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.
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'|
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, 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 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.
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 filmjölk in Sweden.
|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.