Friday, April 17, 2015

Companion Plants in the Rhododendron Garden, Part 2

A large Acer palmatum en route to the Rhododendron Species Garden

Winding path in the Rhododendron Species Garden

Last week I discussed plants at the Rhododendron Species Foundation, those that were not Rhododendrons. There is such a wealth of companion plants, that if all the Rhododendrons disappeared the garden would still be worth my time, even with the three and one-half hours it takes to drive there. Besides, there would then be room for more maples, ferns and other great plants.

Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel'

Speaking of maples, there are two wonderful cultivars – Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose' and Acer circinatum 'Burgundy Jewel' – that I know they have because both were selfishly donated by me. Selfish, I say, because I like them in my garden and I know they will look good in theirs too, and also because both are from species native to Washington state. 'Burgundy Jewel' is a purple-leaf “vine maple,” and wisely they planted it in full sun, for in too much shade the leaves would be green. The original seedling was raised in Oregon at Drake's Crossing Nursery, and unbeknownst to them it was shipped when dormant with other young seedlings to Gordy Halgren of Peacedale Nursery. Wasn't Mr. Halgren pleasantly surprised? I was surprised and delighted too when he sent scions of the find to me.

Acer macrophyllum 'Mocha Rose'

The original 'Mocha Rose' seedling

It took no special skill for Halgren to notice a purple-leaf individual in a group of otherwise green seedlings, nor did it when I pulled out what was to become 'Mocha Rose' from a group of green Acer macrophyllum. It was screaming at me, “Hey, you lucky man, Flora has bestowed a maple gift!” The original seedling, pictured above, grows at about one-fourth the rate of the species, but grafted plants will naturally grow a little faster. Even non-plant-people are aroused by the unusual spring foliage, and as I have related before, the original 'Mocha Rose' is planted near our loading dock and pot-bellied truck drivers have lumbered out of their rigs and walked over to inspect it.

Acer forrestii...or?

The trunk of Acer forrestii was shining bright green. This Chinese species was introduced by the great plant-hunter George Forrest in 1906 from Yunnan province. However, the foliage photo (above) does not look like the tri-lobed leaves of Acer forrestii that one sees on the internet, but then that tree was young when I took the photo twenty five years ago at RBG Edinburgh. Certainly they would have correct identification on a fellow Scotsman's introduction? For research I went to De Beaulieu's An Illustrated Guide to Maples, but he doesn't acknowledge Acer forrestii. At one time the species was listed as Acer grosseri Pax var. forrestii, but De Beaulieu doesn't list the grosseri species either. My next visit to the Species Garden I will study their Acer forrestii in more detail, as I now wonder if their tree is correctly identified. Furthermore, some internet photos show a yellowish trunk with cream-white striations, not the bright green as in the photos above. In the meantime, I invite a knowledgeable Scotsman from Edinburgh to check and research their garden's tree – it was planted close to a walkway and a bench was nearby.

Arisaema sikokianum

Arisaema sikokianum is a woodland herbaceous perennial from the Japanese island of Shikoku.* The genus name is derived from Latin aris, and that from Greek arum and haema for “blood.” In April the flower – a sex organ called a spadix – emerges along with two three-to-five lobed leaves. As the photo above reveals, the smooth white spadix is hovered above by a dark red-purple hood – the pitcher – known as the spathe. Yes, it does look rather like a cobra. This aroid (Araceae) member is easy to grow as long as the soil is well-drained, and I find it best to plant in a location with afternoon shade. I have never used the common name – “Jack in the Pulpit” – and I am not sure how it got that name. However, Native Americans used the eastern USA species A. triphyllum diagnostically to determine if an ill person would live or die. The red seeds were dropped into still water, and if they floated the patient would recover; if they sank the ill would get worse or die. It's true that Arisaema contains a degree of poison, but if cooked or dried it also provides some medicinal value, as in a cure for ringworm, abscesses, snake bites and arthritis. In older times Arisaema was considered a contraceptive, where a single dose would prevent conception for a week, except that a double dose would cause permanent sterility. So, focus on the dose for your best family plan; but abstinence would work too.

*Shikoku is the smallest of Japan's “mainland” islands, located south of (the largest) Honshu – home of Tokyo, Kyoto and Mount Fuji – and east of the southern-most island of Kyushu. The characters of the name Shikoku mean shi for “four” and koku for “country.” My Japanese wife was puzzled when I asked her, “what is the meaning of Shikoku?” She replied that there are four prefectures – to us, counties – in Shikoku, but I countered with “C'mon, there must be a more primitive origin for the designation, for prefectures implies a modern political description? I will report in a future blog if Haruko can come up with more information.

Coelogyne mossiae

Coelogyne mossiae was in fragrant flower in the conservatory. The genus contains about 196 species, and they are native to tropical Asia and the Pacific Islands. I have read that the various species are used by breeders for hybridization, and also that Coelogyne will cross with allied genera such as Pleione, Pholidota and Dendrochilum. Sounds like endless fun for orchid growers. The species mossiae was named for Mrs. Moss – as the suffix iae indicates a female – who was an English orchid enthusiast in the 1800's. Mossiae is native to southern India where it is extremely sparse, and one orchid expert – certainly not me – claims that almost all mossiae photos are of hybrids.

Lysichiton camtschatcensis

Flowering in a boggy area was Lysichiton camtschatcensis, commonly called the “Asian skunk cabbage” or the “white skunk cabbage.” It is native to Kamchatka – hence the specific name – and also to Japan* and Sakhalin. The western USA skunk cabbage, L. americanus, has a yellow flower that stinks to high heaven, and the distinctive odor attracts pollinating flies and beetles. Interestingly, L. camtschatcensis can vary to the degree of its malodor, with some plants stinking putridly, some sweetly and some with no smell at all. I would like to know more about this, but the one specimen I had in my garden died years ago, apparently from drying out. In Japan L. cam. is known as mizubasho, or “water banana” because it is similar in appearance to the “Japanese banana,” Musa basjoo. The Musa was originally thought to have originated from Japan's Ryuku islands – where it was first described – but now botanists know that it originated in southern China, with wild populations existing in Sichuan province. Back to the Lysichiton, I don't know if Asian bears care about the Kamchatka species, but western bears indulge in the americanus species for food, and also as a laxative after hibernating. Native Americans used it to cure burns, sores and swelling, but if eaten it can cause irritation to the tongue, throat and intestines, so don't add it to your spring salad. In the 1990's I saw the plant in Alaska and I was astonished that all parts were double the size of those from Oregon, due to Alaska's longer summer daylight.

*My wife has visited – and I wish to someday also – the Oze National Park which is Japan's largest highland marsh, and is an area loaded with thousands of L. camtschatcensis, as well as other precious plants and animals. Apparently the marsh was formed during the Ice Age about 10,000 years ago, and so plants that evolved in the Ice Age are still growing there now. Boardwalks wind through the area with hundreds of tourists per day, and Haruko reports that the fragrance of the Asian skunk cabbage was deliciously sweet. In summer, after the L. camtschatcensis, Hemerocallis dumortieri var. esculenta blooms yellow and attracts additional tourists, then in fall people return to enjoy the red leaves of the "mizubasho." The species name of the "day lily" honors Barthelemy Dumortier (1797-1878), a Belgium-born botanist who published a complete national flora, the Florula Belgica. He helped to establish the Brussels Botanic Garden which I was privileged to visit in 2011, and it's a wonderful place. Furthermore, some consider this great statesman and botanist to be the true discoverer of cell division.

Persicaria bistorta 'Superba'

Persicaria is a genus with over fifty species commonly known as “knotweed” or “snakeweed.” It's not a plant you would want in a small garden because it can spread vigorously, but as a planting around a pond it can be nice. The Species Garden had Persicaria bistorta 'Superba' and with enough room it wasn't harming anything. The species is native to Europe and also to northern and western Asia, and bistorta refers to the twisted appearance of the root. The cultivar 'Superba' has larger flowers (pink) than the type and it received the RHS Award of Garden Merit. We have an Oregon weed, Polygonatum persicaria – some consider it Rumex crispus – which we call “dock,” and it is always growing near to nettles, Urtica dioica. My hiking partner Reuben, known to blog readers as my “grandfather,” has frequently commented that if you bump into a nettle patch, you can cure the itch by rubbing dock on it. He forgets that I've heard the story ten times before, so once I challenged him to prove it. He accepted, touching his right arm on a nettle while he rubbed dock with his left hand. It continued to sting anyway, and I popped off with jokes for the next hour until we went our separate ways.

Ypsilandra thibetica

I bought a pot of Ypsilandra thibetica from the sales area. It is a cute evergreen perennial in the Asparagaceae family, and it features pretty fragrant flowers. Ypsilandra thibetica is fairly new to cultivation although the genus was first described in 1888. That is another reason I like the Species Garden, because on every visit there I have seen something new. My clump begins to bloom in early March, so it's nice to have a formal end to winter.

Saxifraga stolonifera 'Maroon Beauty'

Saxifraga stolonifera 'Maroon Beauty' was growing in the stumpery, and I don't remember seeing it before. It is known as the “Strawberry Saxifrage” as you can see from the photo. I look forward to seeing its pretty flowers later in the season, as they rise daintily above the leaves. I know where I can buy one and I will in a few weeks. The species name is due to its red-running stolons*, which are prostrate stems that produce new plants from its tips like a strawberry. The leaf veins of 'Maroon Beauty' on the upper surface are lined with white, adding further interest, but be sure to look under the leaf for it is pink. The species is an evergreen perennial from China, and it used to be known as Saxifraga sarmentosa. I have probably said it before, but the generic name saxifraga is from Latin saxum for “rock” or “stone” and frangere for “to break.”

*A stolon is from Latin stolo which means “shoot” or “scion.”

Magnolia sprengeri 'Claret Cup'

Magnolia sprengeri 'Claret Cup'

E.H. Wilson's first expedition to China was sponsored by the Veitch Nursery firm, and his  priority was to find and collect Davidia involucrata, and to “not waste time” on anything else. He found the Davidia, but he collected many other wonderful trees, one of them being Magnolia sprengeri. Wilson accidentally mixed up two varieties: one with white blossoms, now named var. elongata; and the other with pink-to-red blossoms, now called var. sprengeri. Actually he didn't “discover” Magnolia sprengeri – herbarium material had been collected previously by Silvestre, an Italian missionary – and then officially named and described by Renato Pampanini. Mr. P. honored Carl Ludwig Sprenger (1846-1917), a German botanist, but what is most interesting about Sprenger is that he was a brilliant botanist and an accomplished nurseryman. Those two careers are rarely combined. He spent his plant years in Naples, Italy, but the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (April 4, 1906) buried his plants under volcanic ash, destroying many of his specimens. Hate when that happens, but his outlook improved when he was appointed supervisor of Kaiser Wilhelm's garden in Corfu. Then more bad luck when he was arrested in the middle of WWI by the Serbian army and died as a prisoner of war. Back to the Magnolia, and sorry for the wandering narrative, the Species Garden contained the cultivar 'Claret Cup in flower, a fragrant blossom pink-purple on the outside and white inside.

Alchemilla alpina

Alchemilla alpina

Again, the joy of this garden is to discover something that I know nothing about, then I go home to my F.P.C. – Flora Processing Center – to acquire more information. Such was the case with Alchemilla alpina, commonly known as the “Alpine Lady's Mantle.” It is a herbaceous perennial native to Europe, Iceland and southern Greenland, and I would like to have it in my garden. I think the palmate leaves are particularly handsome, but again, look underneath for they are very hairy. Then in June through October the lime-green flowers develop with four sepals but no petals. Besides that the flowers are hermaphrodite and the seeds develop without being fertilized.* Wow!

*The botanical term for this phenomena is apomixis, from Greek “away from” and “mixing.” Apomictically produced offspring are genetically identical to the parent. Each lineage of apomictic plants has the characteristics of a true species, and can be considered a microspecies.

Gaultheria miqueliana

Friedrich Miquel
The genus Gaultheria was named in 1735 by Linnaeus to honor Dr. Gaulthier, a Quebec physician. G. procumbens is an east-coast American native, while in the west we have G. shallon. G. miqueliana is native to Japan, and amazingly, also to Alaska. The specimen in the Species Garden looked as good as all get-out; and again, I would like to have it in my garden. Commonly known as “Miquel's spicy-wintergreen,” it was named to honor Friedrich Miquel (1811-1871), a professor of botany at Utrecht, The Netherlands. I visited the botanic garden in Utrecht fifteen years ago – one of the oldest in the world – and somewhere I have a photo of the old manor house, unfortunately in slide form, that is known as Miquel's House.

Steve Hootman
Atsuko Gibson

I'm certain that the Flora Wonder Blog will return to this “Rhododendron” garden, at least by next year if not earlier. Besides, it's sort of a therapy for me so I don't go insane with my own company. Hats off to Steve Hootman, Director – if that is his official position – and to his knowledgeable assistant Atsuko Gibson, and to all of the employees and volunteers. Garden well done!

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