianum is commonly known as the "Trident Maple" for its three lobes. The species was discovered by the German Heinrich Bürger who was an assistant to Philipp von Siebold. Bürger didn't describe any of this floral discoveries, but rather was honored by those who worked on his collections.

Chimonanthus nitens

Chimonanthus nitens

Chimonanthus nitens is an evergreen (or partially so) shrub in the Calycanthaceae family, commonly called "Wintersweet" due to its faint fragrance. This species is native to China, and I collected it years ago as Chimonanthus zhejangensis. It was ahead of schedule by flowering here at the end of October, and usually blooms in January back home in Oregon. More commonly known is Chimonanthus praecox from China-to-Japan, which can feature light yellow flowers and a stronger fragrance.

Fokienia hodginsii

I was surprised to find the Fokienia hodginsii, as it has not proven hardy for me in Oregon. I like the interesting foliage which resembles Calocedrus macrolepis, and Fokienia hodginsii has shiny green leaves on the upper surface with silvery-white stomatal bands beneath. It was first discovered in China's Fokien province by Captain Hodgins in 1908.

Glyptostrobus pensilis at Buchholz Nursery

Glyptostrobus lineatus at Keith Arboretum

Another interesting conifer was Glyptostrobus lineatus, which many have changed the species name to pencilis. I planted my specimen down by my pond because it is commonly called a "Water Cypress," and is native to southern China along stream banks. Nevertheless, Keith's specimen was in dry ground and looking good. Like all members of Taxodiaceae, the shaggy trunk exfoliates in long strips; and of course it is bare of foliage in winter after a fantastic autumn color of burnt-orange.

Juniperus pingii at Keith Arboretum

Juniperus pingii at Buchholz Nursery

I was surprised to see Juniperus pingii in the distance, and I was anxious to see what his label would record, as it is also known as Juniperus squamata var. fargesii, which is how I collected it from Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum thirty years ago. I've never seen it anywhere else until today, even though it is a very attractive species (USDA zone 7). His was listed as pingii also, and I was growing ever more impressed with this Charles R. Keith.

Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia yuyuanensis

A couple of Magnolias were present. Magnolia grandiflora is an evergreen species and I personally don't care for it, but as with all the Magnolias, the seed pods are attractive. I suppose if I had a collection of 4000 different trees, I might include the grandiflora also, and, after all, it is native to the Southeast. A new find for me was Magnolia yuyuanensis, the "Yunnan Wood-Lotus." At the Raulston Arboretum, they claim that "This is simply one of the finest evergreen trees we grow at the JCRA," and report that it has survived -3 degrees F.

Illicium x 'Woodland Ruby'

Illicium floridanum 'Halley's Comet'

Illicium floridanum 'Halley's Comet'

There were a couple of Illiciums displaying flowers which caught my eye. x 'Woodland Ruby' is a cross between Illicium floridanum from the Southeast with Illicium mexicanum, a rare species from Mexico. The value of the cross is that the hybrid produces a larger and more spectacular flower than its parents. Similarly, when people look at my two young daughters, they then look at me...and wonder how is that  possible? The second specimen was Illicium floridanum 'Halley's Comet'. I would be hard pressed to describe these colors, unless to suggest unreal? These bushes are boring to me in appearance, but the leaves give off an aromatic scent, especially when crushed. A related species, Illicium anisatum, known as the "Japanese Star Anise," is highly toxic, so it is not edible; however it is used as incense, known in Japan as shikimi.

Parrotia persica

Parrotia subaequalis

I wasn't surprised that Dr. Keith had a Parrotia persica in his collection, but I was surprised to see how much more colorful it was than the old specimen I saw days ago at Biltmore. Keith's "Ironwood" was eye-popping, and I wonder why. The climate, the soil, or was it just a special seedling? I've always wondered about that with Pinus bungeana too, that some are far more impressive than others. The "Chinese Parrotia," Parrotia subaequalis, was in the collection as well, but it was a small tree so I couldn't study the trunk.* I can refer the reader to a comprehensive article about Parrotia subaequalis in Arnoldia, the journal of Arnold Arboretum

*I read later that "The muscular wood develops a wonderful patchwork of grays, green and creams with age," and that autumn color is "burgundy-purple." From Broken Arrow Nursery.

Populus tomentosa

Pseudocydonia sinensis

Other trees with colorful trunks include Populus tomentosa, the "Chinese White Poplar." Its wood is used for pulp, its timber for construction, and very importantly, the tree is used for matchsticks. Imagine a billion chain-smoking Chinese, and how many matches they go through in a lifetime! Another spectacular trunk belonged to Pseudocydonia sinensis, a deciduous or semi-evergreen tree from eastern China. Earlier in the week we saw it at the North Carolina Arboretum in the bonsai exhibit. The genus is in the Rosaceae family and sinensis is the only species in the genus. The Pseudocydonia, or "Chinese Quince," is commonly known in China as mugua and in Korea mogwa and in Japan karin.

Platycarya strobilacea

I'll finish my fun tour of the Keith Arboretum with an Asian tree I've never seen before. Platycarya strobilacea, a tree in the Juglandaceae family (walnut), featured a most interesting fruit. In spring the upright male catkins cluster around the female cone-like flower, which starts out green then matures to dark brown, and can remain on the tree for an additional year. I'm not sure if the photo above is from a one-year or two-year "cone," but in any case the fruit is not edible. As I age, I might want to have a Platycarya though, for an extract of the flower can be used as an active ingredient in anti-aging cosmetics. The tree is commonly known as "Broad Nut," and was discovered by Philipp von Siebold in Japan in 1843. The genus name is derived from Greek platus meaning "broad" and karia, the ancient Greek name for walnut.

I reflected on what an eventful day I had: a visit to two very different arboreta, with the Keith Arboretum being my favorite. I fantasized about finding enough money to buy him out and preserve the collection. On the other hand I already have my own collection to deal with, a project that consumes all of my energy. Maybe I could relate to Keith's trees because I'm in the same predicament as he, with no real exit strategy. Hopefully I'll live long enough for my children to mature before I dump my situation on them. In the meantime I'll search out a Platycarya to plant.

Buchholz with Tim and Matt Nichols

Phil and I said our goodbyes to our stalwart companions for the past week. The Nichols Boys put together a fantastic trip, and privately everyone said so. The next day was free time for whatever we wanted to do, so we rented a car and travelled the Blue Ridge Parkway, and all the way through the Smoky Mountains. We even hiked a few steps on the Appalachian Trail. I'll save that adventure for another time, for Fall in the Smokies must be accompanied by a spring visit as well. Anyway everyone in North Carolina said "Y'all come back, now." Hopefully my family will understand...that I'll always have Carolina in my mind.

Buchholz on the AT

Thru-Hiker on the AT

View from the Blue Ridge Parkway


  1. Talon, thank you for all of the wonderful memories. You are a great photographer.

  2. Talon I wished you would have time to have stopped by my nursery when you were in the Triangle. However, you may have not noticed but there were plenty of specimens both at the Duke Gardens and at the Keith Arboretum that originated from your Nursery!

  3. Love Duke Gardens, go there many times a month. Also Mr. Keith's place is amazing as well. I enjoyed my one on one tour with him last year. His collection is really something! And he is very friendly too.

    Nice blog entry: it's a treat to read about things so close to me :)