Monday, August 28, 2017

A Week To Forget

Wait! Get Sammy a pair of glasses.

A number of groups visited the nursery last week, and I suppose some chose Oregon this August so they could also witness the solar eclipse. By coincidence our nursery association held its annual Far West Plant Show in Portland, an event that I have attended for over 40 years. Out-of-state nurserymen used to do business at the show, but these days the extravaganza has been eclipsed by the internet and one wonders how much longer it can limp along. I always enjoy the fiction a few weeks later when the executive director of the nursery association reports how wonderful and successful it was, and of course the attendance allegedly exceeds that from the year  before. I used to exhibit at the show but now I just attend and I guess the primary reason I go is out of a morbid curiosity, wondering just how shrunken and boring it can get. The Far West Show is free for association members like myself, but a whopping $20 for non-members which is at least $21 too much.

Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns'

A month ago the German nursery firm Bruns Pflanzen announced that the owner and two members wished to visit on August 23rd, and we agreed to host them in the morning. I was excited because I had visited their nursery 17 years before, and it is one of the better-known in Europe. I remember asking Herr Bruns if we could perhaps see the original Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns' which is common in the trade, in America at least. He – about my age – gave me a blank look and said he didn't know anything about it. I imagine that it was discovered or at least grown by his father then, but how surprising that the son knew nothing of it.

Baking cookies

I explained to my wife Haruko that in Germany one always sits down with the host, either before or after the tour, for coffee and cookies or cakes. She loved the concept and wondered why American nurserymen were not as hospitable, that maybe we're in too much of a hurry. The day before she baked some treats and I assured her that we had plenty of coffee, and also tea in case one of them was a wimp. I tidied up the office some and put in extra chairs, determined that we could match any German nursery for hospitality. I cleared my schedule in the event that I could also take them out to lunch if they desired.

The morning of their visit I stayed close to the office. The day before any dead plants or garbage was hauled off so I could proudly show off my nursery.
...Hmm, as the morning progressed I kept looking at my watch, wondering when they would show up. I stayed until 5:30 in the afternoon, but never did they appear, and never did they call or email that they had changed their plans. That wasn't very German of them, was it? With their behavior they transformed themselves from real Germans into bleeping Joimans, and Seth and Eric humorously imitated Germanic speech. It was incredible – incredibly rude – that we were snubbed, especially since I am of German heritage, but at least I can laugh about it now, and I can assure you that the cookies did not go to waste.

Friday, August 18, 2017

(Obscure) Asian Maple Species

Dipteronia sinensis

We have many Acer species in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, and also a Dipteronia sinensis which is closely allied to Acer. In the trade they are referred to as “species maples,” meaning anything other than the common forms of A. palmatum, A. japonicum and A. shirasawanum. At the beginning of my career J.D. Vertrees, the noted maple author and guru, asked me if I was interested in the species maples, and I replied, “Not particularly.” He responded, “You will one day.” I felt the way I did because I recognized that my limited brain capacity would have a difficult time to absorb obscure species with very limited market potential. Besides, many of them didn't even look like “maples.” When I was economically on my feet – though never well off – I began to admire and collect species new to me, and I guess the old codger was right after all.

Acer griseum

I found that I could sell Acer griseum, the larger the better, and it was a profitable species for me. Now they are so plentiful that their price has declined, but I suppose that Englishman E.H. Wilson would be happy to know that the tree he introduced would become so popular and useful. It is commonly used as a street tree in many towns and cities in Oregon due to its ornamental qualities and because it is tough and durable in the landscape.

Acer triflorum

Acer mandshuricum

Acer mandshuricum

Acer maximowiczianum

Acer x 'Cinnamon Flake'

Because of my initial success with A. griseum I naturally moved into the realm of Acer triflorum, a northeast China native with whitish-gray bark that exfoliates in a different manner than A. griseum. You will find A. triflorum in snob gardens and arboreta, but seldom will you see it in a typical home landscape. Even more rare in the Trifoliata section is Acer mandshuricum, the Manchurian maple. Its bark is dark brown and rough, but not exfoliating like the previous two. My older specimen is one of my first maples to leaf out in spring and one of the earliest to display its wonderful orange-red autumn foliage. So I like A. mandshuricum, but my customers don't know it, or even want to know about it. The related Acer maximowiczianum is doomed because of its cumbersome name, non-exfoliating bark and eventual large size. The cross of A. max. with A. griseum has yielded A. x. 'Cinnamon Flake', and that is a novelty that I can sell a few each year.

Acer micranthum

Peter Gregory
Whether or not a species is included in the Flora Wonder Arboretum is solely up to me – if I admire or am interested in it, then it's in, and I don't care if I have a market for it or not. I'm not on a mission to convert anyone, but one species that I feel should be commercial, but it is not, is Acer micranthum. So-named for having small flowers, it blooms in May in pendant clusters. The seed that develops is the smallest in the Acer genus and they turn pinkish-red in autumn. A. micranthum is at least as hardy as A. palmatum, and the former forms a slow-growing small tree with dainty green leaves in summer, and brilliant red foliage in fall. It roots readily as soft wood cuttings in summer, or can be grafted on any species in the Macrantha section (such as A. davidii). I fell in love with A. micranthum when I saw a beautiful specimen in England's Westonbirt Arboretum* on a drizzly October day. It glowed red in the gloom and was further adorned with pink jewel-like fruits. It was my first visit to Westonbirt, and author and Maple Society President, Peter Gregory, led the tour. When we came to the A. micranthum Peter stopped and just stood there smiling with great affection, just as you do with a beautiful and interesting woman, letting the maple speak for herself.

*An excellent photo of the Westonbirt tree can be seen on page 198 of DeBeaulieu's book, An Illustrated Guide to Maples.

Acer pentaphyllum

Acer pentaphyllum

Joseph Rock
The rare Chinese species Acer pentaphyllum was introduced to cultivation by T.T. Yu in 1937 according to The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs 2014. However in the DeBeaulieu An Illustrated Guide to Maples, credit of discovery is given to Joseph Rock in 1929. In 1978 Vertrees in Japanese Maples (1st edition) says that “seeds were first collected by J. Rock (Rock #17819) in the Szechuan Province along the Yalung River....A plant from Rock's seed is growing at the Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco, California.* All plants in cultivation in the United States have originated from that tree.” That statement was probably true in 1978, but I know that it is no longer so.

*I tried to pay homage to the Strybing tree but was told by staff that it no longer existed.

Then I learned that one plant, presumably a seedling offspring from the original tree in America, could be seen at the Western Hills Rare Plant Nursery in Occidental, California. The nursery and garden used to be a destination for serious gardeners, having been founded by plantsmen Lester Hawkins and Marshall Olbrich in 1960. Since I struck out at the Strybing I drove to Occidental and found the nursery still in operation, but now run by an Englishwoman. I toured the grounds and found a lot of interesting plants, although I didn't find the old Acer pentaphyllum. However there were a number of them in small pots on a bench in the sales area. I asked the woman if they were grown from cuttings – which I was doing at the time – but she responded that they were seedlings. I said that I missed the mother tree, where is it? She pointed straight up – we were standing right under it! Its canopy was a broad umbrella-shape with the branches pruned up, so possibly I could have walked under it a hundred times before noticing the distinctive five narrow-lobed leaves. Fortunately the garden has been preserved since the nursery closed in 2010, and as the Western Hills Garden you can tour it on Tuesdays and Thursdays for $10 per person.

Acer pentaphyllum seed

I was prompted into rehashing the A. pentaphyllum story because yesterday I noticed seed on my largest specimen. The problem with the species is that it is too tender to grow outside in Oregon, and even though I have been growing it for over 30 years, once a tree reaches the top of the greenhouse I sell it to someone in California. My current specimen is about 12 years old, and its amazing vigor is due to being grafted on “red maple” rootstock, Acer rubrum. Years ago I planted this combination into the garden, and the following winter we experienced a low of 5 degrees F. By July I determined that the pentaphyllum was as dead as a doornail, although rubrum rootstock sprouted from the base. I was hopeful that the hardy rubrum would impart a hardy boost to the pentaphyllum top, but not so, or at least not enough. I would encourage the next owner of the Flora Wonder Arboretum – once I croak – to be a plantsman of means and immediately construct a two-storied conservatory to house the pentaphyllum.

Acer calcaratum

Acer calcaratum new growth in August

Another tender – and rare – Chinese species, Acer calcaratum, is also housed in the pentaphyllum's greenhouse, and it too nears the top. The species grows in low-land rainforests of Yunnan, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The specific name calcaratum is from calcarate, and that from Latin calcar meaning spurred. I've not noticed my tree in flower or in seed, so I'm not sure what part is “spurred.” certainly it's not the tri-lobed leaves which resemble an Acer buergerianum on steroids. The best part is the reddish new growth which my specimen showed off in spring, and is now showing off again. I foresee no market for A. calcaratum, but for fun I will try to graft it on another species – maybe A. pseudoplatanus.

Acer forrestii

I notice that DeBeaulieu doesn't list A. calcaratum, nor does he list A. forrestii, and the leaves of these two species resemble each other somewhat. His Illustrated Guide to Maples is sparse with synonyms, and without re-reading his entire book I don't know where he “lumps” the two species. Even though I can write a blog on obscure Asian maple species, I really don't know them that well myself. I have seen a number of maples in the Himalayan foothills, “foothills” meaning below 10,000' in altitude, and in spring they can be beautiful with reddish-to-chocolate-brown new growth. Since they generally aren't hardy in Oregon I never felt compelled to bring them home.

Acer oliverianum

Acer oliverianum was named by German botanist Ferdinand Albin Pax in 1889 to honor English botanist Daniel Oliver, an example where plant experts can overcome national differences in the pursuit of science. The Chinese species forms a strong-growing tree with a wide canopy at maturity. It looks like a vigorous form of Acer palmatum, and in fact A. oliverianum is in the Palmata section and is graft-compatible with A. palmatum. One Japanese nurseryman whispered a secret to me, even though he was alone with just me and my wife, that when using A. oliverianum as rootstock, the variegated cultivars of palmatum would produce more coloration. I doubt that he, or anyone in Japan, reads the Flora Wonder Blog, so what's the harm to now present his theory? I tried A. oliverianum myself as rootstock, but my variegates looked pretty much the same as with palmatum. After three years the cultivars were either sold or mixed in with the others so I can't report beyond that. One concern would be A. oliverianum's hardiness – more or less than palmatum? – and I suspect that coming from central China it would be less.

Acer pycnanthum

Acer pycnanthum is a Japanese species that is closely related to America's Acer rubrum. I used to assume that the specific epithet was a corrupt spelling of Latin pyra, which is from Greek pura for “hearth,” from pur for “fire.” That assumption was because A. pycnanthum, like A. rubrum, begins the spring with red flowers before leaves appear, then finishes in fall with blazing red foliage. But wrong – the name is derived from Latin pycnanthus for “having flowers in dense clusters.” The maple is somewhat rare, growing in a limited mountainous area of Nagano on Honshu Island. My girlfriend (at the time) Haruko was surprised but pleased that I had a specimen in the Arboretum, and perhaps that is why she agreed to marry me. She graduated from the University of Tokyo's landscape architecture department, and she remembers in her plant ID class that her favorite professor beamed with pride when he pointed out the only specimen of A. pycnanthum on campus. Haruko aced her class, then hurried to America for nuptial bliss.

Acer sieboldianum

Acer sieboldianum

Acer sieboldianum 'Kumoi nishiki'

Acer sieboldianum 'Sode no uchi'

Philipp von Siebold
Kusumoto Ine
Acer sieboldianum – I don't have the straight species in my collection, but a nice tree is growing at the nearby Rhododendron Species Garden in Washington state. “Siebold's maple” of course honors Philipp von Siebold, the German physician and botanist who introduced numerous flora of Japan into Europe, and who also kick-started the introduction of Western medicine into Japan. Naturally he was attracted to Japanese women and he married one; I can certainly relate to that. He fathered Kusumoto Ine who went on to become the first female Japanese doctor, then court physician to the Japanese Empress. Siebold's maple is compatible with Acer palmatum as rootstock, and I grow the cultivars 'Kumoi nishiki', 'Mikasa yama', 'Sode no uchi' and the spreading, semi-weeping 'Seki no kegon'. To the casual observer – and me too – A. sieboldianum resembles Acer palmatum, although I haven't studied the former's sexual expression. I agree with Hillier that sieboldianum is a “small tree or large shrub,” but then the comparison with Acer japonicum: “similar in ornamental merit...but with flowers yellow, not red...” seems to be a strange description since they look so different. Am I similar to a duck because we both have wide feet? Furthermore, M. Yano in Book for Maples lists the 'Sode no uchi' cultivar as belonging to the Acer tenuifolium species. Again, I don't know the Asian Acer species expertly; and if I did I would only end up arguing with other botanists, as they are a most contentious group. For example, DeBeaulieu doesn't even list tenuifolium as a species.

Acer pseudosieboldianum

In any case botanists should probably be outlawed from naming plants. The Japanese Acer sieboldianum was first described by Dutch botanist Miquel and then the German botanist Ferdinand Albin Pax in 1904 coined the specific name Acer pseudosieboldianum for the similar species from Korea, China and Manchuria. I really don't like pseudo for any botanic name because if it's really a separate entity then let it's name stand on its own and not be “like” or “false” something else. If a Pseudotsuga is not a true hemlock then don't allay its name to what is different. The worst plant name in horticulture is Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium', rendered since its leaves resemble the Aconitum genus. The Japanese don't use the crappy Latin cultivar name, rather they prefer Maiku jaku or “dancing peacock.” Anyway A. pseudosieboldianum differs from A. sieboldianum because the former comes from a different locale (and is more winter hardy) and because the leaves are larger. Myself, I couldn't tell you the identity of an older A. sieboldianum, A. pseudosieboldianum, or even A. shirasawanum if asked to do so. In fact I have attended Maple Society events where the world's botanists squabble about the specific identity of a tree. I never take the bait and offer my opinion because it wouldn't be “valid” anyway. Frequently, so as not to come to blows, they throw up their arms and proclaim the tree to probably be a hybrid anyway...then move on to the next argument.

Acer pubipalmatum

Most of us maple collectors wouldn't know the difference between Acer palmatum and Acer pubipalmatum, and pubipalmatum at best would just seem to be a variety of palmatum. DeBeaulieu is a splitter in this case and gives pubipalmatum specific rank while Hillier doesn't mention the species at all. If you look closely you will see some minor differences, and indeed pubipalmatum has finely hairy leaves. Besides the pubescent leaves, pubipalmatum usually has seven lobes with the middle lobe a little longer and pointing sharply.* It is also a stronger grower and somewhat less dense than palmatum, and besides it is native to China, not Japan. One could say that this Chinese maple is less refined than the Japanese maple, and to be politically incorrect, my Japanese father-in-law would say the same about the people.

Acer pubipalmatum 'Flying Daggers'

*The cultivar Acer pubipalmatum 'Flying Daggers' has small leaves with more-narrow and pointed lobes than the type. A Mr. Maple selection from North Carolina.

Acer pauciflorum

Another palmatum look-alike is Acer pauciflorum, but it is not listed in either DeBeaulieu's or Hillier's book. My source for the “Few-Flowered maple” was Heritage Seedlings and it was offered in their 2013-2014 wholesale catalog. According to Heritage, “Almost unknown in the West, these are among the first of seedlings to be offered in the U.S. Closely related to Japanese maple, it is reported to be more drought and cold tolerant than A. palmatum....Try a few and join us in an extensive field trial.” Ok, I fell for the pitch and now I have some 7' healthy-looking green-leaved trees. I'll keep a few away from sales with the intention of rooting cuttings from them. If that goes well I'll use them as understock and conduct a trial to see if it does improve plants with “more drought and cold tolerance.” Or rather, I won't trial. To really do it right would take at least half a career, and I'm well on the downside of mine. Besides it would take input from other growers from around the country to determine if A. pauciflorum would make an improved rootstock. Hey young Man, why don't you do the trial?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Dog Daze of August

Uncle Al

“It's all relative,” my Uncle Einstein used to theorize. At the nursery we're relatively relieved that the temperature has only been in the upper 90's compared to 106 F the week before. Not so far away from my Oregon nursery is Death Valley, California where the average temperature in July was 107.4 F, a record for the hottest month at a single location in U.S. history. Of course Death Valley holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the world, and that event occurred on July 10th, 1913. How hot? You guess first; the answer comes at the end of the blog.

Highs at Death Valley in the 100's are common from mid-June through early September. But in the summer of 1996 it sizzled over 120 degrees for 40 days, and in 2001 the Valley endured 154 consecutive days (5 months!) of triple digit heat. Keep in mind that these are air temperatures, because at Furnace Creek on July 15, 1972 the ground temperature measured 201 F, just 11 degrees short of the boiling point for water. That location is 190' below sea-level, and since air warms as it moves down an intense oven is created.

Death Valley swarms with pasty German tourists who are inspired by American TV nature programs, and it's not uncommon to see Vater frying eggs on the hood of the vacation rental van while Mutter videos the episode. Tochter (daughter) Hilda scorched her thin-shorts ass as she leaned against the vehicle while texting her boyfriend. He doesn't respond because 1) nothing works in the heat, or 2) he already has a new girlfriend, but in any case she regrets coming on the stupid American vacation. The boring German guidebook admonishes them to drink plenty of water; but OMG one tires of it because it's sooo tasteless's just wet.

Bodie, California

Wagon train in the desert

I find it interesting that Death Valley and (relatively nearby Bodie State Park, California – only 259 miles (417 km) apart – occupy the most-hot and the most-cold sites in America for the greatest number of days in the year. I don't know how many days because I haven't tabulated them, but I'm certain that I am correct, and I wonder if the California meteorologists are aware of the fact. 116 F in Death Valley for the high, 29 F in Bodie for the record low – this is not at all uncommon. Both locations are in the eastern part of the state with the hell of Nevada only a short distance away. Bodie is now a ghost town, at 8379' in elevation, and it is administered by the Bodie Foundation which spouts the tagline: Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past. Bodie was originally established in 1859 with the discovery of gold, and was named after prospector W.S. Bodey. Bodey never got to see the rise of the town named after him as he perished in a blizzard while making a supply trip the following November. Death Valley received its name in 1849 during the California Gold Rush when 13 prospectors perished with heat on one early expedition of wagon trains. So, highest temperature or the lowest, which way do you prefer to perish?

Abies grandis

Abies firma

A national pizza chain advertises: Happiness at 425, meaning that you set your oven at 425 degrees, then slide your pre-made pie in for about 25 minutes, then the whole family will be grinning from ear to ear. No one has time for salad as they sate themselves on cheese, chemical dough and pepperoni from steroid-fed cows, but I'll admit that I like a greasy slice now and then too. Anyway 425 is an average temperature to cook food while just 106 is scalding for plants, especially the kind that I grow. Which plants love the heat, and which do not? In general Abies do not. Very few species inhabit an area so warm. Perhaps A. grandis, which is native to the Pacific Northwest at low elevations. Perhaps Abies balsamea var. phanerolepis (Canaan fir) from West Virginia, although I don't know their climate and have never visited them hillbillies. Maybe Abies firma? How hot does it get in the lowlands of central and southern Japan? I don't know how hot it gets, but I know that it can be very humid, and that is why it succeeds as a rootstock for fir grafts in the American Southeast.

Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker'

Abies koreana 'Cis'

Abies koreana 'Tundra'

What has struggled the most in our humid-less heat are some of the dwarf Abies, those that originate from witch's brooms. Abies koreana 'Ice Breaker' can burn if it misses its drop of water, as the newly planted one did that's just outside the office. Actually, it didn't lack for water – the roots were plenty wet – but the H20 just couldn't make its way up to the top shoots. Other established Abies in the 'Ice Breaker' planting are lustfully thriving – in fact the dwarf witch's brooms are erecting the most prodigious of leaders that I'll have to prune so that these little conifers won't revert into full-sized trees. Also, be careful with the dwarf tiny-leaved green buns such as Abies koreana 'Cis' and 'Tundra'.

Tsuga heterophylla 'Thorsen'

The Tsugas also complain when hot, regardless if you are talking about canadensis, heterophylla, diversifolia, carolina or mertensiana. It seems that the more dwarf that they are, and the more close to the ground that they grow determines whether or not the needles will burn. Remember what I just said about Death Valley, that the ground temperature can be 80 or 90 degrees hotter than what we experience in the air.

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

Wollemia nobilis

Sun-damaged Wollemia

I can comment on two surprises that we've experienced in our little heat wave. One is that our large established Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine' still looks remarkably well after 106 F in the full sun. Every year in the ground counts for something when dealing with the heat. Of course it receives regular watering. Unfortunately our 14' Wollemia nobilis in a cedar box now shows some foliage burn, even though it never missed a watering. It is too large to fit into any of our greenhouses and last winter we constructed a poly dome over it and installed a space heater. That worked perfectly and it looked great this spring. But now it sits in front of a white poly house in the blasting sun and I certainly was remiss to have not protected it better. Since it's along the main road into the nursery I'll have to move it – hide it – for now, and then we'll have to figure out where to put it for winter. The Wollemi's foliage somewhat resembles that of Cunninghamia lanceolata, and I've learned that with the latter species it can take a couple of years of fresh spring growth to cover the persistent burnt needles. The Wollemi is from Australia so I assumed that it could withstand our full sun, but upon further reflection it is native to deep canyons which are probably very humid, quite unlike the location where I placed it.

Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow'

Acer palmatum 'Bihou'

Plants that thrive in the heat are numerous, especially the broadleaved trees in the greenhouses. Maples, Ginkgo, Magnolias etc. will bolt if given sufficient water. Our irrigation pond is full of nutrients from our water drains that lead back to it, and certain maples like Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow' can achieve 5' shoots – water shoots I tend to call them. The difference between Buchholz Nursery and the competition is that I am a prophet of prune. Don't stake, prune rather. It builds trunk caliper and leads to a more-bushy top. A couple of years ago our trailer-dwelling meth-addicted neighbor expanded his enterprise by stealing more than our gas, tools, vehicles etc., but he and his cohorts took to stealing our plants as well. In his brain-fog he wouldn't know what plants to take, but he was apparently assisted by the neighboring nursery's nefarious employee – and we know who he was – into pilfering relatively new maples such as Acer palmatum 'Bihou'. It was in late winter and the 'Bihou' stems were lucratively glowing with orange-yellow color. I checked out a couple of nearby retail nurseries but could never locate my maples. But the point is: my maples have a signature and they are different – superior I would say – to those of any other company. Not just the pot, the media, the fertilizer – that's enough evidence right there! – but primarily by the way that they are pruned. I keep harping at the crew: “More, more, more.” The women employees are scared to death to prune, fearing that perhaps I will beat them senseless if they prune too much, but fortunately foreman Luis trusts me, and most importantly himself, to really whack at the Asian species.

Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'

Acer palmatum 'Sister Ghost'

It is nearly mid-August and we are well into our maple grafting. I used to cut all of the scions, but now in the evenings my 11-year-old daughter Saya sometimes helps cut while I hold the bag. There's no time to chat as she has learned to focus on the tree and must discover the appropriate wood and where to cut. At the same time she has to keep count, and she knows I don't want 99 or 101 when I say to do 100. So if you buy liners of Acer palmatum 'Kinshi' or 'Sister Ghost' next spring you'll know that Saya made it possible. I'd love to show you a recent photo of Miss S. – and she's gorgeous – but I've decided to never show my children on the blog again. For example the boys in her class are exceedingly interested in her and so they google her name. The round-heads went wild and teased her last year because she was wearing shorts, and she does have a nice set of honey sticks.

As we were preparing our maple rootstock we discovered that mice had nibbled on some trunks at the exact point where we would have grafted. Always something, always something that can go wrong. But maybe just as well because perhaps we are producing too many plants for our limited labor to care for, and also for our space limitations. I don't need to build another greenhouse at my age. The key to a successful nursery is to find balance: that you're not too far behind, but also not too far ahead. Actually I've never been “ahead” in my life – there is always more that could be done with the plants. We have a “B” nursery but we do turn a profit. You have to achieve a number of “A” results to outweigh the “D's” and “F's,” so it's an awful lot of hard work and worry (and luck) to be able to run a “B” nursery.

The record high temperature on earth is 134 F (56.7 C).