Friday, October 12, 2018

Going to Seed

Cornus kousa 'Big Apple'

I must concede that Buchholz Nursery has recently gone to a wonderful sense though. October is the time of year when one notices the replication process, and if all of the children in the world could be exposed to nature's marvels such as seed production they would be less likely to become drug-taking criminals as adults.

Botanically speaking, a seed is the fertilized, mature ovule of a flowering plant, containing an embryo or rudimentary plant. The word seed is derived from Old English sed or saed, and it is sath in Old Norse, and saat in German. Some time ago the leadership of our Oregon Nursery Association squandered $14,000 with a design company to produce a snazzy new logo. What they came up with is depicted above, and honestly it took me a couple of years before I realized that the logo represented a germinating seed, and that was only because I read that it does. Boy, it sure took a circuitous route to sprout.

Callicarpa japonica 'Leucocarpa'

Murasaki shikibu
Anyway, let's take a look at some of those mature ovules that are adorning the plants in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. I've said it before but we grow three groups of plants: 1) maples, 2) conifers and 3) everything else. One such in the third category is a bush I pass along my driveway every day, Callicarpa japonica 'Leucocarpa', the white “Japanese Beautyberry.” In Japan the species is known as Murasaki shikibu, named in honor for the author, poet and lady-in-waiting at the Imperial court during the Heian period. She was author of The Tale of Genji written between about 1000-1012, and it is considered a classic of Japanese literature. Murasaki means “purple” in Japanese, so that would describe the flowers and fruits of the species, but the pearl-white berries of 'Leucocarpa' are so unusual that you look forward to leaf fall in autumn. They last into winter, even enduring hard frosts, and they're a valuable food source for birds. The genus name Callicarpa is Greek meaning “beautiful fruit.”

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion'

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion'

We don't produce the 'Leucocarpa' anymore – we're just not that kind of nursery, or apparently that's the opinion of our customers. The same is true for Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion', a shrub with larger fruit than 'Leucocarpa', and the violet-purple berries absolutely glisten in the autumn landscape. The variety giraldii is ornamentally superior to the species because it is more compact, and if you want more berry production you should plant multiple specimens – say, as in a hedge or in a group of three or more. The “Bodinier Beautyberry” is native to central and western China, and the specific name honors Emile Marie Bodinieri (1842-1901), a French missionary and botanist. There have been so many missionary/botanists in China – and you wonder if they ever converted even one soul – but I guess if my name was Marie I would probably want to go hide out and collect plants in China too. Actually, the species was named for him, but it was another French botanist, Augustin Leveille (1887-1918) who did the naming, he being a botanist and priest who studied thousands of specimens sent to the Academie by Bodinieri and other forlorn collectors.

Decaisnea fargesii

Decaisnea fargesii is a shrub that is absolutely useless for most of the year, but one that becomes fascinating in autumn. You don't plant it in a formal garden or in a rock garden or even in a small garden, but my one plant fits in down by the creek next to the woods. Its arching branches sprawl, but in fall they are laden with metallic-blue bean-pods with black seeds housed in a fleshy pulp. The fruits are rather creepy, soft and squishy, and the common name of “dead-man's fingers” is quite apt. I know it freaked my wife when I teased her to squeeze one when we were engaged, and the experience almost caused her to abandon me before marriage. Haruko didn't know that when I travelled to Sikkim I learned that the aboriginal Lepcha tribe relish the edible fruit, although they only eat the slimy goop in the middle, and I have to admit that that is creepy too. Anyway, the generic name honors Joseph Decaisne (1807-1882), director of the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, and the specific name honors Pere P. G. Farges (1844-1912) who lived in China and discovered the plant. The blue bean pod is in the Lardizabalaceae family in the Ranunculales order which also includes the genus Akebia which too bears edible fruit.

Abies koreana 'Gait'

Cones on the Abies are erectly magnificent in October. They are fully mature now, but soon they will disintegrate and the seeds will flutter to the ground. It is a one-year process, to timidly poke out in spring, then swell to magnificence throughout summer, then to collapse and disperse by late autumn. I'm a fir-guy to be sure, much more-so than a pine, spruce or cypress kind of guy. One reason is that Abies – the true firs – are native to higher elevations, and in their mountain haunts is where I am most happy too.

Abies koreana 'Vengels'

The strangest fir cone of all is perhaps on Abies koreana 'Vengels' where the skinny pokers feature double the bracts of a normal A. koreana cone. When I first received the cultivar as scionwood I had no idea why it was selected, then one day I turned around and was stunned by a row of cones on the six-year-old tree. I don't know where 'Vengels' originated but it was probably Europe, and sad that it was given an unappealing name.

Abies bracteata

Abies bracteata 'Corbin'

Garden of Earthly Delights

Almost as bizarre are the cones on Abies bracteata, the “Santa Lucia fir” from southern California's coastal mountains. The strange cones have long wispy spine-tipped bracts, making them look like creatures from hell in Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights. Otherwise the species is attractive for a narrow crown, lush leaves (in spring) and handsome spindle-shaped winter buds.

Abies procera 'Silver'

I don't know it for a fact, but I suspect that the most prodigious cones of all of the Abies occur on A. procera, the “Noble fir” of western North America. The cylinders can reach up to 10 inches (25 cm) in length and about half of that in width, and they look preposterous when they hog for space on a small tree. The cultivar 'Sherwoodii', known for its golden foliage, produces golden cones as well. They were too high to photograph on foot, and I always meant to drag the big ladder out to the tree but never got around to it in time. The next thing I discovered they had disintegrated and lay at the foot of the tree. A fair number of these germinated as golden seedlings and one was selected and named 'Noble's Gold'. The following year the mother 'Sherwoodii' died, probably from overwatering, and it was my only tree. Keith Rushforth in Conifers makes a very strange observation about forma glauca: “Selection of nursery plants for the blueness of foliage is better than grafting to obtain good foliage forms.” What is he saying? That selecting blue seedlings is better than grafting scions of one that has already been selected for outstanding blueness? Read his quote again. Rushforth might be a conifer expert, but he's obviously not smart enough to work at Buchholz Nursery.

Crataegus monogyna 'Inermis Compacta' at RBG Edinburgh

Crataegus monogyna 'Inermis Compacta'

The plant name Crataegus monogyna 'Inermis Compacta' is a mouthful to say, but it is one of my favorite trees, even in winter with its stout appearance. I would hesitate to call it a “dwarf” as Hillier does in his Manual of Trees and Shrubs, especially if you've ever seen the marvelous specimen in Edinburgh, Scotland at the Royal Botanic Garden's rock garden section. I'm sure it has exceeded size expectations and they no doubt wish they had planted it elsewhere. Crataegus monogyna is a European species often used as hedgerows, and the red fruits ripen in October and last well into winter to the delight of birds. White fragrant flowers appear in May, so if you look closely at the Edinburgh specimen you'll know that I was visiting in spring. The word Crataegus is derived from Greek kratos for “strength” and akis meaning “sharp,” as many species in the Rosaceae family are armed with sharp thorns. The word inermis in the name simple means “thornless,” and that's a good feature, especially if you grow 'Inermis Compacta' commercially as I do. The common name for the genus is hawthorn, where the haw* is the name for the fruit which can be used for jellies and wine. In folklore the Irish say “when all fruit fails, welcome haws.” The Scots say, “Ne'er cast a cloot til Mey's oot,” a warning to keep your clothes (cloots) on until the hawthorns are in full blossom.

*Originally “haw” was an Old English name for a hedge.

Crataegus douglasii

I have a native hawthorn on my property, Crataegus douglasii, named for David Douglas who collected seed during his botanical explorations. It flowers white also, but it has thorns along the branches and I got scratched presenting you with the photo. The fruit is dark purple at maturity and was used as a food source by Native Americans, but I've never made use of it.

Ginkgo biloba 'Autumn Gold'

Ginkgo biloba is an unusual monotypic genus, where it is botanically placed with the conifers. The tree is dioecious, so male and female sex parts are on different trees. Well, usually. Any chance I get I like to show visitors female fruit on my male cultivar, 'Autumn Gold'. I have mentioned this phenomenon before, actually in the hopes that someone will challenge me. I would love to pick a fight with a know-it-all botanist.

Sorbus alnifolia

I planted a group of Sorbus alnifolia at Flora Farm and the fruit is beginning to color red. My grove of five are visible from the public road at Flora Farm, and I admit I plant certain trees in certain places just to show off; or in other cases, along our private roads where my wife will see some of her favorites when she drives S. to school. I've reached that point in life where my primary motivation is to make my family happy, but that's an easy calling when they are sweet and beautiful. Oops – back to Sorbus alnifolia. It is a medium-sized “mountain ash” from Japan, Korea and China, and it is hardy to USDA zone 3, or 40 below zero F. My grove is planted in full sun, and the trees were loaded with small white flowers in May. Obviously the specific epithet alnifolia means the leaves resemble those of an alder, while the name sorbus comes from Latin sorbum, a reference to sitting in a church pew for too long. While sorbus alnifolia is commonly called the “Korean mountain ash,” it is not remotely related to the true ashes, the Fraxinus genus.

Sorbus americana

Sorbus americana

We also have one specimen of Sorbus americana placed near the S. alnifolia. It is planted in the section at Flora Farm labelled FF Cercis, but there are actually more “rowans” in the section than Cercis. This tree is a result of seed gathered by ex-employee P. T. when we traversed the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina some five years ago. That collection activity was probably illegal so he left the company to go into hiding. I remember that day well: it was October and the sun came and went with the drama of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (#6). We rounded a mountain curve in the road and brilliant red fruits glistened as the sunlight hit them perfectly. I guess that was about five year ago, but today anyway I have a branch on one offspring tree that is heavily laden with about fifty red P. T. Barnum, you are welcome to seed if you want.

Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia seed pods range in appearance from interesting to grotesque, and at their worst they can look like ugly turds. Magnolia grandiflora, the “Southern magnolia,” is not so bad though. I have seen the species in the wild in North Carolina, but that was in May and they were not yet blooming. It is a popular garden tree, though it gets large, and I guess gardeners are partial to it due to its evergreen nature. The leaves are dark green above and yellow-brown beneath and they are very stiff. The national champion M. grandiflora is in Smith County, Mississippi, and it is 121 feet tall (37m).

Magnolia macrophylla

Magnolia macrophylla

Magnolia macrophylla ssp. ashei

We grow Magnolia macrophylla and M. macrophylla ssp. ashei. Their seeds are cone-like and the fragrant flowers are larger than even Magnolia grandiflora, but the main event is huge leaves that can reach 40 inches in length (100cm). Subspecies ashei is less hardy, coming from Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, and also it is smaller in leaf size and ultimate height. I have the two growing side by side down at the streamside at the border of my woods. There they receive protection from damage from strong winds.

Magnolia denudata

Magnolia denudata 'Forrest's Pink'

Magnolia denudata 'Variegated'

Magnolia denudata is the “Yulan magnolia” or the “Lily magnolia,” and is known for its fragrant, pure white flowers. The Chinese word yulan is from yu for “gem” and lan for “plant.” It can also mean “jade orchid,” and it's impressive because it blooms before the leaves appear (precocious), hence the specific epithet denudata, meaning “bare” or “naked.” M. denudata has historically been revered by followers of Buddhism, and monks were known to have distributed the species throughout China and into Japan. It was Sir Joseph Banks who introduced it into England in 1780. The flower color can vary from white to yellow to a clear pink. My favorite M. denudata is 'Forrest's Pink', and it originated from one of George Forrest's seed collections, and was raised in the 1920's at Caerhays in Cornwall. In Japan I have seen an attractive variegated form, but to my knowledge it is not known in America.

Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair'

Acer palmatum 'Kinshi'

Acer palmatum 'Hubbs Red Willow'

We grow Japanese maple seedlings from our own collections from named varieties, and a few of the offspring have become popular cultivars in their own right. Maybe one out of a hundred seedlings from Acer palmatum 'Fairy Hair' will resemble its mother, a couple will be larger and look like 'Kinshi', another will look like 'Hubbs Red Willow', but the majority will just look like plain regular palmatums. The latter group will become rootstock for other named cultivars the following year.

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'

I like to collect seed from Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost'. For some reason its offspring display more interesting colors than do seedlings of 'Purple Ghost' or 'Grandma Ghost' or 'Beni shigitatsu sawa'. 'Strawberry Spring' was one such selection and now we have it in production. The original is planted at Flora Farm and it appears far more dwarf than its 'Amber Ghost' parent. On the other hand, grafts grown in containers in the greenhouse grow with great gusto. A number of the reticulated (or “veined”) seedlings are grown on and sold as the “Rising Stars series,” where the customer gets a heavy caliper, well-pruned tree at half price compared to a named cultivar. The idea is that I can have my fun, make my selections, and get rid of the remainder...because what am I going to do with them otherwise? I think some retail customers are actually collecting a named plant, but many will buy regardless if it's named or not, for it simply catches their fancy.

Acer palmatum 'Umegae'

The various maples in my garden are loaded with seed this year, and frankly that has me a little worried. Many of them are in their 30's now, so they're relatively young, but what does the heavy seed production mean? Does it mean that they are getting ready to die? I've seen that occur with other plants; it's nature's way of preserving herself.

But maybe everything is fine and I just worry too much. Two stories: 1) Years ago we found out that our Hispanic female employee was mother to 14 children, and she was in her early 40's at the time. My wife (ex) exclaimed “Wow! why did you want to have so many kids?” She looked at the ex with a serious face and replied, “I didn't have a choice.”
Story 2) The greatest officially recorded number of children born to one mother is 69, to the wife of Feodor Vassilyev (1707-1782), a peasant from Shuya, Russia. The mother produced 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets. 32+21+16=69.

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