Friday, March 27, 2015

Maple Time

Maples in the greenhouse

The maples are well into leaf in our greenhouses, and almost daily I inspect my holdings. For nearly five months previous I had nothing more than dormant sticks in pots with identifying plastic labels. That wasn't any fun, but now I am able to see their exciting differences. Once again we wake up with each other, and like a fresh spring bride, everything is full of promise.

Acer palmatum 'Katsura'

Acer palmatum 'Orange Dream'

Acer palmatum 'Akane'

Generally the Acer japonicums open first, followed by palmatums and then the shirasawanums. Since many cultivars of the alleged shirasawanum species are in fact hybrids with palmatum, some intermediacy in leafing out is apparent. Of course there are exceptions to the general rule, such as Acer palmatums 'Katsura', 'Orange Dream' and 'Akane' leafing out as quickly as any of the japonicums. These early-birds frighten me with their vulnerability, as only freaks of nature would dare to foliate so early. One of the advantages of owning or working in a nursery is that we receive two springs: one first from inside the greenhouses, then the other three weeks later from out in the garden.

Acer palmatum 'Phoenix'

Acer palmatum 'Phoenix'

Inside are a couple of impressive selections from Dick van der Maat from Boskoop, The Netherlands. Acer palmatums 'Phoenix' and 'Hino tori nishiki' both feature pinkish-red new growth. 'Phoenix' will form a compact broad shrub – in the garden – but more upright in the Buchholz container culture. Today its small leaves are brightly pink-red with yellow veins, then they evolve to a more green color by summer, while portions of red still remain at the margins. Fall color ranges from yellow to red, often on the same leaf at the same time.

I like the word phoenix, and it's a Greek mythological term that refers to a long-lived bird that is cyclically reborn. In association with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor, but according to some legends the old bird could live to over 1,400 years before rebirth. Descriptions vary as to the color of the phoenix, but the Greek Herodotus (the Father of History) claimed that it was red and yellow – the same color of Acer palmatum 'Phoenix'. Hmm, did van der Maat know all of this?

Acer palmatum 'Hino tori nishiki'

Firebird Ballet Dancer
Van der Maat's Acer palmatum 'Hino tori nishiki' is pretty much the same as 'Phoenix', and why not, for the Japanese name translates as “Firebird Variegated.” It is variegated in the sense that older leaves are green with a dusting of pink coloration, and also that these greenish leaves form the base of the shrub, while newer shoots above display a vibrant pink-red. The “firebird” myth is from Slavic folklore, and it is a glowing bird from a faraway land. It is magical of course, and even one feather can light a large room. The most famous use of the firebird legend was Igor Stravinsky's  ballet score, The Firebird, first produced by Sergei Diaghilev's company Ballet Russe.

Acer palmatum 'Taylor'

Taylor Lindeman
I didn't intend for this to be a Dick van der Maat blog, but let's stick with him for one more of his selections, Acer palmatum 'Taylor'. This colorful willowy bush is solidly pink today, but soon portions of lime-green will appear on the tiny leaves. One year we received a bright hot day in April and Taylor's foliage burned. Partly due to that stress, the foliage was dusted in June with powdery mildew. I thought about dumping the entire crop because I was so embarrassed, but I never got around to issuing the decree. In August they shot out two feet of vigorous branches and they looked great again. Overall the cultivar is worth growing I think, and we are licensed to propagate it in America. It was named for Taylor Lindeman, the granddaughter of van der Maat's sister.

Acer palmatum 'Green River'

Acer palmatum 'Green River' should perhaps be renamed Acer x 'Green River' for it is likely a hybrid of shirasawanum and palmatum. It has yet to leaf out, another indication that it contains some shirasawanum blood. But since its seed dangles beneath the foliage, unlike the upright samaras of the shirasawanums, I have decided to call it a palmatum. I am not a guy who likes to make up botanical rules, as I am not qualified, but I've pleaded in the past for an “expert” to weigh in, to shine some light on horticulture's gray areas. I suspect that plants are like people, where you can be one-fourth or one-sixteenth Indian or black or oriental. But with the batch of seedlings that resulted in one being selected as 'Green River', some of the others had seed rising above the foliage. A mongrel horde, as it were. In any case, 'Green River' – a compact laceleaf – was named for its “flowing” leaves. A larger specimen must be seen to understand what I mean by the tree's flow.

Acer palmatum 'Kotobuki'

Acer palmatum 'Orido no nishiki'
All winter long my two largest specimens of Acer palmatum 'Kotobuki' attracted attention for their colorful trunks. Other variegated cultivars are notable for variegated trunks as well – such as Acer palmatum 'Orido no nishiki' – but so far 'Kotobuki' is the most spectacular. Kotobuki is a Japanese term that translates as a “happy celebration,” and the cheerful foliage is apt for the name. My start came from Japan, via Europe – legally of course – but I don't know more about its origin, for it is not listed in the Vertrees/Gregory book nor the Masayoshi Yano book. What I do know is that one tree will vary to some degree compared to another, and I suppose that's a result of which particular shoot was used in propagation. Out of my original three starts, the largest and most vigorous was retired for lack of variegation. Unfortunately the best shoots for color produce the weakest trees, so the experienced propagator must carefully select his scionwood. “Unstable” trees like 'Kotobuki' eventually find their way to market, but certainly it does not always guarantee a worthy tree; but at its best, 'Kotobuki' is a marvel.

Acer palmatum 'Saiho'

Acer palmatum 'Saiho' is another new cultivar that I received via the same Japan-to-Europe route. “Cute” would be the best description for it, for the tiny yellow-green leaves are edged in red. It forms a dense round bush, but unfortunately it is difficult (for me) to propagate due to the short, very thin shoots. Often with these dwarves, we find them easier to produce from rooted cuttings rather than from grafting, although the former method will result in a weaker, more dwarf tree. I never charge enough for the few 'Saiho' that I do sell, for they grow at about one-fourth the rate as most other cultivars. On the other hand, I have many happy customers.

Acer palmatum 'Orangeola'

Acer palmatum 'Brocade'

Acer palmatum 'Brocade'

Acer palmatum 'Brocade'

Is that a group of Acer palmatum 'Orangeola' or Acer palmatum 'Brocade'? Well, you won't know until you see the label, for the two cultivars are identical. I grew 'Brocade' early in my career, but found that the sales appeal was far less than with other more-red cultivars such as 'Red Dragon', 'Tamuke yama' etc. In the mid-1980's, along came 'Orangeola'. It originated as a seedling – from what I don't know – in an Oregon maple-growing nursery, and they propagated a few for the heck of it. A plant broker that represented the grower saw them in the field, and asked what it was. The grower responded that it had no name, but invited the broker to give it one. Plant middle-men are an interesting group, but let's just say you wouldn't want your daughter to marry one. Anyway, he named it 'Orangeola' which I thought was a horrible name. For a few years I simply called it 'Orange', refusing to acknowledge 'Orangeola', but eventually I relented when it came time to sell a crop. According to the “rules” of nomenclature, a proposed cultivar must be sufficiently different from any other, and as I mentioned 'Orangeola' is not sufficiently different from 'Brocade'. But in our wild-west atmosphere no one follows “no stinking rules” anyway, and the market will always trump the stuffy world of nomenclatural propriety. And while I can barely sell 'Brocade', for years I have sold tons of 'Orangeola', so the huckster broker gets the last laugh.

If you google Acer you will get “the Taiwanese multinational hardware and electronics corporation specializing in advanced electronics technology, headquartered in New Taipei City.” In fact I have an Acer laptop, but which I barely use. Initially I wondered why the Acer name was upside-down, as when I would search for the side that opened the damn thing. But Seth pointed out, that when open, the letters were not upside-down when viewed by others who might be looking at my machine. The implication is that when I am hibernating at my local Starbucks with my laptop, I am constantly streaming the Acer brand. Never mind that my laptop has never left my home or office.

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'

Anyway, when you google Acer palmatum, three suggested searches are presented: Acer palmatum, Acer palmatum Bloodgood and Acer palmatum Butterfly. I can understand the Bloodgood, for there must still be thousands of them sold every year, but the name has taken on a more broad meaning than signifying just one particular clone. The true 'Bloodgood' in commerce is difficult to determine, as many 'Bloodgood'-like seedlings have been peddled as the real clone. We grow what I have sort-of-named 'Bloodgood Original', and only propagate from that source, as it indicates that the scions came from the original 'Bloodgood' tree. Remember that there are a lot of idiots (at best) and scoundrels (at worst) in horticulture – whether they come from Europe, America or New Zealand – and many other cultivars have been diluted as well. New Zealand's 'Fireglow' is a washed out version of the original which is from the Italian Gilardelli Nursery. New Zealand's 'O sakazuki' is different from the tree cultivar which received the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit. Even though the offending company in New Zealand acknowledges that their dubious clones might not be identical to the originals, still they export them into Europe and America by the thousands, as if gripers like me are being unnecessarily petty.

Acer palmatum 'Shojo no mai'

I find the third choice when you google Acer palmatum – 'Butterfly' – to be quite odd. I know a few companies still produce it, but I gave up on the selection twenty five years ago, and no one ever requests it from me now. You can find a couple of scrappy 'Butterfly' for sale at The Home Depot, and usually they come with undersized rootballs with the burlap wrapped a foot up the trunk, and all held together with orange plastic twine that will eventually girdle the tree. Nice. The supplier is invariably a company that will be bankrupt by the following year. When there are no longer any cheap suppliers left – because after all a seven-year-old tree retails for only $39.95 – the box store's new supplier will be...China!

Acer palmatum 'Beni schichihenge'

I discontinued 'Butterfly' because I didn't like the variegation – it always looked dirty to me. Cute name, but it is also prone to reversion. A nearby upscale restaurant has two 'Butterfly' planted near the entrance, and they both have sizable reverted portions that challenge my appetite. God, who is the landscraper responsible for the upkeep of the grounds? Anyway, I find Acer palmatums 'Shojo no mai' and 'Beni schichihenge' to be superior to 'Butterfly', and there's probably another dozen sorta-similar cultivars that are improvements as well.

Acer pictum 'Usugumo'

Acer mono is an Acer species from northeastern China, Korea and Japan according to de Beaulieu in An Illustrated Guide to Maples. He makes absolutely no mention of Acer pictum, that some authorities list the mono species as pictum. In Vertrees/Gregory Japanese Maples, the preference for the "Painted Maple" is Acer pictum, and Gregory adds that "the older name of A. pictum has now been accepted as legitimate by the International Botanical Congress, and so it takes precedence over A. mono." Yikes, confusing. The cultivar 'Usugumo' is described in both references with de B. claiming that propagation is "by grafting on A. platanoides, while Gregory doesn't mention any rootstock for propagation. However, I received a plant of 'Usugumo' 25 years ago, and I tried for years to propagate it into A. platanoides, with absolutely no success. Years ago I purchased seedlings of Acer truncatum ssp. mono from a company that no longer sells this species with the curious epithet. Actually, most of the obscure Acer species that I purchased from them turned out to be invalid. But the good news is that I saved one of the trees of the ssp. mono and I propagate it by rooted cuttings. And what do you know, it makes a very compatible rootstock for 'Usugumo'. The bottom line is that botanical maple experts can staunchly make their claims until the end of time, but all Buchholz wants is to be able to propagate, grow and sell the very desirable cultivar, 'Usugumo'.

Nothing comes easy with a career in horticulture, and my failures are numerous. But I am thankful that I am not also saddled with being a "botanical expert."

"No Talon, you are not a botanical expert. You are a simple, humble country boy – my type – which is why I have bestowed many wonderful plants for you."

Friday, March 20, 2015

Bloom Time

My God – spring is upon us! Exploding here while much of the USA is still under the thrall* of winter. In Oregon we experienced a very-cold early November, then a non-winter after that. Plants are flowering earlier than ever – to my memory – and new growth is pushing on the deciduous trees. I'm not so pleased about these events, and serious cold could snap back at us anytime this month. I've said it before: it's not just how cold it gets that can damage your plants, it's also how it gets cold.

*Thrall is an Old Norse word meaning slave or serf during the Viking Age. The verb to enthrall means “to be captivated.”

Leptospermum scoparium 'Kiwi'

Our blooming Leptospermum scoparium 'Kiwi' is kept in the greenhouse in winter, as the New Zealand “Tea tree” is only hardy to Zone 8, or 10 degrees above zero. Another common name is manuka, and that word originates from at least the mid-1800's from the native Maori language. The so-called “Tea tree” name originates from Captain Cook's use of it to make a tea drink, and also the species is famous for manuka honey. Parakeets ingest the leaves and bark to rid themselves of parasites, and sometimes they chew it, then mix it with preen-gland oil to cover their feathers. 'Kiwi' is but one of many cultivars or hybrids of Leptospermum, and it received the RHS Award of Garden Merit, and I'm sure it is much more common in England than America. The generic name comes from Greek leptos for “slender” and sperma for “seed,” and it was Johan Forster who first published the name in 1776. The specific name scoparium means “broom like.” Leptospermums are members of the Myrtaceae family, and are therefore relatives of the Eucalyptus genus.

Beschorneria septentrionalis

Once again our one specimen of Beschorneria septentrionalis is sending up a flower spike, although it has yet to open as much as in the photo from a previous year. The heater went out in our tender GH20 this past frigid November and we immediately lost some plants, but since some growers list Beschorneria as hardy to 4 degrees F, I think my plant will be fine. I also like its fountain of bright green leaves, even if it never bloomed; but since it does you'll have a sure hummingbird attractant. Commonly known as “False Red Agave,” B. septentrionalis was discovered as recently as 1987 and introduced from a subsequent 1991 seed collection. Beschorneria septentrionalis – referring to its most northerly natural range – is native to dry woodlands in the mountains of northeastern Mexico. The genus name honors Friedrich Beschorner (1806-1873) an amateur German botanist whose real job was as a physician and psychiatrist. It is in the Agavaceae family and was first published by the German botanist Carl Kunth in 1850, but there is no evidence of a working relationship between Kunth and Beschorner, and certainly the latter never laid eyes upon B. septentrionalis.

Pieris japonica 'Bonsai'

Carl Peter Thunberg
The Pieris are in full swing at this time, though P. japonica 'Bonsai' is the only cultivar that we still propagate. It is a cutie, a dwarf that takes nearly twenty years to reach four feet tall. The generic name Pieris originated from Greek, then into new Latin from Pieria for a Pierian Muse, as the Muses were once worshipped in this region in ancient Macedonia. Pieris was first introduced into botanical knowledge by Carl Peter Thunberg, the Swedish naturalist and an “apostle” of Linnaeus. In 1775 Thunberg arrived at Dejima, a small artificial island in the Bay of Nagasaki. Even though Japan was closed to foreigners at the time, as a head surgeon – and also posing to be a Dutchman, who the Japanese favored – he was allowed to conduct botanical research on the mainland. The Scottish botanist David Don (1799-1841) officially published the name of Pieris japonica.

Pieris japonica 'Katsura'

My favorite Pieris must be P. j. 'Katsura' which displays pinkish-red flowers. The best feature, however, is the glossy purple-red foliage which lasts for a couple of months...before evolving to green by summer. Katsura is an old name from the Edo Period, and my wife suggests that it could be a place name. Always she has to see the Japanese characters, then conduct difficult research; and since it is late and she is tired, there is no more for me to say.

Acer palmatum 'Katsura'

Cercidiphyllum japonicum

Chotto matte (Japanese for "wait a minute"), Haruko returns, never wanting to let her country down. She says that there is a Katsura Imperial Villa on the western suburbs of Kyoto, and that is possibly the origin of Acer palmatum 'Katsura'. Katsura is also the Japanese name of Cercidiphyllum, and that is possibly due to its fragrance (in autumn like gingerbread to some, like burnt sugar to others). Naturally the characters of katsura originate in China, where they indicate  a “fragrant tree.” But they can also be “moon tree,” as in “fragrant tree seen in moonlight?” Pieris japonica 'Katsura' features unusually shiny foliage, so maybe the “moon” connotation is apt. I do know that Pieris 'Katsura' was discovered on a wooded hillside near a Shinto Temple, and I find it irksome that it has been patented in America, for then I cannot propagate it.

Poncirus trifoliata var. montrosa 'Flying Dragon'

Poncirus trifoliata var. montrosa 'Flying Dragon'

Poncirus trifoliata 'Tiny Dragon'
Poncirus trifoliata 'Snow Dragon'

I have grown Poncirus for many years, and according to the Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs (5th edition) it is a “hardy monotypic genus related to Citrus.” In fact, it is so closely related that in the current (8th edition), Hillier lists it as Citrus. I never jump to change my nomenclature until I see the new name repeated by other authorities. The species trifoliata – obviously with trifoliate leaves – comes from northern China, but it is commonly known by many as the “Japanese Bitter Orange.” It is fun to grow an orange tree (Poncirus trifoliata is hardy to USDA zone 5) outside in Oregon, especially since many would suppose that it is not possible; and also it is the preferred rootstock for the less-hardy edible oranges. We propagate the more-dwarf cultivar, 'Flying Dragon', and find that it can reach five feet tall by four feet wide in ten years. 'Flying Dragon is deciduous (yellow-to-orange in autumn), but now in the garden the new foliage (also yellow-orange) is appearing. Besides that “bloom,” it is being challenged by pretty scented white flowers, and from a distance they look like cotton bushes. Two cultivars, even more dwarf than 'Flying Dragon', are 'Tiny Dragon' and the variegated 'Snow Dragon', but I don't know who introduced either of the two – perhaps it was in Japan. In any case all of the dragons feature most prodigious thorns, and no employee looks forward to harvest cuttings.

Acer japonicum 'Giant Moon'

Connoisseurs of Japanese maples will always find a place for the Acer japonicum species. Cultivars in our greenhouses – where the season is three weeks advanced – are in full flower, and they coincide with the emergence of new leaves. Bloom-time is not a subtle show, or one that can possibly be missed. Deep-red flowers with yellow anthers are adroop, and you can already see the tiny seeds forming. The japonicums have never had the market appeal compared to the palmatums, and I suppose that is due to the former's larger and more-coarse green leaves. "They don't look like Japanese maples," I've heard said; no, they don't I agree, but then most Japanese maple species don't "look" like Japanese maples. I suspect that most japonicums are purchased in the fall when they are ablaze with color, but to me their flowers are reason enough to buy them in spring.

Bergenia 'Angel Kiss'

Bergenia 'Angel Kiss'

The Bergenias are in flower, and a nice group of 'Angel Kiss' is impossible to miss. I buy liners from the company that holds the patent, but they do nothing to help me with the nomenclature. I don't know if it is a hybrid, but if so, what are the species parents? It's as if the botanical details are too insignificant for a company of their stature to bother with, and their Angel Kiss is all that really matters. The genus was named for Karl August von Bergen (1704-1759), a German botanist and anatomist. He was awarded the chair of Anatomy and Botany at the University of Leiden, and further duties included the care of their botanical garden. The botanist Conrad Moench named Bergenia in his honor in 1794, but once again it's unlikely that von Bergen ever laid eyes on the genus.

Chionodoxa forbesii

Cupressus forbesii

Chionodoxa forbesii, commonly known as “Forbes' Glory of the Snow,” is a cute bulbous perennial from southwest Turkey. It is a bright harbinger of spring, but after flowering it goes into dormancy until the following spring. The genus is in the sub-family Scillodeae of the family Asparagaceae, and thus is closely related to the genus Scilla. The generic name is from Greek chion for “snow” and doxa for “glory.” The specific name forbesii honors James Forbes (1773-1861), a British gardener and botanist who toiled for the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, and who eventually became a member of the Royal Society in 1803 and the Linnean Society in 1832. Oddly, the specific name forbesii has also been applied to a southern California-Baja, Californian conifer, Cupressus forbesii, one of which I grown in my Cupressus west-hedge at Flora Farm. No matter what one thinks of the boring (?) foliage, you must still admire the colorful exfoliating bark. Back to the flower bulb, the “snow-glory” twinkles for a few weeks, then disappears for the rest of the year. That's all right, for employee Eric Lucas purchased the bulbs for next to nothing at the local boxette-store at the end of the season, and visitors to the nursery comment, “Ah, how nice.”

Scilla peruviana

Scilla peruviana

Scilla peruviana is beginning to bloom. The genus is the Greek name for the sea squill, Urginea maratima, while the specific name would imply an origin from Peru. But not so fast, my friend. This Scilla is also known as the Portuguese squill, and is strictly a western Mediterranean species, not of South American origin at all. The first name for the plant was Hyacinthus stellatus peruanus, given by Carolus Clusius. Clusius was truly clueless, having misunderstood that the bulbs came from a ship called "Peru." In 1753 Linnaeus perpetuated the myth when he renamed the plant as Scilla peruviana, another example of a botanical mistake that we're stuck with forever. For me, the best part of its flowering is the lengthy opening of its blooms – in no hurry to get it over with.

Pinguicula grandiflora

Pinguicula grandiflora

Our "butterworts" are displaying cute little blue flowers. Pinguicula grandiflora is the species we grow, and our starts came from employee Eric Lucas's carnivorous collection. The genus was named by Conrad Gesner in his 1565 work, Horti Germaniae, and he commented in Latin on the glistening leaves: "propter pinguia et tenera folia..." as Latin pinguis means "fat." Interestingly the butterworts produce a bactericide which prevents their prey from rotting while they are being digested.* Their leaf surfaces secrete digestive enzymes which entrap the insect, and as it struggles for freedom, that effort results in the secretion of even more. The butterwort is only interested in the digestible components of the insect body. The fluids are absorbed back into the leaf via openings called cuticular holes, leaving the insect's exoskeleton on the surface. The process is actually far more complicated and interesting than my simple explanation, and if the reader is sufficiently aroused, you might want to join the International Pinguicula Study Group based in the United Kingdom.

*Northern Europeans applied butterwort leaves to cattle sores to promote healing. They were also used to curdle milk, and a buttermilk-like fermented drink is known as filmjรถlk in Sweden.

Aubrieta species

Aubrieta gracilis ssp. scardica

Aubrieta gracilis ssp. scardica

An Aubrieta is in bloom in front of my house, and it gracefully cascades down our rock wall. I don't know the species or cultivar because it was already planted when I moved in. But we do propagate the more dwarf Aubrieta gracilis ssp. scardica, and it looks wonderful in our alpine troughs. Sometimes known as species scardica, it is native to the southern portion of the Balkan Peninsula. The generic name honors Claud Aubriet (1668-1743). a French botanical artist. You can google Aubriet and see some of his fine work, and eventually he was appointed the official painter at the Jardin de Plantes in Paris. Personally, I think I would prefer to be a skilled botanical painter over being a nurseryman, because to the painter everything is a source of beauty, where all parts can be embraced. The nurseryman tries to hone his skills in horticulture – with propagating, raising and selling his plants – but I think the painter sees more deeply into the wonderful floral world. Besides, the painter has nothing invested in his subject, so it doesn't matter at all if it dies in winter, or suffers from drought in summer. I wonder if I'll ever see the time when I am completely liberated from the prison of horticulture, though admittedly I am jailed with beautiful things.