Friday, December 14, 2018

Pine Torsos

Linnaeus formally coined the name for pines – Pinus – but at the time he lumped other genera in with the group. Indeed, even today, city-slicker and indoor types consider many conifers to be "pines." Pinus was the Latin name adopted by Linnaeus, and the word is thought to come from Proto-Indo-European peie meaning "to be fat, swell" in reference to its sap or pitch. In Sanskrit pitch is pituh and pinetree is pitudaruh. In Greek pinetree is pitys, as in Sciadopitys, the "Umbrella pine."

Pinus bungeana 'Temple Gem'

Pinus bungeana 'Temple Gem' at the University of Tennessee

I'm sure there are many plantsmen who worship the Pinus genus more than I – I'm more of an Abies (true fir) guy – but no one appreciates more than I the colorful trunks to be found on many pine species. A few years ago I was very surprised to find my introduction of Pinus bungeana 'Temple Gem' happily growing at the University of Tennessee Botanic Garden. It was shaped as a dense pyramid where the trunk couldn't be seen, and if I had come equipped with a saw and loppers I would have removed a liberal amount of the lower foliage so the trunk could be appreciated, as I have on the original seedling in my garden.

Pinus bungeana 'Compact Form'

Alexander von Bunge
Pinus bungeana is native to central and northern China, and supposedly the first European to see it was Russian botanist Alexander von Bunge (1803-1890) in a temple garden near Beijing in 1831. I saw an old specimen at the "Forbidden City" in Beijing thirty years ago, and for all I know it was possibly the same tree old Bunge saw. The trunk was colorful, but sadly the tree was given only a little square of compacted earth where tourists trampled. I grew agitated when a scrawny Chinese ne'er-do-well tossed his still-smoldering cigarette butt at the tree's base. How ironic: he's probably not around any more due to smoking, but P. bungeana is popular in oriental classical gardens because it symbolizes longevity.

Pinus bungeana at the Portland Chinese Garden

A specimen of the "Lacebark pine" can be found in Portland's Chinese Garden that I grafted myself at the beginning of my career. When Portland's garden was undergoing development a large, local landscape firm was hired to place and plant the trees. The knucklehead in charge had my P. bungeana planted at ground level, then later decided to put a retaining wall around the base and filled it with 3' of soil. Fortunately another plantsman – who did know trees – immediately ordered the removal of the fill soil and saved the poor choking tree.

Pinus bungeana at Kew Gardens

Pinus bungeana at Marty Brooks Nursery

Pinus bungeana 'Silver Ghost'

I have seen many wonderful specimen trunks of P. bungeana: photo (1) the famous tree at Kew Gardens, London; photo (2) another at the nursery of Marty Brooks in Pennsylvania which displayed the most color I've ever seen; and photo (3) the spectacular specimen named 'Silver Ghost' at the Dawes Arboretum in Ohio. My question is – what would the Brooks' tree look like if planted in my garden, would it still be as colorful? I do grow 'Silver Ghost' but I have nothing of near comparable size as the original in Ohio, so I don't know if my oldest will ever match the brilliance of the mother tree. I ask these questions though I realize that I'll never live long enough to experiment and find the answers.

Pinus gerardiana

It is obvious that Pinus gerardiana, from Afghanistan, northwest India and southwest Tibet, is closely related to Pinus bungeana. Both species bear needles in fascicles of three and both feature exfoliating bark. A third "lacebark" species, Pinus squamata, was discovered in the 1970's in northern Yunnan, China in a "floristically rich area" according to Debreczy and Racz in Conifers Around the World. With only 36 existing trees (in 2000) it is the world's most rare pine. P. squamata differs from the other two with its needles in fascicles of five, making the new discovery an important botanical link between Pinus species. I've never seen P. squamata to know if the bark exfoliates as attractively as P. bungeana – P. gerardiana does not – but I look forward to the day I can add it to the collection. I have a good-sized specimen of P. gerardiana at Flora Farm, but I consider it a BIO plant (Botanic Interest Only) and it is not in production. It is ornamentally inferior to P. bungeana (USDA zone 4) and is not nearly as hardy (USDA zone 7). The specific name honors Captain Alexander Gerard of the Bengal Native Infantry who discovered it in 1821.

Pinus densiflora

Not surprisingly Pinus densiflora is commonly known as the "Japanese Red pine," for it features reddish flaking bark. It is native to Korea, northeastern China and southeast Russia, but in Japan it is commonly called akamatsu (red pine). I have an old specimen of 'Umbraculifera' with red bark that years ago was called 'Tanyosho' in the trade. I even have my old nursery catalogs where I was selling 1-year Tanyosho grafts for $2.50 apiece. Later I learned that spelling was wrong, and a more accurate translation would be tagyoushoe, but since I don't sell the cultivar anymore it's too late to make amends. South Korean people honor P. densiflora because to them it represents the Korean spirit, and the tree is even mentioned in their national anthem. They detest the "Japanese Red pine" name and the Korea Forest Service refers to it as the "Korean Red pine."

Pinus tabuliformis 'Twisted Sister'

Twisted Sister
Not to be outdone, the Chinese have their "Red pine" too – Pinus tabuliformis, and its bark is similar to P. densiflora. The foliage and shapes of these two (2-needle) species is boring to me, and the only redeeming ornamental value I can find is with the bark. I grow only one cultivar of P. tabuliformis, 'Twisted Sister', which was a seedling selection by Rich Eyre of Rich's Foxwillow Pines, and it is known for young plants that have twisting branches. I think Rich was inspired to borrow the 'Twisted Sister' name from a heavy metal hair band from New Jersey which was popular in the 1970's. And for you stoners out there, not me, Twisted Sister is also the name of a strain of potent weed, and even if you don't know it your children probably do.

Pinus sylvestris

Pinus sylvestris

Pinus sylvestris 'Edwin Hillier'

Pinus sylvestris 'Gold Coin'

Other than the colorful trunk I'm not enamoured with the "Scot's pine," Pinus sylvestris, even though I've grown and sold many cultivars. Early in my career I and other growers referred to the species as "Scotch pine." One day I was taken to task by an irate Scotsman and ordered to correct the name – from Scotch to Scots. He was probably quite friendly when sober, but I didn't want to take chances so I made the change. P. sylvestris has a large range in Europe with var. mongolica extending all the way to northeast China, therefore a lot of variation in hardiness and foliage color exists. I won't go into the details, but the better conifer growers know which strains are the more hardy and which produce the best, most fibrous root systems to aid in digging and transplanting. I still produce a few cultivars of P. sylvestris, such as 'Gold Coin' and 'Gold Medal', but sales for the dwarf or unusual green cultivars are pretty much dead. I couldn't even sell a nice blue selection – 'Edwin Hillier' – and it was dropped from production years ago; but gleefully I spotted a specimen from considerable distance at the Sir Harold Hillier Arboretum a dozen years ago near their impressive conifer hill. Originally the scions were generously sent to me by an ex-Hillier employee B.H. but sadly the last tree was sold with nothing propagated behind it, and 'Edwin H.' joins in a long list of cultivars that briefly flashed before me...only to disappear forever. Bittersweet memories haunt the nurseryman as well as the poet, but that's what you get when horticulture is your livelihood.

Pinus ponderosa

Pinus ponderosa champion tree

Five years ago I drove to the central Oregon town of Bend with a Buchholz Nursery intern, Yuki Tamori – who I dubbed "Today, Tomorrow...Tamori." We stayed for three days with our purpose of hiking during the day and drinking beer at night in the world's beer capital of Bend, Oregon. Sorry Germany, Belgium and elsewhere, Bend is where you go to drink real beer! Yuki "thought" he might pursue a career in horticulture, but Buchholz Nursery cured him of that, and ultimately he returned to Japan and now is a craftsman at a Japanese brewery. One of our day hikes took us through the snow to the Big Tree, the world's largest Pinus ponderosa located in the La Pine State Park.* Of course it has a marvelously configured trunk with plates of red and black. There are three varieties of P. ponderosa: 1) the Pacific ponderosa pine (var. benthamiana), 2) the Rocky Mountain ponderosa (var. scopulorum) and 3) P. ponderosa var. ponderosa, and our visit was to the latter variety. To register as a "champion" tree, one measures the height – in this case 167', the trunk circumference at breast height 348" and the canopy spread 68'...for a total of 532 points. David Douglas was the first European to discover P. ponderosa, and that was near present-day Spokane, Washington in 1826. However he first misidentified it as Pinus resinosa, then in 1829 he realized he had a new pine and named it for its ponderously heavy wood. It is the most widely distributed pine species in North America.

*Wow! Just a few hours after writing about Big Tree I picked up a newspaper article about Oregon parks – which I easily could have missed – that reported that the Champion was no more: "because some 40 feet fell off its crown, the sad result of weather and old age (the tree is estimated to be around 500 years old)."

Pinus jeffreyi

Pinus jeffreyi

John Jeffrey's signature
Pinus jeffreyi is closely related to P. ponderosa with the same beautiful plating bark, in fact most wouldn't suppose the two to be separate species. P. jeffreyi ranges from southern Oregon, through the Sierras and into northern Baja. I am able to identify it due to location and elevation, with P. jeffreyi growing between 6,500-11,000 feet (2,000-3100m). My favorite place to see the species is in Yosemite growing on granite mountainsides where they gain purchase in tiny cracks. At high elevations they can assume a windswept, krumholtz look, and a 6' tree might be as old as a couple of hundred years. The specific name honors the Scottish botanist/explorer John Jeffrey (1826-1854?) who collected the type specimen in California near Mt. Shasta. Jeffrey was working for the Oregon Association in Edinburgh to continue collecting in the footsteps of David Douglas, but sadly he disappeared while trying to cross the Colorado Desert from San Diego. Efforts were made to find him, without success, but wouldn't it be wonderful if someone located his bones along with his detailed diary which was required as a condition of his employment? No photograph or sketches of Jeffrey exist – only his signature taken from one of his letters to Scottish botanist Andrew Murray (7 June 1850).

Pinus pinea

Appian Way
Again, I'm not much impressed with the foliage or form of most Pinus species, however, Pinus pinea – the "Italian Stone pine" is an exception with its characteristic "table-top" appearance; and to complement that, the trunk is wonderful too. Also known as the "Roman pine," one cannot help but to imagine the Pines of the Appian Way where composer Respighi's great crescendo suggests the approach of Roman legions, and where the brass-dominated closing confirms the might of the Roman Empire.* I was attracted to this silly music way before I knew anything about P. pinea. Though listed as only hardy to USDA zone 8 (10 degrees F) I planted one at the nursery but it perished in a 0 degree Arctic blast a few years later, so I'm limited to visiting warm-climate arboreta to see their specimens.

*You can easily google a U.S. Marine Band's rendition because it is a work of the U.S. federal government – one of the few things worthwhile – and therefore the performance is "in the public domain."

Pinus echinata

I had two Pinus echinata planted in the Waterfall section at the nursery, but no visitor was able to identify the species – or really wanted to – but nevertheless they (the trees) both eventually developed attractive trunks. On the Buchholz website I describe P. echinata as "A medium-size evergreen conifer with an open pyramidal form. Long thin needles are light green. An attractive 'airy' tree for the landscape. Ornamental reddish-brown bark appears in scaly plates on mature trees...which is the subject of this blog. The specific name means "spiny" which refers to the sharp-tipped cone scales and the species (also known as "short-leaf pine") occurs from southern New York down to north Florida...and as far east as to Oklahoma and Texas. Other than the attractive trunk, the whore-species will readily hybridize with other Pinus species such as Pinus taeda ("Loblolly pine") and Pinus rigida ("Pitch pine"). After 30 years one of my specimens abruptly turned brown and died...followed by its companion a year later. So: both gone now, and it turned out that a water pipe feeding the waterfall sprung a leak and the two P. echinata specimens died from soaked roots. Yikes!: one day prominent members in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, but a year later both vanished from the ark.

Pinus elliottii

Similar to Pinus echinata is Pinus elliottii, and one could easily argue that neither of the two species add anything ornamental to horticulture...unless you are a trunk-man, a torso-man such as I. P. elliottii is unceremoniously known as the "Slash pine" – what a terrible common name! – that is native to the botanically-speaking hellhole of South Carolina to Louisiana, but I do appreciate its orange to dark-brown fissured, plated bark. Squirrels are particularly fond of the seeds so they have a different perspective of the species. The "Slash pine" or "Swamp pine" name honors Stephen Elliott (1771-1830) who first described it as distinct from the "Loblolly" (P. taeda) species. P. elliottii is useless for my arboretum since it is hardy to only USDA zone 9 (20-30 degrees F), yet, as with P. pinea, I do appreciate seeing it in warm-weather arboreta.

Pinus longaeva

Pinus longaeva

I won't be surprised if they find a pine species growing on Mars – after all Pinus longaeva survives over two miles high in the White Mountain area of southeastern California. It is a fascinating place with dry brilliant-light summers and upwards of 13' (400cm) of snow in the winter. The trunk of a healthy normal-growing P. longaeva at my nursery is not so interesting, but at White Mountain the weathered dead-wood can last for centuries. Some specimens have green needles and maybe even cones even though 90% of the trunk is dead. Even if 100% dead the tree lives on as a wonderful sculpture, a member of the white-stick forest.

Pinus roxburghii

Pinus roxburghii


Pinus roxburghii is the "Chir pine," a USDA zone 8 (10 degrees F) tree that managed to survive for 20 years even though we've been a little colder. Perhaps its Pinus sylvestris rootstock helped it to survive, but five years ago it gave up the ghost. According to Rushforth in Conifers (1987), Pinus roxburghii and the closely related Pinus canariensis "once formed a single population stretching from the Canary Isles across southern Europe to the Himalayas. Unfortunately, a hardy provenance of Chir pine still has to be found." I photographed the tree above in northern India at about 10,000' elevation, but first I had to wait a half hour for a tribe of nomadic Gujjars with their two hundred herd of buffalos to pass.

Pinus montezumae

Pinus montezumae

Mature specimens of Pinus montezumae, a tender Mexican species, have beautiful trunks. I've had it, and lost it, a couple of times, so I should probably give up for good. What kept me trying was a handsome old specimen just 200 miles away at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle. One can purchase Montezuma seed but you probably can't be certain if it's pure as the species can hybridize with others. At its best, though, the green pendant needles are long and thin and glisten in the light.

Pinus patula

Pinus patula

Another shining pine with long drooping needles is the Mexican species Pinus patula, and that is one that will survive in my collection. The branches are brittle however, and I've had tops break in a windy rainstorm or with heavy snow. My first start of P. patula was when I bought seed, and I got about 300 for just $10. The problem was that they all germinated. I potted them up and they grew very fast, too fast. What to do with 300, that was too many for me to sell? I kept the best 100 and threw the others out. It took a few years but I sold them all, with the last tree being about 15' tall. I now keep just one specimen at Flora Farm, and it was produced by grafting onto Pinus sylvestris. Its trunk is colored a pleasing cinnamon-red but I have seen older trees in the wild in Oaxaca and they are gray and rough and not so attractive.

Actually I guess I like pines as much as any plantsman, now that I have considered them for this blog. Let's just say that the species with ornamentally attractive torsos are my favorites.

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