Thursday, March 7, 2019

Veitch Nurseries Plant Introductions, Part 2

I have been on a Veitch Nurseries binge the past month, and at risk of somnambulating the Flora Wonder Blog's readership, I humbly submit just a few more reflections based on that incredible British horticultural institution of yore.

James Herbert Veitch

The book Hortus Veitchii is a rambling, incoherent plant list by James Herbert Veitch, printed in 1906. As the title suggests, it is a “history of the rise and progress of the Nurseries of Messrs. James Veitch and Sons.”

Well, I called it incoherent, but really it just takes some time to get used to. The introduction wanders and covers a number of topics, then appear about 5 pages of plant introductions (in fine print) most of which I've never heard of...such as Manettia micans, Miconia pulverulenta and Homoianthus viscosus.

Abies concolor 'Sherwood Blue'
Abies lasiocarpa

Abies grandis

After floundering for a while in the Hortus, I finally latched onto the Coniferous Trees section which comes after the Ferns and before the Trees and Shrubs – Deciduous... But a lot of mysteries are contained in the coniferous section. For example, for Abies concolor we read that: “Abies concolor was introduced from the Sierra Nevada of California through William Lobb in 1851, and at the same time seed was received from the Scottish Oregon Association from Southern Oregon.”
“The plants raised from Lobb's consignment were distributed under the name of A. lasiocarpa, and those sent to the Scottish Oregon Association as A. grandis.” Woah, boys! The three aforementioned species: A. concolor, A. lasiocarpa and A. grandis are very different from one to the other, and at least for me, everything has been straightened out botanically, so who sent what, again?

Abies firma 'Halgren'

Abies firma 'Nana Horizontalis'

I was surprised to read the Hortus's summation of Abies firma. The species “was introduced in 1861 by the late John Gould Veitch, and again in 1878 by Charles Maries.”... “though on the plains of Japan one of the finest and largest of the Japanese Abies, this fir proved disappointing.” Hmm...disappointing. I wonder why, because I find the species to be very accommodating, and it is certainly one of the easiest of the true Asian firs to grow in Oregon.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera'

Cupressus pisifera in Hortus Veitchii is of course what we know today as Chamaecyparis pisifera, with the epithet pisifera meaning “pea-shaped” for the seed, since the Latin word pissum means “pea” and ferre means “to bear.” A “useful” – I guess – species of conifer that is hardy and easy-to-grow, but yes – it is a really boring “woody.”

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Squarrosa Intermedia'

We read that “Cupressus pisifera and all varieties of Japanese origin in cultivation are due to the late John Gould Veitch.” “C. obtusa is Hi-no-ki and C. pisifera is Sa-wa-ra.” Uh oh, then we have the listing of Cupressus Pisifera var. Squarrosa (Masters in Jour. R.H.S. vol. xiv 297). Hortus relates: “So very a distinct variety of Cupressus pisifera...and Maximowicz held it a distinct species, the real origin unknown.” Botanist Beissener “pointed out that it was a juvenile form of C. pisifera from cuttings with primordial leaves only. Introduced by the late John Gould Veitch in 1861.” There are a lot of C. pisifera Squarrosas now, such as 'Squarrosa',  'Squarrosa Aurea Nana', 'Squarrosa Intermedia', 'Squarrosa Dumosa' etc., but the original was 'Squarrosa' – “a small to medium-sized tree of broadly conical outline, with spreading branches and dense, billowy sprays of glaucous juvenile foliage, soft to the touch. Introduced in 1861 from Japan by J.G. Veitch.” Veitch, along with James Gordon before him, tended to give specific rank to what we consider today to be cultivated variants of the same species.

Picea jezoensis 'JD's Dwarf'

Abies microsperma is described: “The specific name microsperma was given by Lindley to a Spruce Fir brought from Hakodate by the late John Gould Veitch, a weakly plant unsuitable for the climate of the British Isles.” Since there is no classification of Abies microsperma (“small seed”) today, and since it can't be Picea abies 'Microsperma' – a dwarf Norway spruce, not from Japan  – the conifer in question probably is Picea jezoensis var. microsperma (Lindley) as listed in the Flora of China. Concerning it being a “weakly” plant, The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) mentions that the young growths are prone to injury by spring frosts. All nurserymen, past and present, annually worry about spring frosts; my employees don't particularly worry because they'll get a paycheck anyway. A spring frost is my problem, not theirs. Actually I've never grown any P. jezoensis cultivar, or the species itself, that is on its own roots. Everything of the jezoensis tribe (grown here) is grafted onto the most accommodating Picea abies as rootstock, so there might be other reasons why straight P. jezoensis doesn't do well in the British Isles, if one considers the species on its own roots. For example, the Oregon/northern California native Picea breweriana is nearly impossible to grow on its own roots in my part of Oregon, but it performs admirably well when grafted onto Picea abies rootstock. Wouldn't it be wonderful if old Buchholz could bring the dead Veitches back to life and we could “talk shop” about plants and about what we've learned about them. I suspect that both Buchholz and a Veitch are pretty smart, and both pretty dumb at the same time, but there would be a lot to be gained from such a time-warp summit.

Cephalotaxus oliverii

Hortus Veitchii 1906 mentions Cephalotaxus Oliveri, where the specific epithet – in those days – was capitalized if named for a person. Veitch declares: “A new species from China from seed collected in the Province of Hupeh, noticeable for the regularly two-ranked manner in which the leaves are disposed, in close approximation, as the teeth of a comb.
Yet too early to predict the position this tree will occupy in British Arboreta, but as a handsome, desirable addition to Coniferous subjects it should ever hold a high position.” Ok, the “Plum yew” is native to China, Laos, Vietnam and eastern India, not exactly locations known for winter hardiness. The species is exploited for its bark, twig, roots and seed which contains anti-carcinogenic alkaloids, for medical purpose...kind of like with our Oregon native, Taxus brevifolia. We grow Acer oliverianum, and along with Cephalotaxus oliverii, they honor Daniel Oliver (1830-1916), an English botanist and Keeper of the Herbarium and Library at Kew Gardens from 1864-1890.

Chamaecyparis obtusa

For Veitch's “Cupressus obtusa” we learn that the synonym is Retinosa obtusa, Siebold and Zuccarini, Garden Chronicle 1861, page 265. “Sent from Japan by the late John Gould Veitch, probably the first timber-producer of that country: a favourite subject for the mutilation and dwarfing in which the Japanese delight, and in which they so greatly excel. The species and several varietal forms are in general cultivation.” The “mutilation” in question is known as the art of bonsai, and I even have mixed feelings about the process myself. I don't know if a bonsai organism has ever cried out in pain at being dwarfed and restricted and totally controlled. Maybe the Golden Rule applies here: don't do unto plants what you don't want done to you. My Grandmother from my father's side – a woman who daily wore “granny boots” – said that bonsai was cruel, like torturing young children. She was deeply religious and maybe felt that bonsai was a case of humans messing in God's territory. The word bonsai is from Japanese bon meaning a “basin” or “pot” and sai means “to plant.”

Pinus parviflora

Pinus parviflora was introduced to British gardens by John Gould Veitch in 1861. “Cultivated everywhere in pots throughout Japan, dwarfed and distorted in every way, trained to every conceivable monstrosity, this pine when in the forest groves is a light and graceful object. The small size, well furnished[?] trunk and light foliage are adaptable to small lawns.”...Once again: the “tortuous monstrosities of bonsai;” I guess James Herbert Veitch was not an aficionado of the Asian nature art. That's probably because he spent too much time in his nursery, where the commodity is no longer plants, but rather crops.

Calocedrus macrolepis

Hortus Veitchii lists Libocedrus Macrolepis, and it was E.H. Wilson who collected the seed at Szemao, Yunnan, China in 1900. “In a young state a singularly handsome species, mature trees are still more beautiful objects. In Southern Yunnan commonly planted in the courtyards of temple grounds, in a wild state this Conifer chooses ravines usually associated with a water-course. Logs frequently found in the forest strata in a semi-fossilized condition are in this state valued by the Chinese as coffins for the higher classes.” The etymology for Libocedrus is from Greek liboi for “tears” (from Leibein “to pour”) + Latin cendrus for “cedar,” due to the resinous nature of the tree. The generic name of Libocedrus has given way to Calocedrus, with the Greek word kalos meaning “beautiful.” Calocedrus macrolepis is not hardy outside for me, and eventually my greenhouse-grown specimens, well, reached the roof. I like the species, though, with its beautiful blue-green flattened sprays which are glaucous beneath. I grafted a few C. macrolepis on Calocedrus decurrens rootstock because the latter is a very hardy species. I have one specimen left, but while it's alive today, the graft union looks abysmal so I don't know how long it will last in this world.

Podocarpus macrophyllus

Podocarpus macrophyllus

I have seen Podocarpus macrophyllus, and “the type species first became known to science in the early part of the eighteenth century, through Kaempfer,” according to Hortus Veitchii. Furthermore the tome mentions two variegated forms, Argenteo and Aureo-variegatus, that were named by Robert Fortune, then reintroduced by James H. Veitch in 1892. I've never seen the variegated forms but I have seen the species (“Buddhist pine”) which is common in Japan, and there called kusamaki and inumaki. In China it is known as luohan song and in Hong Kong it is highly regarded as a feng shui tree.

Magnolia stellata (kobus var. stellata) 'Royal Star'

A non-coniferous surprise to me is that Japan's Magnolia stellata used to be called Burgeria stellata,  “a name founded on an erroneous observation as to the nature of the fruit, and subsequently as Magnolia Halleana, given by Mr. S.B. Parsons of Flushing, USA, in compliment to Mr. G.R. Hall, who in 1862 introduced the plant to America.”
“Found wild on Fuji-yama, it had long been cultivated, and those first sent home were obtained from gardens in Nagasaki by Oldham in 1862.”

Magnolia x soulangeana 'Coates'

Very confusing was to read in Hortus Veitchii that the “original plant” of Magnolia Soulangeana came “from Japan through the late John Gould Veitch.” The 1906 work speculates: “Mr. Nicholson, late Curator of Kew, the first authority of his day on cultivated trees and shrubs, is of opinion that this is of hybrid origin, the possible parents the purple-flowered Magnolia obovata and the Yulan (M. conspicua), and this is probable, as both the species suggested have been cultivated in the gardens of the Japanese and Chinese from time immemorial.” The M. conspicua parent is accurate, as that specific name is synonymous with M. denudata. The other parent however is M. liliiflora, and the cross was made by Etienne Soulange-Bodin near Paris in 1820.

Magnolia x soulangeana 'Lennei Alba'

So how is it possible that J.G. Veitch collected the “original” plant from Japan? x Soulangeana reached England in the 1820's, from Soulange-Bodin's first batch of seedlings, and J.C. Loudon reported in the Gardener's Magazine of 1834 on the great beauty of the flowers. Jim Gardiner in Magnolias, A Gardener's Guide explains: “Clones of Magnolia x soulangeana have been raised by numerous hybridisers in Europe (including the British Isles), Japan, and North America. It is probable that earlier hybrids existed in Japan prior to 1830, as it was likely both plants were growing in proximity to one another in temple gardens or nurseries. Since that time, however, both second – and third – generation hybrids have been raised, providing a complexity of colour forms from milky white through the various shades of pink to an intense reddish purple, while some are bicoloured.” Certainly by 1906 Mr. Veitch would have been aware of the Frenchman's hybrid which is generally considered the easiest magnolia to cultivate.

Tetracentron sinense

The Hortus describes Tetracentron sinense: “The representative of a new genus of the Magnoliaceae, first discovered by Dr. A. Henry in Hupeh, and subsequently introduced to cultivation from the same locality through Wilson: in the native habitat a tree 20 to 50 ft. high, with alternate ovate-elliptic leaves, serrate along the margin. The flowers minute, on drooping spikes 4 to 6 in. in length, of singular botanical interest, are of little value from a horticultural standpoint.” I guess Veitch is basically describing the reason I collected Tetracentron but could never sell it.

Tetracentron sinense (Szechuan Form)

Tetracentron used to be included under both Magnoliaceae and Tetracentraceae, but The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs says the rare monotypic genus of “disputable allegiance” is now placed in the Trochodendraceae. Interestingly the wood lacks water-conducting vessels, but instead has tracheid cells which serve for support and for upper conduction of water and dissolved minerals, and are the only such elements in conifers and ferns. The genus name comes from Greek tetra for “four” and kentron meaning “spur,” referring to four projections on the fruit.

Acer crataegifolium var. veitchii

The Veitch collectors found a vast array of Acer species in China and Japan in the latter part of the 19th century, and early in the 20th. Acer crataegifolium was introduced from Japan by Charles Maries, while Acer crataegifolium var. Veitchii, the variegated “Hawthorne maple,” arrived in England in the same consignment.

Acer diabolicum

Maries also introduced (1880) Acer diabolicum, the “Horned maple,” named for the devilishly-looking two-pronged persistent style of the fruits. A. diabolicum is rarely encountered, with the photo above coming from the de Belder estate in Belgium. As you can see the fall color isn't much, but in spring the broad-canopied species blazes when large bunches of red male flowers appear.

Acer laevigatum

Acer fabri

Acer fabri

The final maple that I'll mention is Acer laevigatum, a species introduced by E.H. Wilson in 1902. The Hortus concedes that plants originating in India and Nepal are not hardy enough for English winters, but var. fargesii was discovered on the mountains south of the Yangtze in the province of Hupeh, and Veitch hopes his four-year-old plants will prosper. I've never grown A. laevigatum – the specific name is Latin laevigatus, meaning “smooth” or “polished,” referring to the leaves – but I have grown the similar-looking, non-hardy Acer fabri. I guess A. fabri will be the final maple I'll mention. It too was collected by Wilson in 1901 from southern China, and was named for the Rev. Father Ernest Faber. I kept one large specimen in the greenhouse and it was fun to quiz visitors as to its identity. “Laurel” was often a guess, but then I would point to the samaras that it was in fact a maple. Alas, it got too large to keep inside and I sold it to a California nursery, and I've never grown the species since.

When the British horticulturist Caradoc Doy, the Veitch historian, read last week's Flora Wonder Blog he pointed out that the photo of the book which I have is that of one of his competitors who printed an inferior version. When I ordered my Cambridge edition through the internet, sight unseen, and for $59.00, I was certainly underwhelmed. Doy's version (he said) is not computer scanned, but rather is a “carefully constructed facsimile...a quality version of the book at a more affordable price to mark its centenary in 2006.” Plus, Doy's work contains 50 more photos, so I'll order one from his website:, and you should too!

It's important to add that Hortus Veitchii was never published by Veitch, but rather was printed in 1906 “for private circulation only.” Second-hand copies of the original printing now go for up to 2,500 pounds. When Doy undertook his labour of love, by accident he became the first person to formally publish Hortus Veitchii, 100 years later!

The House of Veitch was once considered the greatest nursery in Europe, with five generations of Veitches (sons of Veitches), but exists no more. I suppose the downfall of the dynasty was largely due to the Great War, when growing exotics didn't seem so important anymore. I can relate to the impermanence of their company as I near the end of my career, without a clue about the future prospects of Buchholz Nursery and the Flora Wonder Arboretum. I don't have four more generations to follow me – my five children are too intelligent for that. Honestly, I don't worry about the situation. I was given the gift of a blank canvas with my life...and I scribbled upon it with plants positioned "here and there" and "hither and yon." I toiled in the soil, and damn if I didn't give it my all.

1 comment:

  1. The Picea jezoensis 'JD'Dwarf' you show, are a Picea glehnii 'JD's Dwarf'
    Picea jezoensis are totaly different, with flat needles !!! and needles green on top and white.
    Clément ANTHOINE