Friday, March 1, 2019

Veitch Nurseries Plant Introductions

I appreciate the response and kind words about last week's Flora Wonder Blog, The Veitch Dynasty. I was particularly pleased to receive a reply from Englishman Caradoc Doy, a Horticulturist, Gardening Speaker and Veitch Historian.

He wrote: “I dream of one day having a large piece of ground to set about planting a botanical garden entirely created from Veitch introductions and laid out in a naturalist style for the visitor to enjoy wandering through one 'country' after another mimicking their natural surroundings. Hopefully, if I live long enough, I will be able to lay the foundations for this project which I see as a conservation project, beautiful garden landscape and educational centre into the Veitch story and the importance of plant conservation.” Wow, sign me up!

Berberis darwinii

Mr. Doy and I are absolutely on the “same wavelength,” as he puts it, about the House of Veitch. Let's take a look at what his “dream” garden might contain. Last week we lamented the sad travails of collector William Lobb – or his sad ending, anyway – but I didn't go much into his collections, other than that he gathered a large amount of Sequoia gigantea and Pinus araucana seed from the “Monkey Puzzle.” Anyway, another worthy addition to modern horticulture is Berberis darwinii, Charles Darwin's honorarium to botanical nomenclature, a species native to southern Chile and Argentina. Local names for the plant include michay, calafate and guelung. B. darwinii is famous for its vibrant orange flowers that appear in early spring (in Oregon). I normally do not care for “orange” in the garden, but I admit that B. darwinii is really quite spectacular, and so agreed the Royal Horticultural Society with awarding it an Award of Garden Merit.

Desfontainia spinosa

Rene Desfontaines
Lobb travelled throughout the Americas, and in northern Chile he came across Desfontainia spinosa. This is surely nobody's favorite plant – an ugly Ilex-looking thing – but when in flower you can't deny the beauty of the tubular scarlet blossoms with yellow mouths which appear in summer. It would be barely hardy in my Oregon location, but I know of one plant which prospers at the Rhododendron Species Garden, just 100 miles away from me in Washington state. Desfontainia is tentatively placed in the Columelliaceae family, or perhaps in its own Desonftainiaceae family, but the generic name honors the French botanist Rene Louiche Desfontaines. D. spinosa, the “Chilean holly,” is more than a casual bush for mild climates, but it can also be used for medicinal or hallucinogenic purposes. The specific name spinosa is the Italian feminine form of spinoso which means “thorny.”

Luma apiculata

Lobb collected seed of the myrtle-like Luma apiculata and also discovered its relative L. chequen*, a species that might be hardy in Oregon, but I've never seen it. The shrub is commonly named in Spanish as “chequen, huillipeta and arrayan,” the latter meaning “white myrtle.” L. chequen is a “BIO” plant really, meaning of “botanical interest only,” but the related L. apiculata is a valuable ornamental – where hardy – and greatly admired for its cinnamon-colored bark. In addition it produces white flowers in late summer, followed by red and black fruits which are sweetly edible. I don't know why this South American genus was named Luma (by American Asa Gray), but a luma (“small coin”) is a monetary unit of Armenia, equal to one hundredth of a dram, while Luminance is “the brightness of an image.” In Hawaiian Luma means “the future and light,” but in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan it is of Arabic origin and means “a sign of beauty,” due to the natural dark outline of the lips. In South Africa Luma is of Raena origin and means “the reflection of the moon and the stars in the sea.” One Brazilian suggests that Luma is of Latin origin and means “name of the Roman Goddess of the Moon.” So I guess Asa Gray named the genus for its bright white flowers, though they be small.

*Luma chequen wine is a silver-medal, highly-recommended product from Chile, a drink of “dark garnet color, aromas of raisin, sundried tomato, potted plant [what? – potted plant?], and luxardo cherry with a slightly chewy, crisp, dry medium body and a tingling medium-length basil, tomato vine, red clay, and violet finish with woody tannins and moderate oak flavor.” Please! – sign me up for that too, and I can't wait for the potted-plant/red clay/chewy body taste.

Fremontodendron californicum

Fremontodendron x 'California Glory'

Fremontodendron californicum ranges from its northern-most location near Redding, California...all the way down south to practically Tijuana, Mexico. William Lobb couldn't help but to find it, and the “Flannel bush” in the Malvaceae family exists along with the “California poppy,” Eschscholzia californica to define for me the flora of California. Fremontodendron is a sprawling evergreen tree-bush with no ornamental qualities except for its sunny-yellow flowers which bloom in summer. The genus requires full sun and sharp drainage, otherwise it is a total failure, but be careful with it because the hairs covering the leaves can irritate skin and eyes. The genus name honors John Fremont (1813-1890), an American explorer, politician and soldier who was the first candidate of the Republican Party for the office of the President of the United States. He didn't win obviously, but nevertheless he was one of the principal figures in the opening of the American West and in the conquest and development of California.

Larix kaempferi

Larix kaempferi 'Diana'
Larix kaempferi 'Wolterdingen'

John Gould Veitch arrived in Japan in 1860 with the intention of collecting for the family firm. Japan had opened up only seven years previously, so Veitch's movements were restricted and he collected from private gardens in the Nagasaki area. The situation improved when the Consul General of Japan, Rutherford Alcock, invited Veitch to join the first ascent of Mount Fuji. One important conifer collected was the Japanese larch, Larix kaempferi. The vigorous species is still used in reforestation throughout Europe, and in fact the cultivar 'Diana' was discovered by a German nurseryman in a German plantation of Larix kaempferi. We grow a few dwarf cultivars such as 'Peve Tunis' and 'Wolterdingen'. 'Peve Tunis' is sometimes listed as just 'Tunis' or 'Tunnis', and was found by Piet Vergeldt of The Netherlands as a witch's broom in St. Anthonis which the locals* call St. Tunnis. 'Wolterdingen' was also of witch's broom origin, found in 1970 by Gunther Horstmann in the town of Wolterdingen, Germany.

*An inhabitant is called a “Sintunnisenaar.”

Picea jezoensis 'J.D.'s Dwarf'
Picea jezoensis 'Yosawa'

J.G. Veitch also collected Picea jezoensis, the “Yezo spruce,” a medium-sized tree from the mountains of Japan, eastern Siberia, Sakhalin and Kamchatka. The specific epithet is derived from Ezo, an old name for Hokkaido and other islands north of the main island of Honshu. Interestingly P. jezoensis is closely related to the American “Sitka spruce,” Picea sitchensis, even though they are on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. The Yezo cultivars 'J.D.'s Dwarf' and 'Chitosemaru' are noted for dwarf, dense compact habits white while 'Yosawa' features bright light-blue foliage with silvery undersides.

Picea torano

One of my favorite spruce introduced by J.G. Veitch is Picea torano, the “Tiger-tail spruce.” When I first collected the species we called it P. polita, but apparently the German/Polish botanist Bernhard Koehne's (1848-1918) torano (from Toran wo, meaning “tiger's tail” in Japanese) takes precedence. I think the cones are as ornamental as on any other Picea species, but the needles are viciously sharp.

Sciadopitys verticillata

J.G. Veitch
J.G. Veitch was the great-grandson of John Veitch, the founder of the nursery dynasty, and he was very productive while in Japan. I don't think he was happy, though, to bump into another collector, Robert Fortune, and in fact their competing collections returned to England on the same ship. Fortune was a Scottish botanist and plant hunter, but probably is best known as the Chinese tea thief while he was employed by the British East India Company. But in Japan there was a lot to see and a lot to take. Veitch is credited with introducing other wonderful conifers such as Pinus koraiensis, Tsuga diversifolia, Juniperus rigida and Chamaecyparis obtusa. Sciadopitys verticillata was first introduced to England by Thomas Lobb, William's brother, as a single plant in 1853, but more successfully by Robert Fortune and J.G. Veitch in 1861. Meanwhile Abies veitchii was discovered by Veitch on Mount Fuji in 1860, but it was introduced to Europe by Charles Maries in 1879.

Enkianthus campanulatus
Enkianthus campanulatus 'Summer Hill'

Maries certainly earned his salary collecting for Veitch in China and Japan. One of his finds was Enkianthus campanulatus, an invaluable garden shrub with bell-shaped flowers in spring and provocative autumn foliage which lasts a long time and ranges from yellow to orange, then red and purple...and sometimes all of the colors can be present at the same time. Enkianthus is happy in the same situations as Acers and Rhododendrons, but for unknown reasons I would describe the genus as underused. We gathered a large assortment of cultivars – though many are similar – but sales were never strong. They're plentiful in my landscapes, but we haven't propagated any for sale for the past dozen years. Absolutely it is not my duty to persuade anyone to appreciate or plant an Enkianthus, I just wonder why you don't see it used more often.

Styrax obassia

Also rarely used is Styrax obassia which Maries introduced in 1879. The species grows as a large shrub or a small-rounded tree, and fragrant bell-shaped flowers hang in terminal racemes in June. If possible the gardener should plant one where it can be walked under to appreciate the blossoms. Autumn foliage turns a pleasing yellow, then in winter one can admire the brown exfoliating bark. The name styrax is from Latin, that from Greek sturax and refers to the family Styracaceae, the “storax” family. The specific epithet is a Japanese word, and in Japan S. obassia – the fragrant snowbell – is known as hakuun boku or oba jisha*. Historically the wood of S. obassia was used to make implements and the pieces for Japanese chess known as Shogi, or the “Game of Generals.”

*Hakuun boku means “white-cloud tree” due to the white blossoms while “obassia” is a corruption of “oba jisha” where oba means “big leaf” and jisha refers to a large lettuce-like vegetable leaf. To further complicate matters, the oba jisha is also used for Ehretia acuminata, a Japanese-Chinese-Korean plant in the Boraginaceae family.

Rhododendron indicum 'Kinu no hikari' at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection

Rhododendron indicum 'Kinu no hikari'

Rhododendron indicum 'Kakuo'

Maries also rewarded Veitch Nurseries with Rhododendron indicum, a species native to Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu Japan. It is the type species for the Tsutsusi section and subsection which was originally described by Engelbert Kaempfer in Japan in 1712 (from the Japanese name kirishima tsutsuji), and there are many cultivars, including the Satsuki azaleas. One of the most incredible floral sights that I have ever seen is the bonsai specimen of R.i. 'Kinu no hikari' displayed at the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection in Washington state, located adjacent to the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden, and the beautiful cultivar name means “light of silk.” It pays to have a Japanese-speaking wife. Haruko also tells me that the cultivar name for R. indicum 'Kakuo' should be 'Kaku ou' or 'Kaku oh' which means “Great Buddha,” for kaku is “awake” and ou or oh is “king,” and a lovely bonsai specimen of 'Kaku oh' can also be seen at the Pacific Rim.

Charles Maries

Charles Maries passed away too early, at age 51, from a kidney stone complication – ouch! – and I guess he never received his “well done” watch from the Veitch Nursery owners.

Charles Sprague Sargent

Many passed away too soon: Maries at age 51, J.G. Veitch at just age 31...from tuberculosis, William Lobb was only 55 etc. Even the Veitch Nurseries' greatest plant explorer, E.H. “Chinese” Wilson fell short: after two Chinese expeditions for the Veitch firm, he was recruited to plant hunt for the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. After the death of Charles S. Sargent, the director of the Arnold Arboretum, Wilson became its keeper, but three years later that career was cut short when he and his wife were killed in an automobile accident at his age of 54. I have visited the modest Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden in the village of Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire, England on a rainy October day...and I found it utterly depressing. I recognized a few trees, but not most in the unremarkable landscape, and I wondered who kept the garden afloat, who managed this forlorn, gloomy plot? I'm sure that I would give a better report, and give the garden a better opinion should I ever return for a spring or early-summer visit.

Davidia involucrata 'Kylee's Columnar'

Wilson's main purpose in China was to find and collect seed of the “Dove tree,” Davidia involucrata, and southwest of Ichang – today Yichang – he found his needle in the haystack: a fifty-foot specimen in full flower. He called it “The most interesting and most beautiful of the trees which grow in the North temperate regions.” In the following days Wilson found a dozen more trees so he was set for the fall seed harvest. I'm sure Wilson was greatly relieved and felt free to search for other plants after he had the Davidia under his belt.

Magnolia delavayi

Magnolia delavayi outside Yufeng Monastery

Camellia flower painting

Magnolia delavayi was discovered by Wilson, a species which The Hillier Manual of Trees & Shrubs (2014) claims: “With the exception of Rhododendron sinogrande and Trachycarpus fortunei and its allies, this magnificent species has probably the most impressive leaves of any evergreen tree or shrub grown outdoors in this country.” This imposing species was discovered by French missionary Pere Jean Delavay in 1886, but it was Wilson who collected seed in 1899 from southern Yunnan. In spite of the impressive leaves the flowers are a disappointment, lasting only a couple of days, but at least they are highly fragrant. The species would be barely hardy for me, probably to only zone 8 (10 degrees F) so I've never grown it, but I did see an impressive specimen at the Yufeng Monastery near Lijiang, Yunnan China. The main attraction of the monastery is not the Magnolia, however, but an ancient Camellia of “10,000 blossoms.” That number might be an exaggeration but locals claim at least 4,000 blossoms appear between February and April. A monk – with a blank stare like he had undergone a lobotomy – supposedly risked his life to keep the tree secretly watered during the years of the Cultural Revolution.

Rhododendron decorum

Wilson discovered a large shrub or small tree in China in 1901 which was named Rhododendron decorum by botanist Adrien Rene Franchet, or at least according to The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs. That was quite an accomplishment for Franchet, especially since he (Franchet) died the year before, in 15 February 1900. Anyway, Hillier continues that “This large and beautiful Chinese species should be in every representative collection.” R. decorum blooms with fragrant trusses of white to pale pink with a yellow throat, and it received the RHS's Award of Garden Merit. My favorite part is the leathery leaves which are a purplish-brown color in spring. The specific epithet decorum is from Latin decorus which means “orderliness,” “fitness” or “seemingliness,” but if you ask me that's an odd specific name for the tree.

Clematis montana var. wilsonii

Clematis montana var. wilsonii

Douglas Justice
A choice climber that Wilson discovered is Clematis montana var. rubens in 1901, then C.m. var. wilsonii, a fragrant and energetic vine was found in 1907. The white flowers of var. wilsonii are relatively small but are produced in mass. Douglas Justice of the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden says that “most references describe var. wilsonii as late-flowering (mid to late June) and strongly fragrant, smelling of hot chocolate. The aroma to me [Justice] is considerably more complex, especially when smelled at close range. A number of my colleagues have been debating the particular components of the aroma – what else do staff at a botanical garden do at lunch? – and we've come up with quite a list, including chocolate (of course), but also peppermint, cinnamon, carob bean, narcissus (the large trumpet types), oaked Chardonnay, and Advocaat liqueur – the more elusive and volatile components being expressed more strongly with older flowers.” Sooo...that's what goes on at a world-class botanic garden, then.

Viburnum davidii 'Longleaf'

The first nursery I worked at grew Viburnum davidii and sold a fair amount of them, but I could never understand the appeal. Hillier in his Manual gives the same description in the first edition as he does in the most recent eighth edition (2014):... “The bright turquoise-blue, egg shaped fruits are never too plentiful but are particularly striking during winter, combining effectively with the lustrous green foliage. Several plants should be planted together to effect cross-pollination. Some plants seem dominantly male and others female while others are possibly mules: it is all in the luck of the draw. A popular, widely planted species introduced from W China by Ernest Wilson in 1904.” I didn't know or wonder about V. davidii's sexual characteristics when I first grew the species; I only knew that just about every large parking lot contained little beds of them, where shoppers could litter with cigarette butts and candy wrappers, and where their mindless bratty children could trample through the branches with no regard to the shrub that Wilson worked so hard to collect.

Gustav Wallis
F.W. Burbidge

The Veitch firm had introduced, before WWI, 1281 plants to cultivation which were either previously unknown or newly bred varieties, so my little blogette only scratches the surface. Over the years they employed 22 recognized plant hunters, including three members of the Veitch family. Besides William and Thomas Lobb, E.H. Wilson and Charles Maries, the others were:

Richard Pearce who worked in Chile, Peru and Bolivia from 1859 to 1866
John Gould Veitch – Japan, South Sea Islands and Australia from 1860-1870
David Bowman – Brazil in 1866
Henry Hutton – Java and the Malay Archipelago from 1866-1868
Carl Kramer – Japan and Costa Rica from 1867-1868
Gottlieb Zahn – Central America from 1869-1870
George Downton – Central and South America from 1870-1873
Henry Chesterton – South America from 1870-1878
A.R. Endres – Costa Rica from 1871-1873
Gustav Wallis – Brazil, New Granada and South America from 1872-1874
Walter Davis – South America 1873-1876
Peter Veitch – Australia, South Sea Islands and Borneo from 1875-1878
Guillermo Kalbreyer – Africa and Columbia from 1876-1881
Christopher Mudd – South Africa 1877
F.W. Burbidge – Borneo from 1877-1878
Charles Curtis – Madagascar, Borneo and Sumatra from 1878-1884
David Burke – East Indies, Burma and Columbia from 1881-1897
James H. Veitch – India, Malaysia, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand from 1891-1893

Davidia involucrata 'Lady Sunshine'

E.H. Wilson

Of course, they're all dead now, but many of their discoveries live on in our gardens. I wish that Wilson and the other collectors could come back for a day and see their introductions and the multitude of cultivars that are available. What would Wilson think if he saw the new variegated selection of Davidia involucrata – 'Lady Sunshine'?

I wish Caradoc Doy success with his Veitch arboretum dream and hopefully a wealthy benefactor can step forward to support him.

1 comment:

  1. davidia lady sunshine is amzazing i hope is in Europe soon!!