Friday, February 12, 2016

Bloom Time...Again

Last week's Flora Wonder Blog discussed the sexual expression of conifers – their “flowers” – and that many plant references dismiss a tree's cones and pollen structures as not being flowers. If we define a “flower” – as Oxford English Dictionary does – as the “seed-bearing part of a plant, consisting of reproductive organs,” I think that conifers certainly do...flower. Both words flour, as in baking bread, and flower, as in a posey, are derived from Latin Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers. But anyway, I am not on a mission to convert botanical institutions and nursery factories into admitting that conifers flower, and last week's blog was only intended to celebrate the male and female appendages which develop so that conifers can reproduce.

Today I will discuss flowers in the more traditional sense, what every man, woman and child considers to be a plant's bloom*, or singularly, a blossom. I'll try not to boast to those living in the frigidly hellish portions of the world where nothing is flowering now, but to my delight all of the following are currently in bloom in the Flora Wonder Arboretum.

*Surprisingly the origin of the word “bloom” is derived from Middle English “blome,” or a “lump of metal.”

Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies'

Mahonia x 'Arthur Menzies'

Archilochus colubris

Frequently I walk past a ten-foot-tall bush of Mahonia x “Arthur Menzies' which has been blooming since mid October, and though there is less “yellow” apparent now, it is still nectar headquarters for our ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris). On cloudy days a couple will squeak and dart from flower to flower, but on sunny days numerous darters become frenetically agitated as they feed, and it appears that the commotion is not altogether friendly. I find myself squinting my eyes in fear of being speared by the beaks of the little devils, and I wonder if that has ever happened. x 'Arthur Menzies' was selected at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle and is believed to be a hybrid between the tender M. lomariifolia and the more-hardy M. bealei. It was named by WPA's curator Brian Mulligan for colleague Arthur Menzies (1916-1973) who worked at the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco, and who sent the seed to the WPA. Menzies was considered a “walking encyclopedia of flora and fauna,” and he was known internationally due to his correspondence and exchange of seed and plant material. The name Mahonia honors Bernard McMahon (1775-1816), an Irish-American who was Thomas Jefferson's gardening mentor, and in fact the President chose McMahon as one of two nurserymen to grow the seeds and roots collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Sassafras tsumu

Sassafras tsumu

Sassafras tsumu leaf underside

Sassafras albidum

A long 10' wide strip exists parallel along my shady creek, and it is planted with Rhododendrons, Tsuga, Acer etc. At least once a week I enter into one end of the nearby greenhouses and exit out the other end, making my rounds to check on plant quality and to make work lists. I was most surprised to be greeted by a flowering Sassafras tsumu in the strip, the Chinese species similar to the eastern American S. albidum; but no wonder when I consider that every year it is one of my first trees to bloom. As with S. albidum, leaves on S. tsumu can appear with three different shapes: with three lobes, or a mitten shape or with a broad single lobe. The genus is in the Lauraceae family, with S. albidum being dioecious (male and female flowers on separate trees) and S. tsumu monoecious (male and female flowers on the same tree). Both species are deciduous and I love the orange-red autumn color, and if you turn over a fallen leaf the color is pinkish shiny-blue. The east-Asian species, S. tsumu is called chu mu, while S. randaiense – which I have never seen – is called chu shu, and both are used to cure rheumatism and trauma. Besides a pleasant aroma, S. albidum was used as a toothpick by Native Americans, while Kenneth Klemow PhD. in Medical Attributes of Sassafras albidum (2003) claims that disorders ranging from toothaches to sexually transmitted diseases can be treated with the species.

Native Oregon hazelnut

Bordering the planted strip is my wild woods, and currently it is adorned with dangling golden catkins from the native Corylus (hazelnuts-filberts). These male flowers are fully extended now and eventually they will shed yellow pollen, while the female flowers will develop into edible nuts.* The European version is Corylus avelana, and excavated pits on the island of Colonsay, Scotland revealed hazelnut processing that is 9,000 years old. Later the Romans cultivated hazelnuts, including in Britain, but there is no evidence that they selected cultivars. Today it is used to produce Nutella – which Germans love – and it is a primary ingredient of the vodka-based liqueur, Frangelico, and the latter I have never tried, but I think I will seek it out. The name filbert is derived from a Frankish monk, Saint Philibert of Jumieges (608-684), an abbot and monastic founder. His feast day is August 20th, and the filbert was named for him since it ripens at about that time.

*As a side note, Oregon produces 99% of the nation's filbert crop, and is only second in the world to Turkey. They are marketed – in Oregon – as “hazelnuts.”

Daphne odora 'Maejima'

Maejima, Japan
The Daphnes are blooming in GH20, our “French” house, and you can smell them from a long way's off on sunny days. D. odora received its specific name for an obvious reason, and the Chinese, Japanese and Korean native is commonly called the “winter Daphne.” In Japan the species is called jinchoge after the aromatic shrub Aquilaria agallocha, and in Korea it is known poetically as churihyang, or “a thousand mile scent.” I suppose the cultivar D.o. 'Maejima' was selected in Japan, for there is an island with the same name between Honshu and Shikoku in waters known as the “Inland Sea.” In any case 'Maejima' (jima means “island”) features deep-green evergreen leaves edged dramatically in cream-yellow, and the compact cultivar is far more impressive than the old C.o. 'Aureovariegata'. Also, flowers on 'Aureovariegata' are an insipid pale-pink while 'Maejima' can boast of blossoms carmine-pink, so if you grow the former in your garden toss it out and replant with the latter. The neighbors will notice your superior horticultural acumen and seek you for gardening advice while inviting you over for barbeques.

Daphne jezoensis

Also in flower is Daphne jezoensis, but I only have one plant in the garden and it is in a perpetual battle with a thuggish Ajuga which I should never have planted. My Daphne creeps out so very little new growth that I am unable to propagate it, but I pray that it will endure because I have never seen it for sale, neither wholesale nor retail. Junker Nursery in England – colleagues who have received starts of my new Acer cultivars – list only a “small handful” available so maybe the species is simply a scrubby shrub that will never become widely available. I like the Junker description, “This Daphne is like no other! For a start it is summer deciduous. This means it loses its leaves in summer, and starts into growth with fresh new foliage at a time when so much else is looking tatty.” Junker goes on to describe the “deep yellow trumpets [flowers] held in groups in typical Daphne fashion in January-March.” I knew very little about D. jezoensis when I first acquired it twenty years ago from a quirky gardener, and when it went deciduous for the first time in summer I assumed it had died, but I scraped the bark and it was still green. Concerning the damn Ajuga, short of a nuclear bomb, does anyone know how to get rid of the invasive “carpet bugleweed?”

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

Parrotia trunk

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Sunburst'

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Angelly'

An old specimen of Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' in the original Display Garden has been flowering for almost two weeks now. I never dreamed that one day it would outgrow its place, and in a year or two we will have to ladder-up to prune its spread. You wouldn't know it to be a Hamamelis at all if you looked only at its trunk, and that's because the rootstock is actually Parrotia persica, the “Persian ironwood.” I had two 8' Parrotias that weren't shaped particularly well, so I didn't ship them and instead I grafted about five 'Arnold Promise' onto the lateral branches of each. To my surprise all grafts “took” and 32 years later the unions still appear quite compatible, and only I can point out where the Parrotia ends and the 'Arnold Promise' begins. The best part is that there is no suckering from the “witch hazels” base. 'Arnold Promise' is no longer on our propagation list due to poor sales for the past 10-15 years, but it once was considered the standard for golden-flowered Hamamelis. Instead, customers now prefer the more bright and large flowers of H. 'Sunburst', which is also blooming today. When 'Sunburst' begins to fade, H. 'Angelly's' flowers develop and they are equally as nice.

Winter Jewels

Helleborus x hybridus #108

Helleborus x hybridus #106 February 2015

Helleborus x hybridus #106 February 2016

Helleborus x hybridus #109

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'
Acer palmatum 'Celebration'
The hellebores are in bloom, and we have them scattered throughout the gardens. We selected our favorites from the Winter Jewels strain developed by the O'byrnes of Northwest Garden Nursery near Eugene, Oregon. However we were second in line as they first cream out their favorites. I do the same with maples by raising seedlings from named varieties, and that has yielded some spectacular new cultivars such as Acer palmatum 'Celebration' and Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'. One thing I have learned about the hellebores is that the first year they flower you will probably be unimpressed with a dull green blossom, but the following year – at least here in Oregon – the blooms will be far more fantastic. Nevertheless, every year they vary, depending I suppose upon the amount of light they receive. My appearance changes as well – as I age – every year growing ever more handsome. Ok, ok. We have simply given numbers to our Winter Jewels, and we may or may not ever get around to naming and selling them. When I say they can vary in appearance, consider Helleborus x hybrids #108 which was light yellow when the photo was taken, then the following year it presented a more apricot hue. I find #106 to be particularly attractive, although I can't begin to describe what color it is. #109 is the most vigorous of them all, and it features – at the same age – over twice the number of blooms as any of the others. The name Helleborus is derived from the Greek name for H. orientalis, from elein “to injure” and bora for “food,” as many species are poisonous. “Black hellebore” was used by Ancient Greeks to treat various diseases up to and including insanity. Helleborus niger is commonly called the “Christmas rose,” as legend has it that it originated from the tears of a young girl who had no gift for the Christ child in Bethlehem.

Kniphofia rooperi? Oregon form

Kniphofia rooperi at Sir Harold Hillier Arboretum

Please – would someone help me! I have seen Kniphofia rooperi in various English gardens, and they are always in full glory in October with the most plump flowers of any “red-hot poker.” The species masquerading as rooperi in the Pacific Northwest produces identical flowers, except they appear in spring, and in fact the flower heads are now rising and they will open soon. The foliage of our “rooperi” looks identical to what I have seen in England, by the way. It's almost like Oregon is in the Southern Hemisphere concerning this contradictory bloom time. An English gardener would naturally conclude: “You don't grow the true rooperi, you American idiot!” What species do I grow, then? Is mine a hybrid? K. rooperi, or whatever I have, is hardy in Oregon if you mulch the base of the plant, though after a particularly brutal winter you might not get flowers the following spring. I have never propagated and sold my “variety” because I'm not certain of what I have, but they look spectacular planted out in the garden. For what it's worth, Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina does sell K. rooperi, and their website indicates that it blooms in fall.

Prunus 'Ume kyushu'

We have a weeping plum along our driveway which was given to me as a weeping cherry from Kyushu, Japan. Not certain of the species, I call it Prunus 'Ume kyushu', which of course is an invalid name, but who cares since I don't propagate and sell it anyway. Prunus mume – which I assume is what it is – is native to southern China in the area of the Yangtze River, and later it was introduced to other Asian countries including Japan. It is commonly called, then, “Chinese plum” or “Japanese apricot,” and the distinct species is related to both the plum and the apricot. I like my weeping specimen and it does produce fruits, and later my Japanese wife introduced me to Umeshu, an alcoholic beverage that we occasionally serve to friends and family. Last fall when the Maple Society visited we served it heated to the delight of many, and I noticed that a couple of people staggered back to the tour bus. It is made by steeping green plums in shochu (clear liquor), and it is sweet and smooth...the kind of drink that leads to a pleasant second helping...and then to the stagger back to the bus. Japanese tradition considers that the ume tree protects against evil, so one should plant it in the northeast portion of the garden, the direction whence evil is believed to come. Myself, I love Umeboshi – my wife does not – but it is a pickled and dried Japanese specialty. It is salty and sour, so you eat only a tiny bit, and it is used with rice in bento boxes or in rolled sushi, makizushi. One of the most interesting discoveries about marriage is the likes and dislikes of one's partner. At first you are lovey-dovey about everything, but eventually your true preferences emerge and your partner must deal with who you really are. I absolutely love Umeshu and Umeboshi, but yesterday my wife served me a breakfast sandwich that was dominated by super healthy kale, and I almost staggered to the seek a divorce.

Leptospermum scoparium 'Kiwi'

Leptospermum scoparium is the “manuka” or “tea-tree” of New Zealand and Australia; it was introduced to horticulture back in 1771, and two hundred years later it was honored with the Award of Garden Merit. Manuka is the Maori word for the plant, and the “tea-tree” name arose because Captain Cook used the leaves to make a tea drink. It is grown in New Zealand for manuka honey, and there are other oil-like products that are derived from it, but I'm not an “oil” kind of guy. We grow only one cultivar – 'Kiwi' – which is a dwarf evergreen shrub with tiny bronze-green leaves with maroon new growth. The main event, however, is the deep-pink five-petaled flowers that cover the entire bush. A few flowers are open today, but I see hundreds of more buds swelling, ready to shine in about a week. The good news about 'Kiwi' is that it is easy to root; the bad news is that it is only hardy to 10 degrees F, USDA zone 8, which is why my stock is housed in warm GH20.

Camellia x williamsii 'Water Lily'

Ah, wabi sabi

Camellia japonica 'Nuccio's Pearl'

I have sung the praises of my Camellia mini-collection in recent blogs, so I probably can't add anything new, other than to say that 'Water Lily' and 'Nuccio's Pearl' are loaded with open blossoms, and with dozens of swollen pinkish buds ready to follow. And yes, some blossoms are already finished and have fallen to the ground. “Ah, wabi-sabi,” as the Japanese would say...when something that was once beautiful transcends into the realm of the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Don't cry because it is gone, smile because it happened.


  1. Another excellent blog article. I always look forward to them. Thank you.

  2. Talon, could your K. rooperi 'oregon form' be in fact K. 'Christmas Cheer'? A description and photo posted at Sequim Rare Plants seems to match closely your description, though you don't mention height. I've been reading your blog for over two years now and look forward to every post. thanks! Erik

  3. The hummingbirds that live year-round in the Pacific Northwest are named Anna's Hummingbirds. The Rufous hummers arrive here in early March to mate. Rufous describes the rust color of the male's back feathers. The females are green as are Anna's hummers. The male hummers [with the ruby throats] fight to defend a food source which apparently attracts females, though it seems the males fight everyone males and females alike. Both Rufous and Anna's hummers mate usually have two eggs. The male's work is done and the females take over sitting on the next and raising the young. In August the Rufous males head south for the winter followed by the females a month later. Anna's remain to fend for themselves during our winter months. So we have two feeders that support around 12 hummers currently and we will add another feeder next month. For more information on hummers I recommend THE HUMMINGBIRD BOOK by Donald and Lilian Stokes.