Friday, April 11, 2014

Into the Maple Houses

One-year maple grafts in the greenhouse

After enduring a very long and brutal winter, we finally receive our reward with the emergence of new foliage on the maples. Is it raining, cold and blustery outside? No problem; lets head into the greenhouses where the indoor spring season is a couple of weeks ahead of the outdoors. Wow! Not to brag, but there's no place on Earth more beautiful than in the maple houses in spring, and I especially like to be in them on a Sunday when all is quiet and I'm all alone. But hey, you can come along with me this time, but keep quiet please.

Acer palmatum 'Pinkie' in April

Acer palmatum 'Pinkie' in July

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' in October

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' in May

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' in January


Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Seedling from Mikawa yatsubusa'

The first maple to fully leaf out is Acer palmatum 'Pinkie', a wonderful cultivar that originated as a mutation on a seedling from 'Mikawa yatsubusa'. Let me elaborate: we collected seed from Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa', the one pictured above, and that is considered the mother tree (but we have no clue which tree was the pollinator). The seedling that germinated – as well as hundreds of others – displayed 'Mikawa yatsubusa' type of leaves and growth habit, yet was slightly different in its own way. At about five years of age an errant, congested branch appeared, sprouting from the lower portion of the 'Mikawa'-like seedling. Did the pollen parent have anything to do with this? Anyway we cut back the host, but not completely, to allow the mutation to prosper, but still for it to receive additional sustenance from some of the green host. Hopefully that was clear.

Author Peter Gregory observing the original Acer circinatum 'WB Hoyt'

Acer circinatum 'WB Hoyt' in the garden

Acer circinatum 'WB Hoyt' autumn color

We will observe the 'Pinkie' for more years before passing it around, to be sure that it is not prone to reversion, and that it is free from other problems. It is most likely that our "project" will not pan out, as that's the way it usually goes, but it sure is cute at this point. I'll point out that the mutation – or broom – leafs out before the host, and that is typical. For example, last week I walked past the Acer circinatum broom, 'WB Hoyt', at Portland's Hoyt Arboretum. It was in half-leaf, but the mother host was showing no new growth. Guess which drops its leaves first in autumn?

Acer palmatum 'Little Sango'

Acer palmatum 'Little Sango'

While we're on brooms, how about the cultivar Acer palmatum 'Little Sango'? It originated as a witch's broom on an otherwise normal Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'. I'll confess that my name is not hoyle, that one should not combine the English word little with sango, the Japanese name for "coral." It was just a generic tag that I initially gave the broom. But we did print (publish) the labels, and before I knew it a good customer saw my crop and wanted some. And there you go: T. Buchholz, who is normally very careful with plant names, did commit an international nomenclatural infraction.

Acer circinatum 'Baby Buttons'

Acer circinatum 'Baby Buttons'

Acer circinatum 'Little Gem'

Acer circinatum 'Little Gem'

Another witch's broom mutation, possibly the tiniest of all cultivated "vine maple" selections, is Acer circinatum 'Baby Buttons'. So far I conclude that it grows at less than half the rate – maybe much less – than the old geezer, 'Little Gem', found years ago as a witch's broom in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia. By the way, my oldest 'Little Gem' is planted in the Flora Wonder Arboretum's Blue Forest, and at thirty two years of age it is seven feet tall by ten feet wide. If you look into the interior of 'Little Gem', its stem caliper is at least four times the size of its palmatum rootstock. As with other circinatum dwarves, 'Baby Buttons' will exhibit enthusiastic shoots when grown in a container, and especially when residing in a greenhouse. I estimate that its growth rate will be about 20" tall by 20" wide in ten years if planted out. Unfortunately, in my garden, 'Baby Buttons' has never displayed outstanding fall color, something that the circinatum species is noted for. It is usually a dull crappy yellow with browned leaf-edges, but then, that's how 'Little Gem' is frequently colored. Hopefully someone in the future can report more colorful autumn foliage for 'Baby Buttons'.

Acer palmatum 'Ikandi' in April

Acer palmatum 'Ikandi' in July

Acer palmatum 'Alpenweiss'

Acer palmatum 'Higasayama'

A fantastic Japanese maple of seedling origin is Acer palmatum 'Ikandi', and I propose that it is more spectacular than its mother parent, Acer palmatum 'Alpenweiss' (a Bob Baltzer introduction, that he and I both conclude is more colorful than 'Alpenweiss's' mother, 'Higasayama'). How about that for horticulture? Grandma 'Higasayama' is widely admired, but daughter 'Alpenweiss' is perhaps "better" (more colorful), but grandchild 'Ikandi' surpasses them both. We'll never know the pollinators involved with any of these three cultivars, but imagine the dazzling progeny that might arise from 'Ikandi'.

Acer shirasawanum 'Johin'

Acer shirasawanum 'Shira Red'

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii'

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii'

Acer shirasawanum 'Green Snowflake'

I have introduced a number of Acer shirasawanum cultivars, but they are all of questionable parentage, and I suspect that some – or all – of them contain palmatum blood. Acer palmatum can easily interbreed with Acer shirasawanum, and the offspring are...are then...just what? In an open garden setting, such as exists in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, one never knows exactly what is co-mingling with what. In the case of the shirasawanums/palmatums, I define the progeny to be shirasawanum if the seed arises above the foliage, and palmatum if it droops below. Will we ever know what percent of whichever species it is? How was one labeled as "black" in apartheid South Africa – and at what percent? I know that my brother-in-law's uncle was at least 1/8 Native American, and therefore qualified for Alaskan governmental remuneration* for his native ownership of gold, oil or mineral rights. He proudly refused recompense, for the odd reason that he didn't feel Indian enough. Geeze, I would've taken the money.

*from the verb remunerari, from re(expressing intensive force) and munus or munder (gift).

Acer shirasawanum 'Red Dawn'
Acer shirasawanum 'Yasemin'

Acer shirasawanum 'Yasemin'

Anyway, with the myriad of palmatum/shirasawanum hybrids – and we have 'Red Dawn', 'Shira Red', 'Yasemin', 'Mirte' and many others – I have decided to use a species name, rather than to indicate an x for a cross, and that is because I'm not positive that the subject is indeed a hybrid. For example, is 'Yasemin' truly a palmatum or is it purely shirasawanum or is it a hybrid? Whichever way the seed hangs, is it half-and-half, or is it three-quarters one and one-quarter of the other? How should my introductions of 'Johin', 'Kawaii' and 'Green Snowflake' be classified? With the seed up, I consider them to be shirasawanums. I have posed this question for years, but to date no scientific or empirically-oriented white lab-coat "expert" has ever taken it on. I understand that the reader might ask, "Whatever, who cares?" Fair question, but I'll remind you that the shirasawanum species is considered one full zone more cold-hardy than palmatum; so that the cultivar in question might survive a nasty winter with its shira blood, over its predominantly palmatum brethren.

Acer palmatum 'Chitose yama'

We grow a modest number each, of hundreds of cultivars, and if we only propagate 25 of some of the obscure ones per year, then that's plenty. GH10 is filled with a couple of hundred cultivars – some well-known and some not. I like the lesser-known, the underdogs, and in spring you can see why they were originally selected. Acer palmatum 'Chitose yama' is one such obscurity, but its unusual brown-green new growth makes it noticeable in spring. It will never be anybody's favorite cultivar, but you can understand how the discoverer – up on Mount Chitose perhaps – was intrigued by the unique color. It will form a mounding bush, about as wide as tall, and its arching branchlets give it a pendulous look. Fall color, for me, is a brown-red-to brick-red. 'Chitose yama' is probably number 873 on my list of most favorite palmatum cultivars, but nevertheless I was impressed when I walked past a small group today.

Acer palmatum 'Shin hikasa'

Also impressive was a few of the "weak-freak" selections that are not strong-growing and ones certainly not suitable for the average gardener, but maples that certainly dazzle you in early spring. I am unable to distinguish three of these without their labels. Acer palmatums 'Shin hikasa', 'Abigail Rose' and 'Squitty' are all problematic dwarves, but they can display small leaves with pink, white and green portions in a striped pattern. In other words you can have a dwarf 'Alpenweiss' or 'Ikandi'. In my experience, these three are absolutely amazing now, then the leaves will burn or wilt on the first hot day in June, and then you will actually consider to throw them out. But vigorous new growth will burst out in late summer, though not so colorful, but at least you are assured that your little mutants have survived. Shin in Japanese is "new" or "improved," while hikasa is "sunshade" or "parasol." I don't get the meaning at all. But sometimes the Japanese letters "g" and "k" re interchanged, as in kawa and gawa, and it has been explained to me that the Japanese will select one over the other simply because it sounds better to them. I wonder then, if "Shin hikasa" means a "new" or "improved" higasa, as in 'Higasayama', as the leaves on each cultivar can be similar. I only speculate on this, and I could be way off.

Acer palmatum 'Abigail Rose'

Acer palmatum 'Squitty'

Acer palmatum 'Squitty'

I do know that 'Abigail Rose' and 'Squitty' were sister seedlings, but from what mother tree I do not know. Both originated from the late Harold Johnson of Alabama. He named one of the seedlings 'Abigail Rose' for his granddaughter, and sent the "sister" to me to "try," as he put it, but warned me that it was "just a squitty little thing." So I grew my seedling, and eventually propagated and named it 'Squitty', which I took to mean "tiny, little shitty thing," or something like that. In any case, the two sisters are practically identical and I grow both, not for profit, but really just to honor the generous Mr. J. He was a guy who, in his eighties, would send me a couple of zip-lock bags of shelled pecans that he hand-cracked himself. I regret – I really do – that I didn't set aside time to visit old Harold in Alabama, to visit him on his old rocking chair on his porch, and to thank him for his support of my career. Mr. J. died a few years ago, but I – and all of you readers – have continued. One day, just shortly before his death, Harold called me about something Acer. But before his question, I asked "Howryadoin?" He didn't reply, "Fine," as we all normally do, but instead said, "Well, not so good."

Acer palmatum 'Johnnie's Pink'

Acer palmatum 'Hino tori nishiki'

Acer palmatum 'Phoenix'

Acer palmatum 'Kawahara Rose'

We grow another Johnston maple, Acer palmatum 'Johnnie's Pink. It is an upright tree that will eventually develop a broad canopy. Leaves are bright pink in spring, and then evolve to green-red in summer. It is an interesting tree, but we don't sell too many of them. 'Johnnie's Pink' competes in popularity with other (fairly new) cultivars such as 'Hino tori nishiki' (which means "Firebird" in Japanese), 'Phoenix'* -- the palmatum, not the conspicuum species – 'Kawahara Rose' and others.

*The word phoenix is derived from Old English fenix, and that ultimately from Greek phoinix. It referred to a bird that was associated with the sun, and a phoenix attained new life by arising from the ashes of an expired bird. In this cyclical sense, Acer palmatum 'Phoenix' receives new life every spring. In the past the phoenix was purple-red in hue, while our maple is bright pink-red in spring. When I was a child I remember a popular cartoon character named Phoenix the Cat.

Acer palmatum 'Beni shi en'

Harold Johnston's most famous maple introduction was probably Acer palmatum 'Beni shi en', which translates into Japanese as "red smoke." It was discovered as a mutation on an Acer palmatum atropurpureum. Unfortunately it is prone to reversion, so any atypical shoots should be removed. It's a frequent problem in horticulture that the mutations have an urge to go back to what they once were, such as the tendency for the dwarf Alberta Spruce to put out larger branches typical of the Picea glauca species. Vertrees/Gregory suggest that 'Beni shi en' ultimately grows up to 20' tall, but in the original Display Garden I have a 17-year-old specimen that is already 20' tall. Stand back if you garden in Oregon*

*Sometimes I'm not completely truthful when I list height and width on our website. I take the ten-year size prediction down a notch to be more in match with what your growth experience will be.

Acer palmatum 'Corallinum'

A final maple that I'll discuss is Acer palmatum 'Corallinum', and that is because our huge specimen near the office caught the eye of Michael Steinhardt of New York, and he bought it for his Mt. Kisco garden, for an offer that I couldn't refuse. So Sayonara, Adios, Auf Wiedersehn, but someday I'll journey back there for a reunion. Often my own staff will gasp when I agree to part with a favorite venerable old tree, like I run some independently wealthy tree museum. But the 'Corallinum', the largest one that I have seen, grew quite large and it was too close to the road. At least now I won't lose it to one of the bozo truck drivers that we get around here.


  1. I see the joke but surely it was Felix the Cat? And thanks for creating an appetite for beautiful slow growers with problems ? Not!!!!

    Mike McCarthy