Friday, November 15, 2013

Still in Love with Carolina

You can imagine North Carolina as a pizza wedge jammed into the midsection of eastern North America, with Asheville at the western tip of the slice, and the "triangle" of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill hundreds of miles east, but still far from the Atlantic Ocean. We left our plebian Asheville motel at an early hour, after yet another crappy breakfast at the Quality Inn – in which there was no quality, even though it was licensed by the Biltmore holdings and, and I longed to compare our venue with the Biltmore Hilton located just an eighth-mile down the road. The Quality Inn featured stale-cigar scented elevators, a conference room that I had to duck into to enter, and disc-shaped "eggs" for breakfast that resembled congealed hockey pucks, something that the youth team could practice with without harm...or to put it another way, I was seriously missing my wife's cooking.

Near mid-day we reached the vicinity of Raleigh, and logistically we voted in favor of fast-food before we hit any gardens, which I'm always in favor of. Let's face it: society tours often cater to the elderly, and even though I am an old duffer myself, I still have a lot of energy. I detest the half-hour pauses between the salad and the entree; then it takes an additional half hour for everyone to lumber into the vehicles, while invariably someone goes missing in action in the restroom. Let's get to the plants!

Plant Delights Nursery

The collection at Plant Delights Nursery

Water recycling pond

In Plant Delights Nursery display garden

Keteleeria species

Our first stop was at Plant Delights Nursery, the company that boasts "We were green when green wasn't cool." Founder Tony Avent gave our group a tour through the collections, and indeed the "green" organic and water recycling aspect was evident. Tony frequently pointed out plants that "shouldn't" be able to survive in his climate, but we would all look up at the healthy canopy and nod in wonderment. It reminded me of Gary Gee of Gee Farms in Michigan, who said he doesn't give up on a plant until he has killed it three individual times. Plant Delights recorded -7 degrees F in recent times, and I thought that would be enough to finish Keteleeria, a southeast Asian conifer with species only hardy to USDA zone 7-9. Years ago a five degree plus winter killed off my Keteleeria davidiana. The genus was named for J.B. Keteleer, a French nurseryman, and is somewhat allied with the Abies, as it also features erect cones.

Schefflera delavayi

Schefflera macrophylla

Schefflera macrophylla

Schefflera delavayi, an evergreen shrub, was happily sprawling in the landscape, and it was the first time that I have seen in flower.. I used to know the genus as a house plant, but USDA zone 7 gardeners are now planting delavayi for a "tropical" look. I grow delavayi indoors myself, but I wonder how long the hot demand for it will last, and besides, I haven't grown it long enough to really have a feel for it yet; in other words, does it really have long-lasting ornamental merit? A species of Schefflera with more punch than delavayi is macrophylla, but is also less hardy, but if I ever decide to build a million-dollar conservatory I'll be sure to include one.

Crinum buphanoides

Crinum 'William Herbst'

Crinum 'Mom'

Plant Delights dabbles in thousands of taxa, but focuses particular attention on fifteen or so plant groups. One of them is Crinum, a genus in the Amaryllidaceae family, and I have purchased exciting new selections from them in the past. Crinum features large autumn flowers which shoot from bulbs, lily-like, with stems that can arise from two to three feet. Some were still lingering with blooms, but a serious frost was expected soon which would surely decimate today's blossoms. I keep mine in Greenhouse 20, the no-profit house, for fun only, and I doubt that I'll ever get it together enough to produce them.

Colocasia species

Colocasia species or hybrid

Another focus group are the Colocasias, the "elephant ears." One species lushed exuberantly at the edge of their recycling pond, and seemed the happiest of all their garden acquisitions. Colocasia contains at least twenty five species native to southeast Asia, and the generic name comes from Greek kolokasion, which the Greek botanist Dioscorides considered the edible roots, or taro. I have read that the roots of Colocasia esculenta have been cultivated for more than ten thousand years in Asia. I'm tempted to grow it at my pond, but it is already declared invasive along the American Gulf Coast. Interestingly, I can't recall ever seeing it in an Oregon landscape, but maybe because my sight was on other things. Another Colocasia species was impressive with huge leaves, but I couldn't find a cultivar name. With no offense I asked Tony about his rather haphazard garden labeling, as often the plastic label was just tucked under the tree (and he grows 17,000 taxa, for heaven sakes). He probably wanted to explain that he was a damn smart horticulturalist, but replied instead that everything was located by GPS, to which I was humbled into silence.

Quercus tarahumara

x Mangave 'Bloodspot' x 'Chocolate Chip'

Metapanax delavayi

I saw a number of plants in Avent's botanic garden that I had never seen before. Quercus tarahumara* – what a beautiful name – featured interesting convex leaves of olive green. It is native to northern Mexico where it grows to only about twenty five feet tall. x Mangave, itself a hybrid between Manfreda, the "False Agave," with Agave, was represented with a hybrid between 'Bloodspot' x 'Chocolate Chip'. Also new to me was Metapanax delavayi, the "False Ginseng," and I immediately liked the neat cascading evergreen foliage. It only grows to ten feet tall and is hardy to USDA zone 7.

*The Tarahumara – say it three times slowly – is a tribe of native Americans from northwestern Mexico. They still occupy the area and persist with their traditional lifestyle and language. In the past they fought against Spain and the heinous Jesuits, but now their foes are drug lords and corporations that want their mineral resources. They were never conquered by the Aztecs. Also known as Raramuri, the term means "runners on foot," and they are famous for long-distance running – up to 200 miles over a period of two days, in one session.

Lagerstroemia fauriei

Rounding a bend on the path I was astonished to see a huge Lagerstroemia fauriei, the "Japanese Crepe Myrtle," and I could finally understand why they are so popular in the South. This was the unidentified species I saw at Biltmore, and I should consider to acquire one. I regret not placing a person next to the trunk to illustrate Avant's monstrous size – his tree, that is.

Plant Delights Nursery Trillium collection

There was a lot of activity at Garden Delights that we could only glimpse, such as a trial of Trilliums, Mahonia breeding, new plant evaluations and much more. The company appeared to be well-organized and prosperous, which no doubt leaves a lot of other nurserymen jealous. If I was a 25-year-old again, I think I would apply there for a job.

Tony Avent preaching to the choir

The JC Raulston Arboretum

We left to let Tony get back to his work; and we had one more visit for the day: the North Carolina State University's J.C. Raulston Arboretum. James Chester Raulston was a whirlwind of horticultural activity, famous for his generosity. He died way too soon in 1996 at age 56 in a car crash. According to Tony Avent, "I'd say about 3,000 of the plants in our garden came from the Arboretum. His [Raulston's] mission was to find out what plants to grow and how to get them to people." Tony was once a student of Dr. Raulston.

Pinus cembroides 'Pina Nevada'

Dr. Raulston kindly gave me a start of a variegated Mexican Stone Pine about twenty years ago from a collecting trip in northern Mexico. Named Pinus cembroides 'Pina Nevada', it is slow and unprofitable for me, but I absolutely cherish my first two plants in the landscape. Raulston actually visited my nursery twice, staying only forty minutes each time. He had so many nurseries to visit that he literally ran from plant to plant in a zany attempt to see it all. I just stayed in one place and watched him buzz from tree to tree like an excited child on Christmas morning.

Tim Alderton, Research Technician

I don't know why I waited so long to visit his Arboretum, but it was a wonderful place, and we must thank Research Technician Tim Alderton for guiding us and allowing us to stay past closing time. Tim was able to answer nearly all of our questions, and he remained enthusiastic throughout.

Acer buergerianum 'Angyo Weeping'

A large number of maple species and cultivars were growing well, and it was claimed that Raulston wanted to see a maple from every location in the garden. A good-sized (it grows fast) specimen of Acer buergerianum, 'Angyo Weeping', was a pleasant find, but leaves were still green. It originated from the Kobaiyashi Maple Nursery in Saitama, Japan and was introduced into the United States via circuitous routes, as Acer is not allowed entry into the USA from Japan.

Acer pentaphyllum at the JC Raulston Arboretum

Acer pentaphyllum at Buchholz Nursery

A small Acer pentaphyllum, extremely endangered in the wild (in China), will be short-lived I'm afraid. But since it's of seedling origin, there is a possibility that it could prove hardy. And if it dies, so what? That's what research at an arboretum should be all about. Years ago I planted a good-sized pentaphyllum in my garden, but it died back to the rootstock (Acer rubrum), and I've never tried it since. As you can see the leaves were still mostly green, and it appeared that they would be turning yellow. That's what usually happens at Buchholz Nursery, although one year our largest specimen – in the greenhouse – turned a fantastic orange-red.

Acer pseudosieboldianum x palmatum

The Raulston Arboretum was also growing Acer pseudosieboldianum crossed with palmatum, a hybrid that would probably be more winter hardy than straight palmatum. I was involved with a research doctor from the Morton Arboretum twelve years ago – I should say: involved with her work – where I was grafting palmatum and japonicum cultivars onto pseudosieboldianum rootstock. Then these "superior" cultivars would be used for breeding with pseudosieboldianum blah blah blah. The doctor was paid to carry all of this out so I'm sure that whatever I was doing was all part of a long-term evaluation with adequate scientific controls. Anyway, it was hinted that I would be among the first in line to have access to these improved trees. Eventually the doctor moved on to another university and I lost contact with her, but I always wonder what happened to my efforts.

Acer erythranthum

Acer erianthum

I had never before seen Acer erythranthum (no, not species erianthum which is in the Palmata section). It was displaying lush reddish tips, but a Carolina cold-snap was due in a few days, and I wondered how the specimen would fare. I think it was recently discovered in Vietnam at a 1600' elevation where it is endemic, and then immediately placed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Callicarpa dichotoma 'Duet'

Callicarpa japonica 'Hatsushimo'

Camptotheca acuminata

Exbucklandia populnea

Another new find for me was Callicarpa dichotoma 'Duet', a variegated "Beauty Berry," and also Callicarpa japonica 'Hatsushimo'. Broadleaved trees included Camptotheca acuminata from non-hardy southern China. It was attractive for its large glossy leaves, and appeared to be a fast grower. Good luck with it though, as it is listed as hardy to USDA zones 10-11. Same with Exbucklandia populnea, an evergreen species in the witch hazel family.

Ginkgo biloba 'Tschi tschi'

The Arboretum housed the largest Ginkgo biloba 'Tschi tschi' that I have ever seen, and it was old enough to produce "breasts." Tschi tschi (pronounced chi chi) is Japanese slang for "breasts," and is pronounced the same as the Mexican-Spanish slang word for breasts. It's a small world after all. Maybe I would have a 'Tschi tschi' the same size, but I always sell mine when younger, and none of the originals remain. Besides, my bane is that gophers in Oregon love to chew on Ginkgo roots, and at my nursery they can also eat a couple of inches up the trunk, thereby killing a 2" caliper tree.

Pinus taeda 'NCSU Dwarf Group'

Interesting, but not beautiful really, was a row of Pinus taeda NCSU Dwarf Group. I believe this is not just one clone, but rather a group grown from seed. I don't care at all for the species – there are so many more ornamental pines – but it does survive in the Southeast, all the way to Texas, and is a fast growing timber tree. Its common name is "Loblolly Pine," as the term loblolly refers to the moist depressions where the tree grows in the wild. The trunks were attractive, however, reminding me somewhat of our Pinus ponderosa.

Cephalotaxus wilsonii

I'll mention two trees, each with the specific name wilsonii, both of which honor the great plant collector Ernest Henry Wilson, aka "Chinese Wilson." The Englishman was acclaimed for his introductions of Acer griseum, Davidia involucrata, Lilium regale and so much more. Toward the end of his collecting years he explored (1917-1918) in Korea and Taiwan (previously Formosa). Cephalotaxus wilsonii is native to Taiwan and differs from the common Cephalotaxus fortunei by displaying more lax foliage. I don't know how lax foliage warrants a separate species, but I have seen wilsonii beautifully thriving in English gardens, and I would take it over the fortunei species any day, except that wilsonii is only hardy to USDA zone 8.

Cinnamomum wilsonii

Cinnamomum wilsonii is another species named for Wilson, but I believe it is native to the Chinese mainland. The genus is in the Lauraceae family and displayed a handsome form with glossy leaves, but I can find very little information about it. Cinnamomum verum from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is so-named because it is commonly called the "True Cinnamon," as verum is Latin for "truth." In spite of the "truth," most cinnamon use throughout the world comes from related species, and not verum itself, and the species of commerce are referred to as cassia. However, we also have Cinnamomum cassia, which is a close relative of Cinnamomum verum, and Cinnamomum cassia is one of the Chinese species used for the spice. I fear this paragraph is difficult to follow, so I'll leave it at that, except to mention that cinnamon is from the Arabic word amomom, meaning "fragrant spice plant."

It was nearly dark when we said our goodbyes and got out of Tim Alderton's hair. There are dozens more plants from the Raulston Arboretum that I'd love to write about, but perhaps the blog has gone on long enough as well. A few photos follow, and you can continue to see what an incredibly diverse collection it is.

Lagerstroemia fauriei

Keteleeria davidiana var. davidiana

Daphne odora 'Nakafu'

Abelia grandiflora 'Radiance'

Acer palmatum 'Arakawa'

Agapanthus orientalis

Agave 'Mr. Ripple'

Agave lophantha 'Quadricolor'

Dasylirion texanum

Araucaria angustifolia

Colocasia gigantea

Acanthus sennii
Cupressus cashmeriana

Cryptomeria japonica 'Dacrydioides'

Cyclamen persicum

Daphne odora 'Rebecca'

Daphniphyllum teijsmannii 'Snow Country'

Fatsia polycarpa

Farfugium japonicum 'Jitsuko's Star'

Phormium cookianum

Rhodocoma gigantea
Platanus hispanica 'Suttneri'

Ajania pacificum

Yucca schottii

Yucca rostrata


  1. Talon - is the picture you have listed as Ruellia really Ajania pacificum ?

  2. i have one Acer erythranthum is good for usda zone 9b good tollerance to clay soil and general dry condiitons. my Acer pentaphyllum is graft on platanoides :)
    thank for this reportage

  3. Hey Tim! Fame, of a sort, at last!

    JCR's place is staffed by some neat plants people. Go visit!!!

    Mike McCarthy