Friday, March 11, 2016

Deja Vu - All Over Again

Last year I visited the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden four times, not to optimize my membership, but because every month brings its own special rewards. The drive to the garden takes about twice the time spent in the garden, followed by the weary drive home, all the while being serenaded by the opinions of my Grandfather. Last week we went again, and at the entrance we stumbled upon director Steve Hootman, and wonderfully he offered to show us around. We usually miss him because he is frequently off on a collecting trip to China or New Zealand or somewhere else...either that, or maybe he hides behind a bush when he sees us coming. His brain contains a wealth of information from his experiences, both from his exotic jaunts and from at home in his botanic garden.

Rhododendron blackii

The following is not necessarily in chronological order, but at some point we entered the conservatory. A sweet warm odor – odour really – greats you first thing, similar to a Paris perfume shop I imagine. There is always something blooming, even in early March, because the tender plants from low-land China, Vietnam, Borneo etc. keep a different calendar than the hardy species and hybrids that we plant outside. Rhododendron blackii, a non-hardy Vireya, was impressive in bloom, and it looks similar to the image used for the Species Garden logo. It is a terrestrial species from Papua New Guinea that thrives on decaying trees. R. sleumeri is a synonym as it was first described by Hermann Sleumer in 1973, but I don't know why a Mr. or Ms. Black is getting credit. The conservatory contains a number of Vireyas, and I can see how someone could easily get hooked on them. Hmm...GH20, my warm greenhouse...

Rhododendron boothii

Rhododendron boothii was flowering, a species from the temperate rainforests of the eastern Himalaya. Steve says that “it is very slow-growing and requires excellent drainage (the only place I have ever seen it growing in the wild is on the sides of maple trees, rooted into the bark).” The species was apparently lost to cultivation in the UK until the Coxes of Glendoick in Scotland collected it in the Arunachal in northeast India. On close inspection you'll notice hairy stems, but I was mostly impressed with the mahogany-colored new growth. The species was once known as R. mishmiense by Frank Kingdon Ward as he collected it on the Mishmi Hills at 7,000-8,000 feet, and generally one needs a collection from 10,000-12,000 feet to be hardy in Oregon outdoors.

Rhododendron himatodes

The cutest Rhododendron in the conservatory has to be R. himatodes. There is scant information about it and I can't even find anything on the Species Garden's website. The internet doesn't reveal anything either, as google directs you to R. haematodes, a very different species. Perhaps the Flora Wonder readership can help – if any of you do actually read the blogs.

Gaultheria pseudonotabilis

Gaultheria pseudonotabilis

There is not a lot of information about the conservatory's Gaultheria pseudonotabilis either, except I know that Steve collected it himself. It was first described by H. Li in 1999, and in the Flora of China it is said to come from NW Yunnan at 1,000-2,000m in “evergreen broad-leaved forests, thickets and rocks.” What an odd specific name though, indicating “falsely notable?” I think it is remarkable, for it climbs out from below the bridge along the path like a fantastic serpent with a hairy red body. As you can see from above we caught it in flower which I apparently missed last year. G. pseudonotabilis should be easy to root and I hope they will soon offer it in their sales yard, otherwise a piece of the serpent might find itself in my pocket.

Rhododendron yuefengense

Rhododendron orbiculare

Rhododendron orbiculare

Back outside I noticed a spreading Rhododendron yuefengense and I need to come clean about it. In a January blog I described it as a R. orbiculare on steroids. Imagine my surprise when I read on the Species Garden's website, “A new and very exciting species in cultivation. This is, in general appearance, a dwarf and compact version of the well-known species orbiculare...” Baloney, my memory of the two species is the opposite. So I marched out to the Display Garden where both are growing and I was humbled that old Hootman was right. Of course he was, he's Rhododendron Guy after all. I still prefer the flower of R. orbiculare over R. yuefengense, as the former is deeper pink.

Xanthocyparis vietnamensis

Xanthocyparis vietnamensis

Xanthocyparis vietnamensis

I almost walked past a cheerful, but tiny conifer planted next to a stump, and Steve confirmed its identity as Xanthocyparis vietnamensis. The recent discovery (1999) caused a new genus to be created, to accommodate it and the closely related nootkatensis, formerly Chamaecyparis nootkatensis. I don't know the hardiness of the new Vietnamese conifer, but I hope the Species Garden has a backup. I don't grow it myself, but I had seen it before at Plantmad Nursery in Oregon, and the remarkable thing is that it possesses both juvenile and adult foliage even on mature trees. If you look closely one of the photos shows a small cone, which surely must be one of the first fruits in America. The new conifer is classified as critically endangered as only a few hundred trees remain in the wild. There have also been recent Vietnamese animal discoveries ranging from flying frogs to fishing cats, and of course most of them are endangered as well. I was fortunate to dodge military duty in Vietnam, hiding behind a student deferment, but it's clear to me that if we all spent our energy on plants and animals we would never get around to war.

Schefflera hoi

Schefflera delavayi

A plant I had not seen before is Schefflera hoi, a species that has had some previous names such as S. salweenensis, after the Salween River (“Angry River” in Chinese). S. hoi grows in densely-forested valleys between 4,500-10,800 feet in Sichuan, Xizang and Yunnan. Yet again I wonder if it will be hardy, but finding out is one of the purposes of the Species Garden, and Steve gets his salary whether it lives or dies. I don't know how S. hoi differs from S. delavayi, which we do grow, and it will be interesting to observe S. hoi in the future.

Corylopsis veitchiana

Corylopsis is a beautiful and easy-to-grow genus containing about twenty species, depending upon whether you are a lumper or a splitter. The garden contains a large C. veitchiana which was smothered with racemes of light yellow flowers with conspicuous red anthers. I used to grow it, but sales were never as good as they should have been for such a wonderful shrub, and I wonder if the beginning of March is just too early for gardeners to have fun? C. veitchiana was introduced from western China by E.H. Wilson in 1900 when he was employed by the Veitch Nursery firm. His mission on that expedition was to collect seed of Davidia involucrata and Veitch told him to “not waste time on anything else.” Wilson was successful with the Davidia mission, but he also collected the Corylopsis, Acer griseum and a lot more, so much so that he was eventually known as “Chinese Wilson.” I have one plant of C. veitchiana in the garden but I must prune it hard to keep it in its inadequate space. Some (Hillier) would have the species reclassified as Corylopsis sinensis var. calvescens f. veitchiana, but I've decided to not go along for the ride on this change; can't fit that on a label.

Camellia reticulata

Robert Fortune
George Forrest
A number of camellias were in bloom, and in a pot by the office was C. reticulata, a Chinese species introduced by Robert Fortune in 1820. In the same way that Wilson was told to not waste his time, Fortune's main purpose in China was not to hunt for Camellias, but rather to steal tea plants and tea processing knowledge for the British East India Company. He was successful with the tea, but he surely would have lost his life if caught. Anyway, the semi-double that Fortune collected was considered the type plant when botanist Lindley gave the specific name. Later the plant-hunter George Forrest found a single-flowered form in 1924 in Yunnan, and it is known as the wild form. Personally I don't care for the flower color, not to take anything away from Forrest's great career.

Camellia 'Elina Cascade'

Akira Shibamichi
Another Camellia I noticed for the first time was labeled C. 'Elina Cascade'. It wasn't in flower but I admired its refined weeping habit. The species is actually C. tsaii which was also collected by Forrest in 1924 in Yunnan, but it can also be found in Myanmar and in North Vietnam. I like the pretty name, and certainly Elina must be a woman, and hopefully pretty too. The “Godfather” of Japanese horticulture, Akira Shibamichi – whom I've met and have drank warmed sake with on a cold night after a day of plant fun – discovered 'Elina Cascade' as a seedling. A patent was issued on Christmas day in 2001, so apparently commerce continues for the Buddha-loving Japanese people, or at least for the merchants. Hines nursery of California was assigned rights to grow 'Elina Cascade', and that's how the Cascade part of the name originated, but I'm dying to know more about Elina – is she American or Japanese? Unfortunately it is only hardy to USDA zone 8, or ten degrees above 0 F, but again, Steve has nothing to lose by planting one out.

Acer forrestii

The first time I saw Acer forrestii was at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, and I was pleased that Scotsman George Forrest's legacy lived beyond his remarkable life. The species was introduced in 1906 from Yunnan, and Hillier's well-measured description in The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs is just perfect: “A most beautiful small tree with striated bark; young stems and petioles are attractive coral-red.” Previously I questioned the identity of the garden's acquisition because I didn't notice any striations to the bark – which Hillier insists it has – but on this visit I studied the bark closely, and yes, the vertical stripes are apparent, though faint, but they are there. I don't have any of the following, but I wish I did: such as A.f. 'Alice', a chance seedling that has “very distinctive striped pinkish red bark in winter,” and A.f. 'Sparkling', which my acquaintance at Junker Nursery in England describes as a tree with young growth with a coppery tinge.

Persea thunbergii

We walked past a Persea* thunbergii, a tree in the Lauraceae family, and it stood alone looking forlorn and boring with nobody to love it. Generally I hate the Lauraceae because I was the head gardener of the Buchholz house in my youth, and every year I had to prune the laurel hedge. And guess what, when I bought the Buchholz Nursery property it came with a damn laurel hedge. The first year I pruned it, then the second year I ripped it out, reasoning that I had better things to do. All that aside, I would love to acquire a P. thunbergii because of the exciting deep-red new growth. I imagine a hedge of it, or a sole plant kept well-pruned. In many respects it could look like the common Photinia x fraseri which is in every other landscape, a hybrid that most plant snobs don't like because it is overused. The evergreen P. thunbergii is native to Korea and Japan and the genus is sometimes known as Machilus. In Korea it is commonly known as Tonbai for “boat,” and boats were made from its wood. In olden times the Japanese corrupted the Korean name and it is now known as Tabu no ki. The last part – no ki – means “of tree,” but Tabu does not mean “boat,” in fact there is no such word in Japanese.

*Persea americana is the avocado tree.

Illicium henryi

I hadn't noticed an Illicium henryi in the garden before, another evergreen medium-sized shrub, but one with star-petaled flowers that range from pink to crimson, blooming in the spring. Hopefully I can find it again and I look forward to seeing it bloom. I'm tempted to make a joke about its common name of “Henry Anise Tree,” but best to not embarrass myself. The genus name of Illicium comes from the Latin illicere, “to allure,” and the oils of some species are used as flavorings. The Anise plant itself is not at all related to Illicium, for it is an herbaceous annual that was first cultivated in Egypt. It is used to flavor French absinthe, Greek ouzo and Turkish raki, and it is probably one of the secret ingredients in the French liqueur Chartreuse, which of course is the origin of the name of the pleasant green color.

Rhododendron lanigerum

Rhododendron lanigerum 'Round Wood'

Rhododendron lanigerum 'Round Wood'

Rhododendron lanigerum 'Silvia'

I don't want to give short shrift to the Rhododendrons in bloom outside of the conservatory. I have a R. lanigerum flowering in my garden, and it possesses pretty pink flowers, but in the Species Garden the cultivar 'Round Wood' was more deeply red, and it won an Award of Merit in 1949. Last year I was impressed with the new growth on R. lanigerum 'Silvia', which really is just as interesting as its flower. R. lanigerum is native to northeast India and southeast Tibet, and it was another of the Frank Kingdon Ward introductions (1926). The specific name lanigerum refers to the Latin word for “wool-bearing,” describing silky hairy leaves, buds and shoots. Animals also carry the specific name, such as Eriosoma lanigerum, the wooly apple aphid.

Rhododendron ochraceum

It was impossible to miss the deep-red flowers of Rhododendron ochraceum, and I regret that it is a species that I don't have. I cannot improve on Steve Hootman's description, so here it is: “This red-flowered species is considered by many to be one of the finest of the myriad of new Rhododendron introductions in the modern era of plant hunting. It was introduced into general cultivation in 1995 when Peter Cox and I found it in the Jin Pin Mountains of southern Sichuan Province, China, not far from the Yangtze River. There were only about four small plants found growing on top of a giant boulder in an untouched, deep valley full of exciting and new plants ...since then it has flourished in cultivation and is often seen in species collections where its bright red flowers stand out in the mid-spring woodland garden.” Wow – discovering a new species! The only thing I would question is Steve's “mid-spring” reference, for my photograph was taken on March 3rd.
Rhododendron pemakoense

Schima argentea x wallichii
I fear that I am over-staying my welcome with the blog, just as we over-stayed with Steve, so I'll finish with a few more plant photos. At the end he saw me admiring a pot of Rhododendron pemakoense and suggested that I take one. Then for good measure he suggested I take a pot of a Schima hybrid between argentea and wallichii. So, lucky me.

Rhododendron calophytum var. calophytum

Rhododendron asterochnoum

Rhododendron davidii

Rhododendron coelicum

Rhododendron gongshanense

Rhododendron calophytum var. openshawianum

Rhododendron coeloneuron

Rhododendron mallotum

Rhododendron sherriffii

Grandfather Gerald (left) and Steve Hootman (right)


  1. Excellent blog. Your Monet water picture started moving when I starred at it.

  2. Everyone extols the importance of honey bees to our agriculture. Amazingly they pollinate native American trees because they are invaders from Europe.
    Please keep on growing foreign Japanese maples - and would you do some Korean ones too and btw European Fagus are much nicer than the native.

  3. If you're still wondering about that rhododendron in the conservatory, it's correct spelling is Rhododendron himantodes. One of my favorite vireyas for the foliage alone, but so slow-growing. Mine has its first flower bud.