Friday, October 16, 2015

Romping with the Colours

Sammy, the Wonder Dog

I read the other day that clever researchers have concluded that both dogs and cats can see in color. Sammy, our wonder dog can distinguish red from blue after all, the little dickens. Color is a great feature, especially these days with autumn foliage blazing fantastically. Color is an interesting word, except that in Britain they have Frenchified it as colour since the Middle English times (before the 16th century), because some words are borrowed from Anglo-Norman French. I like the extra "u" because it adds a richer texture to the seeing experience, and the same is true for flavour and savour for taste. Color or colour, whichever you use, originates from Latin colorare.

Ophiopogon planiscarpus 'Nigrescens'

Pinus thunbergii

Black is my favorite color, although many will say that black is not a color, but rather the absence of color. That is not at all true, for black is the very best complement for all other colors, such as white, grey, red, blue etc. Yep, orange too. The color-theme of our website, blog and all of our publications is black, and intentionally so. Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the original source of our modern language, and it existed from the 3rd or 4th millennium BC, and back then black was bhleg. It evolved to blakkaz in Proto-Germanic and blaek in Old English, although today we have schwarz in German, noir in French, dubh in Irish and nyeusi in Swahili. An example of a black plant is Ophiopogon planiscarpus 'Nigrescens', or the "Black Mondo Grass." Pinus thunbergii is commonly called the "Japanese black pine" as mature trees develop a black trunk and main branches. The Japanese name for black is kuro, but I can't explain why the dwarf maple, Acer palmatum 'Kuro hime' received its name, unless it was done so at night.

White clouds at Flora Farm

Acer palmatum 'Shiro'

Pinus parviflora 'Shiro janome'
Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

Kwintos meant “white” in PIE times, then to Old English as kwit, and to just wit for the Dutch. I am a “white” man and most Americans are white people, but in the future that might not be the case. The only truly white people are albinos, and the rest of us have an off-white to reddish skin color, especially when we are embarrassed or very angry. White is an achromatic color, which means a color without color. Fresh snow and Polar Bears are white, often lazy clouds are white and even the Popes have worn white since 1566. Ancient Romans had two words for white, albus for a plain white and candidus for a brighter white. The Japanese (I'm told) have six different words for white depending upon brilliance or dullness, with shiro being one of them. Acer palmatum 'Shiro' has green leaves in spring, but into summer a whiteness develops. Pinus parviflora 'Shiro janome' means “white dragon,” and as you can imagine it prefers PM shade. Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker's' curved silver-white needles prefer full sun, in fact they will be dull green and less curved if grown in shade. If you visit the White Pines Forest State Park near the town of Oregon, Illinois, the pines in question are Pinus strobus, but it's actually the inner wood that puts it into the “white pine” category.

Acer palmatum 'Red Dragon'

Rhododendron 'Ever Red'

Rhododendron 'Ever Red'

Rhododendron 'Taurus'

Ribes sanguinem 'Pulboro Scarlet'

Red is an exciting color, with a mad bull charging at the bullfighter's red cape, then later leaking his own red blood...the bull's that is. Red is from Old English read, rood in Dutch, rot or ruber in German, eruthros in Greek and rudhira in Sanskrit. Again, the same old PIE language where red was known as rewd. In ancient Rome red symbolized blood and courage and the soldiers wore red tunics, while the generals wore a scarlet cloak. In the middle ages the Emperor Charlemagne painted his palace red and wore red shoes to demonstrate his authority. My Japanese wife abused herself by getting a red afro when in high school because she was the bongo player in a rock band. When her serious conservative father came home he said, “Good, now I won't worry about you having a boyfriend.” Red is found in abundance in the world of horticulture, at least among the cultivars, and with maples there's the old adage that “red outsells green.” Acer palmatum 'Red Dragon' is a nice compact laceleaf from New Zealand, and you would call its summer color maroon-red, and in autumn the foliage turns to an orange-red or a red-red. Rhododendron 'Taurus' is a fantastic plant that was bred by the late plantsman, Dr. Frank Mossman who was very generous to me with plant starts at the beginning of my career. Rhododendron 'Ever Red' was bred by the Coxes at Glendoick in Scotland. Not only does it have red flowers, but the foliage is reddish as well. Ribes sanguineum 'Pulboro Scarlet' has lush red flowers, and in fact the specific epithet sanguineum refers to the natural red flowers.

Picea pungens 'The Blues'

Rosa glauca

Ginkgo biloba 'Blue Cloud'

Blue came from Old French bleu, ultimately from a Germanic origin. “Roses are red my love, violets are blue...” Red and blue mixed together form the color violet, while blue and yellow combine to make green. In ancient Greece there was no single word for blue, but rather kyaneos for dark blue and glaucos (hence glauca) for a light blue. But kyaneos could also mean dark green, violet, black or brown, and glaucos could mean light green, gray or yellow. Japanese plant names (of color) can be confusing because they say the same word ao for both blue and green. How can they employ six different words for “white” but then utter the same word for blue and green? The sky is blue and the grass is green for heaven sakes. The Japanese can be vague, never wanting to state absolutes, and my theory is that characteristic develops because of their Buddhist upbringing. Let's face it: they beat around the bush, which can be irritating to my Germanic mind. But, the women can be quite loveable. Also lovely is the use of blue in the beguiling Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, a painting I have seen in the Maritshuis in Den Hague, The Netherlands. Anyway let's consider blue plants, and we'll start with Picea pungens 'The Blues', a great name for a great plant. It was discovered as a branch sport on a “Colorado spruce” host by Larry Stanley of Oregon 15-20 years ago, and I think it has a wonderful name. The beautiful blue branches droop elegantly, and it will grow only as tall as you stake it. The photo above, taken at Stanley's place, demonstrates that when you cease to stake the leader it will travel sideways. Rosa glauca has reddish flowers but the foliage is a pleasing gray-blue. Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Blue-isch' is a cultivar with foliage a light blue-gray but I don't have a photo of the Dutch selection; it doesn't matter as it is not that blue anyway. Recently we stirred up the world of horticulture with our introduction of Ginkgo biloba 'Blue Cloud' with its very blue leaves. Blue is a happy color and is selected by most Americans as their favorite.

Choisya x dimwitti 'Gold Fingers'

Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion'

Yellow rhymes with mellow, and why not? Yellow is a calming color as opposed to red, and I find it deliciously soothing. Sometimes it can shout, as in with members of the sunflower family, but most of the time a yellow plant adds a bright spot in the landscape. A little goes a long way – too much defeats the purpose – but on the other hand I don't even follow my own advice. Last week I bought a Choisya x 'Gold Fingers' because I saw one recently in my grandfather's garden, and it thrives beautifully in spite of our record-breaking summer heat. I recently got a Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion' from a retail source – well, it was given to me – and I admire the perennial that exudes yellow, especially since flowers glow on a plant with black foliage. In China yellow is seen as the color of happiness, harmony and wisdom. They believe there are five directions to the compass: north, south, east, west and middle, with yellow signifying the middle. China is at the middle of the world – hence Middle Kingdom – and the Emperor's palace is considered to be at the exact center of the world. The word yellow was originally gel in PIE, then to geolu in Old English. In Scotland they say yella, in German gelb and in Sweden gul. Yellow fever dates from 1748 in America as jaundice is a symptom, yellow-belly was a sailor's name for a half-cast (1867) and a Texan term for Mexican soldiers based on the color of their uniforms (1842).

C'mon now, orange is a sexy color, or at least frisky and exciting. Of course orange refers to the citrus fruit color, but the color was preceded by the fruit. It is thought that Old French borrowed from the Italian melarancio – “fruit of the orange tree” – but that was probably derived from Malayan naranna or Tamil naram via Sanskrit naragnah. In Spanish I have learned naranja means the orange fruit while anaranjado refers to the color. I favour the orange's delicious flavour, abundantly so, but it is remarkable that nothing rhymes with orange, not even one of the times. I remember a poem, but not by whom,

            “Eating an orange
              While making love
              Makes for bizarre enj-
              oyment thereof."

Poncirus trifoliata var. montrosa 'Flying Dragon'

Sorbus sargentiana

Sorbus sargentiana

Plants with orange coloration include the fruits of Poncirus trifoliata, especially on the cultivar 'Flying Dragon'. The species trifoliata is the preferred understock – the root portion – of today's commercial orange tree crops because it is hardy to at least USDA zone 6, or minus 10 degrees F. It is native to China and Korea where it is known as the “Chinese bitter orange,” and before I knew the common name, I sampled the first fruit to develop on my first tree. Yuck! The fruits of Sorbus sargentiana are orange when ripe, and the species is native to Yunnan, China where it is known as wan xiu hua qiu, but I don't have a clue what that means. Of course the specific epithet honors the American dendrologist Charles Sprague Sargent of the Arnold Arboretum, for it was first collected by E.H. Wilson when he was plant hunting for the Arnold. More than the berries I love its lush-red new growth in spring.

Fagus sylvatica 'Dawyck Purple'
Fagus sylvatica 'Tricolor'

Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion'

I cannot neglect the color purple, a word that is derived from Old English purpre, that from Latin purpura, and that from Greek porphura. Originally it was named for the dye from a shellfish. Purple was the color worn by the rulers of the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Roman Empire, and later by Catholic bishops. But remember that for hundreds of years the Pope has been putting on white robes. Purple is a royal color, and in fact when Elizabeth II ascended to the throne, a purple ticket was used for the coronation. Purple is a combination of red and blue, and as such there is no wavelength of purple light, only with the individuals of the combination. There is a Purple Mountain in Jiangsu Province, China, so named because the peak is often covered with purple clouds at dawn and dusk, but then Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Colorado all have a Purple Mountain as well. Some plants with purple foliage include many cultivars such as Acers palmatum 'Bloodgood', 'Moonfire', 'Red Emperor' and 'Murasaki kiyohime', where murasaki is the Japanese word for purple. There are a number of Fagus sylvatica cultivars with purple foliage such as 'Ansorgei', 'Black Swan', 'Dawyck Purple', 'Purple Fountain', 'Purpurea Pendula' and 'Red Obelisk', while 'Tricolor' is a striking combination of red and purple. When one sees the fruits of Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion' in October, the temptation is to cut off a branch to bring it into the house.

Acer palmatum 'Spring Delight'

Colobanthus quitensis

Ginkgo biloba

Giuseppe Verdi
I'll finish our romp with colors with green as a good portion of our planet is covered with it. Ghre is the word in PIE that meant "grow." Later ghre evolved to graenn in Old Norse, grown in Dutch and grene in Old English. Everybody loves green, especially in spring, and we all know that Tennessee is the "greenest state in the land of the free." Obviously the largest contributor to green in Tennessee is chlorophyll, the chemical by which plants photosynthesize and convert sunlight into chemical energy. Oregon is pretty green too. The color in America is associated with spring, nature and youth, but also with envy. In China green is the symbol of fertility. The Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi's name would translate as "Joe Green," and Giuseppe is the most common of all Italian names. There are thousands of plants I have grown that are green, and I never tire of the color for there are a myriad of shades. Acer palmatum 'Spring Delight' is basically green, but leaves contain a pretty reddish margin. Colobanthus quitensis, one of only two flowering species from Antarctica, has a delightful green color, and there might be more of it in my nursery than anywhere else in the world outside of Antarctica. Everybody can recognize a Ginkgo leaf – my children could at age two – and what a splendid green color it is in spring; then we are treated to delicious yellow in fall. Thank god I'm not colorblind!

Green means go, as in a green light, so now the blog will end and I'll head for the refrigerator.

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