Friday, May 10, 2019

Oregon, The Maple Capital Of The World: A Journey Into The Willamette Valley

Guy Maillot

Young Darwin with Old Buchholz

Admittedly I dogged it last week, what with no blog, but still I was positively active, and actually I had quite a bit of fun even though I was exhausted after every day. My diversion from the norm was due to a visit from the Frenchmen Guy and son Darwin Maillot. Guy (pronounced “Gee,” as in “geese,” without the “se” part) is an avid maple and bonsai producer/distributor with an amazing Japanese maple cultivar collection, acquired largely because he lived in Japan and worked there for a bonsai nursery for a number of years. He succeeds in the Orient because he absolutely does a repeated importation business with the Japanese nurserymen, unlike most of us who visit once or twice and want to cherry-pick from their collections with one-time suitcase fillers. I think the fact that he is fluent in the Japanese language helps his business to prosper, but it's also entertaining for me that Guy, and my Japanese wife, Haruko, choose the eastern tongue as their preferred mode of communication...jabba, jabba Tokyo...where I capture the odd word here and there as I strive to decipher their chatter.

Who knows what they communicated, but perhaps their lively repartee suggests that H. will run off to the south of France to take over a company more viable and stimulating than my old nursery...and , if so, please take the dogs and kids so I can finally find peace and quiet in lonely solitude, just kidding.

Munn Nursery

Carl Munn and Talon Buchholz

At the break of dawn I found the two Frogs pacing in their plebian Forest Grove, Oregon motel lobby, each holding their third cup of coffee and wondering if I would indeed show up as promised. Thankfully G. recognized me, since he remained the same but I aged at least 20 years since we last met about 5 years ago. Our plan was to visit Munn Nursery located northeast of Salem, OR, a large property with rich Willamette Valley soil where his maples gleamed with health. Carl Munn began his nursery near the same time that I began mine, but his contains a preponderance of very large trees, and indeed they were loading huge 6” caliper maples into the back of a semi-trailer, a skill where his crew showed their experience.

Acer shirasawanum 'Moonrise'

Munn was the discoverer and introducer of Acer shirasawanum 'Moonrise', a seedling offspring from A.s. 'Aureum', and I knew my French friends would enjoy seeing the largest specimens on the planet. Carl observed 'Moonrise' for quite a few years before naming and propagating it, as all good nurserymen should do, which begs the question: is it superior to, or distinct enough from the somewhat similar A.s. 'Autumn Moon'? In my nursery I definitely give the nod to 'Moonrise' as the foliage withstands the summer heat a little better. Also the red new shoots of 'Moonrise' are impressive in contrast with the older yellow-green foliage. Nevertheless, Buchholz Nursery still produces and sells quite a number of 'Autumn Moon'. In any case both have great cultivar names since the shirasawanum species is commonly known as the “full-moon maple;” but then, so too is Acer japonicum. The shirasawanum species and its cultivars are compatible to propagate by grafting onto Acer palmatum, and the typical gardener would probably consider it splitting hairs to have two or three separate species. Botanists will gleefully point out the differences between palmatum and shirasawanum and japonicum, with trivia such as “shirasawanum seed rises above the foliage,” while palmatum and japonicum do not...well, except not always. The shirasawanum epithet honors the Japanese botanist Homi Shirasawa (1868-1947), and it is native to Honshu and Shikoku islands.

Acer shirasawanum 'Blue Moon'

Acer shirasawanum 'Blue Moon'

We observed another seedling selection from Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' – named 'Blue Moon' – but I guess I wasn't paying enough attention as to why it was named for the phenomena of two full moons appearing in the same month...which doesn't happen often, just “once in a blue moon.” It's not fair to judge this cultivar's worthiness based on just one observation in early May, but I admit that I don't get it. I found it to be a dull version of 'Aureum' and Munn admits that it will burn in full sun. Maybe at some point Carl can explain the attributes that I couldn't see. Though I raise and name many seedling maples – some would say too many – for some reason I have never harvested seed from 'Aureum'.

Acer palmatum 'Beni Chaparrito'

Acer palmatum 'Beni Chaparrito'

A new palmatum for me was 'Beni Chaparrito', where the beni is Japanese for “red” and chaparrito is Spanish for “short, stubby or little guy.” If I heard correctly chaparrito is a Hispanic nickname for Carl, as he is short, but of course combining the two languages for a cultivar name is not hoyle. Actually I find the name amusing, and who really cares about those damn nomenclatural rules? As you can see from my photo above, 'Beni Chaparrito' forms a dense round canopy with delicious purple-red foliage. I don't know how it holds its color in late summer, but since Carl gave me a start I guess I'll eventually find out.

Acer japonicum 'Ed Wood #2'

I was surprised when I saw an Acer japonicum cultivar with large lax green leaves because the label read 'Ed Wood #2'. I know of a large Oregon shade-tree nursery that grows it also; I used to but I don't have it anymore. Years ago the late Edsal Wood of Oregon gave me two A. japonicum seedlings, and if I remember correctly 'Aconitifolium' was the parent tree. To keep track of them I named them 'Ed Wood #1' and 'Ed Wood #2', but neither were intended to be final cultivar names. #1 displayed a low spreading habit, somewhat similar to A.j. 'Green Cascade', but with larger leaves that were more deeply dissected than 'Green Cascade'. It was eventually named 'Ao jutan' which is Japanese for “green and spreading.” I named it based on Japanese intern involvement, but my (now) Japanese wife says the name is too “industrial” – as she puts it – too descriptive in a way that no Japanese person would come up with. Well, too late now, and where were you when I needed you? As for the 'Ed Wood #2', apparently I propagated from the original seedling before selling it, but as I said I no longer have any left at the nursery. I have since learned my lesson, to never propagate or give away a plant with a temporary name, but consequently I have become known as a prolific cultivar namer.

Acer palmatum 'Keiser'

We walked past a lofty specimen of Acer palmatum 'Keiser', another acquaintance from the past. I originally collected it as 'Keiser Wenatchee', implying that it was somehow connected with the town of Wenatchee,* a city located in north-central Washington state along the Columbia River and mostly famous for its apple orchards. Thankfully Carl skips the Wenatchee part of the name. I discontinued it because for me it always produced reverted growth among the otherwise red-linearlobum foliage. As I gazed at Munn's canopy – his tree, that is – and also with his other specimens, I could detect absolutely no reversions. Still, I'll never grow it again because cultivars such as 'Hubbs Red Willow' and 'Pung Kil' have never reverted.

*Named for the nearby Wenatchi Indian tribe, a word meaning “river which comes from canyons” or “robe of the rainbow.”

Acer palmatum 'Beni komachi'

Munn continues to produce Acer palmatum 'Beni komachi', but that too I discontinued because it was prone to attacks of mildew besides reversion problems. At its best it is attractive with bright red new growth with small crinkled foliage. The name means “beautiful red-haired little girl” which is odd since no Japanese girl has ever been born with red hair. My Tokyo wife however, once dyed her hair red when she was the bongo player in a high-school rock band. When her father saw her ridiculous red mop for the first time he said, “Oh good, now I know that you'll never have boys interested in you.”

Acer palmatum 'Ven's Broom'

Another cultivar from the past is Acer palmatum 'Ven's Broom', a vase-shaped compact tree with small green leaves. It originated as a witch's broom but is larger growing than most brooms. I don't grow it anymore because I never cared for the name, and besides it was difficult to sell. As you can see the May leaves display pretty red margins, but I don't remember it ever looking as nice here.

Acer palmatum 'Shekaty'

Acer palmatum 'Livy'

My first encounter with two Acer palmatums, 'Shekaty' and 'Livy' caused my brain to tire as I tried to mentally process more red-foliage uprights. Both looked good with 'Livy' being billed as a dwarf from Canada. Once again Carl gave me a start which I'll gladly study throughout the season, but I have no idea about the origin of its name. 'Shekaty' is an odd name and it is sometimes listed as 'She Katy'. It was apparently named for Katy, the owner of Egion Nursery, and it is described by Esveld Nursery of Boskoop as needing a “partly shaded place” with “moderately water,” and also described as “columnar.”

Acer palmatum 'Flaming Queen'

Acer palmatum 'Winter Orange'

I can find no information about Acer palmatum 'Flaming Queen' but it was quite attractive inside Carl's greenhouse. It will be easy to market to the LGBTQ community no doubt. Another “flame,” also new to me, is Acer palmatum 'Orange Flame'. The leaves were orange, but I suppose for a maple to be “flaming,” one must see its autumn color. Acer palmatum 'Winter Orange' displayed a bit of May orange on the tiny leaves, but the implication is that the winter stems will also color to orange. This was my first encounter with all three of these cultivars so I'm not qualified to judge, but if I could choose just one to grow it would probably be 'Flaming Queen'.

Acer palmatum 'Green Star'

Acer palmatum 'Green Star' impressed me with its foliage, but similar cultivars are usually difficult to sell. Red Star ('Beni hoshi') in Japanese) and 'Ruby Stars' are names much easier to market. But one could do worse than have a 'Green Star' tree in your yard, and check out to see an impressive photo. According to mrmaple, “'Green Star' is an excellent and beautiful Japanese maple by the late Dick Wolff of Red Maple Nursery in Pennsylvania.” Vertrees/Gregory in Japanese Maples says, “This large, vigorous cultivar is very similar in leaf, habit, and size to the ever-popular 'O sakazuki' but, instead of turning scarlet, it turns a brilliant orange in the fall.”

Acer palmatum 'Beni ukigumo'

Acer palmatum 'Beni ukigumo' was an interesting discovery, but Munn had only a couple of small pots to see. I suppose the Japanese name would mean “red floating clouds,” but I don't know who named it or if the variegation is stable, but it just demonstrates the wild range of palmatum cultivars that continue to be selected and named.

Acer longipes 'Gold Coin'

Acer longipes 'Gold Coin' is a golden-leafed form of the Chinese subspecies amplum, and it was introduced in 1985 by Esveld Nursery of Boskoop, The Netherlands. I have known about it for years, so I was particularly pleased when Carl Munn handed a pot to me. The specific name longipes refers to the leaf's elongated, pointed lobes, and it was first introduced by E.H. “Chinese” Wilson in 1908. The amplum subspecies was discovered in the Zhejiang province in 1901, and the epithet is from Latin amplus for “numerous.” Since it produces relatively few flowers, I don't know what is so “ample” about it, but the seed develops in large panicles so maybe that explains the name. 'Gold Coin' is a catchy cultivar name, except it has also been used for a Cornus kousa and a Pinus sylvestris.

Acer palmatum 'Gold Reticulated'

Acer palmatum 'Kokyu'

Acer palmatum 'Hanezu'

I saw a lot of other maples that were new (to me), including Acer palmatums 'Miyagino', 'Kyra', 'Gold reticulated', 'Kokyu' and 'Hanezu', so I can't verify if their identity is valid or if they are spelled correctly. That's always the problem with a maple – or any plant – collection. We aficionados do our best but mistakes are bound to happen...and especially if thoughtless employees are involved.

Acer palmatum 'Shiryu no tsume'

I was happy to bring Guy Maillot, one of the premier maple growers of Europe, on a morning drive through the bucolic Willamette Valley to a premier Oregon maple collector and grower. Carl Munn certainly must be proud of his long career and accomplishments, but still he humbly accepted Maillot's cautious correction of the name of the pretty cultivar 'Shiryu no tsume'. I have seen it before described as 'Ushi no tsumi', a slow-growing bushy tree with three-lobed green leaves on thin red stems. Maillot probably collected it in Japan and since he is fluent in Japanese we'll defer to him.

It was Guy Maillot who once told me that Europeans consider Oregon, USA, to be the “maple capital of the world,” and upon reflection I suppose it is. Not only for the “Japanese” maples, but also for the thousands of Acer species and hybrids that are produced every year. Oregon contains nurseries with mile-long rows of Acer as well as the little Mom & Pop companies that strive to fit in. Buchholz and Munn Nurseries are somewhere in-between, now run by two old geezers who fret about the labor supply and wonder who will have the brains and commitment to succeed us. I suspect that we both harbor the realization that no one will.

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