Friday, August 15, 2014

Helter Swelter

Photo: NASA

To swelter is to be "faint with heat," and is from Old English sweltan "to die" or "perish." In Old Norse svelta meant "to put to death" or "starve." The news media loves words like "sizzle" and "swelter," and they are often employed into headlines about the weather. You can experience a "heat wave," but never a "cold wave;" for cold it would be a "cold snap." In the 15th century snap meant to "make a sudden audible bite," and was derived from the German snappen for "seize." Oh snap or ah snap is a phrase used for the occurrence of something unexpected or surprising, and for some, snap is a euphemism for "shit." Personally, snapping at me was something that my ex-wife excelled at.

We and our plants are rather worn as we drag ourselves through August. Indeed we swelter, with so many days above ninety. In Oregon we experience very little humidity when we're hot, and consequently many plants burn, plants that perform admirably in the central and east coast regions of the USA. I frequently remind myself that we are, and thank God we're not in Phoenix, Arizona or Baghdad, Iraq where 90% of my plants would swelter and perish. My hobby – or perhaps my obsession – is world weather, and my anal sphincter twists and cringes every time that some dramatic weather develops somewhere in the world. Severe ice storms in Connecticut, for example, petrify and remind me how disaster could happen here one day. Icy trees smash everything and power can be out for weeks. "Agh! I'm bankrupt," I Imagine.

Death Valley Photo: Tuxyso/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0

The factoid that impresses me immensely is that America's one-two punch for weather occurs most frequently in California, where more days are the hottest – in Death Valley, California – and the most cold are in Bodie State Park, California. Interestingly the two locations are a mere 424 km apart, and it takes me only four hours to cover the distance by car. Bodie State Park can/does freeze in any month of the year, whereas Death Valley records more temperatures over 100 degrees per year than anywhere else in America. Meanwhile I am here in Oregon growing my delicate exotics, and while they have provided me with a living, a career, all aspects of my pursuits are tenuous at best. In August we water, water and water...which is too much for some plants and too little for others, but it is a drudgerous task that consumes a great deal of company resources.

Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost' in May

Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost' in August

Generally, the maples in the nursery are tired, the variegates washed out of their color distinctions, while many of the reds have bleached to bronze or green. August is the month that I'm least proud to show off my "Ghost" introductions, except that 'Sister Ghost' and 'Amber Ghost' still look cheerful.

Acer palmatum 'Pung Kil'

But, the other day I walked past a beautiful row of Acer palmatum 'Pung Kil', and the foliage was the most deep of all purple. In the blinding sunlight I perceived them as almost black. They were planted in 20" square wooden boxes and were pleased about their situation, while I appreciated how black could radiate light, as demonstrated here, and 'Pung Kil' never looked so good, so impressive. I have some confusion over this great cultivar – and we sell a ton of them – because I don't know exactly how to spell the name, but I think it was named for Mr. Pung Kil from the Chollipo Arboretum in South Korea, so I suppose the "K" should be capitalized. However, no one named 'Pung Kil' should have a maple named in his honor, and really, how could Mrs. or Mr. Kil even think to name their son "Pung?" Just asking.

Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold'

Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'

Other maples look great in August as well. In the Flora Wonder Arboretum I have a mature specimen of Acer platanoides 'Princeton Gold', a wide-canopied cultivar of "Norway Maple" that strikes boldly in the landscape, assuming one has enough room for it. It has absolutely no problem with summer's heat even though the large leaves are butter-yellow. I admit, though, that the tree has bleached into a more light-yellow by August, compared to its color from May through July. I've never grown one in shade but I suspect that it would turn green. It was discovered in 1987 at Princeton Nurseries (now no longer existing) as an unusual yellow seedling in a batch of green-leaved seedlings. It wasn't a great discovery – although it is a great cultivar – because anybody could have spotted it, kind of like me with my Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'. The only thing I don't like about 'Princeton Gold' is that it is patented, so a small nursery like mine can't grow the twenty-to-thirty per year, which would probably be all I could sell. I understand the game that the large shade-tree nurseries play, as they want to monopolize the market. I guess I'm just not a big enough "Norway Maple" player.

Acer buergerianum 'Miyasama'

My oldest specimen of Acer buergerianum 'Miyasama' looks fantastic in August, and it is the tallest (12') of that cultivar that I have ever seen. Certainly there must be some at least triple my size in Europe or Japan.* Never does it burn, and the glossy green leaves always look fresh, even though they are thick and leathery. We have listed the cultivar before as 'Miyasama yatsubusa', but the latter part just refers to it being dwarf. 'Miyasama' is easy to sell but we never have many due to propagation difficulty. Generally a one-gallon plant is five or six years old, so it's not very profitable either.

*Vertrees in Japanese Maples reports that, "one of the oldest specimens was in the garden of Prince Fushimi." Miyasama means "prince," and the cultivar was known as 'Miyasama kaede', the "prince's maple."

Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel'

Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel' loves the summer heat, assuming that it receives adequate moisture. Often the "vine maples" are sited in shade, but 'Burgundy Jewel' would be mostly green in a shady location. The cultivar was a selected seedling out of a group of normal green circinatums, another example where the finder – Gordy Halgren of Peacedale Nursery in Washington state – couldn't fail to notice it. I love to walk past my three rows in the Flora Farm field, for every plant has a sturdy appearance and my trees look type A, like they're the maples in charge. Acer circinatum is a popular small tree for use around commercial buildings in the Northwest, and seemingly every bank is landscaped with them. That, and Viburnum davidii and those compact ever-blooming roses. If I have anything to do with it, those commercial buildings will one day be landscaped with 'Burgundy Jewel'.

Acer palmatum 'Marlo'

Acer palmatum 'Taylor'

Two new Dutch selections, Acer palmatums 'Marlo' and 'Taylor', are looking good now. 'Taylor' is the more liable of the two to be damaged from powdery mildew, as the small variegated leaves are thin with cream-white, pink and green portions, and those type of maples are frequently suspect. If it ever had mildew this year, it has busted out of it with a foot or more of new growth in the last month. Both cultivars are willowy with thin arching shoots and I think they'll remain as bushes rather than as trees. I don't have a clue what size the originals have grown to, or even how they originated. To date I've never seen either revert. 'Taylor' is patented by Dick Van der Maat and we are licensed to grow it, but I would choose 'Marlo' of the two, primarily for greater mildew resistance. These two exciting selections make the horticulture professor's statement (at the 2002 Maple Society Conference) that "certainly we have enough Acer palmatum cultivars" sound very shallow.

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii' in May

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii' in August

Pinus parviflora 'Tanima no yuki'

Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii' – Japanese for "cute" – is looking good, and I'm talking about the older foliage. In spring I would call its color red-purple, but now it is predominantly orange at the tips and a cream-white for the remainder of the leaf. This bicolor is most pronounced on plants grown in full sun and in the ground. When my Japanese wife first saw this sweet seedling, back when it was not yet named, she exclaimed in delight, "Ah kawaii," with the ii part drawn out. I asked, and she told me what that meant, so 'Kawaii' seemed appropriate and we marketed it as such. I reflect on how important – when you also consider other occasions – that this humble daughter of a prominent Tokyo banker has made an impact on horticulture. She has named many other maple cultivars – at my prodding – and her whimsical-serious perspective has resulted in 'Sensu' ("moving fan"), 'Johin' ("elegant") and 'Haru iro' ("spring color"); while I have saddled the maple world with 'Geisha Gone Wild', 'Ikandi' and 'Kinky Krinkle'. Besides maples, my wife has enlightened the American world of conifers by informing us that 'Tani mano uki' (Pinus parviflora) is absolutely an invalid name, and that it is actually 'Tanima no yuki' – "snow in the valley." Furthermore, I learned that tanima is a crude Japanese male term for a woman's cleavage, hence the "valley."

Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'

What fun it was – recently – to walk past a row of thirty-year-old red upright Acer palmatum cultivars. In the old days, many customers new to maples asked me which was the "best" red upright. Obviously that was a difficult question to address, for where are you located, what is your soil like, what is your irrigation program etc? So I planted a couple of each in our Far East section, and I would let customers decide for themselves...with a caveat that I'm growing them in Oregon, and their site might yield different results. Well, after 30 years my opinion will be rendered, that 'Fireglow' is superior to 'Bloodgood', 'Nuresagi', 'Shojo nomura' etc. Of course, when I observed these selections the other day, it was when the early sun was shining through the trees, and the fiery light of 'Fireglow' – with the sun as backlight – provided the most impressive show. Remember that I'm writing in August, for in May they all look similar. Also note that in the southeast many growers prefer 'Hefner's Red' or 'Margaret Bee', that they hold the best color in the muggy, sweltering weather. In other words, be careful to express your opinion, especially when you are young, for as you age you will become, like me, increasingly ignorant. Occasionally a customer will ask me to choose a selection of "can't miss" maples for him, as he trusts my opinion more than his own. So, "can't miss" then? Well, they all can miss, you dimrod. But I do my best, and generally the customer is pleased.

Acer palmatum 'Red Flash'

Gilardelli Nursery in Italy introduced 'Fireglow', and it arrived in America about 35 years ago. I'm always afraid of having too many, even though I always quickly sell out. Mr. G. visited Buchholz Nursery about 10 or more years ago, and through his right-hand man and interpreter we conducted a useful conversation. Besides, when he spoke in Italian, I pretty much understood, due to my forty years of sputtering Spanish. When we walked past my largest specimen of 'Fireglow' – which I proudly led him to – Mr. G. waved it off as old hat, that he had moved Acer palmatum 'Red Flash'. I took due note, and convinced myself that I needed to acquire 'Red Flash' – and what a great name! – as soon as possible. But initially 'Red Flash' proved to be a disappointment. It really isn't very red to begin with, and by July the leaves are a boring green-red, at least here in Oregon. However, now in August, bright red new growth appears, and the contrast between the tired old leaves and the flashing new leaves is quite impressive. Still, 'Fireglow' is the better cultivar and I now understand that old G. was just hyping his new maple, and he knew full well that 'Red Flash' wasn't really that great.

In August

Acer palmatum 'Ruslyn in the Pink' in May

Better than 'Red Flash' is Acer palmatum 'Ruslyn in the Pink', and August is its best month by far. It is poorly named, or at least awkward in my opinion, for it is never "pink." 'Ruslyn' is fairly compact but not dwarf. Spring foliage is purple-red but never rivals the dozens of other cultivars for outstanding color, and by July you could call it puke-red, boring, a non-event etc. For some reason I planted one at the west end of the Display Garden, then largely forgot about it. Then, last August and again this August too, I walked past and marveled at the new growth. Somebody please weigh-in on what you think that color is, and if you say "pink," well all right then.

Acer saccharum

Acer saccharum

Acer saccharum 'Apollo'

Acer saccharum 'Sweet Shadow'

Foliage of the "Sugar Maples, Acer saccharum, look wonderful from spring through fall. A fantasy tree would be one with red leaves in spring and summer, just as the palmatums contain both green and red cultivars. Such a tree might even outsell my new blue ginkgo. At least some cultivars turn red in autumn. I'm sure there is a scientific reason for why in the wild – at least in Michigan – the sugar forest is completely yellow in fall, but I don't know the answer. In other locations, and with other cultivars, autumn coloration is fiery orange to red.

Acer saccharum 'Newton Sentry'

Acer saccharum 'Monumentale'

I'm partial to the columnar sugar maples. 'Newton Sentry' has multiple leaders with very short side branches. According to Hillier, 'Newton Sentry' was first introduced in 1871 as 'Columnare', and is from the saccharum subspecies nigrum. Krussmann says it was introduced in 1885 by FL. Temple of Shady Hill Nurseries in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This Mr. Temple, according to Krussmann, also introduced 'Temple's Upright' in 1887 and equates it with "Acer saccharinum monumentale [sic], and that it is "often used as a street tree in the USA." Hillier claims that 'Monumentale' is the same as 'Temple's Upright', and that it has been confused with 'Columnare'. Confused?* Me too, and I don't think any of the above are "often used" as street trees in the USA. Krussmann. Krussmann (1910-1980). Come back and explain yourself.

*By the way, you can go on the internet and become even more confused.

Today's blog theme began by expressing how worn-out and tired the maples are in August, but then I contradicted that with numerous exceptions. Maybe it is just me who is worn-out. Today it is 97 degrees F, and tomorrow is supposed to be 102. When weather is extremely cold or extremely hot, these extremes wear me out and I suppose that the life of an insurance salesman or a store clerk would be better. Then, I would probably bring more energy and enthusiasm to my family, and we would all tiptoe to the ice cream shop. I employ a good crew of diligent workers, to be sure; and they stick with me because they can make more money than with the competition, but really: we all need a rest.

Buchholz & Child at the end of the day.


  1. East coast. Gave up on 'Taylor' poor, frail, grower burns up in August. "Your right 'Pung Kil' stays almost black throughout, some leaf burn but not serious. "Beni Otake" better on leaf burn but now green. Take a look at 'Ukigumo' for best red, good shape, holds well. 'Fireglow' is a slow, slow grower!
    Come spring all will be forgiven. So I'm off to the New Zealand spring and D&D's famous show then back t to graft one more time before it al starts again. We are so fortunate!!!

    Mike Mc Carthy

  2. One acer that I believe deserves least here in the sweltering Midwest heat is acer palmatum "Aratama" . A slow grower but most of them are. Just a beautiful specimen. Conversely a relatively fast growing specimen here has been "Orange Dream" which is in a protected spot. It has some burn by August but is growing about 18" annually. A huge fan.