Friday, December 4, 2015

Foliage Finale

Acer buergerianum 'Michael Steinhardt'

Two weeks ago I reported that fall color was finished and that it was the conifers' turn to shine. Well, not so fast my friend, I was wrong again. I walked past Greenhouse 14 and saw a dangling leaf of Acer buergerianum 'Michael Steinhardt' and I was instantly mesmerized – a condition that frequently occurs when one abides with plants. The "Trident" cultivar was discovered and introduced by Don Shadow of Tennessee and he named it 'M.S.' after a customer with a garden/arboretum in New York. I photographed the golden specimen in Tennessee in May, and Shadow claims that it stays golden all spring and summer and does not burn. My start is still in the greenhouse where it can achieve longer growth with better propagating wood, but unfortunately it is not so gold indoors. Many maple selections are like that, where the golds are not so gold and the reds are not so red in too much shade.

Acer buergerianum

Acer davidii

Acer conspicuum 'Phoenix'
Since I was with camera I visited other greenhouses as well. The two photos of Acer buergerianum are from a batch of understock which we will graft later this winter, and it's interesting that some leaves are yellow and some are red, especially since the seed came off of the same tree. The Acer davidii photo (above left) is from rootstocks also, and we'll use them for cultivars such as Acer pectinatum 'Mozart', Acer x conspicuum 'Phoenix' and other "stripe-bark" cultivars. The two photos of A. davidii again depict one with red autumn color and the other with yellow, and I use them to make a point: namely, that if you see only one plant at only one time, you don't assuredly know its definitive autumn color...because the cultivar or species can vary. Is it planted out in the Hillier Arboretum in England, or is it in a container in a Buchholz Nursery greenhouse? Was it seen in 2014 or in 2015 – even if it's the same tree? Also, late-summer new growth can color differently from the rest of the older leaves. All of which reminds me of a potential customer – a novice with maples – who was trying to figure out which palmatum cultivars would perform the best in his area. At first he hesitated...then came out and said it: "It seems to me that you only take photographs of them when they are looking their best." Yes, I would be guilty of that. Even though I never received an order from him, I'll go on record for taking a photo of crappy brown leaves, just to prove that I'm open-minded. See below.

Acer palmatum 'Crappy Brown Leaves'


Acer japonicum 'Mai kujaku'

Acer japonicum 'Giant Moon'

Acer japonicum 'Taki no gawa'

Acer japonicum 'Taki no gawa'

Colorful Acer japonicums continue to delight, and 'Aconitifolium', 'Giant Moon' and 'Taki no gawa' were still show-offs. In the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs short shrift is given to the species, except that japonicums are "beautifully coloured in autumn" and that they possess "softly hairy petioles," a description I had to read a few times to appreciate. For cultivars Hillier lists only 'Aconitifolium', 'Green Cascade' and 'Vitifolium', while Vertrees/Gregory in Japanese Maples list and describe twelve. The name 'Aconitifolium' has been used in the West since 1882, and it was derived from the leaf's resemblance to the genus Aconitum (monkshood). That is a terrible name, though, and it takes too long to write out. Far better is the Japanese name 'Mai kujaku', for it means "dancing peacock," and just picture leaves moving in a light breeze. I acquired my start 35 years ago as 'Aconitifolium' and I have always used that name, but since I am nearing the end of my career I think I will go with the Japanese flow and switch to 'Mai kujaku'. Besides, precedence should be given to the Japanese name for their plant, and screw the West. A. j. 'Giant Moon' was selected and named by Buchholz Nursery from a seedling from 'Mai kujaku' about 2003. The name was due to the unusually large leaves and the fact that the common name of A. japonicum is "full moon maple." Neither Vertrees/Gregory or Hillier mention a japonicum cultivar named 'Taki no gawa' ("river of waterfall"). Neither does Yano in Book for Maples, although he lists a palmatum (amoenum), 'Takino gawa'. I have had the japonicum version long enough to have produced and distributed over 500 "rivers of waterfall." By the way I asked my Japanese wife if the name was perhaps redundant, for one cannot have a waterfall without a river. She laughed and said, "We're Japanese, we always do things like that; maybe it just sounds better." She thinks it's funny that West tires to figure out East, but can never do so fully.

Acer micranthum

I am certainly not on a mission to convert maple enthusiasts to Acer micranthum, but if I was I would have an easy sell. Hillier calls it "Among the best maples for the smaller garden." First described by Philipp von Siebold in 1845, it was introduced to Europe in 1879. Its specific name is Latin for its common name of "small-flowered maple," or "ko mine kaede" to the Japanese. I like that the "authoritative, definitive text" (Timber Press) contains a statement in Japanese Maples, "This tree is one of my favorite snake-bark maples..." Well, who is saying that, Vertrees or Gregory? I dug out a 1st edition and find that it was Vertrees. I know that Peter Gregory favors it too, for I stood next to one with him at Westonbirt Arboretum, and he gazed at it lovingly like he was looking at a beautiful woman. One of its charms is the dangling clusters of tiny seeds which evolve from pink to red in autumn. A good place for a picnic would be under the tree with a beautiful woman, preferably Japanese.

Acer caudatifolium 'Variegata' in fall

Acer caudatifolium 'Variegata' in spring

I don't have much experience with Acer caudatifolium from Japan and Taiwan as it is hardy to only 10 degrees above 0 F. What is a little troubling is that the species is not the same as Acer caudatum, for the latter is native to China, Manchuria and Japan, and is therefore much more hardy. In any case I was pleased to receive a variegated form of A. caudatifolium from the Mr. Maple guys from North Carolina, but I wonder about the use of the Latin 'Variegata', if that name is nomenclaturally valid. Whether it is or is not, nevertheless my tree was vibrant, and it was certainly fun to stumble upon it in late November. The specific name is due to its sharply pointed leaves and was first described by the Japanese botanist Hayata in 1911. He was a professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo, and later the director of the Research Botanical Gardens. Hayata's first name was Bunzo, a name I use for my 9-year-old daughter when she is slow to do something – "Get with it, Bunzo."

Acer palmatum 'Geisha Gone Wild'

Speaking of Saya "Bunzo," we set out one evening to flag orders in the Flora Farm greenhouses, and she knows where just about everything is. The first to flag was Acer palmatum 'Geisha Gone Wild' in a 7-gallon pot, and she marched straight for them. She stopped in her tracks, stunned – "Woah, they're not here!" "Yes they are," I said. She gathered herself when she realized that they were indeed present, but that they had changed color. 'Geisha Gone Wild' originated as a branch sport on the New Zealand introduction 'Geisha', where one certainly did "go wild." Geisha can be attractive – and we still propagate a few – but it is an unstable wimp and not very hardy. Its instability can lead to plants with 100% 'Bloodgood' – type foliage – and I watched a couple of those for three years, and never did they resume the "Geisha" form. In another case a 'Geisha' produced a robust mutation that I eventually propagated and introduced as 'Geisha Gone Wild'. The "wild" form has proven to be very hardy and shines in full sun and is one of our best field plants. Oddly the Vertrees/Gregory 4th edition* says that 'Geisha Gone Wild' originated as a seedling of 'Geisha' – not true – and that it resembles 'Tennyo no hoshi' – huh?

*I value the Japanese Maple book, and appreciate the effort it took to produce it, however I can nit-pick over a number of errors. Even the publisher, Timber Press, is full of it when they comment, "As a result of hundreds of years of careful breeding, they [maples] take the center stage in any garden they are found." I don't think any cultivar in the book was "bred," rather they were selected as seedlings or branch mutations, and there is a big difference between that and to be "bred."

Acer palmatum 'Ueno homare'

Acer palmatum 'Koyasan'

The spectacular Acer palmatum 'Ueno homare' certainly lives up to its name, with Ueno being a popular park in Tokyo, and homare meaning "glory" or "fame." It is attractive in spring also, leafing out early – like A. p. 'Katsura' – with yellow new leaves edged in orange-red. With its elongated, pointed middle lobe it somewhat resembles Acer palmatum 'Koyasan', and what do you know – the 'Koyasan' group is growing next to the 'Ueno homares', for they look very different in spring and summer. 'Koyasan' was a Dick van der Maat introduction and I discussed it two weeks ago in Flamboyant Foliage, November 20, 2015.

Acer palmatum 'Ikandi' in November

Acer palmatum 'Ikandi' in May

Acer palmatum 'Ikandi' in July

One of the most colorfully fun of all Japanese maples is Acer palmatum 'Ikandi', a seedling which arose from an A. p. 'Alpenweiss' parent. The photo above shows the original seedling, but we are already selling larger trees which have added vigor due to their green understock. New leaves emerge pink with green veins. Later the pink turns to cream-white, while the green remains and even expands. By fall, you would never believe what the foliage looked like back in the spring, but it is interesting too. I introduced 'Ikandi' in 2012, and even I will admit that the name is kind of goofy, but our crop of 20" cedar boxes sold out the first five minutes from the release of our availability.

Acer pectinatum 'Mozart' in May

Acer pectinatum 'Mozart' in November

Acer pectinatum 'Mozart' in October

Acer pectinatum ssp. forrestii is native to Yunnan, China, and its name is derived from Latin pectinatus, or "like a comb" due to small hairs at the leaf margins. I have been in the area where it is native, and I certainly saw maples, but I was/am not sharp enough to be certain what species I was seeing. Fortunately for horticulture, Dutch nurseryman Peter Vanlaerhoven was/is sharp enough, and he raised the cultivar 'Mozart' from wild-collected seed. It is notable for its red trunk with white striations, so it is a great winter tree. Spring growth is fresh with reddish twigs and pinkish leaves. My oldest tree is holed up in a greenhouse but I am afraid to plant it out because I am not sure of its hardiness. I know Dutch nurseries and southern England nurserymen claim that it is plenty hardy. At some point I'll discontinue to contain the top to keep it inside, and 'Mozart' will have to face the real world outdoors. I don't know the reason why the selection received its name, but perhaps there are 'Beethoven' and 'Brahms' cultivars as well.

Cornus kousa 'Heart Throb'

Besides the maples, there are many other plants clinging to their colorful foliage. Cornus kousa 'Heart Throb' doesn't seem to ever want to let go of its leaves, but of course I'm talking about containers in the greenhouse. Was 'Heart Throb' named for its red flower bracts in June or for its autumn foliage, as both throb with red? In the book Dogwoods by Paul Cappiello and Don Shadow, the case is made that 'Heart Throb' is but a renaming of 'Miss Satomi' and 'Rosabella', and that was based on DNA work at the University of Tennessee. 'Heart Throb' was named and introduced by the late Jim Schmidt of Oregon, and I remember him laughing when he said, "I know what the book says, but I know that they're two different plants." I don't have any special inside information and I don't really care, but I like the 'Heart Throb' name and I liked Jim Schmidt, and I like the cultivar so much that I planted one along the driveway to my home.

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette'

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette'

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette'

Liquidambar styraciflua 'Gumball'

Leaves still remain on Liquidambar styraciflua 'Slender Silhouette', an inspiring pillar that was discovered and introduced by Don Shadow of Tennessee. Autumn leaves of various colors – including green – are often present at the same time. You'll never be able to see the original tree which was growing next to a lake because someone cut it down, but I saw a huge specimen in Shadow's yard, probably one of the original propagules. I am a fan of the skinny – I like trees that grow to fifty feet or more while you can practically put your arms around them. If you planted the dwarf round L. s. 'Gumball' close to 'Slender Silhouette' you would have a living exclamation point, proof that nature can be fun.

Stewartia malacodendron

Stewartia malacodendron is a small tree from southeast USA and the species received its name from the Greek malakos for "soft" and dendron for "tree," but it is commonly known as the "silky camellia." While it has gained RHS's Award of Garden Merit it is nevertheless considered endangered in the wild. Sadly I don't have a photo of the flower because my one tree isn't old enough, but I have seen them elsewhere. To my mind malacodendron has the most beautiful flower in the genus with its soft-white camellia-like blossoms adorned with purple stamens and blue anthers. Malacodendron is a small understory tree and is considered by some Stewartia experts to be difficult to propagate and that it doesn't do particularly well in a container either. My tree is planted in full sun at Flora Farm and I cross my fingers that it will prosper. Last winter I grafted 15 shoots from it onto S. pseudocamellia and I achieved 100%...failure. I may have seen the species in North Carolina two years ago, but it didn't register with my brain because maybe it hadn't yet leafed out.

Well, I guess there is always color – or colour – at any time of the year...unless you are blind; but maybe then your color is black...or is it gray...or white or, what is it? Could somebody blind please report, I really want to know. I once picked up a blind hitch-hiker who said, "Yes, we are at my destination." How he could tell I don't really know, but I marveled that he could know.

With full disclosure here, I confess that this blog's photos were taken on November 23rd and the text was written on November 27th. Now, on December 4th, we are far from those events and everything is either brown or bare. Old-man Buchholz is also entering into his December, but dear-wife Haruko suggests that I am barely into my September. I thank her for her optimism.

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