Friday, April 3, 2015

Collecting Plants

Two famous plantsmen

Not all nurserymen are plantsmen, and not all plantsmen are nurserymen. In my experience, in fact, the best plantsmen are not nurserymen. Follow that? The owner of a neighboring nursery, for example, has never had dirty hands – well, at least from real dirt – and he doesn't know which conifers are endemic to Oregon, and certainly he will never be able to hybridize two species etc. He is not a plantsman, never will be, but he was past-president of the Oregon Association of Nurseries. Am I a plantsman? I'd like to think so, but I've met many others who are far more knowledgeable than myself. And calm down, when I say plantsmen I also include women, and I don't see any need to lump the genders into plants-people.

Wollemia nobilis

Wollemia nobilis

Abies beshanzuensis

Acer pentaphyllum

As a nurseryman/plantsman I have to be careful in my indulgences. Nursery sales allow me to acquire “plants for the heck of it,” even though I know going in that there will be no profit coming out the other end. Gathering plants around oneself is actually a kind of addiction, and we must be careful about our deportment, that we don't indulge, as in acquiring trophies to impress others. “Oh wow – look – Buchholz has a 16' tall Wollemi Pine, Wollemia nobilis, and...OMG, the rare and critically endangered Abies beshanzuensis...and there are more of them in his nursery than can be found in the Chinese wild.” I once bragged that I had more plants of Acer pentaphyllum in my nursery than what could be found growing in China. The point is that plantsmen can get carried away, way too far. But when we witness other plantsmen...running amok with their passion, we too have an urge to jump aboard and collect the most rare, most weird and most beautiful plants in the world. We then tend  to them, unto them, and receive a parental-guardian charge when they thrive and we can show them off.

Asarum maximum 'Ling Ling'

Ok, plants please, Buchholz. How about Asarum, the plant that is commonly referred to as a “ginger,” even though it is botanically far from the true “ginger,” Zingiber officinale. The Asarums are a delicious group of groundcovers known as “birthworts,” a large genus in the Aristolochiaceae family. The common name is due to the flower shape which resembles a birth canal. The name Aristolochia is derived from ancient Greek aristos for “best” and locheia for “childbirth” or “childbed.”

Asarum maximum 'Ling Ling'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Filip's Golden Tears'

I have acquired Asarum maximum 'Ling Ling', commonly called the “panda-faced* wild Chinese ginger.” These “wild gingers” are low-growing woodland perennials known for their glossy heart-shaped leaves and their panda-like flowers that hide from view beneath the foliage. 'Ling Ling' is an Ozzie Johnson introduction, from the noted Georgia plantsman who has travelled the world in search of new plants. Its foliage is faintly variegated, but variegated nevertheless. Mr. Johnson and I share a Japanese connection – I won't go into it further – but I, like others, felt an immediate respect and admiration for this elegant man upon meeting him. And really, that's the best part about plant collecting, that I can rub shoulders with great plant people. Recently, for example, an inspiring plant photo came to me from M.G., a wonderful plant aficionado from South Carolina, for I had sent to her a Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Filip's Golden Tears' grafted, of course, on disease resistant rootstock. Even if the tree dies tomorrow, at least I gave her some fun for a year, but hopefully it will outlive both of us.

*Ling Ling was a male panda, given to Tokyo's Ueno Zoo by the Chinese in 1992, as was intended as proof of friendship between China and Japan. Ha to that! Despite being a male, Ling Ling's name meant "darling little girl" in Chinese.

Aristolochia durior
Aristolochia gigantea

Meerschaum Pipe
Speaking of  the Aristolochiaceae family, I also grow Aristolochia durior. It does not resemble a birth canal, but rather a “Dutchman's pipe*,” which is its common name. Last summer I saw a huge specimen of A. gigantea in San Diego that was draped over a building, but unfortunately that wouldn't be hardy for me. The durior species is native to eastern USA, and is hardy to USDA zone 4. The vine plays an important part for swallowtail butterflies. The flowers provide nectar for the butterflies, while the leaves are a source of food for the caterpillars. Not only that, many species of Aristolochia are eaten by the caterpillar larvae, making themselves unpalatable to most  predators. John Bartram introduced A. durior (also known as A. macrophylla) to British gardens when he sent seed to Peter Collinson in 1761 which he collected in the Ohio River Valley. While there are approximately 500 species of Aristolochia, the specific name durior is from Latin durus, meaning “harder,” but I don't know what part of this vine is being referenced.

*An allusion to old meerschaum pipes that were once common in the Netherlands and northern Germany. In German, meerschaum is “foam of the sea,” technically a hydrous magnesium silicate. When first extracted it is soft, but hardens on exposure to solar heat or when dried in a warm room.

Daphne burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight'

Daphne burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight'

Daphne burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight'

Ahem – today I walked past a large group of Daphne burkwoodii 'Brigg's Moonlight' – all underpriced in their full, superbly-unmatched glory for only $94 in a ten-gallon pot. With humor I recall a website selling 'Brigg's Moonlight' with the disclaimer that “it is sterile, and does not flower, but the variegated leaves are so fantastic that, who cares?” Rong, rong, rong – today it is magnificently in flower, and the heady odor will knock your socks off. I have even had our 2 ½ inch pots throw out a blossom, so I can't imagine this website knucklehead issuing such a statement. Hopefully he will eventually achieve a specimen in bloom and quickly retract his “sterile” claim.

Manihot grahamii

Manihot esculenta 'Variegata'

Manihot esculenta 'Variegata'

Robert Graham
I keep a plant of Manihot grahamii in GH20, having first encountered it at Duke Gardens a year ago. This “hardy” (USDA zone 7b) tropical is from South America, and is commonly known as the “Hardy Tapioca.” It is fast-growing enough to be grown as an annual, reaching about eight feet tall in a year, and in Oregon it will die to the ground in winter. The “food” Manihot is species esculenta, and Duke Gardens featured a variegated selection of that. M. esculenta is commonly known as “cassava,” and when dried to a powdery – or pearly – extract, it is called “tapioca.” The word Manihot is French, and is derived from the Tupi Indian manioch or mandioca. The specific name grahamii honors Robert Graham (1786-1845), a Scottish physician and botanist who became Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Rubra'

Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Alba'

Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Red Clock'

The Pulsatillas are in flower now. These herbaceous perennials are native to meadows and prairies of Europe, Asia and North America. They are commonly called the “Pasque Flower” since Pasque refers to Easter, their time to bloom. In most languages the word for Easter comes from Hebrew Pesach*, while it is thought that Eostre was the Anglo-Saxon word for spring festivals. The specific name vulgaris means “common” from Latin while the generic name Pulsatilla comes from Latin for “to sway,” as the flowers sway in the wind. “So what?,” you must think, for most flowers sway in an April breeze.

*In Italian “Pasqua,” in Spanish “Pascua,” in French “Paques,” in Scotch “Pask,” in Dutch “Paschen.”

Hemerocallis 'Kwanso'

I was given a plant of Hemerocallis 'Kwanso' (sometimes spelled Kwanzo) by Roger Gossler last year after I had admired one in his garden. I'm not really a "day lily" kind of guy, but 'Kwanso' brought some bright cheer on a cloudy day. Eventually my plant will produce orange double-flowers, and I'll probably prune them off, as I'm also not an orange double-flower kind of guy. I could see Roger's plant had a portion that was solid green, and I asked if 'Kwanso' was prone to revert. "Yep," Roger replied. In any case I'll find a drab corner in my garden and plant it this fall. The common name of "day lily" is due to the fact that a blossom lasts literally just one day, but they are borne in such great profusion – from early summer to late fall – that the casual gardener would assume that the flower lasts all year. The word hemerocallis is derived from Greek hemera for "day" and kallos for "beauty," thus a beautiful lily that flowers for a day. Most parts of Hemerocallis are considered edible if properly prepared, and the rhizomes have been used since ancient times, cooked or roasted like potatoes. Be aware, however, that the shoots, leaves and stalks should be avoided as they contain chemicals that are hallucinogenic. Perhaps a few readers have already abandoned this blog, and they are now out in their gardens harvesting...

Pleione 'Ridgeway'

Pleione 'Alishan'
Pleione 'Versailles'

I have maintained a Pleione collection for a number of years, but I have never sold one – except that they are fun to give away. Most of my employees don't know how to behave around them, as in constantly watering throughout the winter. My wife became excited with the Pleiones, and one early spring she divided the pseudobulbs. The method is to screw the bulb about a third of the way into the soil, with the bulk of bulb above the soil level. Of course at this point there are no roots, but that didn't stop one (ex)employee from watering them anyway. (I can't watch everybody all the time!). Furthermore, she didn't water gently from above, but rather jetted water from sideways, thus dislodging half the crop. I couldn't believe it when I saw the mess the next day, but it was clear that the woman had no clue about watering, and was not long in the plant world for other reasons as well. I've said it before: I have gray hair now...and it's not from age.

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