Friday, September 21, 2018

Review Redux: The RHS Encyclopedia of Conifers

Hatchards Bookshop, London

Sir Joseph Banks
Anybody, anybody with a sincere or an academic interest in plants is familiar with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). The institution was founded in 1804 as the Horticultural Society of London, and the idea of such an entity was to allow the members to present papers on their horticultural activities and discoveries and to publish the proceedings. And hey! – why not? – also to award prizes for gardening achievements. The creation of the society was promoted by John Wedgwood, and eventually the first meeting of seven men took place (March 7, 1804) at Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly, London. Wedgwood was the chairman, and cohorts included William Townsend Aiton as Superintendent of Kew Gardens, Sir Joseph Banks as President of the Royal Society, James Dickson (a nurseryman), William Forsyth (Superintendent of the gardens of St. James's Palace and Kensington Palace), Charles Francis Greville (think of the genus Grevillea) and Richard Salisbury who became Secretary of the new Society – think of Ginkgo biloba where the botanic name was once proposed to be Salisburia adiantifolia.

I am a member of this society, and at the fair expense of $75.31 per year I receive relief should I visit UK gardens, and I am sent the monthly The Garden, a gardening publication that beats the socks off of anything produced in America. Well, I don't travel to England much to get the free admission to gardens, but I enjoy the Society's magazine which keeps me abreast of horticulture in the European region. Recently I reviewed the RHS's Encyclopedia of Conifers where I wasn't 100% favorable. I think I dubbed it as a “great achievement,” but that it contained “mistakes.” And of course it does – no one person or group can know everything about such a huge group of plants such as the conifers.

Pinus parviflora 'Tenshu kaku'

My focus in the previous blog was on the genus Pinus, and I practically beat the horse to death about the wrong-name cultivar of the Japanese White Pine, listed as Pinus parviflora 'Tenysu Kazu'. I'll go so far as to suggest that the RHS produces no further publications without first consulting my Japanese wife, especially when it concerns the proper, correct names for Japanese plants.

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Van den Akker'

Excluding the genus Pinus, let's take a look at the rest of the mammoth RHS tome on conifers, all 1500+ pages of it. Or rather, let's just narrow our focus on the plants that are photographed from the Buchholz gardens, or where Buchholz is cited as a source of information about certain plants. Concerning the latter instance, for Xanthocyparis (Chamaecyparis) nootkatensis 'Van den Aker' – [sic – it should be Akker] the RHS Encyclopedia states, “An extremely narrow, weeping cultivar with pendulous branches and lacy green foliage held very close to the trunk. In ten years 3 x 0.6m. Listed by Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery, OR, USA in 2009.” Apparently, the author – Derek Spicer – of the RHS publication had access to our website plant listings in 2009, and I am cited hundreds of times even though others were growing the plants before me, and I also don't consider myself an authority on many of them.

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Van den Akker'

The American Conifer Society screws up 'Van den Akker' even further by stating, “This cultivar originated as a select variant of C. nootkatensis pendula [sic – really SIC] introduced by Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery, Gaston, Oregon.” Wrong! – I didn't “introduce” it – Van den Akker himself did, long before I ever acquired it. The ACS flubs further by stating that, “the originator [me] offers these thoughts: Talon Buccholz [sic], (Flora Wonder Blog, January 29, 2012) 'Van den Akker' was discovered by someone of no importance, but its potential was realized by the landscaper from Washington state, namely the late Mr. Van den Akker.” I guess I wrote that, but I should have said “someone of no importance to horticulture.”

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Sparkling Arrow'

On the same page of the Encyclopedia as the misspelled 'Van den Akker' is 'Sparkling Arrow', and it says, “Originated in 2001 in Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery, OR, USA.” Maybe 2001 is when I first grafted the one variegated shoot from a 'Green Arrow', but it took at least ten years before I had built up enough stock and began to sell 'Sparkling Arrow'.

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Laura Aurora'

For Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Laura Aurora' the Encyclopedia states, “Found in 1984 by Talon Buchholz, OR, USA and named after his daughter.” I did name it after my daughter, but she was born in 1984 and I remember the little tyke running around as a three-or-so-year-old when I named the tree.

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Green Arrow' 

For X. n. 'Green Arrow' the description says that the foliage is dark green. If you look at the Aris Auder photo on page 1482 from my Blue Forest you will see that the foliage is actually gray-blue-green. 'Green Arrow' is a nice name, nevertheless, but the cultivar did not originate in 1984 by Buchholz and Buchholz Nursery. The original tree was discovered by the late Canadian, Gordon Bentham, growing on government forest land on Vancouver Island. He requested with authorities to harvest a few scions but was denied permission. But he did anyway. Bentham told me about the marvelous mother tree and that he would name it 'Green Arrow', but sadly he died a couple of years later. By chance I was visiting the bankrupt nursery where Bentham had worked, and there I discovered a dozen unlabeled three-year-old 'Green Arrow' in gallon pots. I bought them and brought them to America and the photo on page 1482 shows some of the original propagules. You could say that I introduced 'Green Arrow' to horticulture for it probably would have been lost had Bentham not enthused about it to me shortly before his death. I occasionally wonder about the mother tree: how large is it or even if it is still alive. And sadly, I doubt that there is a person on earth who knows where the original mother stands.

Xanthocyparis nootkatensis 'Glauca Pendula'

X. n. 'Glauca Pendula' is “Listed by Buchholz and Buchholz Nursery, OR, USA in 2009. The cultivar name in Latin form is only acceptable if proved to have been published before 1959.” I don't have the answer to that because I always considered it a “glauca pendula group.” A 'Glauca Pendula' was in the trade when I began my nursery in 1980 but it wasn't very blue. In an old woman's yard in Hillsboro, Oregon I found a better form and (unwisely) attached the 'Glauca Pendula' name to it. The woman is long gone, and so is her house and tree. I pulled the Buchholz and Buchholz 1984-85 Wholesale Catalog off the shelf and a one-year-graft of 'Glauca Pendula' is listed at $2.75 ($2.50 for just the 'Pendula'). For a description: “The bluest strain we've seen.” ...Which is the Hillsboro tree. I don't produce this “strain” anymore, in fact I don't even have one on my place. I do know where to find scions if I want – a nice specimen is growing in my “Grandfather's” front yard.

Abies amabilis 'Indian Heaven'

On page 27 there are two photos of Abies amabilis 'Indian Heaven' which was “found in 1998 in the Indian Heaven Wilderness, WA, USA by Buchholz and Buchholz Nursery, OR, USA.” That's right – I spotted a flash of gold in a green tree on my way to the trailhead. The car continued for a couple hundred additional yards until my brain said stop. Then I backed up until I came to the variegated branch. It was mid-October, not really the time for grafting firs, but I cut two scions and they both lived. Aris Auders' photos* aren't very good and neither are mine (above) because frankly the cultivar has proven to be sparse with variegation and I no longer propagate it.

*The Encyclopedia's photos were taken at Wiel Linssen's nursery in Baexem, Netherlands sometime after 2000, but I don't remember ever sending it to him. In any case, I did Linssen no favor really.

Abies x arnoldiana 'Poulsen'

On pages 28-29 is an absolutely beautiful photo of Abies x arnoldiana 'Poulsen' taken in my Long Road section. The cultivar is a low, dense spreader and my specimen is about 3' tall by 12' wide. The Auders photo is better than any I have ever taken (mine above), and with dozens of erect purple cones it looks like a giant birthday cake. The history of Abies x arnoldiana (A. koreana x A. veitchii), according to the Encyclopedia: “In 1953 it was grown in the Göteborg Botanic Garden, Sweden from seed obtained from the Arnold Arboretum, MA, USA. Similar hybrids produced under artificially induced conditions were introduced in 1959 by D.T. Poulsen in Denmark.” The cultivar 'Poulsen' was the “Result of a controlled repeat cross-pollination made in 1983 by D.T. Poulsen Nursery.”

Abies procera 'Silver'

The encyclopedia doesn't offer a photo, but does list Abies procera 'Silver', “An upright plant with stunning silver-blue needles...Originated in 1984 by Buchholz and Buchholz Nursery, OR, USA.” That date seems too early because my nursery was only 4 years old then. Maybe I purchased seed in 1984 – I grew a lot of conifers from seed back then – but I think it was in the mid-90's when I named and began to propagate 'Silver'. But I'm long in the tooth now and I don't remember many events at the beginning of my career. I wish now that I had documented more but at the time I was an obsessed workaholic just trying to make my nursery survive. In 1984 I was working full-time for another nursery, then I would speed home to work at mine at night. I potted my understock at an outdoor table with a headlamp, and then I would graft at the end of my first greenhouse until 11 PM. My current employees, who I appreciate, are nevertheless very “comfortable.” Our summer hours are 7:30 - 4:30, and the crew stumbles in at 7:29 and at 4:31 there's not a soul left – only solo mee, oh.

Sequoiadendron giganteum

Besides the common conifers of Pinus, Picea, Abies etc. the book lists numerous obscure species, those trees that you seldom see in the trade. In fact some of them I have never even seen. Often accompanying these conifers is the name J. Buchholz, and that is John Theodore Buchholz (1888-1951), a botanist who toiled at the University of Illinois. Of course he was best known for convincing the botanical world that Sequoiadendron should receive genus status, separate from Sequoia, and the name of the former was coined by him. I don't know if he ever saw Sequoiadendron in the wild or simply confined himself to herbarium specimens. Likewise, I think it was lab-coat/microscope work when he classified or reclassified many of the obscure conifers. Have you ever heard of Acmopyle sahniana, Araucaria bernieri, Araucaria humboldtensis, Dacrydium guillauminii, Juniperus ashei, Libocedrus chevalieri, Retrophyllum comptonii, Podocarpus pendulifolius, Podocarpus rusbyi, Podocarpus sylvestris, Podocarpus tepuiensis and Podocarpus trinitensis? For some reason the scholarly J.T. Buchholz specialized in Southern Hemisphere conifers...most of which I find boring.

Our Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Graceful Grace' after the neighbor destroyed it on purpose

There is a photograph of Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Graceful Grace' on page 1223 that was taken in our Beyond section at the nursery. Good thing that Auders took the photo of the 20-year-old tree when it was standing vertically, but now – even though still alive – it has been flattened to the ground. I planted it along the eastern property line and for years the neighbor seemed fine with its existence. Then suddenly he became concerned that I had encroached upon his land. Instead of talking it over the welfare greaseball-loser got hopped up on meth and pushed it over with his tractor. Police were called and Brutus, all 270 pounds of him, confessed to the malfeasance, explaining that it was on his property. At that point the police waved it off and explained that it was now a “civil matter.” I looked at it differently – I am the taxpayer and the police work for me. The crime occurred about three years ago, and by coincidence the county conducted fresh surveys in my area. Guess what? – the 'Graceful Grace' is/was about 12' on my side of the line. Sadly, though, you can never be correct or win against a meth bully.

The original Pseudotsuga menziesii 'Graceful Grace'

'Graceful Grace' was “Selected in 1967 from seedlings at the Arnold Arboretum by Albert Ziegler, York County, PA and named after his wife.” This cultivar grew for years at a Masonic Home in Pennsylvania and I was fortunate to see the original tree. Then idiots prevailed again and it was cut down to make way for an enlarged parking lot.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Dense Jade'

On page 323 is a photo of Cryptomeria japonica 'Dense Jade' from my Conifer Field, and the caption reads “Listed by Buchholz and Buchholz Nursery, OR, USA in 2009.” Then on page 332 is a listing for 'Rein's Dense Jade' which “Originated as a witch's broom on 'Lobbii' by John Vermeulen, USA before 1977.” The latter name honors Rein Vanderwolf, an employee of Vermeulen, but it is the same cultivar as my 'Dense Jade'. I know, it's not for me to shorten cultivar names, even though 'Dense Jade' is a good, adequate name without the need for Rein's.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lemon Twist'

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Whorl'

For example, I would never name a plant Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Talon's Lemon Twist'. Derek Spicer claims that 'Lemon Twist' was “Found in 1996 as a mutation on 'Tsatsumi' by Buchholz and Buchholz Nursery, OR, USA.” Actually it was found on a C.o. 'Torulosa Dwarf', cuttings of which I purchased from the now defunct Mitsch Nursery of OR, USA, and the mutation was propagated a few years before I acquired a 'Tsatsumi' plant. I love my 'Lemon Twist' discovery and assumed it was absolutely unique. Imagine my disappointment when I encountered a 'Golden Whorl' in Holland at the Linssen Nursery, for the two cultivars look perfectly alike.

Picea breweriana 'Emerald Midget'

Picea breweriana

A beautiful full-page photograph of Picea breweriana 'Emerald Midget' is presented on page 617 from our Short Road section. The text states that it “Originated in 1983 as a witches' broom by Buchholz and Buchholz Nursery, OR, USA.” In fact, however, it originated as a noticeably more dwarf and compact seedling. Maybe I sowed the seed in 1983 but quite a few years passed before I named and propagated 'Emerald Midget'. The photo above (mine) and Auders' in the book are the same original seedling tree, and what's interesting is that propagation by grafting onto vigorous Picea abies rootstock does not change the appearance of the dwarf. The foliage of 'Emerald Midget' is dark green on the upper surface of the needles and silvery-white beneath. This has led some Dutch conifer “experts” (Smits, for example) to conclude that the selection is a Picea omorika, not a Picea breweriana. From a distance it actually does look like a Picea omorika 'Nana', but I assure you that if you look at the buds – and I have a stem in front of me now – it is certainly a Picea breweriana. The branchlets on 'Emerald Midget' ascend with no weeping tendency so one might question what's the value of a cultivar of “Brewer's Weeping Spruce” if nothing weeps? I'll never forget Keith Rushforth's comment in Conifers, “Despite its popularity and the habit, it [Picea breweriana] is not one of the most attractive spruces.” What a bizarre statement! I side with Hillier in Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014), “Perhaps the most beautiful of all spruces and one of the most popular of all ornamental conifers.” I don't think Rushforth had taken his morning tea when he made his grumpy comment.

Picea sitchensis 'Sugarloaf'

Picea sitchensis is the “Sitka spruce” and there are a handful of dwarf cultivars, some originating as witch's brooms and some as seedlings. 'Sugarloaf' is of seedling origin and it was discovered by Janssen and Reeck on Sugarloaf Mountain in Clatsop County, Oregon about 25 years ago. The Encyclopedia wrongly states that I introduced the cultivar, but it was the two discoverers, the owners of Collector's Nursery, who did so.

Picea pungens 'Gebelle's Golden Spring'

Picea pungens 'Spring Ghost' (original tree on the left)

I was disappointed with the photos of Picea pungens 'Spring Blast' and 'Gebelle's Golden Spring' for they were taken a month too late to appreciate their colorful spring flush. My photos above improve that situation. The book's photo is better for Picea pungens 'Spring Ghost' but the text says that it was “Discovered in 1990 by Talon Buchholz...” Nope – it was “discovered” in Minnesota long before 1990 by the owner of Bailey Nursery, Gordon Bailey, Sr. When I began my nursery there weren't many conifer grafters, but Mr. Bailey approached me about custom grafting a certain variegated spruce. I agreed and he sent the scionwood. The original seedling – I have a photo of it somewhere – was planted in full sun and it prospered in the Midwest humidity. In Oregon it burns, horribly, and an ex-employee dubbed it “Spring Ghost, Summer Toast.” Bailey and I concluded that it wasn't commercially viable, although I do grow a handful now and then. I guess you could say that I named and “introduced” 'Spring Ghost', but it was at least 20 years old when I first received scionwood.

Sciadopitys verticillata 'Mr. Happy'

I'm puzzled to read Derek Spicer's text that I discovered a Sequoia sempervirens 'Mr. Happy'. That's news to me or maybe my memory has gone. Fortunately there is no photograph because I don't think it exists, and probably there is confusion with my introduction of Sciadopitys verticillata 'Mr. Happy' which is included in the book.

It was not my intention to belittle the Royal Horticultural Society's Encyclopedia of Conifers by pointing out mistakes, but they are numerous, even more than what I have included in this blog. I suppose the strangest occurs on page 1461 where Tsuga mertensiana is photographed with a snow-capped volcano in the distance, but the caption reads, “Tsuga mertensiana in its native habitat, in the Cedarberg Mountain, South Africa.” Probably the author is aware of this mistake, because earlier he alludes to the species being native to western North America.

So, I'll put my two volume Encyclopedia book on the shelf for now, glad to be through with this blog. I got tired of lugging the heavy books back and forth from my office to my home, and the work might be more user-friendly if it would have been divided up into 4 volumes.


P.S. After my know-it-all attitude about correct plant names in last week's blog, I received an embarrassing comeuppance from English plantsman Brian Humphrey:

Dear Talon,

As always we both enjoyed your latest blog on plant names. Since you seemed to be in a conciliatory mind-set I must point out one dangerous error in your account of the Kew Pinus parviflora story. You must not suggest the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew is an affiliate of the RHS!!! If you return to England this could be a hanging offence. The RBG is a government institution with a history stretching back far longer than even the illustrious RHS which is still funded largely by membership fees whereas Kew has government funding.

The two institutions do converse but there is some level of rivalry well illustrated by the Kew-Wisley race which did/does? take place annually between the Kew, Wisley students. Possibly like the clog and apron race which was another student event at Kew and involved running down the Kew Broadwalk (about a quarter mile) wearing standard issue clogs and an apron, but I suspect this no longer happens.

I am not surprised to hear of your reception regarding the incorrectly named Pine. I have a plant from Kew with the wrong generic name. It happens to us all!

It's tough for us Americans to keep the English "Royal" stuff straight.

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