Friday, May 8, 2015

Old Plant Book

Old Conifers and Rhododendrons by  Hugh Fraser

Today I pulled a book from my crowded shelves, Old Conifers and Rhododendrons by Hugh Fraser, a Fellow of the Botanical Society of Edinburgh, published in 1875. In the preface he states “There is perhaps no feature of the present age more strikingly obvious, or more hopeful as an evidence of the growing taste and culture of the people, than the almost universal interest now taken in matters connected with Botany and Horticulture.” Wow, an increase in the taste and culture of the people! Perhaps my employees are doubly tasteful and cultured, as they all have learned botanical Latin as well.

Picea abies

Picea abies 'Pendula'

On the cover are three dangling penioh wait, maybe they are cones of Picea abies, the “Norway Spruce.” The book does not list Picea abies because back then it was classified as Abies excelsa. Norway spruce was known as white deal due to its white wood which was and still is used “all over the continent.” Fraser lists a number of old selections but refers to them as varieties, not as cultivars*. Thus we read Abies excelsa Var. [sic] inverta, which is now known as Picea abies Pendula, the “weeping Norway spruce.” I recognized some of Fraser's “varieties” such as Var. Clanbrassiliana, Var. Gregoriana, Var. pygmaea and Var. monstrosa, but I had never heard of Var. findonensis, the latter to be of English origin “with the upper shoots tinted with pale yellow.” He suggests that “it might with advantage be planted in parks and extensive pleasure-grounds.”

*The word cultigen is derived from Latin cultus for “cultivated” and gens for “kind,” and is defined as a plant that has been deliberately altered or selected by humans. It was coined in 1918 by Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858-1954), an American horticulturalist and botanist. He also coined the word cultivar, and though he never explained its origin, it has been suggested that it is a contraction of cultigen and variety, or perhaps cultivated variety. Of course a cultivar is not the same as a botanical variety, at least not today, And I sicced you earlier in the paragraph above because Var. is now the lowercase var.

Pseudotsuga menziesii

Joseph D Hooker
You won't find Pseudotsuga menziesii in Fraser's book because it is listed as Abies Menziesii, or the “Menzies' spruce.” He cites it as “being very ornamental,” with needles “bright green on the upper surface and silvery beneath, giving the tree a shining appearance when the branches are agitated by the wind.” He claims that the “Douglas Fir” was discovered* and sent home by Douglas in 1831 from “Northern California,” where it “occurs over a wide area.” I don't think that claim is accurate because Douglas's second trip to North America – to the Pacific Northwest – was from July 1824 to October 1827, and he certainly must have encountered it immediately upon arrival, and the “sent home” date was 1827. Back in England, Douglas's superior – Joseph Dalton Hooker received a letter which suggested “you will begin to think I manufacture pines at my pleasure.” The insecure Douglas – the “victim” of originating from a lower class – was clearly kissing up to the immensely influential Hooker.

*Archibald Menzies discovered it in about 1792, which is why it is scientifically known as Pseudotsuga menziesii.

A pair of Pseudotsuga menziesii at Flora Farm

The tallest tree in Britain used to be Abies grandis – also introduced by Douglas – which was planted as a sapling in 1875, the same year that Fraser's conifer book was published; but currently it is surpassed by a Douglas fir in Reelig Glen Wood near Inverness, Scotland at 66 m. tall (217 feet).* The tallest tree in America was cut down in 1902 at Lynn Valley, near Vancouver, B.C., and reportedly measured at 142 m. (465 feet), over twice the size of the British champion. Indeed new research suggests that P. menziesii could grow to 430 to 476 feet tall before its water supply would fail. Two monsters (see photos above) are on my property and they rival the British champion, and were certainly a motivating factor in my purchase of the farm.

*Hillier, in his 2014 edition of Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs mentions that the tallest Douglas fir was measured in 1999 at Dunans, Argyll, and it was 65 meters tall, “the tallest tree in Britain at the millennium, and probably the tallest since the last ice age.” Could a Limey weigh in please?

Tsuga mertensiana

Tsuga mertensiana

Franz Karl Mertens
When I saw Fraser's listing of Abies Albertiana I was initially puzzled, thinking that he was about to describe the “Alberta spruce,” now known as Picea glauca var. albertiana 'Conica'. But that wasn't possible as our now-common Alberta spruce wasn't discovered until 1904 in the Canadian Rockies by Dr. J.G. Jack and Prof. Alfred Rehder of the Arnold Arboretum. “Abies Albertiana” was an early classification of what we now know as Tsuga mertensiana, with the specific epithet referring to Franz Karl Mertens (1764-1831), a German botanist. Interestingly, Mertens never ventured to the west-coast American mountains, and I doubt that he ever saw a herbarium specimen of the “Mountain Hemlock.” He only studied botany in his spare time, and he specialized in the field of phycology – from Greek phykos for “seaweed” – as well as describing a number of species of algae.

Tsuga x jeffreyi

Tsuga mertensiana is quite different from other hemlocks, and some suppose that it belongs to its own genus. It was once assumed that the “Jeffrey's mountain hemlock” was a naturally occurring cross between T. mertensiana and T. heterophylla, except that there is no verified evidence to support this. For now we are stuck with the cumbersome designation of Tsuga mertensiana subsp. mertensiana var. jeffreyi for “Jeffrey's hemlock.” I have never seen it in the wild, but (maybe) only once at the Gimborn Arboretum (photo above). Needles are supposedly more green than T. mertensiana, and less glaucous above and more pale below. The specimen at Gimborn was growing in shade, and it glittered as if it was a true mertensiana.

Picea smithiana

Morinda is a genus of flowering plants in the madder family, and the generic name is derived from Latin morus for “mulberry” and indica, meaning of India. However that has nothing to do with Fraser's Abies morinda, the “west Himalayan spruce,” as the specific name is due to the Nepalese name for the tree. “Morinda” is a beautiful name – ah, if I could have another daughter... – but the spruce is now known as Picea smithiana, a name which honors the Scottish gardener Smith, as he was the first to grow it in Scotland in the 1820's. I have seen smithiana in the wild, and I was surprised that the trees were tall narrow pillars. In Oregon young trees are quite broad, but then sometimes that is due to leader-death caused by the blasted pine shoot moth,* a bane originally from Europe. I don't grow the species any more due to this problem, but I do have a couple of beautifully-drooping specimens planted near the nursery on property I used to lease.

*Rhyacionia buoliana

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba 'Majestic Butterfly'

Fraser was enamored with Salisburia Adiantifolia, also known as the “Maidenhair tree.” He relates that “it was first described and named by Linnaeus as Ginkgo biloba, but subsequently changed by Smith and named in compliment to the distinguished English botanist R.A. Salisbury. Sorry Mr. Smith – whoever you are – because you didn't prevail. Fraser claims that Ginkgo has been in cultivation in Britain since 1754, and he even lists two varieties: Var. macrophylla and Var. variegata, the latter described as “a scarce but superb variety, with its leaves more or less striped with a bright gold variegation.” In my experience far less than more, but when cultivars such as 'Majestic Butterfly' are indeed happy with variegation, they are certainly “superb.” Ginkgo* is often mispeled as gingko; but in any case the unique tree is the only exact taxon in the division Ginkgophyta. This Chinese native is known commonly as yinxing, meaning “silver apricot” in reference to its fruit. The Japanese believe that if you eat a few ginkgo fruits it will make you smarter, but if you eat too many it will make you crazy, and they sagely conclude that the Chinese and Koreans eat far too many.

*Engelbert Kaempfer studied the tree in 1690, and in his notes he wrote down the pronunciation as Ginkgo. But that was not quite accurate, and a more precise spelling would have been ginkio or ginkjo. Even the subsequent Linnaeus adopted the “reliable” Kaempfer spelling, as given in Kaempfer's Flora Japonica.

Larix laricina 'Nash Pendula'

Larix laricina

Larix occidentalis

I had to ponder for a while, trying to figure out what tree Fraser had in mind with his Abies canadensis (the Hemlock Spruce).  A few clues helped to solve the puzzle: the vast extent of its range in Canada and the United States, cultivated in England for upwards of 100 years, grows from 30 to 80 feet tall, feathery appearance and bright green needles in spring. Actually the first clue of the “vast extent” should be enough for any plantsman to know that he was describing Larix, although we now recognize three species in North America – laricina, occidentalis, and lyallii. Wouldn't Fraser be astounded if he saw the tallest western larch that dramatically out-tops his 80 foot limit and measures 197 feet tall? Larix lyallii is the “Alpine Larch” which can be found in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, Montana, British Columbia and Alberta. It occurs at elevations of 5900 feet to 7900 feet, often in thin soil, but when most happy it can reach 80 feet tall. I used to grow lyallii at the nursery, but with my lush soil and generous watering it grew fast and looked like any ordinary larch. An ancient specimen in Kananaskis, Alberta was demonstrated to be 1,917 years old; it would be fun to see it as the species is often dwarfed and misshapen.

Picea polita

Picea polita

Fraser describes Abies polita as the “Corean spruce,” and notes that “the name polita was first given to a plant which afterwards proved identical with Abies morinda...” He then proceeds to correct that notion, for they're as different as cheese and chalk as the late plantsman Harold Hillier used to say. Fraser said “ promises to be one of the handsomest of our ornamental Firs, quite equal to our climate when planted in a moderately sheltered situation...” Not  to worry Mr. Fraser, for we used to have a Michigan customer who regularly bought the species. Commonly called the “Tigertail spruce,” it is notable for its “viciously sharp” needles (excellently described by Rushforth in Conifers). My 5th edition of Hillier's Manual of Trees and Shrubs lists the spruce as Picea polita, but the newest edition (2014) lists it as Picea torano. The IUCN Red List notes that torano is the correct name, and sadly that it is now considered vulnerable. I don't know the origin or meaning of torano* but Carlos Torano is famous for some of the most consistently tasty cigars around.

*Chotto matte – “wait a minute” in Japanese – Haruko just returned home, and I consulted with my personal Japanese Department of Information. In Japanese tora means “tiger” and o means “tail.” So great, now I know the etymology of “Tigertail spruce.” ...Ah, the wisdom of the Orient.

Araucaria araucana

Araucaria araucana

Archibald Menzies
Abies imbricata is the “Chile Pine” to Fraser, but since there are no true-pines from Chile, he is obviously referring to Araucaria araucana. He describes “that no animal can climb it or even rub against it without being hurt – hence its native name, Pehuen, or 'Puzzle Monkey'.” Apparently Fraser wasn't paying attention when the monkey puzzle name “was given at a planting ceremony at Pencarrow in Cornwall in 1834 when a guest observed that to climb the tree with its prickly foliage 'would be a puzzle for a monkey.'” (Rushforth). Araucaria araucana was introduced by Menzies when he was on Captain Vancouver's 1795 expedition. I have never seen the species in the wild, but it is on my to-do list, and I better not wait too long.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew accepts 175 species in the Pinus* genus. The word Pinus is thought to have been derived from the Indo-European base pit for “resin” – hence pitch.

*In the past pines were often known as firs, and that derived from Middle English firre. In Old Norse it is fyrre, and in modern times some northern European languages still refer to pines as firs, for example in Dutch “vuren,” German “Fohre,” Norwegian “fura” and Danish “fyr.”

Pinus lambertiana
Harumi Buchholz with cone

David Douglas
Fraser's 1875 book describes the pines as Pinus, one of the few times that he and modern botanists concur. He lists Pinus Lambertiana, a species honoring the British pine expert Aylmer Bourke Lambert (1761-1842). “Sugar pines” are so-named due to the sweet resinous sap that exudes from bark wounds, and the famous naturalist John Muir considered the taste better than maple sugar. David Douglas discovered lambertiana (and more than 50 other species of trees) and introduced it to England in 1827. According to Fraser, Douglas found it “near the source of the Multnomah river in 1827,” but that statement is contrary to the fact that there is no Multnomah River in Oregon. Douglas noted Native Americans eating nuts from a species new to him and they agreed to lead him to a sugar pine area. On October 26, 1826 he discovered the amazingly tall trees and he measured a fallen specimen at 215' (40.84 m). The only way he could retrieve viable cones was to shoot them from branches, and after some time he had a nice collection. However, due to the report of his gun, eight hostile-looking Indians from another tribe showed up, with faces painted with red earth and armed with bows, arrows, spears and knives. There was a stand-off for eight-to-ten minutes, with Douglas's cocked rifle in one hand and a pistol in the other. Finally the leader made a sign for Douglas's tobacco, and he agreed if they would get more cones. When they were out of sight Douglas picked up three cones and some twigs and made a quick retreat back to his camp. He spent a fretful night awake, wondering if they would find and murder him. I have four biographies of Douglas by different authors, and they all relish in re-telling the story derived from Douglas's journal.

It is understandable that the Fraser book would contain some strange conjectures and inaccuracies, just as the Flora Wonder blog does, for a lot of our information comes from second-hand sources. Fraser's book was published by William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London. They published other works on gardening, and I may seek out The Six of Spades by the Reverend S. Reynolds Hole, a book recommended by E. Moses.

"Hole E. Moses? Grow up Talon."

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