Friday, January 24, 2014

The Cornus Section at Flora Farm

The Upper Gardens at Flora Farm

The Upper Gardens at Flora Farm have been featured in my blogs before, for there exists a wonderful array of woody trees and shrubs. They all reside in a semi-wild state, which means that we mow the grass and water occasionally, but don't devote any other resources to their upkeep...other than my infrequent attempts to keep the inventory updated and accurate. But that is enough of a chore, exceedingly more than you can imagine, due to lawnmowers' carelessness or indifference, and to the possible employee misunderstanding as to just why those metal label-objects exist anyway. It – the collection – is my personal obsession, my pleasure, but it is understandable that my employees are more focused on lunch-time and pay-day, and not to the accurate identification of my tree collection. But yet the trees do grow and thrust into the sky; they eventually crowd themselves and into the roads, and many receive a "limbing-up" so as to not require a half-acre of empty terra beneath. In other words: you don't just plant an arboretum and walk away.

This past weekend I spent a couple of hours amidst the Upper Garden trees. There are seven-or-eight sections above the house, all with identification names such as Acer, Abies, Cornus, Betula, Magnolia, Sciadopitys, Cercis...and probably one other that I am forgetting. None of these "gardens" is planted exclusively with its namesake tree, but there exists at least one such tree in its respective genus. Got it?

Abies concolor 'Wattezii'

After the fog – the freezing fog – eventually lifted at noon, I ventured into the Cornus section of the collection...with my college-rule notebook paper on my cold metal-clipboard and recorded the trees. I must admit that I discovered a couple of species that I could not recall having planted; but there they were, and nice to meet them again. Ah, Abies concolor 'Wattezii', there you are finally! I knew you before I had you. My tree-mentor, Dr. Forrest Bump of Forest Grove, Oregon, extolled your beauty in the 1980's when he visited England's Hillier's Nursery one spring and experienced 'Wattezii' with his wife. She was not really a plant person (actually not at all), but she absolutely loved the chartreuse new growth on 'Wattezii', especially displayed against the silver-blue older foliage. The concolor species does not especially thrive in my low western-Oregon climate – it is just too wet for it here – but nevertheless my one 'Wattezii' specimen, at eighteen years of age, continues to look good. Perhaps of some importance is that it is grafted onto "Canaan Fir," Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis, a hybrid of the northern Abies balsamea with the southern Abies fraseri, an intermediate which naturally occurs in the swampy regions of West Virginia.

Abies squamata 'Flaky'

Abies squamata 'Flaky'

Acer griseum

Just below the Cornus garden is the Abies section which I featured in the blogs Abies species in the Flora Wonder Arboretum and Abies species in the Flora Wonder Arboretum Part 2. The Cornus garden also contains some "true fir," notably a fantastic specimen of Abies squamata 'Flaky'. The "Flaky-Bark Fir" from the Szechuan-Tibet border delights all who see it. The needles are a rich blue-green and the cones are ornamentally purple, and when young the species can attain a perfect Christmas-tree form. The exfoliating cinnamon-brown bark is fantastic, and I suspect that if I passed off some squamata trunk photos as Acer griseum, no one would notice. Abies squamata is native to a dry region, and it holds the altitude record of all Abies at 15,416 feet (4,700 meters). Locally it is known as "bollo," but then the Tibetans refer to other Abies and Picea species by the same common name. Abies squamata is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but I can produce lots of them should you want to grow it. Hardy to USDA zone 5.

Abies koreana 'Blue Cone Pendula'
Abies procera 'Glauca'

Another Abies in the Cornus section is koreana 'Blue Cone Pendula', the start of which came from an East Coast collector years ago. The cultivar name is unsound, besides the fact that it grows beautifully into an upright pyramidal shape, with nary a downturn of any branch. I didn't feel that I could sell it at any size since it didn't weep, and so my original specimen was planted in the Upper Gardens, the perfect spot when you don't know what else to do with the tree. The same thing happened with a very prostrate form of "Noble Fir," Abies procera, that was labelled 'Glauca Prostrata'. The specimen that I grafted from was growing in my old Dutch employer's garden, and was only one foot tall by about ten feet wide at twenty years of age. All of the side shoots that I propagated from proved apically dominant, so it was yet another project that yielded zero profit. I'm happy though, that I planted one of these blue Nobles just outside my office window, and I removed the Prostrata part from the label.

Ilex aquifolium 'Night Glow'

Acer palmatum 'Tiger Rose'

There are a few Ilex aquifolium cultivars in the Cornus section, and I love them greatly although there is not a huge demand in my market. As noticeable and vibrant as any golden spruce or pine in the winterscape is 'Night Glow'. My start came from the same Dr. Bump of Forest Grove mentioned above, for the good doctor had quite a collection of Ilex in his famous Rhododendron garden...and maples too. He discovered and named Acer palmatum 'Tiger Rose', which he named for his wife, uh, the "Rose" part. Now in his 90's, Dr. Bump no longer gardens, and sadly he is now holed up in an assisted living situation. But he was very helpful and supportive of me when I began my career. Back to 'Night Glow', as dusk advances the plant really does shine, as if the day-time light was stored up inside. What a showoff!

Ilex aquifolium 'Crassifolia'

Ilex aquifolium 'Pixie'

Ilex aquifolium 'Pixie'

Ilex aquifolium 'Crassifolia' is a most curious selection, with thick small dark-green leaves with rude spines. Krussmann, in Manual of Broadleaved Trees and Shrubs, decides that 'Crassifolia' is "not attractive, but unusual." There is a dull German for you, but anyway I think it is attractive. The cultivar name is from Latin crassus, meaning "fat, stout or thick," and folia is of course from Latin folium for "leaf." Another delightful holly is the dwarf  'Pixie' which grows into a rounded form. The specimen shown above is about three feet tall by three feet wide in fifteen years and berries nicely throughout fall and winter.

Callicarpa japonica 'Leucocarpa'

Speaking of berries, how about the "Japanese White Beauty Berry," Callicarpa japonica 'Leucocarpa'? Tiny pearl-like fruits appear in the fall and persist throughout winter, and the bush is especially attractive when the leaves are out of the way. The name Callicarpa is derived from two Greek words meaning "beautiful" and "fruit," while Leucocarpa is from Greek leucos meaning "bright" or "brilliant" (in a white sense). Even though the berries are small they are born in profusion, and I thoughtfully placed the bush next to my driveway, so I'm able to see it at least twice per day. What is barely noticeable are the pale pinkish-white flowers in summer, but that's a small concession compared to the winter show. I'm glad that I didn't follow the advice of a now ex-employee who suggested that I should grow only maples and conifers, and who detested the little alpines, perennials and woody shrubs that I encumbered my nursery with. Ha! Since his departure we have blossomed joyfully into the "other" category of plants...with no end in sight.

Acer palmatum 'Skeeter's Broom'

Acer palmatum 'Shaina'

The Cornus garden is full of maples, and it's fun to watch the specimens mature. What's not fun is to notice that I am maturing as well, for some large specimens have been in the ground over ten years, when they were also possibly ten years old when planted. So they're like my living diary, a constant reminder that there are far less days at the top of my life's hourglass than days at the bottom. A great tree, but with a horrible name, is Acer palmatum 'Skeeter's Broom', one of the more vigorous of the cultivars with witch's broom origin. When young it resembles the well-known Acer palmatum 'Shaina', but in time 'Skeeter's Broom' will grow four or five times as large as 'Shaina'. Both cultivars display purple-red foliage with the witch's broom characteristic truncated middle leaf lobe, like the opposite of "giving the finger."

Acer shirasawanum 'Johin'

Acer shirasawanum 'Johin'

I'm happy to have a nice Acer shirasawanum 'Johin' in the garden, a Buchholz seedling selection from about twenty years ago. My Japanese wife saw the original about twelve years ago, and remarked how elegant the tree looked. I asked her the Japanese name for elegant, and she replied, "Johin." Haruko often has an "artsy" perspective on plants, much different than my concerns as to whether a tree can be propagated, grown to a good shape, then eventually sold. I'd love to float along with her and share with her relationship with trees, so if I ever become independently wealthy I might change. Probably more interesting than my blogs would be hers, which would be titled How Haruko Sees the World.

Acer buergerianum 'Mino yatsubusa'

Acer buergerianum 'Mino yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Goshiki kotohime'

Acer buergerianum 'Mino yatsubusa' is a wonderful cultivar that can be grown in full sun. It is an interesting shrub or small tree for its long-tapered center-lobes, and it really takes to the extreme the species' common name of "Trident Maple." In autumn one can encounter leaves of green, yellow, orange, red and purple, all at once on the same tree. In the Vertrees/Gregory Japanese Maples, 'Mino yatsubusa' is said to be rare in cultivation because "it is very difficult to propagate (even on Acer buergerianum stock)." The same is said about Acer palmatum 'Goshiki kotohime' because of "the lack of vegetative growth," and that the true dwarf will top out at "less than 1m (3 ft.) tall." That's news to my ten-foot specimen of about twenty years of age, and the fact that I have eight-footers on my specimen availability. We have achieved over 50% on rooting 'Mino yatsubusa' in summer under mist, and regularly receive success rates over 90% on 'Goshiki kotohime', also under mist. Don't forget that rooting cultivars is "propagation" too, not to mention those propagated via tissue culture. It has been said that I'm "strongly opinionated" in my blogs, and I guess that is true. On the other hand, I try to be very careful about how I project my growing experiences, as I usually don't have the final verdict. One is wise to qualify one's claims, and words such as perhaps and maybe are most useful. Also, use a low pedestal and speak with a humble mouth, because you are usually not as smart as you think. Thank you.

Cornus kousa 'Heart Throb'

Cornus kousa 'Beni fuji'

Cornus kousa 'Akatsuki'

Cornus kousa 'Akatsuki'

Goodbye 'Wolf Eyes'.....Hello 'Summer Fun'

Cornus kousa 'Summer Fun'

Alright, there are a lot of trees in the Cornus section, but how about the Cornus genus itself? Well, the oriental Cornus kousas are the most prevalent, as I learned long ago that the kousa species was less resistant to the "Dogwood" bane, Anthracnose (a fungus that affects a variety of plants in warm, humid areas) than the native Cornus florida of eastern North America. And, our market is largely in "warm, humid areas of central and eastern USA." The kousas come with variable leaf and blossom colors, and most provide exciting fall color. What's not to like about these neat little trees? Our Cornus section features kousa 'Heart Throb', our introduction 'Summer Fun', 'Beni fuji' and 'Akatsuki'. 'Heart Throb' is a vigorous tree with a rounded canopy, and possibly the most deep-red blossom of any – at least here in Oregon. The flower of 'Beni fuji' is also very red, but the tree is much more dwarf, and it might take at least ten years for it to grow five feet tall. 'Summer Fun' is our introduction, and it features one of the most delicious white-and-green leaf variegation of any plant, and is certainly much superior to the previously-selected cultivar of 'Wolf Eyes'. Nice name, 'Wolf Eyes', anyway. 'Akatsuki' is also variegated white-and-green, but not as prettily as 'Summer Fun'; however 'Akatsuki' features flower bracts that vary from reddish to quite red, depending on the season. While it's nice to have reddish flowers on a white-green tree – since they stand out more – the blossoms last only a few weeks, whereas the vibrancy of 'Summer Fun' lasts through spring and summer. In addition, 'Summer Fun' is unsurpassed for autumn color. Ok, I'll admit: that 'Summer Fun' is the best selection of kousa, largely because it is my selection. Good bye 'Wolf Eyes' hello 'Summer Fun'.

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'

Sarcodes sanguinea

The sanguinea species of Cornus is commonly called the "Bloodtwig Dogwood" because of its red stems. But the 'Sango kaku'-like cultivar of 'Midwinter Fire' is adorned with glowing coral-red winter stems. The bush throbs with color for half a year, while admittedly it is a non-event during spring and summer. The genus name sanguinea is from Latin for "blood-red," but the 'Midwinter Fire' cultivar is much more orange-bright, and it absolutely glows with photographic backlight. I am reminded of the plant Sarcodes sanguinea, commonly called "Snow Plant," which occurs in southern Oregon to Yosemite in mid-eastern California. This phallic protuberance emerges in late spring at elevations between 4,000 to 9,000 feet in elevation. I first saw this ericaceous plant with a blonde girlfriend years ago, and we practically raced to the nearest motel to celebrate our discovery. The wild flower does not accomplish photosynthesis, but is rather in favor of a symbiotic relationship with underground fungi. Such plants, my God, provide as much entertainment as any person or event. One never tires, for the more you learn and experience, the more joy you receive.

Cornus paucinervis

I'll admit that I'm a sucker for "BIO plants," which means of "Botanical Interest Only," and Cornus paucinervis is certainly one such plant. It is a small deciduous shrub with a dense, low-spreading form. The Chinese native is unremarkable for its small, narrow green leaves and creamy-white summer flowers...followed by tiny black fruits in autumn. The flowers are shaped in a cruciform (cross) arrangement, and are presented in an umbelliform cyme inflorescence. And the botanical term cyme usually means a flat-topped flower cluster which ends in a bloom...that begins before the flowers below or beside it open. The cyme term, from French for "summit," is probably one that neither you nor I will remember. The species name paucinervis is derived from French (that from Latin) paucus meaning "little" or "few," and nervis is from Latin nervus which refers to a "fiber." But I must admit that I don't know where the "few" or "small" fibers exist on the plant. I'll research that further this summer when the plant is in bloom.

Cornus x 'Porlock'

Cornus x 'Porlock'

Cornus x 'Porlock'

The final Cornus that I'll discuss is the hybrid 'Porlock' which is a cross between Cornus kousa and Cornus capitata, and it originated in the garden of Norman Hadden in Porlock, England. In mild winters at Flora Farm the reddish-brown foliage persists throughout the winter, but this year many leaves have fallen, which I'm glad about because I don't find them attractive anyway. The hybrid is said to be hardy to -10 degrees F, USDA zone 6, but that might be wishful thinking since the capitata species itself is only hardy to zones 8 or 9. In the low-elevation Himalayas the dogwood fruits are edible by birds and humans, and it is known as the "Himalayan Strawberry Tree." The Latin name cornu means "horn" due to the hardness of the Cornus wood. The species name capitata is derived from Latin caput, meaning "head," due to the mounding flowers and fruits.

The Cornus section, or any in the upper gardens, are not really traditional landscapes, but rather a hodge-podge of trees and shrubs that I have managed to collect. Those discussed today are not necessarily my favorites, but every one of them has something to offer. Occasionally I am talked out of a particular specimen, but for the most part the trees are there for the long haul. I wonder if they'll be there ten years after I'm gone? A hundred years? Maybe I'll be up in the sky, hanging out with Flora, looking down on my trees...

"Nice tree collection, Talon,
you can hang out with me anytime."


  1. Lovely review, and it prompted a question: what is your opinion of Abies pinsapo Aureum for the southern Willamette valley? (rural Eugene)

  2. I do so enjoy your rambles! I will be on a search for Cornus 'Summer Fun' from now until I find it. Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm - I feel the same way.

    1. Gossler Farm in Springfield has Summer Fun--and they do mail order.

  3. As always you share your enthusiasm for plants and educate us laypersons in their origin and growth habits. I am grateful for both your passion and your knowledge,