Friday, July 14, 2017

Eric's Plant World

The photo below, and most of the others in this blog were taken by Eric Lucas.

Pelargonium endlicherianum

Stephan Endlicher
We are now blooming a gorgeous clump-forming perennial in one of our troughs – Pelargonium endlicherianum, and the above photo was taken by our office manager Eric Lucas on his smart phone. Thankfully it survived our cold winter, and the west Asian “geranium” is showing off magnificently. It is considered the most winter-hardy species of the genus, but the gardener is advised to avoid too much water in the winter (Alpine Garden Society, August 2013). Our species – there are about 280 others, mainly in South Africa – comes from Turkey and Syria and what the heck: it was deluged with water this past winter and spring but survived perfectly. We annually suffer many disappointments and failures in our horticultural profession, so it is particularly refreshing when a species thrives. The generic name originates from Greek pelargos for “stork,” due to the resemblance of the seed vessels to a stork's bill. The specific name endlicherianum should be familiar to many in horticulture, for it honors Stephan Endlicher (1804-1849), the brainy Austrian botanist who formulated a major system of plant classification.*

Chief Sequoyah
*Go ahead and look up Sequoia in any plant reference book and you will see that the name was coined by Endlicher. Even though he was appointed Professor of Botany at the University of Vienna, he exhausted his resources buying botanical collections and books, and spent money publishing his own and others' writings...but ultimately he blew his brains out in despair at age 44. Too bad he's not still around to explain, for it was assumed that he named the Sequoia redwood (in 1847) to honor Chief Sequoyah's invention of the Cherokee syllabary (alphabet). However, the Chief never saw the Sequoias, neither the sempervirens species nor the giganteums, and neither did botanist Endlicher. Now it appears that Endlicher was thinking of the Latin word for “sequence.” Oops.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth'

Many companies establish hard rules about employee internet use – they don't want their workers spending time on porn sites, for example. Eric has free reign, however, and we frequently catch him on plant sites, so we allude to his “plant-porn” addiction. In years past Eric would send money to the old mail-order plant nurseries and he still grows many of their offerings at his North Plains, Oregon homestead. He was probably the first gardener in Washington County to acquire Magnolia 'Elizabeth' – from Oregon's Gossler Farm and Nursery – and that was twenty years before he ever came to work at Buchholz Nursery.

Sarracenia flava
Sarracenia species

The closeup on the right shows a Sarracenia which is home to the Crab Spider. The spider waits for the pitcher to attract prey with its nectar, then pounces on the cranefly and pulls it into the trap and takes what it wants and leaves the remaining for the plant.

Japanese Iris

Japanese Iris

Eric is handsomely over-paid at his job, but nevertheless we appreciate his plant enthusiasm. He helped us to acquire a carnivorous plant collection which sits in front of the office. While we don't propagate or sell them, they are still a source of amazement to nursery visitors as well as to our employees. I recently cut a bouquet of Japanese iris to celebrate my daughters' beautiful dance recital, and rising above the purple iris I placed two Sarracenia flava pitchers, with a note of appreciation tucked into the throats. The iris were gorgeous but pooped out in a week, but going on a month now the Sarracenias still look fresh. Eric bulges big eyes when he reads about carnivorous plants, about how they interact with the insect world, and he constantly marvels about how plant reality is more fantastic than any fiction.

A lot of things wouldn't happen at Buchholz Nursery without help – and I'm not talking about the physical help of pruning, staking, shipping etc. I mean the addition of enthusiasm, and before Eric's employ I received very little enthusiasm about plants from my employees. Most have been hard workers – or they were kicked out! – and General Manager Seth is brilliant at what he does, but Eric is a true CPN* and he has led us down some wonderful paths. Many years ago I acquired my first Pleiones, but they were only a time-consuming hobby, even though they did contribute to a great wedding photo with my wife. I despaired when she spent a full day dividing and potting up the rootless bulbs, only to have a mindless employee jet them out of their pots by watering sideways. Tearfully, Haruko repotted them but we lost much of the all-important identification. Then, before we knew what we were doing, Haruko suddenly produced two children and our Pleione passion lagged. A few bulbs were kept, and bloomed, but the damn things only reminded me about my limitations, for I didn't have the energy to keep the nursery afloat, to pet the dog and the kids, and to also deal with the non-profitable bulbs.

*CPN= Certified Plant Nerd

Pleione 'Riah Shan'

Pleione formosana 'Tongariro'

But...Eric to the rescue! He not only revitalized the Pleione collection, but he has also expanded it. We are now actually selling them and they are finally paying their way. Most of the Pleione commerce in the world is cash for bulbs. Perhaps because of my sad experience with my irrigation crew, I decided to only sell potted plants, so for a modest price the home gardener receives an established plant with the potential of multiple blooms. Eric oversees our project, and he advises when to plant, water, fertilize etc. Without his frequent supervision we would screw it all up like before. He's having great fun, but a year ago when he paid more money than the GNP of many third-world countries on new bulbs from England, I had to gulp and steady myself. But, after they bloomed this past spring I wanted to hug the sweaty old geezer. That is what I mean by “help” – help me to have fun by you doing the dirty work.

Cardiocrinum giganteum

Cardiocrinum giganteum

Tomitaro Makino
I have long admired the Cardiocrinum genus – the “Giant Himalayan Lily” – and my first encounter was in British Columbia at the UBC Botanical Garden in their Asian section. On a long-ago October day I could only marvel at the seed pods which adorned brown stalks twelve feet in the air. Later, when I saw some specimens in flower I was hooked. The plant was first described scientifically by Nathaniel Wallich in 1824, but it took until the 1850's before bulbs were exhibited in England, then known as Lilium giganteum. Later the name was changed to Cardiocrinum, derived from Greek kardia for “heart” due to leaf shape and krinon, Greek for “lily.” The great Japanese botanist Makino christened the lily as Cardiocrinum mirabile, and the literati knows mirabile dictu as “wonderful to relate” or “amazing to say.” Amazing indeed when you see a tall rod adorned with twenty sweet-smelling white trumpets. My first start came from somewhere – the records were lost – but never would it bloom. Hanging out in GH20 was not to its liking apparently, and the flower bud would always rot. Eric admonished me to “get it out of the greenhouse!” – and he said so in a most Trumpian manner. I resented him as a know-it-all, but since I had nothing to lose I did as I was told. To our delight it bloomed the following summer, and he took it as proof that he deserved a pay raise. But seriously...

Cardiocrinum seed

Thanks to Eric, though, we planted the seed – amazing little wafers that they are – and a good number germinated. This spring we will have fat little one-gallon pots to sell, and you had better get your order in early! Far Reaches Nursery in Washington state collected seed in the wild and one bloomed pink instead of the usual cream white. One of their customers demanded to know how the seedling offspring would also bloom pink, not white. The proprietors responded that they couldn't guarantee a pink flower, but then it might also bloom red. Ha!, the woman bought the plant anyway. And so did we but our offspring also bloomed white.

Spiraea morrisonicola

Spiraea morrisonicola

Bunzo Hayata
Eric planted a trough with Sempervivums, Jovibarbas and in the center he placed the dwarf Spiraea morrisonicola. The “Mt. Morrison Bridal Wreath” is a delight when in bloom, and our only complaint is that it went to seed in the trough and threatened to take over. But after it bloomed this past June we pruned it back to the soil level, and we'll look forward to it showing off again next year. I know that most snob gardeners will poo poo any Spiraea, but our start came from Far Reaches Nursery in Washington state, and they are known as consummate snobs with a nursery that backs it up. The choice species was first described by Bunzo (really!) Hayata (1874-1934), a Japanese botanist noted for his taxonomic work in Japan and Taiwan. The species was once known as Spiraea japonica Linnaeus var. morrisonicola Hayata, and is just one of hundreds of interesting plants to be found on Mt. Morrison (now known as Yushan, or “Jade Mountain”). Spiraea is a genus in the family Rosaceae, so it is related to apples, rowans and a whole lot more. At one time the Filipendula genus was lumped in with Spiraea, but no more (Rosoideae instead). Acetylsalicylic acid was first isolated from Filipendula ulmaria when it was still grouped with Spiraea, and the word aspirin was created by adding a (for acetylation) to spirin, from the German Spirsaure, a reference to Spiraea.

Penstemon davidsonii var. menziesii 'Tolmie Peak'

Penstemon davidsonii var. menziesii 'Tolmie Peak'

Mt. Rainier

Peter Rainier
Burdened with an unwieldy name is Penstemon davidsonii var. menziesii 'Tolmie Peak'. Please – nobody change the name now that we have our labels made! Our low mat is in a trough in the old basketball court, and all visitors who must walk from the parking lot to the office have an opportunity to enjoy it. The cultivar was collected on Tolmie Peak (5920') in the Mt. Rainier area of Washington state, a plant-rich site named for William Fraser Tolmie who labored for the Hudson's Bay Company. Supposedly he climbed the mountain in 1833, accompanied by two native Indian guides. I don't know who first named and introduced the plant 'Tolmie Peak', but we were given our start by Rick Lupp, the now-retired owner of Mt. Tahoma Nursery. Mr. Lupp operated a small but spectacular alpine nursery, and he was famous for practically abandoning certain plants...which allowed them to positively thrive. Tahoma is the native American word for Mt. Rainier, and Talol, Tacoma or Tahoma might refer to “mother of waters.” I'm all for restoring the mountain's name back to the original, just as Mt. McKinley was dropped in favor of Denali in Alaska. George Vancouver is the guilty party responsible for re-naming honor is friend Rear Admiral Peter Rainier, perhaps the ugliest officer in the British Navy, and one who never even saw the mountain.

Phlox 'Boranovice'

Also in a basketball-court trough, and also from Mt. Tahoma Nursery is Phlox 'Boranovice' (pronounced veechey). In the photo above you can see that it happily coexists with a Rhododendron forrestii var. repens, and they both look poised to climb up the burnt stump. It is often classified as Phlox douglasii 'Boranovice', a species native to our Pacific Northwest which honors plant explorer David Douglas. We also grow 'Boranovice III', a cultivar with pink flowers, but I prefer the drama of the red. Phlox is a genus of 60-or-so species, mostly from North America, and it resides in the Polemoniaceae family. The name Phlox is derived from Latin for “flower, flame,” and that ultimately from Greek phlegein, “to burn;” it was Linnaeus who coined the name Phlox.

Saxifraga 'Cockscomb'

Saxifraga 'Peter Pan'

Saxifraga edithae 'Edith'

Saxifraga edithae 'Bridget'

Pliny the Elder
Eric loves the Saxifrages, and one of his favorites is 'Cockscomb'. We have a miniscule green bun clinging to a pumice stone for most of the year, then it explodes like fireworks in summer with dozens of tiny white stars. S. 'Peter Pan' features pink flowers and we have two cultivars of Saxifraga edithae: 'Bridget' and 'Edith'. All of these are great in troughs or in our pumice stones, but we find that many of the species and hybrids thrive in partial shade versus the scalding Oregon sun. A word of caution for one who collects Saxifraga, for the grower is largely at the mercy of his source if the name is correct or not. For example Eric corresponds with collectors in Europe and some of the alpine cognoscenti there questions some of our nomenclature. We do our best and we are always willing to be corrected. Saxifraga is a stone-breaking herb, a word which combines Latin saxum for “stone” and fraga, feminine of fragus for “breaking.” The stones that are referred to are not necessarily in nature or in the rock garden, but that the herb has the capability to dissolve kidney stones. The know-it-all Roman Pliny* claimed the above, but others say it refers to the fact that Saxifraga commonly grows in crevices.

*Pliny the Elder was an author, naturalist and natural philosopher, also a naval and army commander, and spent his time investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field. Too bad that he wanted to see the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius close up because he died from noxious gasses when the wind died and his ship couldn't set sail to safety.

Echinopsis hybrid

Echinopsis is a genus of cacti native to South America and is sometimes known as the "Easter lily" cactus. There are a number of species, though most of the wonderful cultivars are hybrids. We don't know the name of the parents or even of the hybrid displayed above, but to me it doesn't matter because it's Eric's photo that I like. One can't know everything about every plant, such as the Echinopsis genus, but certainly they can be appreciated in collections (since I have never seen them in the wild). The generic name is derived from Greek echinos for “hedgehog” or “sea urchin,” and opsis for appearance, referring to the plant's spines. Long before Eric filled out his time card at Buchholz Nursery he was collecting plants as a hobby. As is often the case, those growers who are not invested in plants as a crop, as a necessary income to be derived, can appreciate the natural world for its beauty and inner-workings more than the professional nurseryman.

Calypso bulbosa

As an example, the exquisite Calypso bulbosa is native to the Columbia River Gorge at about 2,000' in elevation, and I have seen it on both the Oregon and Washington sides. Too bad that it is very difficult to grow in cultivation, that it requires the natural stuff of the forest to survive. But lucky-stiff Eric has it growing naturally on his property and in his neighborhood, as I have jealously seen for myself. Calypso takes its name from Greek meaning “concealment,” since the bulb prefers sheltered areas on conifer forest floors. No wonder that Eric fell in love with plants: he has a beautiful wife and a lovely family, but he is especially blessed to walk out his door to greet the Calypso in the spring.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe the person naming the Crataegus calpodendron thought it looked liked one from Gibraltar or southern Spain. About a month ago you asked if anyone knew Gerd Krussmann. He was in Portland in the late 1970s for the American Rhododendron Soc. Convention and I was seated next to him on a 3 day bus trip to check out R. occidentale in southern Oregon and northern CA. He was a fascinating man with a good sense of humor and very humble for a German. If my remarks merit a cookie, you can give it to grandfather.