Friday, December 18, 2015


There is a plant in the trade with yellow foliage and small purple flowers. It is named Corydalis shimienensis 'Berry Exciting' although it never does produce berries. I won't pass judgement on the plant, for I have never grown one; but I will pass judgement on the name: berry bad.

Frank Kingdon-Ward
I have an edition of the Englishman Frank Kingdon-Ward's Berried Treasure, back when the late explorer was finding new plants in China and Tibet, and then lucratively writing about his adventures. His Berried Treasure is a good read and I approve of the book's title, but maybe it's because the plants he writes about actually do have berries. One gripe is that the book was published in England – at 121 Charing Cross Road, London, but there is no date given. C'mon, always have a date!

Rosa moyesii

The Flora Wonder Arboretum is berrily represented by colorful fruits, and winter is a great time to see them. Kingdon-Ward mentions Rosa Moyesii, with a capital “M” for the species name because it was named for a person*, but of course today the specific name should never be capitalized. I grow the rose, but unfortunately I planted it too close to the road, and every year after flowering we must cut it in half. I can't resist quoting from Far Reaches Farm, the folks with a “fine madness for plants,” – “It would be a shame not to grow this rose at least once in your gardening life. Gorgeous single flowers of an entrancing terracotta red which stirs an ancient response from deep within the limbic...” Perhaps you'll think these plant nuts are too easily aroused, but I don't think they exaggerate. R. moyesii is well endowed with thorns, and now that the leaves are off I detect a hummingbird's nest in the center, and I hope that the little mama and her brood made it in and out without a scratch. Is a rose hip a berry? Well, to Kingdon-Ward it was.**

*This rose was discovered by E.H. Wilson in western China and it is also known as the “Mandarin Rose.” It was named for the Reverend James Moyes (1876-1930) of the China Inland Mission.

**Kingdon-Ward devotes 5 ½ pages to “what is a berry,” then says “For general purposes, then, we might define a berry as a fleshy fruit containing one or more seeds. Surely that's simple enough, and commendably brief. What has the botanist got to say to that?”

Billardiera longiflora

K-W says, “While on the subject of climbers [vines], I might mention Billardiera longiflora, a Tasmanian twining plant “for rajas and rich men only”, [note British grammar, with the comma after the quotation mark] as the Indian advertisements say, though that is not to say that its charms are purely esoteric.” Ok, ok – I take it back – K-W is not a good read, he is boringly pedantic, with “what does it matter, they [the fruits] are succeeded in October or November by almost cubical, or compressed globular, capsules, with rounded corners, of a rich deep navy blue, about an inch each side.” Hey, he wrote that, not me! – and why is an English writer using “inches” and not “centimeters,” or was that done when the K-W works were rendered to the American readership? In any case K-W was a tireless explorer, and not only did he discover many species, he sought out the best form to introduce into English gardens. Nevertheless he was considered very competitive, territorial and an arrogant son of a bitch by his peers.

Cotoneaster 'Streib's Findling'

Cotoneaster microphyllus 'Cooperi'

Cotoneaster dammeri – Dammeri to K-W – “is also called for good measure C. humifusa.” It is a species of a flowering plant in the genus Cotoneaster which is in the Rosaceae family, and is native to central and southern China, and I have seen it there. Flowers are white and berries are red, and I grow the cultivar 'Streib's Findling' with ground-hugging branches. I have one planting – actually just one plant – that is growing below our Pond House, and it now measures over twenty feet in diameter, and it friskily rambles over the granite stones...rooting in along the way and only rising to three inches tall. I also grow C. microphyllus 'Cooperi', another ground-hugger with glossy dark-green leaves and deliciously red berries, but it is only hardy to USDA zone 7.

Callicarpa japonica 'Hatsushimo'

Callicarpa japonica 'Shiji murasaki'

K-W has a small chapter (17) entitled Miscellaneous Coloured Fruits and that is where he makes brief mention of Callicarpa japonica. All that he says is that the fruit is more violet in japonica than the bluish-lilac C. Giraldiana [sic], and that C. japonica comes from Japan, but we already guessed that. There are a couple of C. japonica cultivars at the nursery with variegated foliage, 'Hatsushimo' and 'Snow Storm' with the latter the more colorful in my opinion. What is funny is that 'Snow Storm' is named 'Shiji murasaki' in Japan – it is the very same plant – but “snow storm” is not a translation of “shiji murasaki.” If you check out the character of shiji it is exactly the same as for murasaki. So it translates as “purple purple,” and that puzzled my wife/translator Haruko. She kept repeating “shiji murasaki – why?” – and promised to do more research. I wonder if 'Snow Storm' and the Lowes-box store Monrovia Nursery's 'Summer Snow' are the same, they sure look so, with 'Summer Snow' being patented. Ah, that damn patent issue again, where a Japanese plant comes into America and the large capitalistic nurseries want to control the action. I think I will propagate anyway – as 'Shiji murasaki' – and see what happens.

Callicarpa japonica 'Leucocarpa'

My favorite of the Callicarpa japonica cultivars is C. j. 'Leucocarpa' with its pure white berries. The cultivar name is derived from leuco from the Greek leukos for “white”* and carpa meaning “fruit.” The C. japonica species was introduced in 1845, but for the cultivar name leucocarpa it must have been so designated before the 1950's to be valid. I have never planted seed of leucocarpa and I wonder if all seedlings would produce white berries. As you can see in the photo above the berries ripen to white as early as October when my plant still had fresh green leaves. Now the leaves are all rotting on the ground so the fruits stand out even more, and the bush – about 7' tall by 7' wide – is adorned with the constant presence of birds.

*Melano is derived from Greek for “black” and melancholia was believed to be caused by an excess of black bile. The medical term melanemesis is black vomit or vomit discolored black in yellow fever, while melangeophile is an organism that thrives in or on black loam. No one knows for sure how the Black Sea was named, but one theory is that it was known as the “Sea of Death,” for many sailors met their fate when violent storms attacked their vessels in a body of water with no islands or very infrequent safe harbors.

Sorbus americana
Sorbus alnifolia

Mr. Moose
The Sorbus americana above left is from North Carolina on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I now grow it at the nursery since I harvested seed – probably illegal – when no one was looking. My young trees don't produce berries yet, but they did show off fantastic autumn color. S. americana occurs in eastern Canada, from New England south to North Carolina, and as far west as the Great Lakes. The berries provide food for birds and small mammals, while moose eat the foliage, twigs and bark as a preferred browse. The photo above right is Sorbus alnifolia, and it was taken at Arboretum Wespelaar in Belgium in October 2012. I had never seen S. alnifolia in fruit before, and I was so impressed that I bought some seedlings and planted a grove of them at Flora Farm. While S. americana is known as the “Eastern mountain ash,” S. alnifolia is the “Korean mountain ash,” although they are not true ashes (Fraxinus) since Sorbus is in the rose family. Alnifolia was named for its alder-like leaves, green in summer turning to bright yellow-to-orange in autumn. I largely dismissed Sorbus early in my career, mainly due to the orange fruits on many varieties, and orange just seemed inappropriate in a garden. I guess I have changed.

Ilex aquifolium 'J.C. van Tol'

Ilex aquifolium 'Pixie'

Ilex aquifolium 'Britebush'
Ilex aquifolium 'Crinkle Variegated'

Ilex is a large genus (400 species) of deciduous and evergreen trees and shrubs, and they are well-represented in my gardens. I became familiar with I. aquifolium early in my life because my parents had a large holly tree in the yard, and the ball was always rolling into it during our games. I now grow variegated cultivars, a semi-weeping form with large glossy foliage ('J.C. van Tol') and a choice dwarf bush named 'Pixie'. Maybe the 'Pixie' is dwarf in part due to Haruko's pruners, as 'Pixie' branches find their way into her Christmas wreaths. Ilex aquifolium was the type species described by Linnaeus as it is native to Europe. The common name holly in Old English time was holegn and in Middle English Holin, and later Hollen. Even though birds love the berries they can be fatal for humans.

Ilex fargesii

Ilex fargesii* is one of my favorites for its long leaves which are deciduous, so the red berries are now ornamenting more obviously. The species honors Pere Paul Guillaume Farges (1844-1912), one in a group of three famous French missionary/botanists along with Pere David and Pere Delavay. These missionaries were not highly successful converting souls, but they did accomplish the diversion of Chinese flora to western gardens. E.H. Wilson was sent to China to collect seed of Davidia involucrata, as his employer at Veitch Nursery wanted to be the first to offer it in Europe. Wilson brought back tons of seed, only to find that Farges had sent seed to Vilmorin in France a couple of years prior. The English plant explorers always hated it when the damn French beat them at something.

*The only thing K-W says about 'Ilex fargesii', "...if it has a fault it is that it will not exert itself sufficiently to fruit really well (and that damns it as berried treasure...)." Hmm, it exerts itself sufficiently at Buchholz Nursery.

Ilex serrata 'Koshobai'

Ilex serrata 'Koshobai'

My sure favorite Ilex is serrata 'Koshobai', a dwarf dense deciduous shrub that is loaded with tiny red berries. Koshobai is Japanese for "pepper-corn," and the cute berries are so small that you can fit about 15-20 of them on a dime, with each individual berry about the size of Roosevelt's eye. The only problem with 'Koshobai' is that in some winters the leaves do not fully fall off, but this year the twigs are completely bare and the fruit sparkles when the rare sun appears. The berries last for months, and a small pot is placed on our table from Thanksgiving until New Year's. An important ornamental attribute of 'Koshobai' is that it is parthenocarpic, which means that it can develop fruit without a male. Ilex serrata was known in England before K-W's time, but he did not include it in his Berried Treasure, a shame. 'Koshobai' is one of the most delightful plants in my entire collection, and probably one of the most talked about.

Gaultheria nummularioides

Gaultheria tricophylla

The ericaceous genus Gaultheria was named for Jean-Francois Gaultier, an 18th century Canadian physician and botanists. Originally from France, after he had settled in Canada he married – in his words – "a lady of rank. I have reason to be satisfied in every way; my wife has much wit, a fine education, and great ability for running and organizing a house, and she can expect wealth after the death of her father, who is 78." Sounds like my wife, except without the wealth. Anyway, the genus that bears his name is related to Vaccinium, and its fresh-looking evergreen foliage would be reason enough to grow it, and the fruits are a nice bonus. G. nummularioides is a low groundcover from the Himalayas to southeast Asia. It is best in a shady location with sharp drainage. My favorite species is G. trichophylla, and I have seen it in the wild in the Himalayas at about 12,000'. On second thought, what I saw was maybe a closely related species, for Hillier says that G. trichophylla is from western China.* In any case I have had the true species off and on, but they are not long-lived for me. The large fruits are edible and I love their blue color. I should get another start when I can.

*But its common name is "Himalayan snowberry."

Berberis jamesiana

Berberis trigona 'Orange King'

Berberis jamesiana is a shrub with wicked thorns but beautiful pendant racemes of berries, and it was introduced in 1913 by George Forrest from northwest Yunnan. B. trigona's (formerly linearifolia) berries are not as attractive as B. jamesiana, but the flowers are more spectacular. They bloom in March in our greenhouses, and one year a visitor practically ran through the greenhouse to see what it was. Surprisingly sales were never good, maybe because the plants have an ungainly habit, but my employees are happy that they don't have to make Berberis cuttings anymore. The trigona species is native to Argentina and Chile, and it requires excellent drainage.

Crataegus monogyna 'Inermis Compacta' at RBG Edinburgh

Crataegus monogyna 'Inermis Compacta' at RBG Edinburgh

Crataegus – the hawthornes – are a genus of thorny shrubs and small trees in the family Rosaceae, and the origin of the generic name is from Greek krataigos, from kratos for "strength" plus aigos, from Greek aigilops for the "Turkey oak." Another theory is that the name is derived from kratos for "strength" and akis for "sharp," referring to the thorns on some species. I never cared much for the hawthornes until I discovered C. monogyna inermis 'Compacta', a thornless selection (inermis) that grew compactly. I grew a ten-year-old-tree to about six feet tall and enjoyed the white spring flowers followed by red berries in the fall, and the birds certainly enjoyed my tree as well. One year I decided that a botanical trip to Scotland was due, and I appreciated that upon entering the RBG at Edinburgh admission was free. I took the path to the right, in the direction to the famous rock garden, and from a distance I saw a large round tree blooming white...and I wondered what it was, and every step forward indicated that it was indeed the compact Crataegus. I assume that it is still there, truly the anchor of a world famous garden. I am really a trunk-man, an aficionado of a tree's torso, and I have thousands – really! – of tree-trunk photos, but I think the photo of the Edinburgh specimen is my favorite. Hail to Scotland, to their gardens, to the unreadable poetry of Robert Burns...which leads one to a wee bit of Drambuie, or, if no one is perhaps one too many.

1 comment:

  1. As a forestry graduate and landscape architect with the good fortune to have traveled to many of the places you talk about in your blog, I have to tell you how much I appreciate your writing. It's both informative and entertaining from both a technical and human perspective. Very good info and even better reflections on life. Please, keep up the good work.