Friday, March 14, 2014

Anything in Color?

Yesterday, a fellow plantsman asked about my garden, "Anything in color?" Well, there's a preponderance of gray – up in the sky and into many deciduous branches and trunks. Of course there's color with the conifers, with green, blue and yellow most prominent. A few red or yellow-bark maples are quite noticeable now as well. But he didn't mean those things at all, he meant what was flowering. So I walked around with that question in mind, and I'll now post my report.*

*Keep in mind that the Flora Wonder Blog comes out every Friday. But sometimes it's written a week or two ahead, and like waiting cars at the metered on-ramp, this 3/3/14 rendition is now appearing in mid-March. Anyway, zoom into it!

Rhododendron x 'Pink Snowflakes'

Rhododendron x 'Pink Snowflakes' is blooming lustfully in a pot that I have placed near the office door. The sweet cutie features small, glossy green leaves and I doubt that in my lifetime it will ever exceed three feet tall by three feet wide. Tiny flower buds are bright red, but don't let that fool you, because they'll open up to light pink with purple speckles inside. I cannot think of any Rhododendron more cute than 'Pink Snowflakes', and when blooming one person called it an "absolute chick plant," meaning that all women would fall for it. The hybrid is a cross between two Chinese species (racemosum x moupinense) but unfortunately is only hardy to 0 degrees F, USDA zone 7.

Rhododendron x 'Seta'

I can look out the office window at x 'Seta', another early-blooming Rhododendron resulting from a cross of R. moupinense with R. spinuliferum. The latter parent is also from China (Yunnan), and was originally discovered by the Abbé Delavay. 'Seta' is also pink, but a little more dark than 'Pink Snowflakes'.  A frost can ruin the floral fun, but the continuance of newly opening flowers keeps the show going for a month. As I've said, 'Pink Snowflakes' is cute, while I would describe 'Seta' as lovely.

Chimonanthus praecox 'Luteus'

The Chinese Chimonanthus genus is known as the "Winter Sweet," and my praecox plant is delightfully blooming now. Pendent bell-shaped yellow flowers appear on leafless stems, and we grow the cultivar 'Luteus' for a more pronounced yellow. After blooming the large shrub or small tree is rather boring, and I don't recall any memorable fall color either, but after a whiff of winter sweet on a rare sunny March day, 'Luteus' is definitely welcome in my garden. The praecox species has been cultivated in China for over 1,000 years, as parts of the plant contain oils used for culinary and medicinal purposes. The Chinese seem to find a use for everything, and Chimonanthus is used to treat measles, coughs and tonsillitis. Flowers can be used to flavor herbal teas, which I think I'll make right now, and later I'll scatter some in bed to surprise my wife with sweet-scented linen.

...Ah, I'm back now – not from a scented bed, but from the tea experience which I shared with Haruko. She stayed out of the kitchen and was anxious to know what kind of tea I would make. I put in a teabag of Chamomile, and the Chimonanthus flowers. Haruko has a highly developed sense of smell and can identify anything and everything, but the Chimonanthus altered the taste and smell and she couldn't decipher it (to my delight). "Anyway, it's good," she said; and then I told her the ingredients. After another sip, she looked straight at me and asked, "Is it ok to drink? It's not poisonous, right?"

Stachyurus praecox

The Latin word praecox can mean "ripe before its time" or "premature" or "precocious," but in botany or horticulture it means "very early," as in flowering. Other praecox examples are Stachyurus praecox, Lindera praecox or Rhododendron x 'Praecox' (an early-flowering hybrid between R. ciliatum and R. dauricum). Praecox is also the species name of some animals, such as Ceratotherium praecox (an extinct rhinoceros) and Deroceras praecox (a European slug). A medical condition, Dementia praecox, is a degenerative disease of early adulthood; and certainly no man wants to suffer from Ejaculatio praecox.

Chimonanthus zhejiangensis

Chimonanthus zhejiangensis

Chimonanthus zhejiangensis is another Chinese species, but far more rare. It is said to be evergreen (Flora of China), but mine is not after this Oregon winter. The photos above were taken last October at the Charles R. Keith Arboretum near Raleigh, North Carolina, but his specimen had nitens as the species name, which is closely related to zhejiangensis, or is in fact the same. Those not paying attention might mix up Chimonanthus (a genus in the Calycanthaceae family) with Chionanthus (a very different tree in the Oleaceae family). So be careful about it. The chimonanthus word means "winter flower" in Greek, while Chionanthus species bloom in mid-summer, and the two genera are as different as "cheese and chalk."

Acer palmatum seedlings from named maple cultivars

The Hellebores are in bloom now, and we sell a handful in gallon pots from the Winter Jewels strain. The word strain means that they are seedlings from a pretty nice selection, but of course they will all be a little different, just as my seedlings from named maple cultivars are all different. But as I like to say, "If the mother is beautiful, no matter the father, as the offspring have a good chance to also be beautiful, and some exceedingly so. Proof of that is in my own family, with Harumi and Saya.

Helleborus x hybridus '#101'

Helleborus x hybridus '#103'

Helleborus x hybridus '#102'

Helleborus x hybridus '#104'

Helleborus x hybridus '#105'

Helleborus x hybridus '#106'

Helleborus x hybridus '#107'

Helleborus x hybridus '#108'

Helleborus x hybridus '#109'

Helleborus x hybridus '#111'

Helleborus x hybridus '#110'

Helleborus x hybridus '#112'

Helleborus x hybridus '#113'

Every year the developers of the Winter Jewels, the O'Byrns from Eugene-area, Oregon, invite the plant hordes to pick and choose from their hybridizing efforts, and to buy a gallon pot at a modest price. Of course, they have picked through them first. Last year Eric Lucas and I joined the frenzy of Black-Saturday Hellebore shoppers and pulled out thirteen plants. These were planted in a large semi-circle near the office, known as the Inca Wall section of the original Display Garden. Each seedling was given a number, and in the future we may, or may not, asexually propagate them. Asexual means that they can be replicated by divisions, rather than by seed. Follow? Anyway, we might even use our little pencil erasers to pollinate one upon another, and create our own "strain." But seriously, I doubt that we'll do any of the above, because it seems the whole world is into Hellebores now, and we are probably already "too late to the party." Be as it may, they are wonderful today.

Sassafras tsumu

Sassafras tsumu

Sassafras tsumu

Sassafras tsumu

I have just bombarded the internet with eight photos – and I could have added a dozen more – of Sassafras tsumu, a Chinese tree that I get a great kick out of. As with its American counterpart, Sassafras albidum, these can display three types of leaves: the unlobed-oval, the "mitten" and the tri-lobe. The tsumu species, or tzumu, differs little from the albidum, just having more sharply tapered lobes, and also by being more often with three lobes. Since the species is dioecious (with male and female flowers on separate trees), I conclude my blooming specimen is male due to its nine stamens. The female flower displays a central pistil. But don't worry about that part; the leaves are fun and the bark is reddishly furrowed and ornamental, and all species provide an important source of food for birds. The roots of Sassafras were traditionally used for the flavoring of root beer until banned by the FDA, having been linked to liver damage and various types of cancer (in lab animals, anyway). Filé powder, known as gumbo, is a spicy herb from the leaves of the Sassafras tree, and it was used by southeastern USA Native Americans, and later incorporated into the Creole cuisine in Louisiana. Sassafras was also used as a cure for sexually transmitted diseases in Europe, and at one point in America, in the 1600's, it was the second-largest export from America behind tobacco. The name sassafras was coined by the botanist Nicolas Monardes in the 1500's, and apparently was a corruption of the Spanish word for Saxifrage, but I don't get why.

Edgeworthia chrysantha

The Edgeworthias are in fragrant bloom to the delight of the hummingbirds. The chrysantha species is commonly known as the "Oriental Paperbush," or "Mitsumata" in Japanese. The genus honors Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812-1881), an amateur botanist from Ireland. The chrysantha species name is derived from Greek xrus meaning "golden" and enteron meaning "guts," due to the golden flower centers. The genus is in the Thymelaeaceae (Daphne) family. I challenge you to look at the family name again, for ten seconds, and see if you can spell it correctly, no cheating. If you can accomplish that task I will honor your name in a future blog that I'll never publish. The deciduous shrub is native to China, Japan and Nepal, and years ago I stumbled across one in a spring pasture in the Himalayan foothills at about 7,000 feet elevation. The monster was dense to about ten feet tall by twelve feet wide, but its blooms were mostly spent. I wondered why the village cows or goats left it be, for it was in perfect shape.

Edgeworthia papyrifera or chrysantha 'Red Dragon'

Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Gold Rush'

We are growing two orange-red forms of Edgeworthia chrysantha, 'Akabana' and 'Red Dragon', but the blossoms look identical to me. Some (Gossler) consider the 'Red Dragon' to be in the papyrifera species, so please let me know if you are an authority. The two species will hybridize, but who would want the less hardy and less fragrant attributes of papyrifera? We also grow chrysantha 'Gold Rush', a robust selection with flowers larger than the norm. We root Edgeworthia cultivars in summer under mist, or we graft the cultivars onto potted liners of the species.
Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Akabana'

A final note is that a lot of vendors are confused about the species nomenclature – and that would include me. Not only do the species get mixed up, so does one cultivar spelling. We use 'Akabana', which I believe is correct, but many nurserymen spell it 'Akebono'. According to my wife, 'Akabana' is "absolutely correct," and she even looked it up on a Japanese nursery website. The meaning is: Aka for "red" and bana for "flower." Akebono is Japanese for "dawn."

Lindera obtusiloba

Lindera obtusiloba

Lindera obtusiloba

Lindera obtusiloba

We used to grow various species of the Lindera genus. Apparently I liked them more than my customers, as I didn't sell very many. Too bad, especially with the species obtusiloba, and I think the reason is that very few know it, and how fantastic it is. The flowers are in bloom now, and the large shrub or small tree is a mustard-yellow cloud. The flowers are small, but in mass the sight is memorable, and in appearance most of us cannot tell them apart from Cornus mas. Indeed, both are blooming at the same time. And, there is no better plant on earth with better yellow fall color than obtusiloba. It used to be known as Lindera triloba – which is obvious from the photos above, and is native to Japan, Korea and China.

Camellia x williamsii 'Water Lily'

In the previous thirty three years of my business I steered clear of the Camellia genus. And for good reason, I concluded about ten year ago, when the dark-side nursery "M." peddled thousands of them across the country infested with "Sudden Oak Death" (Phytophthora ramorum). Also, nurseries with Camellia discovered that they were a magnet for root weevils, especially in the early days when there were less treatment options. But last spring I was visiting Roger at Gossler Farms in Oregon – google it, and buy something for heaven sakes, but finish this blog first. Anyway I was stunned by the beauty of Camellia x williamsii 'Water Lily', and Roger gave me a look that said, "What took you so long?" The hybrid resulted from a cross of C. saleunensis with C. japonica, originally bred in southern England by John Charles Williams. The saleunensis species was introduced by George Forrest from Yunnan, China, and is primarily used in hybridization efforts with the Japanese, Camellia japonica. I latched onto a 'Water Lily' the very first opportunity I saw it for sale, and this year it is flowering luxuriously.

Camellia japonica 'Kujaku tsubaki'

Camellia japonica 'Kujaku tsubaki'

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl'

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl'

At Gossler's I was also fascinated with Camellia japonica 'Kujaku tsubaki' which featured unusual red flowers and a weeping form. This was Roger's largest plant, and since the japonica species is only hardy to USDA zone 8, he kept his specimen in the greenhouse, but he did run off to get me a smaller one. Suddenly a new world was opening up to me, and God knows: there have been thousands of Camellia selections over the years. A couple of weeks later Manager Phil Turrell attended a Camellia show, and declared that C. japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl' was the best. All three are blooming at this time, so you can decide for yourself.

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum 'Something Magic'

I'll finish showing off my March-flower goodies with the Cyclamen genus, and I suspect that many of you are surprised that I grow them. Cyclamen coum is a tuberous perennial native to southeastern Europe and Turkey. It is notable for rounded heart-shaped leaves, and delightful blossoms in February and March (here anyway). It forms a slow-growing groundcover and is hardy to at least USDA zone 5. 'Something Magic' is a coum cultivar cutie – say that three times fast! – which was distributed by Oregon's Terra Nova Nursery. Sadly, they no longer offer 'Something Magic', but since it is still under patent I cannot propagate more. If I discontinued producing a plant, for whatever reason, I wouldn't care if someone else (especially my customer) took it on, in fact I would be honored. I've never patented anything, and I generally don't care for nurseries who do, with a few exceptions.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Cyclamen hederifolium

Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Cloud'

Cyclamen hederifolium is the "Ivy-Leaved Cyclamen," as the foliage resembles hedera, the Latin name for "ivy." The genus name is from Greek cyclaminos meaning "circle," as the tuber tends to grow round. Cyclamen hederifolium begins blooming in autumn, and produces new leaves then as well, and even now in March a few blossoms persist. We grow the straight species, and also the exciting cultivar 'Silver Cloud', one of the most cool of all plants in the Flora Wonder Collection.

So yeah, buddy, we got stuff "showing color." We endured a crappy winter with cold, record snow and heavy rains at times. My propane bill (for heating greenhouses) was over thirteen thousand dollars for the short month of February. But the sights, sounds and smells of spring are coming upon us rapidly, and I am thankful for that.


The English word "winter" is derived from the Indo-European wed. From about 2,000 years ago, the Germanic word wentruz meant the "wet season," and thence into Old English it became winter. Sometimes it was spelled differently, such as wynter and wintur. In Dutch it is winter, in High and Low German it is winter, in Icelandic it is vetur, in Swedish it is vinter and in Norwegian it is vetter.

The season called spring is not difficult to understand. It  can mean to "jump" or "leap," and a water spring is a place where water comes out of the ground, where it jumps out and springs forth. And, of course, it is the season when plants begin jumping out of the ground. About 2,000 years ago the Germanic form was spreng, and then changed to spring about 1,000 years ago. The word season is from Latin serere meaning "to sow." From there to old French seson, then to Middle English season. "To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

"I don't know anything about propane bills, Talon, but yes, you have endured. Like with a garden, nurture your patience and help it to grow."


  1. HELLEBORES!!!!!

    what a nice spread Talon, wow!

  2. had a chance to take a tour of the Keith Arboretum with Mr. Keith's an awesome way to spend an afternoon