Leaves. Leaf – from Old English, related to Dutch loof and German laub – is typically an organ of a vascular plant and is the lateral appendage of the stem. Foliage – from Latin folium – refers to leaves collectively. My existence has been filled with myriad* millions of leaves, and probably every cell in my brain is stuffed with leaf encounters – memories, my autobiography so to speak. I was born with a special relationship with leaves – it's not a skill at all, it's just the way it is – or how else would you explain my forte for finding four-leaf clovers, possibly more than anyone else on earth? More accurately, I don't find them, they find me; they sing out: "here I am, here I am," which delights my children and is the principal reason why my happy wife fell for me.
*Myriad, from Greek myrias, is technically the number for 10,000, but today it can be translated as a hell-of-a-lot or a shitload.
I tease my second child Laura, now thirty, married and successfully employed, that perhaps someday she would like to take over the reins of Buchholz Nursery, to keep the viable enterprise in the family. But she replies, "Ya know Pops, I'm just not into leaves the way you are." Being into leaves can become a hellish responsibility, as in trying to keep them all green with this year's brutal summer heat. We failed in some cases, with green turning to brown...then to a crisp-blonde, a situation that will not be redeemed with any autumn "color." The American Maple Society will visit the nursery on October 30, and I wonder if any leaves will still be on the trees at that time.
We have planted a new garden this summer in what was formally the basketball court, and the location was selected for ferns, dwarf Rhododendrons, Epimediums and the like, all happy under 50% shade cloth. Today my favorite of the hundred or so plants is Woodwardia unigemmata, as the new growth is mahogany-red and glossy. The species is from mountain forests of China, Japan and the Himalayas, with the limitation that it is hardy to only 14 degrees F according to The Plant Lovers Guide To Ferns by Richie Steffen and Sue Olsen. Sue's previous book, The Encyclopedia of Garden Ferns, single-handedly turned me into a Fool For Ferns, but it is puzzling that it took me so long. The Woodwardia genus resides in the Blechnaceae family, and was named for the British botanist Thomas Woodward by another botanist, Sir James Edward Smith. The species name unigemmata* is due to the single – usually – bulbil which forms at the tip of the frond, from which one can propagate a new plant.
*Gemma is Latin for a "bud" or "jewel," hence gemstone."
Schefflera macrophylla at the Rhododendron Species Foundation
Another leaf that caught my eye this past spring was the highly-indented Schefflera delavayi grown by Far Reaches Farm in Washington state. My plants of the species, grown from seed, occasionally show some indentation, but never like theirs. S. delavayi was introduced from China by Edward Needham in the early 1990's, and of course the specific name honors Pere Armand David, the French missionary who toiled for years in China. The genus was named for Johan von Scheffler (born in 1739), a Polish physician and botanist, and it is in the Araliaceae family. S. macrophylla is a species with enormous leaves, but unfortunately it is not as hardy as delavayi. The photos of S. macrophylla above were taken in the conservatory at the Rhododendron Species Foundation, and I noticed this past spring that they had severely reduced their tree because it had grown to the top of the structure, and probably every three or four years they'll have to whack it back again.
|Magnolia macrophylla leaf underside|
Magnolia macrophylla ssp. ashei
I cannot mention leaves without bringing attention to Magnolia macrophylla, since the tropical-looking appendages are magnificent in size, especially attractive in autumn when the leaf undersides reveal distinguished veins. My daughter takes the leaves to school in October – about 25 of them – and distributes the foliage to her classmates. Naturally the female teachers become obsequious over the leaves, or rather over the special father who supplies them. Alas, the school boys fight, swat and tear their leaves to shreds, but the girls admire and protect theirs. I know that I'm placing the kids into stereotypes, but it happens every year. Hillier calls M. macrophylla "awe-inspiring," and I can't imagine him ruining a leaf. My tree is planted at the base of a hill, down by the creek, which was intentional to keep the wind from damaging the foliage. It has a companion, smaller in all respects, M. macrophylla ssp. ashei, and if you get them mixed up, wait until flowering, for ashei will have the outer 3 tepals blotched with purple. Hillier again, "It is strange that a plant [of ssp. ashei] of this quality, growing in a country enjoying western civilisation [sic] was not recorded in cultivation until 1933."
|Victoria amazonica leaf underside|
|Guyana President Coat of Arms|
|Guyana Coat of Arms|
Victoria amazonica is a genus in the Nymphaeaceae family, and the family name is derived from Greek nymphaia which meant "waterlily," inspired by the nymphs of Greek mythology. The non-hardy Victoria is native to the shallow waters of the Amazon River, and in fact it is on the Guyanese coat of arms as it is their national flower. The leaves of this largest of all waterlily can grow to 10' in diameter, and photographers love to place a toddler on one to illustrate how amazing is our plant world. Flowers – pollinated by beetles – are white the first night they are open, then pink the second, and they can grow to 18" in diameter. The flowers, that is, not the beetles. John Lindley 1799-1865 was the English botanist to first describe Victoria, and presumably that made a great impression on the newly ascended British Queen and Empress of India.
As legend has it, a beautiful Amazonian Indian girl refused to marry, preferring instead the Warrior of the Moon. One night she saw a reflection of the moon on a lake and was convinced that he had descended to earth to bathe, and sadly she fell for the illusion and drowned. The Moon Warrior grieved for the girl who gave up her life to be with him, so he transformed her to the plant which blooms at night. Legend continues that the Victoria only flowers during a full moon and when the sky is cloudless, and that allows her to see her true love, the Warrior of the Moon. Ahh.
|Gunnera species at Holehird|
|Johann Ernst Gunnerus|
I don't know for certain the species of the Gunnera (above), but the photo was taken at Holehird in the Lake District in England. The photo of my "grandfather" acting goofy was taken at Harlow Carr, also in England, and again there was no species identification. The genus contains about 40 species, with perhaps manicata, from southeastern Brazil, growing the largest, to nearly 11' in width. These "Giant Rhubarb" leaves are supported by large succulent stalks which are botanically considered petioles. The tiniest of the Gunneras is albocarpa from New Zealand with leaves less than an inch long; and from southern South America, G. magellanica features leaves 2-4” wide on stalks 3-6” long. The genus was named after the Norwegian botanist Johann Ernst Gunnerus (1718-1773) who was also the Bishop of Nidaros, and interestingly the Holy One was born in Christiania, Norway. Gunnerus corresponded with Linnaeus, and even further from botany, he was the first to suggest that the Northern Lights were caused by the sun, and that there must be auroras around the moon, Venus and Mercury. Polymaths such as Gunnerus remind me that I am exceptionally shallow in comparison, but thankfully I am better looking.
Plant and leaf examples of Ginkgo biloba 'Munchkin'
I love Ginkgo biloba, and I grow the smallest-leaved form imaginable, G. b. 'Munchkin'. But maybe I should defer to its discoverer, Crispin Silva of Oregon, who originally named it 'Chris (or Chris's) Dwarf' after his son. Apparently Silva's former nursery employer got ahold of the selection and renamed it 'Munchkin', and while that is a catchy name, it was a rather arrogant thing to do. But since it is now firmly known in the trade as 'Munchkin', that is the name I use since I'm not on a mission to right the world's wrongs. In any case the leaves on my oldest plant vary in size as photographed above, and they turn butter yellow in fall just like a regular Ginkgo. At my home I have planted 'Munchkin' next to an Ilex serrata 'Koshobai'; the point is to demonstrate that the Ilex with the tiniest of berries pairs well with the Ginkgo with the diminutive leaves, as if both took an anti-growth pill.
|Acer palmatum 'Saiho'|
Also notable for its tiny leaves is Acer palmatum 'Saiho'. Are they smaller than Acer palmatum 'Hanami nishiki' or Acer palmatum 'Beni hime'? About the same I suppose, but Saiho is very pretty in spring with yellow leaves tipped in reddish-brown. By summer the foliage evolves to yellow-green, and it is always a bright ball in the landscape. In fall the foliage can range from yellow to orange to red, and the bush is ablaze even though the leaves are tiny.
I keep a fun plant around in a wood box in GH20, Begonia 'Escargot', and I've had it for over ten years. We used to propagate it by leaf cuttings, where a piece of the leaf placed on damp soil will magically form roots. These plants sold well – and why wouldn't they? – until I discovered that the damn thing was patented and propagation was not allowed. One of my customers was called out about it, but he didn't “remember” where he got his 'Escargot', and neither of us was fined or imprisoned but I did discontinue production. 'Escargot' is a “Rex” begonia which means it is a member of the Rex (or King) Cultorum group, and the cultivars which are marketed – as annuals primarily – feature wild coloration. The Begonia genus was named for Michel Begon (1638-1710), a French botanist who discovered the plant on the Island of Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) and introduced it to Europe. Escargot is a French word, somehow derived from Vulgar Latin coculium, and means “edible snail,” and the slitherers are native to French wine areas like Burgundy where they feed on grape leaves.
|Helwingia chinensis male and female forms|
Helwingia chinensis is an interesting shrub, for it features its flowers on the upper surface of its leaves, botanically known as epiphyllous. Most of the visitors to the nursery don't know anything about Helwingia and are unimpressed...until I point out the position of its flowers. Helwingia is the only genus in the Helwingiaceae family and it is native to eastern Asia and the Himalayas. The name honors Georg Andreas Helwing, a German pastor who was an expert on his native flora, although the good reverend never set foot in Asia or ever saw a plant of Helwingia. The genus was introduced into Europe from Japan by Philipp von Siebold in 1830, long after Helwing had died. Helwingia will root from softwood cuttings in summer under mist, and we grow the male Broad-Leaved-Form and the female Narrow-Leaved-Form. These “forms” were acquired by Dan Hinkley of the former Heronswood Nursery from the late J.C. Raulston, and I suppose the narrow female clone is the one I prefer as I am a fan of the skinny.
There are some plant leaves that I don't particularly care for, like Eucalyptus, so I don't have them in the collection even though I admire their trunks. Where hardy, most arboreta contain the genus, and they are perfectly sited...anywhere but in my garden. The E. haemastoma (photo above) glowed in the spring light at the Santa Cruz Botanic Garden in California. This species is native to coastal hills near Sydney, Australia. E. deglupta was photographed in Los Angeles, and it is the only species found naturally in the Northern Hemisphere – in New Guinea, Seram, Sulawesi and Mindanao in the Philippine Archipelago. Not surprisingly it is commonly known as the Rainbow Eucalyptus. E. ficifolia was named because its leaf supposedly resembles that of a fig, although it doesn't look like any fig that I have seen. After this blog you can visit the photo library on our website to see more Eucalyptus species. The genus name is derived from Greek Kaluptein – “to cover” – because the unopened flower is well (eu) covered (kaluptos).
I don't care for bamboo leaves either, but my children's pet Panda sure likes to eat them. I enjoyed a recent punctuation book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, by Lynne Truss. We are asked to consider her joke that a panda walks into a cafe, orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air. She also says “The rule is: don't use commas like a stupid person. I mean it.”
Good bye, it is time that I leaf you.