Friday, December 13, 2013


Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Damn it's cold! Now half-way through December, with darkness at both ends of the workday, I search for meaningful employ for a crew of fifteen, when everybody would rather be home, including me. Many of the plants in our “fun house,” in Greenhouse 20, are not particularly hardy, so of course that's the house that experienced heater failure last night. We'll see what becomes of that, but already the two Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii' are mush...but...perhaps not dead. I had fun with the Abyssinian bananas, and frequently employed them for photographic purposes this past summer.

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

And just what is the proper scientific name of the red banana? San Marcos Growers of southern California – a company whose website I respect among the most in all of horticulture – lists it as Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii', and claim that “the genus [sic] has been named in honor of J. Maurel who first drew the attention of the French authorities in Ethiopia to the red-leaved bananas of that place.” But whoa! – is San Marcos talking about a genus or a single-quote cultivar? Others (as in Plant Delights) list maurelii as a species, not as a genus or cultivar. I guess that's a moot question if they have indeed perished.

This blog will feature some of the plants that impressed me in GH20 this past year. Whether they survived or not, at least I have photographs of them in their splendor, memories in a digital format. After all, we can't take plants with us when we perish, and one should consider that we only rent a little time in this world anyway.

Leucothoe keiskei and Ito Keisuke

Leucothoe keiskei

Leucothoe keiskei appears to have survived and its purple color is actually enriched from the cold. I've had the low evergreen shrub for quite a few years, and used to grow it in the garden, but it never looked good. Keiskei prefers a woodland setting with shade (in Oregon) and moist but well-drained soil. The species is plenty hardy (to USDA zone 5) whether my heater works or not. The Leucothoe genus name is from Latin – with the same spelling – and was a legendary princess turned to a fragrant bush by Apollo. That's odd because Apollo was a Greek god, the son of Zeus and Leto. The species keiskei honors Ito Keisuke, a Japanese botanist who worked under Philipp von Siebold. He was the first from Japan to regard botany from a strictly scientific point of view, and later went on to develop a vaccine for smallpox.

Sarracenia x wrigleyana 'Scarlet Belle'

The Sarracenias (pitcher plants) got nipped, and x wrigleyana 'Scarlet Belle' is now brown belle. This hybrid was a result of crossing S. leucophylla with S. psittacina. The leucophylla species is hardy to USDA zone 6, even though it is native to Pinus palustris savannas along America's Gulf Cost. The psittacina species is native to the Southeast, often in submerged conditions, where it has been known to capture tadpoles and other water arthropods (such as insects, spiders and crustaceans). Though Sarracenias can hybridize in the wild, x 'Scarlet Belle' was an intentional cross, and from the group of seedlings the best was chosen to replicate via tissue culture. It is certainly a "doer," and my ten-year-old even grows 'Scarlet Belle' in her carnivorous plant collection. Harumi is rather disgusted by boys (she'll have you believe) and once said that “boys are like bugs; you just can't get rid of them.” To honor that statement, I purchased her first carnivorous plant for her birthday. I have grown fascinated by them too, especially since they bring my daughter such joy.

A serious problem at the nursery is the Oxalis corniculata weed, a “Creeping Wood sorrel” that is a dickens to get rid of – kind of like Harumi's boys. The creep can spread when its horizontal stems root at nodes, forming new plants. After flowering yellow, the weed produces capsules which contain tiny brown egg-shaped seeds. These explode and happily disseminate themselves around the nursery. It appears that once you have Oxalis corniculata in your nursery or garden, you will always have it. If we have a potted plant infested with it we generally throw it out, unless it is in the dormant season and we can bareroot and save the tree. But I have even bought bareroot trees from other growers, and by spring every one of them sprouted the purple-green weed around the tree's base. Nasty.

Oxalis bowiei

I was horrified however, that someone on my crew hauled out my one happy Oxalis bowiei from GH20, for the next day it would have been dumped. “Dump plants infested with Oxalis,” I always remind, but geeze not that one, not that species. Look, it even has a label that says Oxalis bowiei...and don't you remember the beautiful flowers it displayed just a month ago? The bowiei species is known as the “Cape Shamrock” since it is native to Cape Province in South Africa; but then there are over two hundred more Oxalis species native to that country. Its name honors James Bowie, a botanist who collected in South Africa for the Royal Gardens at Kew. When funds ran dry Kew dropped its support, and Bowie made trips into the interior to collect plants for sale. But ultimately the poor man died in poverty in 1869.

Oxalis oregana

Also, pleeze don't apply herbicide to my Oxalis oregana 'Big Pink' which is planted and labeled down by the creek. I collected that myself in the redwoods of California, but I'm not sure if it's really deserving of cultivar status. The Oxalis genus occurs throughout most of the world, especially Brazil and Mexico besides the two hundred from South Africa. They are commonly known as sorrels or wood sorrels, as they have an acidic taste, somewhat similar to the unrelated sorrel, Rumex acetosa. Oxalis has been consumed by humans around the world forever. Some American Indians used it to combat thirst on long trips, or cooked it with sugar to make a dessert, and the Cherokee ate it to cure a sore throat. Undeniably, its best use was by the Algonquin Tribe who used it as an aphrodisiac. Oxalis itself is from Greek oxus for “sour,” because of its sharp-tasting leaves, and als, the word for “salt.”

Camellia 'Waterlily'

Happy Haruko

A pot of Camellia resides in GH20, and I'm glad I didn't get around to planting it out this past fall. A lot of times borderline-hardy plants will survive a frigid winter, if they just get established a couple of years before the big freeze arrives. The exquisite cultivar 'Waterlily' was given to me a year ago by Roger of Gossler Farms, and it was  the first-ever Camellia to arrive at Buchholz Nursery. 'Waterlily' has a most feminine blossom, don't you think? Its pure beauty reminds me of my wife – to her dismay if she reads this; and thankfully she usually doesn't read my blogs.

Pseudopanax crassifolius

Pseudopanax crassifolius

"I will slash you"

A lot of times my one-and-only plant of a recent acquisition is tossed into GH20 because I don't know where else to put it. That would be the case with Pseudopanax crassifolius, the “Lancewood” from New Zealand, belonging to the Araliaceae family. This is a most strange plant, from lowland forest and scrub, because the juvenile form is very distinctive, featuring very long serrated leaves that my daughter is displaying as evil oriental fingernails – “I will slash you if you defy me!,” she seems to indicate. Anyway, calm down Harumi, for as the tree matures the juvenile foliage changes to a boring tree with more rounded leaves. Whenever a plant has several distinctive phases throughout its life, it is considered heteroblastic, and in fact Dr. Solander, on Captain Cook's voyage, named the plant Xerophylla longifolia for the juvenile tree, and Aralia crassifolius for the adult. I read that the “Lancewood” is dioecious, with male and female reproductive organs on separate trees, and I apparently have the female form, as you can see from an above photo. I plan to plant the berries from these umbells, but I don't know what to expect; but probably nothing, as who is pollinating what? Interestingly, the narrow juvenile leaves were once stripped down to the stringy midrib and used in New Zealand for shoelaces.

Panax is the botanic name for Ginseng, which means “all-heal” in Greek, and has the same origin as panacea. Linnaeus, you see, was aware that Panax was used in China as a muscle relaxant. I remember being transported to a Chinese “herbal shop” in the 1980's by Party functionaries with the assumption that we “wealthy capitalists” would certainly want to purchase their special root. But none of us had $40,000 to spare let alone $40 or $4. They had no answer to our question of who could possibly afford the pickled root sitting on the dusty shelf, even if it did indeed deliver miracles. This event was in the pre-Tiananmen days, when they were still trying to figure out how we running dog capitalists operated.

Nothopanax or Metapanax delavayi

Nothopanax or Metapanax delavayi

Speaking of Panax, GH20 also contains Nothopanax delavayi. I collected this Chinese shrub a dozen years ago, and apparently it is now being called Metapanax delavayi. Supposedly it is hardy to USDA zone 7, but I've never planted one out. White flowers appear in summer, though they're not particularly attractive, but now the plant is adorned with small black berries. Leaves are narrowly lobed and remind me of a green linearlobum maple. The species name honors Pere Delavay (1834-1895), the French missionary and botanist who sent over 200,000 herbarium specimens back to France from China.

Caesalpinia gilliesii

Strelitzea juncea

Caesalpinia gilliesii is a legumeous shrub which is commonly called “Bird of Paradise,” although it is not at all related to the Strelitzea genus, which is more commonly thought of as “Bird of Paradise.” Caesalpinia is native to tropical America and hopefully it will have survived the night of cold. It is attractive for its yellow flower with bright red filaments. The species honors the Scotsman John Gillies who explored and botanized in South America, sending many plants to Hooker* at Kew.

Betula ermanii (Hooker's collection)
Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker

*Ah, just who are the Hookers? William Jackson Hooker was an English botanist and illustrator, and was the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens of Kew. He possessed an outstanding botanical mind with a scientific point of view, and authored many works such as Exotic Flora, British Flora, Genera Filicum (the Genera of Ferns), Museums of Economic Botany at Kew etc. other words: he was more observant and systematically organized than most of us. W.J. Hooker's son, Joseph Dalton Hooker, succeeded his father at Kew, and went on to greater fame and accomplishment. First of all, J.D. was a friend to , and provided encouragement for Charles Darwin and his evolutionary theories. He, J.D. Hooker, travelled to the Antarctic aboard the HMS Erebus, published an account of the Rhododendrons of Sikkim, the Handbook of the New Zealand Flora and a Journal of a Tour in Morocco and the Great Atlas. To top that off, his last botanical exploration was to the Rocky Mountains and California in 1877, which led to the publication of papers that indicated the relationship of plants from Asia and America. What a guy! – in spite of the horrible sideburns. My connection to Hooker was a visit to Westonbirt in England, to visit Hookers collection  of a Betula ermanii specimen. Then, just a day later, we were allowed to visit the garden of Prince Charles, just a few miles away. History barely exists in America when you compare it to that of the English.

Leucadendron argenteum

Leucadendron argenteum

In spite of the failed heater, Leucadendron argenteum, a six-foot specimen in a cedar box, appears to have survived. It is allegedly hardy to only 20-25 degrees F, but it certainly got colder – maybe to 10 degrees F. The “Silver Tree” (family Proteaceae) is an endangered species from a small area in South Africa. I have seen handsome specimens in San Francisco's Strybing Arboretum and at the Santa Cruz Arboretum in California. The soft leaves remain on the tree for several years, and they are covered with silver hairs that shimmer in sunlight. Photographs don't do justice to the phenomenal species, so I hope I don't lose my one and only tree.

Crinum bulbispermum

Crinum moorei 'Variegata'

Crinum x powellii

Crinum 'White Queen'

I was beginning a collection of Crinum species and cultivars, all sitting in pots in GH20. Many would be hardy outside in the garden – they say – but I've always been chicken to plant them out. The species bulbispermum is probably the most hardy of the 130 or so species, to USDA zone 6, so many hybrids feature that as a parent. Crinum moorei is second in hardiness, but I suspect that our variegated cultivar would be less hardy than the type. Nature's freaks are usually less reliable. Crinum are in the Amaryllidaceae family and come from tropical and subtropical areas of America, Asia and South Africa. The Crinum name was established by Linnaeus, as he was working with Crinum americanum. This species features long trailing white petals, suggestive of comet tails. Thus Crinum is derived from Greek Krinos for “comet tail.” The word comet is from Latin cometa, from Greek komētēs for “long-haired star,” originally from Greek komē for “hair.”

Greenhouse 20 is the favorite place for many visitors to Buchholz Nursery. I once employed a simpleton who frequently would skip the GH20 experience with customers because, as he said, “Naaa, there's nothing in there.” The fact is that his brain couldn't process the wonderful diversity contained therein, as he thought the nursery should exist entirely of dwarf conifers and Japanese maples. What a shame; and I ultimately kept my diversity and edited him from the scene. What follows is more proof that I made the right decision.

Kniphofia rooperi

Gladiolus dalenii 'Bolivian Peach'
Daphne genkwa 'Hackenberry Group'

Rhododendron sinogrande

Rhododendron 'Coastal Spice'

Rhododendron 'Coastal Spice'

Passiflora caerulea

Platycarya strobilacea

Eucryphia lucida 'Ballerina'

Lamium orvala 'Silva'

Luma apiculata 'Glanleam Gold'

Pieris japonica 'Katsura'


"Yes, Talon, the diversity of GH20 is wonderful. Sorry it got so cold last night. My specialty is plants, and I have nothing to do with your failed heater."


  1. Great Blog....... Just an aside to the Caesalpinia and Ensete. I live in Redding Ca. Have had both plants in pots out in the open for five years. Lots of temps in the teens and some snow almost every winter.
    My Brugmansia also makes a good comeback in the spring, along with all the other plants that don't belong here. Look forward to your next entry. Best to you and yours, Glenn Fryer zone 9...right........

  2. Merry Christmas to you and all your staff. From Mr A

  3. E' sempre un piacere leggere e guardare il suo blog
    grazie per condividere con noi queste bellezze
    it is always a pleasure to read and look at your blog
    thanks for sharing these beauties
    Moreno from Italy