Friday, June 6, 2014

Fantastic Tree Trunks

Ghosts of trees past

There is an old saying, all women with happy smiles are beautiful. But the other parts are fascinating too, and one of my hobbies is to study the various features. Some guys are leg-men, some go for the breasts, some like blondes while others like Asians etc. I even saw a magazine photo of a pretty life-like Japanese robot that I found attractive, but it drew a stern glare from my wife. Soooorry dear!

When it comes to a tree, of course I appreciate the leaves and the flowers or cones, but I am really charged by the tree's trunk. I am a torso man, then. Employee Seth, who has to label and archive every photo, would say that I am obsessed with tree trunks. He hints that a lot of my plant-photo activity comes at a considerable cost to the company, as if greater profit would result in a higher wage for himself. He snidely remarked the other day, "well, that makes over 100 photos of Quercus garryana," like that was 99 too many. Seth doesn't know that I have another 100, as slides that I haven't gotten around to digitizing.

Quercus garryana

I am blessed to have four huge native oaks at my Flora Farm, and the oldest (photo above) was growing before George Washington was born. Notice a couple of green blobs in the tree; those are Sempervivums (from southern Europe) that were not planted by anyone, except a bird or a squirrel I guess. The previous owner said they just suddenly showed up. I'm always anxious about my oak, as the garryana species is not notably long-lived, and in the mornings after wild windstorms I fear I'll open the door and witness its demise. I don't "own" the oak of course, even though I bought the property because of it. It was here before me, and I pray that it will out-last me; I only borrow a little time in its presence.

Stewartia ovata

Last week I reported seeing Stewartia in the Great Smoky National Park, my first sighting ever of the genus in the wild. Stewartia ovata was its identity, but it was not yet in flower. That doesn't matter to Torso-man of course, as my attention was devoted to the colorful bark. I don't know if the specific name ovata is referring to the leaves or the flowers. Stewartia was named by Linnaeus for John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute, but an error led Linnaeus to assume the spelling was Stewart. Some insist that once a name is published it is too late to correct it, as in Acer pensylvanicum; others reject that logic and use the name Stuartia.

Stewartia sinensis

All of the Stewartias can have colorful exfoliating trunks, but trees sited in too much shade might not feature this characteristic. The photo (above left) is of Stewartia sinensis, I think growing at Hilliers in England, and I didn't recognize the genus at first. (Above right) is another growing on a lawn in full sun, also in England. The sinensis name refers to its origin in China, and it was introduced into cultivation by E.H. Wilson in 1901.

Stewartia koreana

Also introduced by Wilson in (1917) is Stewartia koreana, which some regard as a variety of S. pseudocamellia. I have grown koreana for many years, but I would always sell them at a small size, so I never did leave one alone to see its trunk develop. The photos above were taken at Oregon's Gossler Farms, where they apparently had the good sense to plant one long ago for keeps.

Stewartia pseudocamellia

Stewartia pseudocamellia

My favorite Stewartia specimen is a pseudocamellia (from Japan) that was transplanted out of plantsman Reuben Hatch's famous garden about ten years ago. It tipped over a couple of times in its box during wind storms because it never rooted thoroughly into its new soil. We call it our "giraffe tree," and I hope to plant it into the garden this fall.

Stewartia monadelpha

Stewartia x henryae

Stewartia x henryae 'Skyrocket'

Stewartia monadelpha is also native to Japan and is commonly known as the "Tall Stewartia." It differs from pseudocamellia by having smoother reddish-brown bark. A hybrid of monadelpha and pseudocamellia is x henryae. The photos above were taken three years ago at the Arboretum Kamthout in Belgium. x henryae was a spontaneous cross which occurred at the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research in Pennsylvania, and was described in 1964. We have a nice cultivar named 'Skyrocket' due to its narrow form, but propagating Stewartia cultivars by either grafting or rooting is not highly successful at Buchholz Nursery.

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Inverleith'
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Grayswood Ghost'

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Silver Shadow'

Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Jermyns'

Let's get to the birches, since they are primarily selected for their trunks and not their canopies. Probably most popular are the Betula utilis var. jacquemontii cultivars, or even just the species variety without any further selection. We used to grow them and sell a few, but we were largely undercut on price by the large shade-tree growers, those operations with tree rows a mile long. Park and large garden directors in England are fond of Betula, and I have seen 'Grayswood Ghost', 'Inverleith', 'Silver Shadow' and 'Jermyns', the latter a Hillier form with extra-long catkins.

Betula utilis at 8,000' elevation

Betula utilis at 12,000' elevation

Betula utilis 'Yunnan'

Betula utilis can be impressive in the Himalayas in the lower 5,000'-8,000' elevations, but can be rather scrappy at 10,000'-12,000'. There can be great variation in bark color, and I collected seed of one and introduced it as 'Yunnan', for that is where I found it in the 1980's, and its cinnamon coloration was especially nice with backlight. I say "was" because my specimen grew fast and displayed a pitiful canopy, and for the sake of overall garden appearance it met the blade of the chainsaw. I sold a number of them so hopefully a garden somewhere contains one.

Betula albosinensis

Many snob gardens – and that includes my own – feature Betula albosinensis. Trunk colors can vary from pink-to orange-to brown. The photo (left) is a propagule from a tree in the late Dr. Corbin garden of Portland, Oregon. The photo (right) is actually from a fallen log at Washington's Rhododendron Species Garden. The Corbin tree was also edited from my garden as it outgrew its place.

Betula ermanii

Betula ermanii 'Grayswood Hill'
Betula ermanii 'Mt. Apoi'

Betula ermanii 'Hooker' at Westonbirt Arboretum

The origin of the word Betula is probably from Sanskrit bhurja. B. ermanii was named for the German Adolph Erman (1806-1877) who found it on his travels from Berlin to eastern Russia on horse and foot. The species is noted for yellow-brown catkins and white exfoliating bark. 'Mt. Apoi' also has attractive white bark and a neat formal canopy, at least at Buchholz Nursery. 'Hooker' I don't grow, but I saw a venerable old specimen at Westonbirt Arboretum in England, and Peter Gregory (who did time there) said it was probably a collection by Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of the greatest of English explorers and botanists. It probably should not be considered a cultivar, but I just call it 'Hooker' in an effort to archive the photo.

Betula alleghaniensis

Betula cordifolia

Betula costata 'Fincham Cream'

Betula davurica
Betula nigra 'Fox Valley'

Betula populifolia

Betula uber

Above are other birch trunk photos, and I conclude that if you owned an estate large enough, you could amass an impressive collection. One could do worse than be a collector of birches, and imagine how fantastic the trunks would look in winter.

Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix
Acer x conspicuum 'Silver Vein'

Acer pectinatum 'Mozart'

Many species of maples are showy for their trunks, and the hybrid x conspicuum (between Acer davidii and A. pensylvanicum) is most conspicuous and worthy of notice. We have grown 'Silver Vein' and 'Phoenix' for a number of years. They must be sited carefully in Oregon in moist but well-drained soil, as our summers can cause sun scald on the bark. Unfortunately, if in too much shade the trunks will not be as colorful. Newer to us is Acer pectinatum 'Mozart', and I'm anxious for our original start to attain size, and we'll see how it does in an Oregon landscape.

Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'

Acer palmatum 'Shojo nomura'

Acer palmatum 'Tsuma gaki'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

You could easily dismiss the Acer palmatum species of having just ordinary trunks, but many specimens will impress you if given time to mature. For example, A. p. 'Sango kaku', or "coral tower" in Japanese, will eventually lose its red as the tree matures. One must stand back and look up into the canopy to see why the tree was originally selected and named. However, that does not mean that the trunk is boring, and my forty-year-old specimen in the original Display Garden is one of my most favorite trunks, even though it is now infested with moss and lichens. The bark of our old Acer palmatums 'Shojo nomura', 'Tsuma gaki' and 'Mikawa yatsubusa draw praise from garden visitors, and really, all of the old "Japanese maples" that I have seen develop interesting individuality.

Acer macrophyllum

Polypodium glycyrrhiza

There are three species of maple native to Oregon: Acer macrophyllum, A. circinatum and A. glabrum ssp. douglasii. The trunks of the "Big Leaf" or "Oregon Maple" are often half-rotten and host a number of miscellaneous species. Mosses, lichens and ferns love to coexist on these trees, and the most famous place for these hangers-on is the Hall of Mosses in the Olympic Rain Forest in Washington state, USA. The majestic specimen photographed above was near the trail, and I plan to return this fall to see if I can relocate it. One of my favorite creatures which the macrophyllum hosts is the "Licorice Fern," Polypodium glycyrrhiza, which is not the large fern in the photo, but you can see smaller ones up the trunk. I learned as a child to pick out a piece of the root, wipe the dirt off, then nibble gingerly for the sweet licorice taste, and I have taught all my children to do the same.

Pinus bungeana 'Silver Ghost'

Some of the Pinus species of the world look rather boring...unless you consider their bark. If Pinus bungeana had a plain-Jane trunk nobody would ever plant one. I've seen old specimens in China and in European arboreta, but my favorite of all grows in the Dawes Arboretum in Ohio, and it has even received cultivar status as 'Silver Ghost'. I grow 'Silver Ghost' myself, but don't have one large enough to see if it resembles the original seedling parent. What I mean is that Silver Ghost's fantastic coloration might be a trait that cannot be replicated elsewhere, that perhaps it is a result of its particular site, soil and climate.

Pinus ponderosa
Pinus roxburghii

I photographed the "Chir Pine," Pinus roxburghii, in the northern Indian Himalayan foothills about twenty years ago. According to Rushforth in Conifers, "Unfortunately, a hardy provenance of Chir pine still has to be found. Zone 9." Well I found it, Mr. Rushforth, because I have one in the arboretum that is over twenty years of age, and it has survived near 0 degree F winters. Full disclosure: mine might be grafted onto Pinus sylvestris rootstock, I don't remember. In many respects Pinus roxburghii resembles our West Coast native, Pinus ponderosa. Roxburghii was named for William Roxburgh (1751-1815), a Scottish surgeon and botanist who was considered the Father of Indian Botany. Pinus ponderosa was discovered and introduced by David Douglass in 1826 in eastern Washington. It was officially named ponderosa due to its heavy wood by Charles Lawson, a Scottish nurseryman. The ponderosa name is from Latin ponderare meaning "weigh" or "reflect on," as in to ponder something.
Pinus pinea

Pinus pinaster
Pinus pinea

I have tried to grow other species of pines with beautiful trunks but they have failed. The photos above were taken in southern England where they thrive. Pinus pinaster is the "Maritime Pine" and comes from the central and western Mediterranean. Pinus pinea is the "Stone" or "Umbrella Pine" and it occurs around the northern coast of the Mediterranean. Both of these species might take a harsh Oregon winter if they luck out with a decade of mild weather to become established.

Pinus sylvestris 'Orange'

The photograph above was taken at the Washington Park Arboretum of a Pinus sylvestris early in my career. Dr. Corbin of Portland originally gave me scionwood from the tree and I called it Pinus sylvestris 'Orange' just to keep track of it. I discontinued to propagate it when later I discovered other seedling sylvestris with equally orange trunks. As these trees age they lose some of their orangeness anyway.

Echium candicans 'San Bruno Pink'
Echium wildpretii

Echium pininana

I consider the photo of the Echium pininana to be a very sexy torso, a tree that I'd like to know better. This "Tree Echium" was growing in the conservatory in a German arboretum, and the Canary Island native is unfortunately not winter hardy. The Echium genus is noted for impressive flower spikes, such as with E. candicans 'San Bruno Pink' and E. wildpretii, but with a trunk like pininana I wouldn't care if it ever bloomed. That last statement reminds me of a customer who was excited about some plant here, and he said, "That's the wildest thing I've never seen."

Cupressus macrocarpa

Cupressus macrocarpa

The tree above will be familiar to many San Franciscans, for it is a behemoth Cupressus macrocarpa in the Strybing Arboretum.

California has been kind to me, for the state has renamed the world's largest Sequoiadendron giganteum from the General Grant Tree to the Talon Buchholz Tree, and Torso-man couldn't be more pleased.


  1. that last picture is great and amazing

  2. Hee Hee...nice one. Really enjoy your passion. Sorely missing n many of today's nursery people. lee

  3. forgot to mention, if you are over at the Oregon coast sometime, check out the old IOOF Cemetary behind Bay city. Large, old, barely alive Cupressus macrocarpa.

  4. great blog today as usual...where is beech nut tree i love their trunks!!!!!!!!!!

  5. id tell seth to look for another employer!

  6. Nice article. I like the smooth bark of birches and the peeling bark of the paperbark maple, but Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix is eyecatching. The photo of the stump with spring board marks was a great way to start off as it is a common sight in many forests of the PNW, including my own small forest in WA: It serves as a reminder of how different the world once looked even a hundred years ago.

  7. Hey Torso Man where's paperbark maple, or some crape myrtles. Could use a cherry torso too.

  8. I came across this post thanks to Google and I'm glad I did. Your photos are wonderful. This year I've been looking more at tree trunks and have really come to appreciate them and think you capture them so well.

  9. I may be so bold as to suggest Pseudocydonia sinensis, Ulmus parvifolia, Carya ovata and Prunus maackii. But the list could go on and on