Friday, February 26, 2016

Guide to the Flowers of Western China

This past week I spent some time in western China studying the flora, but I did so with my butt on the couch while reading the Guide to the Flowers of Western China by Christopher Grey-Wilson and Phillip Cribb. The title is somewhat misleading as the area covered does not extend totally west into Tibet, Xinjiang and western Qinghai, and according to the parameters (see above) the area is actually south-central China. The book is basically an encyclopedia with a short paragraph given to each plant, and it takes the broad point of view about what constitutes a “flower” and includes conifers; and you might recall in a blog or two ago that I too consider conifer cones and pollen structures to be “flowers” even though many notable botanical institutions and nurseries do not. Them rong.

Yunnan Province, China

The book consists of over 600 pages in small print and thousands of color photographs by 60 different photographers, and the depicted quality ranges from superb to serviceable to absolutely horrible. It's odd that useless pictures are included since it's a 2011 Royal Botanical Gardens Kew publication, but I am relieved to know that the paper used came from “responsible sources.” I learn in the introduction that China, at about the same size as the United States, contains almost twice as many species and that 56% of them are endemic to China alone. Imagine 571 species of Rhododendron (409 endemic), plus vast amounts of Primula, Clematis, Gentiana, Saxifraga etc. The introduction also reminds us that to collect plants in China without permission is to break the law, a fact that many western plantsmen find out the hard way. I have been to the Chinese province of Yunnan, which is included in the book, but I only took photos and left footprints...well, except for a little seed deposited in the bottom of my camera bag.

Rhododendron faberi ssp. prattii

Rhododendron faberi

Rhododendron proteoides

Rhododendron proteoides 'Cecil Smith Form'

George Forrest
Let's begin with Rhododendrons since the book's cover shows a wonderful photo of R. forma prattii near the Hailuogou glacier in western Sichuan, a species that is considered R. faberi ssp. prattii by the Rhododendron Species Foundation. In any case, I don't grow it but I do have other species in the subsection Taliensia. R. proteoides is one such, but it is much smaller and lower, with my 15-year-old specimen hardly larger than a dinner plate. It bloomed the first year after it was grafted but never since. R. proteoides is notorious for requiring decades to flower, but when you graft it onto another species it suspects that something is abnormal and it decides to bloom before it might die...sort of like “getting your affairs in order” with people, but maybe I'm giving plants too much credit. The blossom photo above is from the Cecil Smith garden, and the late Oregonian Mr. Smith was equally famous for his generosity as for his excellent garden. R. proteoides was discovered by George Forrest in 1914 in Yunnan at an altitude of 12,000-15,000' elevation. In my garden the leaves will burn unless given afternoon shade, but at least the plant is hardy to USDA zone 3, or -40 degrees.

Rhododendron wardii

Frank Kingdon-Ward
Rhododendron wardii is also native to Yunnan, but at a lesser altitude “in open forests, thickets, shrubberies and open slopes.” The Flowers of Western China offers five photos of the species in the wild, all from different locations, and you can see that the richness of the yellow blossoms can vary. Frank Kingdon-Ward discovered it in 1913 and he was known not only for his discoveries but also for introducing the best forms. Ward (1885-1958) was a botanist, plant collector and author, and I have many of his books on my basement shelves. He explored in Tibet, China, Burma (Myanmar) and Assam (northeastern India), and to get to the higher elevations with the good stuff, he had to slog by foot through the hot humid lowlands first. Ward led an adventurous life, once being close to the epicenter of a 9.6 earthquake. He was also a spy for the British India Office, and was arrested by the Tibetans for crossing the Sela pass when he was denied permission to do so. In 1923 he moved into a large house on Hatton Road in London where he built a big rockery, but today the house and rockery are under London's Heathrow Airport. Alas, he had to sell his house because he lost too much money running a plant nursery business. I find it interesting – amusing really – that Ward was successful at so many endeavors, but that he failed as a nurseryman...especially when I am apparently the opposite.

Rhododendron yunnanense

Rhododendron yunnanense

Pere Delavay
I grow – wait a minute, I grew – Rhododendron yunnanense which the book describes as, “Variable, erect, often rather sparse evergreen to almost deciduous shrub.” The species is native to Tibet, Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan and even in northern Myanmar, but the amazing thing is that it is found as low as 3,000' and up to 13,000'. I lost my one plant when we reached ten degrees in early November a year or two ago, but at least its pixels live on and thanks for the memories. If I ever acquire it again I'll pay more attention to its provenance and try to find one from higher up the mountain. My departed was beautiful in bloom and quite fragrant and I miss her dearly, as I do an early girlfriend. Many Rhododendron snobs will tell you that a species should be judged by its appearance when not in flower, but R. yunnanense was a plain-jane for most of the year, but then she positively elated me when floristically showing off in April. The delightful species was introduced by the French missionary Pere Delavay in about 1889, and it received the British distinguished Award of Merit as early as 1903. All Rhododendron species can be attractive, but R. yunnanense was certainly my type of girl, err...plant.

Primula vialii

I'll now move on to the Primulaceae family and discuss my favorite “primrose” species, Primula vialii. It is also native to northwest Yunnan where I have been, but since I visited in the fall (1988) I have never seen it in flower in the wild. Maybe I like it because it has a different kind of primrose flower – not a “drumstick” or a hybrid kind of flower, but instead a “spike, red in bud; corolla violet-blue, with rather narrow, pointed, unnotched lobes” as described in The Flowers of Western China. My first encounter with the species was at the Rhododendron Species Foundation – my favorite “home away from home,” and they feature a large planting in a soggy area where it thrives. According to my book, P. vialii is “apparently now rare in the wild,” and indeed I too am not able to keep it alive in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. It at first survives, then dwindles then my experience. I was shocked to find it for sale at the local box-store garden center for only two bucks a pop, and I assumed they were produced via tissue culture. I didn't buy any from them – that would lead to bad karma – and the only reason I go into these box-stores is to snoop to find out which ill-advised nurseries are supplying them. Pere Delavay originally discovered the species but there was some confusion about the name he gave. Later George Forrest found it (1906), and he concluded that it was new to science, so he named it P. littoniana. The word primula is the Latin feminine diminutive of primus, meaning “first” due to Primula's early flowering in spring. I don't know anything about a Mr. Vial who is honored with the specific name – perhaps one of France's recipients of Delavay's plant shipments.

Osmanthus delavayi

Delavay was honored with Osmanthus delavayi, which was originally classified as Siphonosmanthus delavayi. He introduced it in 1890, and first discovered it in the mountains in Yunnan near Lan-kong. Osmanthus delavayi is a beautiful species eventually reaching about five feet tall by seven feet wide, and is covered with fragrant white flowers on arching stems. The evergreen leaves are dark green and attractive, though only about one-half an inch long, but when the plant is in flower it becomes totally white for a few weeks. Delavay didn't name the elegant shrub for himself, but he sent it to a French nursery for introduction, and I'm not sure if he (D.) was ever aware that he had been honored. The common name is the “Delavay tea olive.” The word osmanthus is derived from Greek osme for “fragrance,” and anthos for “flowers.” The only short-coming to the plant is that it is only hardy to 0 degrees F, USDA zone 7.

Prunus serrula

Prunus serrula is the “Tibetan cherry,” but it should not be confused with P. serrulata. E.H. Wilson introduced both cherries, the former in 1908 and the latter in 1900. No wonder Wilson was known as “Chinese Wilson.” P. serrula's name comes from Latin for a “small saw,” the diminutive of serra saw due to its serrated leaves. The peeling mahogany bark is a wonderful sight, but best in someone else's garden. If you use it as a lawn tree and water often you'll constantly be mowing its root suckers. I can't grow it because I have a Prunus crud at Flora Farm; I don't know what the disease is or how it arrived, but I've lost half of an old edible cherry tree, one pie cherry tree, half of a weeping Prunus mume and I was forced to cut down an almost dead Prunus maackii. I use all of my energy to take care of my happy trees, so there's nothing left to deal with Prunus problems.

Corylopsis willmottiae 'Spring Purple'

Eryngium giganteum

Ellen Willmott
E.H. Wilson
Corylopsis willmottiae was named for Ellen Willmott, an English gardener, as the iae at the end of the specific name indicates a woman. It was discovered by E.H. Wilson in 1900 on his first expedition to China. I remember reading in The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs that they now lump it under C. sinensis Willmottiae Group. Sorry for Ms. Willmott, but at least in her lifetime she had a species named after her, something I'll never be known for. For the record, Kew's Flowers of Western China sticks with the willmottiae nomenclature, and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Kew and Hillier do not agree, even though both are venerable English institutions. I will not change my labels to C. sinensis because I generally champion the woman first, and besides E.H. Wilson is one of my Heroes of Horticulture, so let him decide the name! I grow C.w. 'Spring Purple', and what do you know?: that cultivar was selected at Hillier Nursery about 1969. Back to Miss Willmott, Eryngium giganteum is known as “Miss Willmott's ghost.” The plant is an herbaceous perennial thistle native to the Caucasus and Iran, and Miss Willmott* was so enamoured with it that it is said she carried seeds with her at all times, and when no one was looking she would scatter them in other's gardens. Myself, I like the plant, but I'm not sure if I would have liked the sower of the seeds.

*Her life story is very interesting, and maybe I'll take it up another time. Suffice to say that she had money and in part sponsored Wilson's expeditions, and because of that he named the Corylopsis for her, as well as Rosa willmottiae and Ceratostigma willmottiae.

Magnolia wilsonii

Magnolia wilsonii has a blossom as beautiful as any flower in horticulture, but it remains rare in the trade. A couple of things against it is that it is not precocious, that is it blooms when leaves are present. The second problem is that the blossoms hang downward, and I think I stood on my head to take the photo above. The species is similar to M. sinensis which also is located in the zone covered by The Flowers of Western China, but I learn that M. sinensis has been reclassified as M. sieboldii ssp. sinensis. What the heck – Wilson introduced both species in 1908 when he was working for the Arnold Arboretum near Boston. My oldest M. wilsonii is less than 10' tall – on its own roots – so it is either very slow-growing or it's not happy for another reason. M. wilsonii occurs between 6,000' to 10,000' in elevation in Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. It is considered Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List and the population is in decline. That is due to 1) habitat loss and 2) to the use of its highly aromatic bark for medicinal purposes, known as hou po. China is catching up to the West in horticulture and if there is the political will and enough concern for the environment there should be nothing going extinct.

Spring cones

Fall cones

Picea likiangensis

The streets of Lijiang

A conifer species that I grew early in my career was Picea likiangensis, and I was pleased when I saw it near Lijiang, Yunnan in 1988. My trees were propagated by grafting onto “Norway spruce,” Picea abies, but the tops performed as if they were on their own roots. Sales were never great so I discontinued growing it, content to have just one older tree in the collection. Unfortunately it fell victim to a wet October windstorm, and with my other worries we never got around to propagating from the toppled. I would like to acquire it again, both for the beautiful cones and for the Lijiang memories. The old town is a UNESCO Heritage Site with cute cobblestone streets, canals and bridges. It was our base for jaunts to the nearby Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, as the five people in my group were there for plants. One member, Fred Nelson, managed Portland's Forest Park – the largest urban forest in America. He foolishly got into a drinking contest with our Chinese chaperone, and the Chinese never lose those. The next day we climbed to a high elevation and poor Fred lagged behind with a hangover. This area is peopled by the Nakhi people, a matriarchal society where the women wear the pants and the men raise the kids. Anyway, that's how it used to be 28 years ago, but I know many things have changed.

Meconopsis 'Lingholm' at the Rhododendron Species Foundation

Cardiocrinum giganteum

Meconopsis 'Lingholm' is a hybrid with M. betonicifolia as one parent, and this species is covered in the book, as well as 17 other species. I grew it in a large box with other plants in GH20, but the Himalayan Blue Poppy was always the star of the show. It lived for four years before failing, and I remember its flowers were huge in its final year. I've tried other 'Lingholm' plants in other parts of the garden but they have always died before blooming. In one case it was thought to be a weed – since it had no label – and the Buchholz Nursery Roundup crew polished it off. The aforementioned Rhododendron Species Foundation has great Meconopsis success with a sizeable patch interplanted with Cardiocrinum. The only problem is that thoughtless visitors tromp into them to take pictures on their cellphones. Garden Director Steve Hootman might be pleased to know that I even yelled at a group – for all I knew they were going to pick the flowers. Sorry if I ruined their day, but their kids were wild and loud too, and the garden is kind of a church for me.

Bletilla ochracea

Bletilla 'Kate'

Bletilla striata 'Alba'

Bletilla striata 'Murasaki shikibu'

The Flowers of Western China lists three species of Bletilla: ochracea, striata and formosa. They are easy to grow and plenty hardy in Oregon, and there is nothing more cute than their blossoms. The plants slowly spread by underground rhizomatous corms, and just yesterday we divided a few clumps. Besides the straight species we also have a few hybrids – like 'Kate' and cultivars such as B. striata 'Alba', 'Kuchibeni' and 'Murasaki shikibu'.* When fully opened the pale lavender flowers have a bluish-purple lip, and in many ways it reminds me of a miniature Iris.

Murasaki Shikibu

*Note how I spell 'Murasaki shikibu' with the second name uncapitalized per the rules of Japanese botanical nomenclature. But maybe I should relent because Murasaki (purple) refers to the heroine of the old The Tale of Genji and to the book's author, Murasaki Shikibu. Both are fake names used in the Heian period (794-1185) because it was then considered vulgar to address people by their personal name. The real name of the author is lost, and Murasaki was the heroine she created, and Shikibu after her father's official rank. In olden times, and even today, the Japanese use a lot of smoke and mirrors when dealing with each other. In old Japanese poetry the relationship between the deep purple of the violet and the lavender of the wisteria led to the revered name Murasaki. Thanks to wife Haruko for the explanation, and maybe she should be writing the Flora Wonder Blog.

Near the Bletilla-Pleione section of the book is a genus I've never heard of called Phaius. There are eight species in China, four endemic, and I wonder if they are hardy in Oregon. I am familiar with about half of all of the species listed in the book, but I am intrigued by many, like Phaius, from the half I don't know. I have to concede that many I will never know. Besides that, I don't even know the price of tea in China.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Undiminished Beauty

Spring is upon us in Oregon thank God, and last week I reported on those plants that were in flower. I think I have blogged upon that for three or four years in a row, every February. Well, I celebrate every February, then. I don't remember everything I did a year – or two or three years – ago. When I tell a joke or launch into a story, the groans from my wife and children are an indication that I have done so before. They look at each Pops is losing it. So, I repeat myself I guess, but hopefully I remain true with the same story, but hopefully I remain true with the same story.

If I live to the age of 79 – the American national average – I will be very pleased to do so. While I was generally aware of the season of spring as a youth and as a young adult, I wasn't totally attuned to it until my horticultural career began...42 years ago, when growing plants became my vocation. The gift is that you get a certain allotment of springs, but a number you'll never know, except I realize that there will be far less to come than I've already had. I inhale especially the smell of the awakened earth, the color of emerging shoots and flowers and the sounds of kids running through the trees and the birds singing every time they pause. At my age it is all vibrant and good and I look forward to this spring playing out.

But not so fast, my friends. This morning was sunny and cheerful, but by afternoon the temperature dropped by ten degrees and I got caught in a chilling downpour. So Mother Nature was teasing me, reminding me that at this point we are still closer to winter than to summer. The February afternoon cold enveloped me and I had to put on an additional coat. The good news is that we are already shipping plants: a full truck to Seattle, one to Virginia, one to British Columbia etc. That leads to invoicing customers, and it's nice to find checks in my mail besides four pieces of junk mail and five bills for me to pay every day. When our plants are shipped to our independent retail stores it opens up space for next year's crop, and it doesn't take long to fill the gaps. Every now and then we get compliments, and I happily receive them as validation that we are doing something well, that our dog and pony show is worth all of the effort. XYZ Nursery emails: “Hello Eric and Talon,

I received your well packed truck with no issues. All the plants look fantastic and we are starting to sell them already...even these gloomy days cannot diminish their beauty.”

Warm regards,


Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) series

Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) series

Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) series

Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) series

Wow! It is so easy to please me. So what did this customer get with such “undiminished beauty?” Let's look at some of the order. First of all, Acer palmatum 'Rising Stars'(tm) Series in 10-gallon pots. These are seedlings from named varieties, where the mother tree is known, but we don't know its pollination source. Sometimes these look better than the mother tree and sometimes a little more plain. At the retail garden center some shop for named cultivars only, but I think that most gardeners buy when they are visually impressed with a tree, and its official cultivar name is secondary. Also I feel it would be cumbersome to name the parent, for example as Acer palmatum 'Seedling from Purple Ghost' because the unsophisticated gardener might conclude that he is purchasing the real 'Purple Ghost'. I get a real kick out of my maple seedlings, and if I was independently wealthy I would change from normal nursery production to seedling evaluation only. As I said in my promotional email earlier this week, “Add some fun to your spring order!”

Punica granatum 'Sarasa shibori'

Haruko's wedding kimono
We also shipped Punica granatum 'Sarasa shibori', a pomegranate grown for its rumpled orange flowers with white edging. Sarasa refers to a “beautiful figured fabric” and shibori means the “tie-dyed white” of the edging. If nothing else, sarasa shibori is a beautiful-sounding pair of words, and the Japanese are excellent at naming plants. Many thanks to my wife Haruko for helping with the translations, besides of all of the other stuff she does, for she has deeply broadened my world. She explains that one would see an example of sarasa shibori in a traditional kimono.* The word kimono is derived from ki “wear” and mono “thing,” and it was originally a Chinese garment that eventually made its way to Japan as early as the 5th century AD. We grow Acer palmatum 'Beni kosode' and kosode is a single kimono formerly considered underwear, so the maple is “red underwear” then. We grow Acer sieboldianum 'Sode no uchi' and sode refers to a kimono's sleeve, and Acer palmatum 'Komon nishiki' with komon meaning a “fine pattern kimono.”

Kusumoto Takako

*A most alluring photo of a woman in a kimono is Kusumoto Takako, the granddaughter of Philipp Franz von Siebold and a Nagasaki courtesan.

Acer palmatum 'Green Tea'

Acer palmatum 'Festival'

Ok, back to my customer's order. They got Acer palmatums 'Green Tea' and 'Festival', two of our recent selections, but they can't know much about either of them. Both are worthy cultivars in my opinion, but I know that sales will never be overwhelming. 'Festival' is stout-limbed and vigorous, with the main event being its outstanding autumn color. 'Green Tea' is also quite vigorous, and it is an 'Osakazuki'-type of tree. New growth is reddish before it settles down to a sweet pea-soup color in summer. With thousands of seedlings to choose from, the two that became 'Festival' and 'Green Tea' greatly impressed me, but I know from visitor comments that everyone chooses a different one as their favorite. In spring every tree is outstanding, but by mid-summer they mostly look tired, and we then prune off most of the new growth to build caliper. By the end of August they usually shoot out a foot of new growth, and they are once again stunning. If an independent analyst was to look at our seedling program, he probably would conclude that the time and money involved does not make economic sense, that we would be better off just sticking to the basics. But alas, it is my nursery and I would rather live with the richness of beauty, even if I must die poor.

Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense

Cardiocrinum seed

Cardiocrinum seed pods

My customer prefers to remain nameless because XYZ doesn't want competing nurseries to know their wholesale source. That's fine with me, but on the other hand we have other customers who blog to their gardeners that a truck of Buchholz plants arrived today, and come and get them. What gardener wouldn't want to buy Cardiocrinum giganteum var. yunnanense. This is the “giant Himalayan lily” which is from China's Yunnan province, but its range is far more extensive than just Yunnan. Sometimes there will be as many as 20-30 large trumpets on a single stalk, the outside of the flower being white and the inside streaked with purple-red. Nathaniel Wallich – of Pinus wallichiana fame – first described the plant in 1824, and it was originally introduced as Lilium giganteum, and indeed the flower-stalks can rise to ten-to-twelve feet tall in just a few months. Cardiocrinum is a small genus in the Liliaceae family, and it received its name  from Greek kardio for “heart” and krinum for “lily” due to its large heart-shaped leaves. The stalk and seed pods make an excellent dried specimen, and we've had one in our guest bathroom for years, keeping company with the watermelon man.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Chirimen'

Ten Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Chirimen' in a 3 gallon pot were shipped. They were of good size, and about seven years old, and we only charged $36 apiece – about equal to the cost to produce them. We sold out the first day of releasing our specimen availability I might add. 'Chirimen' was most likely selected and named in Japan, however Oakdene Nursery in England takes credit for its origin and introduction, and Cedar Lodge Nursery in Australia does also. Its name is due to wrinkly silk crepe fabric that you would find on Japanese kimonos, not unlike the shibori mentioned earlier, and I really doubt that an English nurseryman or one from Australia would know anything about kimonos. In the maple world there is an Acer palmatum 'Chirimen nishiki', a small green linearlobum with delicate light yellow variegation on some of the lobes. The Chamaecyparis features delicate, almost thread-like foliage – but it is not juvenile, it stays that way always. I think I would have left chirimen out of the equation if I discovered it, but I won't take the time to propose a better name. The thing is: I have never seen another hinoki quite like it. Fortunately 'Chirimen' is easy to propagate and grow.

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

Cornus kousa 'Ohkan'

I don't think Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine' was ever on our sales list, but XYZ saw them when visiting last summer, and due to our long-time successful relationship I relented and sold a few in 7 gal pots. My intention was to grow all of them for three or four years more, when the wholesale value would be about $200. Oh well, I suppose a dollar in the hand is better than keeping it on the bush. Davidia cultivars can be rooted, as in 'Sonoma', but I like to put the variegated ones on green seedling rootstock for added vigor. 'Lady Sunshine' would be ideally sited with afternoon shade, but it might hold up in full sun in areas with high summer humidity. I've had visitors gasp when they encounter 'Lady Sunshine' for the first time, and I wish that E.H. Wilson, the Englishman who first collected massive amounts of Davidia seed in China, could come back for one day to see it and the other cultivars. While we're at it, how about Beethoven comes back for a day so he would know we still love his music 200 years later, then maybe he wouldn't have been so grumpy. 'Lady Sunshine' was discovered and introduced by Crispin Silva of Molalla, Oregon, a plantsman with a number of excellent selections, such as Styrax japonicus 'Frosted Emerald' and 'Fragrant Fountain' and Acer palmatum 'Sir Happy' which is the most dwarf Japanese maple that I have seen. He is also responsible for Cornus kousa 'Summer Gold', a selection that he patented. Unfortunately for Mr. Silva, an identical cultivar – 'Ohkan' – was sent to me from Japan at about the same time, so my customers are not burdened with a royalty fee.

Schefflera delavayi

Schefflera macrophylla

Schefflera macrophylla

Of course my mysterious – though sophisticated – customer wanted a liberal amount of Schefflera delavayi, because for some reason that plant is currently the bee's knees of horticulture. Myself, I just don't see it, and I think its appeal will soon wane, especially when I saw a large specimen at Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina a couple of years ago. It looked dreadfully sloppy even though all of their other plants were well-tended. The Schefflera genus is of interest because all of us previously knew it as a house plant. According to The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014), “Has formed plants to 6m tall in some Cornish gardens. Introduced by Edward Needham in the early 1990's. China Vietnam.” From Yunnan and Vietnam comes Schefflera macrophylla, and I have seen it growing in the conservatory at the Rhododendron Species Foundation in Washington state. Whenever it nears the top of the structure they cut it back to the ground and it resprouts quickly.

Ginkgo biloba 'Troll'

Ginkgo biloba 'Spring Grove'

Ginkgo biloba 'Mariken'

Ginkgo biloba 'Mariken'

Seed of Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'

Begonia 'Escargot'
Pocket gopher
I can't detect much difference in Ginkgo biloba 'Troll', 'Spring Grove' or 'Mariken', but my customer ordered the former two. All three originated as witch's broom mutations, and their leaves are different than a regular Ginkgo. Even though all are bi-lobed, the leaves are more round and the lobes spiral around to touch each other, and the pattern reminds me of Begonia 'Escargot'. Plants are lush in our greenhouses, and the green leaves have a bluish hue to them, but regardless whether grown inside or out, autumn color is a rich butter-yellow. Virtually all plant authorities will remind you that Ginkgo is immune to disease and pests, and I think the experts say so because they repeat what has been said before. But with my boots-on-the-ground approach to horticulture, I can attest that the Oregon pocket gopher loves to feed on Ginkgo roots, and I have lost many dollars to the nefarious rodents. Another myth is that “male and female strobili occur on separate plants” (Hillier). Maybe most of the time, but I have three 35-year-old 'Autumn Gold' – supposedly a male clone – that all produce fruits. We have a couple of options here: that 'Autumn Gold' never really was a male selection, or that it changed sex. Animals have been known to change sex in response to stress, as a means for survival. To date I've never seen fruit on any of the witch's broom selections, but please report if you have.

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord'

Thuja plicata 'Whipcord'

Thuja plicata 'Filifera Nana' in summer

Thuja plicata 'Filifera Nana' in winter

Also shipped was Thuja plicata 'Whipcord', a selection of the “western red cedar” with glossy-green thread-like foliage. It grows into a mound, and when young it is neat and tidy and makes for a great container plant. I'm glad that none of my customers have seen the original seedling at Drake's Crossing Nursery near Silverton, Oregon, for it is a most hideous sight, and no one would ever want one if they saw what it can grow into. Sales for 'Whipcord' are strong, nevertheless, and it has replaced the old T.p. 'Filifera Nana' which we used to grow. So, 'Whipcord's' name is better and also it stays green in winter, unlike the yellow-bronze of 'Filifera Nana'. It's interesting that the three most-cultivated species of Thuja – occidentalis, orientalis (Platycladus) and plicata – all feature one or more cultivars with whipcord foliage. If you put sunglasses on 'Whipcord' you could create a Dr. Seuss type of creature. The name thuja is derived from Greek thya for an unrelated African tree with aromatic wood. Plicata is from Latin plicare, referring to the pattern of its leaves which are “folded in plaits” or “braided.”

Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'

Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'

Let's see, what else? We sent some Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby', a cheery yellow form of our native bramble in the rose family. The species is commonly known as “salmonberry” due to the yellow-orange fruits which resemble the flesh of a salmon, while another name-theory is that the berries were mixed with salmon roe and eaten by indigenous peoples. The raspberry-like fruits are insipid in any case, but that never stops me from eating them. “Golden Ruby” is a clever name, and it's obvious why it was coined when you see the ruby-colored flower sitting atop the golden leaves. I planted a bush in the shade at the edge of my woods along the creek, and it is about 8' tall and wide, but it has never fruited. Also, the foliage is merely greenish yellow because of the shade, so morning sun with afternoon shade is the best place to plant one. The generic name Rubus means “blackberry” in Latin, derived from the word ruber for red. The specific name spectabilis is odd because there's absolutely nothing spectacular about the suckering shrub with prickly stems. The species was introduced into Britain by David Douglas in 1827. Rubus spectabilis was named by Frederick Traugott Pursh (1774-1820), a German-American botanist who studied the plants collected on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Poor Pursh died penniless in Montreal from ill health due to alcoholism, and his funeral expenses were funded by his friends.

My good customer bought a lot of plants and I look forward to a check in the mail. I was also pleased that ten different plants on order were my own introductions, proof that the buyer made smart choices. Choices of undiminished beauty.