Friday, January 25, 2019

Poor Plant Choices

Quercus garryana

A tree represents a long-term relationship with the garden. You should know it well before you tie the knot...and be clear what are your expectations. The preceding admonition (which I rewrote) came from the Dancing Oaks Nursery website, an Oregon company with an extremely eclectic listing of plants. They have interesting display gardens as well, where I have seen many species and cultivars for the first time. They advise us to be careful before tying the knot because they have made their share of mistakes, as have I.

Toxicodendron diversilobum

One interesting warning, which I don't think I've seen elsewhere, concerns their toxic and/or medicinal plant disclaimer:
Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens does not take responsibility for any adverse effects from the medicinal use of plants for any therapeutic purpose. Please consult a professional before using a plant medicinally. Additionally, not all poisonous plants are indicated as such on the Dancing Oaks website. We encourage you to do research where there might be cause for concern.”
Co-owner Fred Weisensee is a medical doctor so you can get why he is covering his bases. But anyway, it would be a bad knot to tie if you bought a tree that killed you, and I suspect that there's quite a number of species that would do so.

The Neighbor

One might argue that it's good for humanity if someone uses toxic or medicinal plants without professional advice, you know, to get them out of the gene pool. There's no cure for ignorant people, which I know because I live next to them and I pay their welfare way through life. Hmm, I pay their way – wait a minute! Maybe they've wonderfully figured it out and I'm the ignorant one.

Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Cascade'

Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Ponchito'

Ok, but back to poor plant choices – and they don't all have to be upright trees. Too aggressive would be one bad attribute. An aggressive plant in the right place is good, but I learned that Arctostaphylos nevadensis 'Ponchito' and 'Cascade' both covered way too much lateral territory in my rock garden, and I hope we can find time this winter to grub them out. My rocks are beautiful pieces of granite and I value their beauty more than the “Pinemat manzanita.” The ericaceous species was attractive at first as it spilled between the stones on the hillside, but now, after about twenty years, many rocks are totally covered, and since it roots as it creeps along, the two cultivars will dominate everything in the next twenty years. Arctostaphylos nevadensis is native to Nevada and California and it is notable for white-to-pink urn-shaped flowers in spring, followed by small red fruits in fall (manzanita means “little apple”). Arctostaphylos means “bearberry” in Greek, and a related species to nevadensis is uva ursi which also means “bearberry” in Latin. The botanic name of the latter is rendered (L.) Spreng. for Linnaeus, then Kurt Polycarp [really!] Joachim Sprengel (1766-1833), a German botanist and physician. Sprengel debuted as an author at the age of fourteen, publishing Anleitung zur Botanik fur Frauenzimmer (“guide to botany for women”). Asa Gray (1810-1888) was the botanist who first described A. nevadensis. Gray is considered the “Father of American Botany,” and he was a Harvard professor and pen-pal with Charles Darwin.

Acaena saccaticupula 'Blue Haze'

Acaena is a genus of about 100 species, mainly native to New Zealand and the cooler parts of South America. I rue the day I bought a little 4” pot of A. saccaticupula 'Blue Haze' at a plant sale, then planted it at the Waterfall section on the shady side of some large Xanthocyparis nootkatensis. This area has a number of shade-loving plants, including Erythroniums and Tsuga dwarves and Pieris etc. What a mistake, though, for the damn Acaena creeper covers everything. and by growing in the shade the ferny steel-blue leaves (of sun-placed plants) are green for me. Whatever the color, it was/is too aggressive and I can't get rid of it. Besides, if you walk even close to it, the seed burrs practically jump out to attach themselves to your socks. My 'Blue Haze' is native to the southern Alps of New Zealand, and interestingly, it is in the Rosaceae family and the generic name is from Greek akaina for “spike,” or “thorn.” The common name today is “New Zealand burr,” but was previously known to the Maori people as bidibid which is an English rendition of their native word piripiri (to “keep close, cling, adhere”).

Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid'

A towering mistake was to plant a Pinus flexilis 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid', a selection from Vermeulen Nursery of New Jersey, into my Display Garden. I used to sell thousands of them as 1-year grafts back when we were liner kings in the nursery trade. If customers could have seen what they turn into after 35 years, nobody would have ever bought any. 'V. P.' looks good when small, especially if candle-pruned, with its soft blue-green needles. Actually it could look good on an estate lawn with plenty of room, but in Oregon in my crowded Display Garden my behemoth sucks up too much water from the neighboring plants. I know that some nurseries still produce 'V. P.', but for me it was one of those plants that sell well for a number of years, then suddenly the bottom drops and it became difficult to sell both the liners and the specimen plants. Fortunately I've always been a production coward in my career, never wanting to have too many of any one plant, and I finally got rid of all 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid', and for the past 10 or 12 years nobody has ever asked for it again.

Cryptomeria japonica' Cristata'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata Variegated'

Another large tree I regret planting is Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata', but as with the 'Vanderwolf's Pyramid', removing it would be too risky for the surrounding plants, so I just live with it gets bigger and bigger. I used to think the cultivar was cool-looking with its fascinating fasciations*, for it was selected long ago for its cocks-comb growths on some (indeed, many) branches. But my original tree is huge now and the mistake was mine as I didn't think ahead when I planted it. Originally it was a stock tree, a source of propagation wood, but we haven't produced any cuttings in the past twenty years, and it just keeps on a'growing. One of my gripes is that it – and some other Cryptomeria cultivars – are “dirty” trees (not that the boys enjoy looking up the skirts of female trees), but because they produce a lot of garbage. The branchlets of C. j. 'Cristata', 'Spiralis' and others drop a lot of dead wood upon the ground. I guess it's because the branches are relatively brittle, and so the heavily-laden fasciations of 'Cristata' are prone to breaking off in winter windstorms. I note to myself on my strolls through the garden that yep, it's time to clean under the Cryptomeria again. I'll admit that 'Cristata' can be fun, especially for children and the garden novice, fun because it shows that nature can get weird sometimes. I had fun too, one winter, when we rooted a flat of the cristate portions above – to see if they would root, and if so, would the propagules actually produce trees with more numerous cockscombs. Half of them did root, but after potted up they produced normal growth, and five years later I had a crop with the normal amount of fasciations. Nothing gained there, but at least I had to find out.

Acer palmatum 'Sekka yatsubusa'

*The term “fasciation” comes from Latin meaning “band” or “stripe,” and it occurs when the plant's growing tip produces cylindrical tissue which results in flattened or crested growth. It can actually be detected in the stem, root, fruit or flowerhead of a plant; so for example the common dandelion can display flattened stems and flower heads. The cause of these abnormalities can be hormonal, genetic, bacterial, fungal, viral and environmental causes. I don't know the science of any of this, but at the nursery I have seen the phenomena on a number of plants such as Acer palmatum 'Sekka yatsubusa', Acer palmatum 'Goshiki kotohime' – a weird little dwarf itself – on Spartium junceum, the “Spanish broom,” and, if I was to think it over closely...on probably a number of other species. Oh, now I remember that Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret' also produces fasciations.

Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph'
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Melody'

Pinus mugo 'Aurea Fastigiata'

One huge faux pas is the use of too many splashy colors in the garden, and in particular the use of those cultivars which are golden-yellow. I have been guilty of this for my entire career, and I don't seem able to shake the bad habit. As I enter the main nursery entrance – about 40 times per week – on my left is the section called the FENG, or Far East North Garden. There, I have growing a lot of wonderful trees such as Abies religiosa, Pinus densiflora 'Umbraculifera' (i.e. 'Tanyosho'), Acer pictum 'Usugumo' and a lot of other treasures. The garden is 200 feet (61 m) long by about 50 feet (15 m) wide, and it contains other dutiful plants such as Hydrangeas, Paeonia and more. Then I also slammed three hot-shots into said ground – Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph', Pinus mugo 'Aurea Fastigiata' and Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Melody' – and that was two too many. Really, they don't complement each other, rather they vie for attention, and it's too much of a good thing, and just one of the goldens would have been sufficient. As I reflect, I choose the plants for the landscape to 1) please myself and 2) to impress customers and visitors. I want to be the Disneyland of horticulture, to present all of the colors of the floral palette, but the risk is that I'll cheapen the grounds with a gaudy display. We'll dig and remove the C.o. 'Melody' because it is not as bright as the pines, and then I think we'll remove the P.m. 'Aurea Fastigiata' because it has never been narrow, and it is currently as wide as tall.

Picea pungens 'Coors'

One can go too blue also, which I once did with the creation of my “Blue Forest” section. My god, I devoted about 2 or 3 acres to a planting of entirely blue trees, where nothing was for sale. It existed...and defined me – I guess – as a dumb plant-geek who wanted to make a statement. I tired of it and eventually incorporated other colors into the scape. One of its problems was that some trees were just sort-of-blue, bluish, and looked dull next to a silver-blue tree, such as Picea pungens 'Coors'. There is some confusion about 'Coors', which I originally received from Jerry Morris of Colorado, because he also introduced a Picea pungens 'C Blue' which is a dwarf (from a witch's broom) that was also found by Morris on the Coors (beer) estate in Colorado. My version of 'Coors' is not dwarf, but rather a slow-growing upright similar to P. p. 'Hoopsii' and 'Thompsen'.

Juniperus deppeana 'Ohmy Blue'

Anyway, the word glauca is used as a cultivar name or a description for a plant with light blue-gray or blue-white colored foliage. It is glaucus in Latin, from Greek glaukos, meaning “gleaming” or “gray.” Glaucoma* refers to a graying of the eyes and can result in a gradual loss of vision. A glaucope is a word used to describe someone with fair hair and blue eyes.

*Greek glaucoma is an opacity of the lens, perhaps from glaukommatos with omma meaning the “eye.”
Fagus sylvatica 'Red Obelisk'

To be brittle is bad news for a tree...or rather, for the tree's owner, especially when he has loaded a large Fagus sylvatic cultivar into a truck and the recipient reports that the specimen “broke at the graft union.” Well, yeah, a purple selection grafted onto a green Fagus rootstock – when both are brittle – can break at the graft union. The question is: did the breakage occur when the tree was loaded, or during transit, or when it was unloaded? Nobody, of course, wants to pay up, but why must the grower, the sender, shoulder the blame?

Liquidambar styraciflua

I have witnessed hideous ice-storm damage on a row of Liquidambar styraciflua that line the east side of Rodger's Park in my hometown of Forest Grove, Oregon. A few years ago the trees' branches snapped into severe disarray, and I supposed that in the aftermath all trees would be removed at the stump, and that the city would learn its lesson, accept its loss and replace them with better landscape trees. Instead the urban arborist did nothing – and of course...he's an expert at nothing – but amazingly the trees recovered, regenerated, and the alley looks good again.

Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star'

Generally speaking most witch's brooms do not make good long-term plants, at least at my nursery. They can fail for a number of reasons, one being that they grow too fast in the lush soil and optimum growing conditions at Buchholz Nursery and consequently they flop open. Nothing is more ugly than a 15-year-old Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star', even though nothing looks better than when it's about 4-8 years old. Eventually its tightness surrenders to gravity which then reveals dead grayish scales on the inner stems. 'Blue Star' originated as a witch's broom on Juniperus squamata 'Meyeri' and we grew many thousands of 'Blue Star' until the jig was up about 25 years ago. For what it's worth, though, I'll concede that “Blue Star” is an exceptional name – well done! – for when the plant is relatively young it makes for a superb landscape presence. I don't have a single 'Blue Star' in the collection anymore and many nurseries who used to grow it have quit. Those who still produce it can do so profitably, but then they're nurseries who have no concern about the welfare of the gardeners who ultimately purchase the plant. I have seen Juniperus squamata, the “Single-seed juniper,” in the Himalayan foothills, and honestly it is the most unattractive species of conifer on God's green earth.

Picea pungena 'Blue Pearl'

I estimate that I have produced nearly 100,000 Picea pungens 'Globosa' in my career, but have grafted zero in the past 15 years, and I don't even have one plant left at the nursery. I discontinued because everyone else was growing it – listed variously as 'Globosa' or 'Glauca Globosa' – and so too the similar cultivar P. p. 'R. H. Montgomery'. Again, these “dwarf” spruces aren't so dwarf and they flop open, but I don't have a photo example of this problematic characteristic because really, who wants to take a picture of a crappy plant? Anyway, I am growing a few other “Colorado blue spruce” dwarves that are more miniature and tight and are able to keep their act together such as 'Corbett', 'Pali', 'Hartsel' and 'Blue Pearl'. These aren't as profitable, however, because I get only $12.00 for a 6-year-old grafted 'Blue Pearl' when my production cost is about $12.05, but at least they are easy to sell. 'Blue Pearl' is a much more satisfactory (and long-lasting) conifer choice than the aforementioned Juniperus squamata 'Blue Star' and Picea pungens 'Globosa', but...but since when does the grubby old nurseryman get to make a profit? If he sat down with a financial advisor or accountant beforehand, he would not have gone into the arena of nursery production at all. Nevertheless, buy a 'Blue Pearl' and put it in a sunny location in your garden and show off to your friends and neighbors about your superb landscape choices. 'Blue Pearl' is said to have arisen as a witch's broom on a specimen of Picea pungens 'Fat Albert', itself an unusual cultivar selected at Iseli Nursery, Oregon.

Acer palmatum 'Coonara Pygmy'

Another poor plant choice is when the selection doesn't grow as its name would suggest, such as when “gnomes” and “pygmys” get too large. I remember my Grandmother, when she was 82 years old at the time, scolding me 15 years later when the “dwarf” Acer palmatum 'Coonara Pygmy' I procured for her to plant in a small spot in her garden grew to an enormous size and shoved its way laterally into the surrounding plants. Hell, how did I know that she would live so long? We stood in her dining room one rainy winter day and looked out at her garden through the wall-sized window...where she studied her garden often, making plans for her obliging landscaper to execute in spring, and declared, “that 'cura pygmy' simply must go!” Certainly, I had diminished my credentials as a nurseryman in her opinion.

Sequoiadendron giganteum

Sequoiadendron giganteum

It's a poor decision to put a house in the wrong place as well. The photo above depicts a 150 year old Sequoiadendron giganteum in Forest Grove, Oregon that was planted about 75 years before the house was built. Last year the homeowners paid $12,000 to have the tree cut down, a criminal act by all involved. The house was a beater and it should have been removed.

Friday, January 18, 2019


Dr. Forrest Bump

Due to my career in horticulture I have been fortunate to have made acquaintance with a number of medical doctors who are also avid plant collectors. Indeed I have made my living off of them. They are good, smart people, and my wits have been sharpened by them. One of my mentors was the late Dr. Forrest Bump – what a great name! – of Forest Grove, Oregon who was our family doctor. He fixed my broken ankle when I was in high school, then later I became his equal in the world of horticulture, although we were both probably more knowledgeable than each other...which is a perfect relationship. I even met a noted horticulturist, Dr. Kim Tripp of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in North Carolina and later the New York Botanical Garden, who switched her career from plants – i.e. plant expert and plant health – to becoming a wellness-people doctor. Wow – what a Tripp!

Magnolia denudata

Pierre Magnol
In olden times, physicians who served best needed to be familiar with plants and their curing properties. After all it was Pierre Magnol, after whom Linnaeus named the Magnolia genus, who stated that “it would be very advantageous to make a serious study of plants before practicing medicine.” While that connection is not so vital today, it is not surprising that the medical mind also finds interest and solace in botany and horticulture. I remember one time that Dr. Bump whined to me that a certain maple died in his garden “for no reason at all.” Being quite familiar with plant death, I chirped back, “I wonder if you have lost more plants in your garden than patients in the hospital?” Then I sensed that I had gone too far when he muttered that, “most who died were bound to die,” as if his maple was not predisposed to expire.

Herbalist Bian Que (BC 407 - BC 310), China

Plant study has gone on for thousands of years in one form or another around the world. So many have uses as medicine, food or for other purposes, one purpose being that many are simply pleasant to the eye. Sometimes it is the physician/botanist who is out collecting in the field, or other times he or she is holed up in their study and just do the naming and describing. Let's consider some who have coined names for they are in the record book for all time.


A good place to begin with discussing the physician/botanist is with Karl Linne, and the brilliant Swede was so enamoured with Latin that he changed his name to Carolus Linnaeus. Of course he was considered the “father of modern taxonomy,” and is justly famous for developing binomial nomenclature, i.e. grouping plants into genera and species which eventually internationalized the naming of organisms. My most sharp employees, after only a few months, can use the terminology and can visualize the difference between Acer palmatum and Acer japonicum. We don't say cedar for a Thuja or a Chamaecyparis or a Cupressus, but rather: we identify plants as Thuja plicata, Chamaecyparis obtusa or Cupressus lusitanica...even though all are commonly known as “cedars.” So thanks Linnaeus, you helped Buchholz Nursery and the Flora Wonder Arboretum to exist and thrive.

Homo sapiens

One interesting note about Linnaeus – who some found as quite arrogant,* was that he was also a renowned zoologist, and his remains comprise the type specimen for Homo sapiens, since the only specimen that he is known to have examined was himself. Furthermore he referred to his students as his apostles.

*Arrogantly, Linnaeus described his 1753 work, Species Plantarum, as “the greatest achievement in the realm of science.”

Linnaeus holding Linnaea borealis

An important event in the life of Linnaeus was an expedition in his young years (age 24) to Lapland, where he hoped to find new plants and animals, and also he was interested about the native Sami people, the reindeer-herding nomads. He travelled on foot and horse, and during the trip he found great quantities of Campanula serpyllifolia which was later known as Linnaea borealis, the humble “twin flower” that he so much admired. After six months of observing many plants, birds and rocks, he described about 100 previously unidentified plants. He had not quite yet developed his binomial naming system, but his resulting Flora Lapponica was considered the first proto-modern flora, and botanical historian E.L. Greene described Flora Lapponica as “the most classic and delightful” of Linnaeus's works.

The Hamburg Hydra

I don't want to belabor the contributions of Linnaeus, which all of you can access yourselves through biographies or on the internet, but I find one incident humorous that occurred in his younger days. In 1735 he travelled to The Netherlands to study medicine at the University of Harderwijk, and on the way stopped in Hamburg. There he met the mayor who showed him an incredible wonder of nature, the taxidermied remains of a seven-headed hydra. Linnaeus determined that the “wonder” was fake, put together from the jaws and paws of weasels and the skin of snakes. He didn't really want to disappoint the mayor, who hoped to sell the hydra for a lot of money, but Linnaeus made his observation public, and as a result he had to flee Hamburg.

Linnaeus was ill in his final years, and suffered a stroke in 1774 which partially paralyzed him. Then in 1776 a second stroke caused a loss of memory. He was still able to admire his own writings, but could not recognize himself as their author.

Orto Botanico di Pisa

Luca Ghini

Luca Ghini (1490-1556) studied medicine at the University of Bologna, then became a professor there and lectured on medicinal plants, so again, another physician/botanist. He developed the first recorded herbarium and also the first botanical garden in Europe after moving to Pisa. The Orto Botanico di Pisa is operated by the University of Pisa, located at via Luca Ghini 5, Pisa, Italy. The arboretum has been moved a couple of times, with the third and final location in 1591. I would love to visit to see the old botany institute building, constructed between 1591-1595, to see its facade ornamented with sea-shells.

Caesalpina gilliesii

Andrea Cesalpino
Luca Ghini didn't publish any botanical work of his own, but as a teacher he instructed student Andrea Cesalpino (1519-1603) who eventually succeeded him in the herbarium and botanical garden. Previously some botanists classified plants alphabetically or by medicinal properties, but Cesalpino did it according to their fruits and seeds. Besides teaching and tending the garden, he made botanical explorations in different parts of Italy...conduct which I admire. I can imagine great boredom and resulting stupidity if someone spends too much time in a dusty herbarium, and even though I own the Flora Wonder Arboretum that contains many wonderful plants “from the best corners of the world,” I still need to go outside into our natural areas to see what they contain. Cesalpino (in Latin Andreas Caesalpinus) was honored by the Franciscan friar Charles Plumier for the plant genus of Caesalpina, which today includes some 150 species and belongs to the Fabaceae (legume, pea or bean) family. Linnaeus admired Cesalpino and retained the genus name in his system and praised his predecessor with the following: “Quisquis hic exstiterit primos concedat honores Casalpine Tibi primaque certa dabit,” which basically says “Cesalpino was the best.”

Dahlia 'Isadora'

Anders (Andreas) Dahl (1751-1789) – my God, he lived only 38 years! – was a Swedish botanist and student of Linnaeus, and of course the Dahlia genus is named after him. In 1776 he passed an exam for medicine, but then everybody did that who was interested in botany. Dahl served as curator of the private natural museum and botanical garden of Clas Alstromer (Alstromeria), who was a Linnaean disciple. In 1786 he became the professor at the Academy of Abo (today's University of Helsinki) teaching medicine and botany. It was supposed that the Dahlia genus name was bestowed by Linnaeus, however L. died eleven years before the plant was introduced into Europe, and it is now certain that it was scientifically described by Antonio Jose Cavanilles, Director of the Royal Gardens of Madrid who received the first specimens from Mexico in 1791, two years after Dahl's death. Cavanilles learned about science in Sweden, plus the fact that Dahl's book on botanical observations had just appeared, and that drove him to honor Dahl for the new Mexican plant: “In honorem D. Andreae Dahl, sueci botanici.” Also, Carl Peter Thunberg, a friend from Uppsala, named a species in the Hamamelidaceae family after Dahl, Dahlia crinita, which was made in reference to Dahl's long beard, since crinita is Latin for “long haired.” The name was published in 1792, but has since been reclassified as Trichocladus crinitus.

Gardenia jasminoides 'Variegata'

Alexander Garden (1730-1791) – yes, great name – was a Scottish physician, botanist and zoologist, and from his home in Charleston, South Carolina, he sent specimens to Linnaeus. There in S.C. he practiced medicine while he collected the flora and fauna, but was intellectually isolated, and he complained there were no neighbors with similar interests: “there is not a living soul who knows the least iota of Natural History.” Garden sent Magnolia and Gordonia specimens to London and wrote descriptions of Fothergilla, but with Gardenia, the plant named for him, he wasn't even familiar with. Linnaeus was pushed to name a plant for Garden and he chose the South African “Cape jasmine.” Garden sided with the British in the American War of Independence. Two years later his property was confiscated and he moved to London where he became vice-president of the Royal Society, lucky to get out of America alive.

Stephan Endlicher

Stephan Ladislaus Endlicher (1804-1849) was born in a German-speaking town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and he studied theology and languages, then in 1828 he began his studies in medicine. Still, he had time to become proficient in Hungarian, Czech, German, French, Chinese, Italian, English and Latin of course, as well as ancient language forms. Remarkable since he only lived 45 years. Eventually he was appointed Director of the Botanical Gardens for the University of Vienna.

Sequoia sempervirens


Endlicher named or co-named over 1600 plants from the tropics alone, and sometimes he honored people, and other times named with the characteristics of the plants themselves. He corresponded with Austrian botanist Eduard Poeppig who had an interest in plants and people of North and South America. Endlicher also corresponded with French linguist Peter Du Ponceau who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Du Ponceau was an expert in American Indian languages and he was fascinated that Sequoyah (1776-1843), the illiterate son of a fur trader father and a Cherokee mother, had created a Cherokee syllabary for his people. So Endlicher was familiar with Sequoyah's accomplishment.

Sequoia sempervirens

Charles V
Endlicher produced the Synopsis Coniferum in 1847, where he reviewed several genera and reclassified some including Taxodium sempervirens, or the “coast redwood” of California, previously named by Lambert and Don. Since Endlicher was a polyglot* – one who knows multiple languages – he appreciated Sequoyah's brilliance and honored him with the Sequoia name a few years after the half-breed's death.

*Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was a polyglot too. He claimed that he addressed his horse only in German, conversed with women in Italian and men in French, but used Spanish for his talks with God. The term polyglot is derived from Greek “polyglotteos,” from poly for “many” and glotta for “language” or “tongue.”

John Gerard

John Gerard (1545-1612) described himself as “Master of Chirurgerie,* Warden of Company of Barber-Surgeons, becoming a Master in 1608. He was curator of the College of Physicians garden and author of the famous Herball in 1597. Though his work was flawed in various respects, he was noted for his clear descriptions of plants, especially the new flora from America such as the potato, maize, sunflowers and tomato, the latter which was considered the “apple of love,” and thought to be an aphrodisiac. Another of one of the newer plants was Yucca, and Gerard had one in his garden except that it didn't bloom in his lifetime. Yucca is a perennial genus in the Asparagaceae family, but early reports of the genus were confused with the cassava (Manihot esculenta), and because of that Linnaeus mistakenly coined the generic name from the Taino word yuca (with a single “c”). So even though Linnaeus considered his 1753 Species Plantarum “the greatest achievement in the realm of science,” it does contain the Yucca, and other mistakes.

*Chirurgeon is an archaic word for “surgeon.”

Yucca rostrata

John Parkinson

A piece of Gerard's Yucca root was passed on to John Parkinson (1567-1650), a gardener and apothecary to James I. He tried to correct the Yucca mistake, but by then it was too late and it has been called Yucca ever since. In 1629 Parkinson produced his Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris which punned on his name Park-in-sun. You see: these botanists/herbalists were not complete nerds, complete bores. And by the way, the Yucca finally did bloom for Parkinson.

Thomas Johnson was an eight-year-long apprentice to the apothecary William Bell and he was friendly to Parkinson whom he lauded. Johnson made plant-hunting expeditions throughout Britain, the earliest accounts of plant-hunting expeditions ever to be published in England. Flanking the title of Johnson's Herball (1633) edition is revealed, “Very much Enlarged and Ammended by Thomas Johnson Citizen and Apothecarye.” Depicted in the edition are “Theophrastus, soulful in sandals, and Dioscorides in a suitably warlike outfit.” This wonderful description is provided by Anna Pavord in her Naming of Names – The Search for Order in the World of Plants, a must-read for anyone caring anything about this blog.


Historia Plantarum
In a nutshell, Theophrastus (372-287 BC) was a Greek philosopher and contemporary of Aristotle; in fact Aristotle left Theo his extensive library upon his death. Aristotle, besides being a famous philosopher, was a first-rate scientist, with his primary interest being with human and animal anatomy, especially creatures from the sea. What Aristotle did for animals, Theophrastus did for plants, and was perhaps the first person to describe plants based on their differences and similarities. Theo produced Historia plantarum and Causae plantarum which reveal that his brilliant mind was equal to that of Aristotle. They collaborated for a few years on the Isle of Lesbos, where science, rather than philosophy, was their primary endeavor.

Pedanius Dioscorides

Pedanius Dioscorides (AD 40-?) was a Greek physician and author who joined the Roman army as a doctor. At the time he was considered the ultimate authority on medicinal plants, and his reputation continued for over a thousand years. He produced his Materia Medica, or medical material, a Latin term for the “history of pharmacy.” The term has now been replaced in medical education as pharmacology. Keep in mind that before Dioscorides, various materia medicas had been in existence in Ancient Egypt, China, India and probably in the Americas also.


And don't forget Hippocrates (born 460 BC) who was a philosopher and known as the “Father of Medicine.” He focused on treating the causes of diseases rather than the symptoms. He produced Aphorisms and Prognostics which discussed 265 drugs, and he was aware of the importance of diet for optimum health. I'll oath to that!

I suspect that most nurserymen today – at least the yokels in Oregon – have little understanding or appreciation of the history of plant knowledge. Certainly it's not necessary to operate a successful plant factory. Thousands of Japanese maples are cranked out in Oregon every year by at least a couple of hundred nurseries, but I doubt that more than a dozen growers could tell you if the species are monocious or diocious. Even though I don't have the brains to be a bonafide botanist, what little I do understand is fascinating, and especially its history. It helps to spice up the risks, drudgery and sore back of being a nurseryman.