Thursday, June 27, 2019

End of June Swoon

Swallowtail butterfly on Rhododendron daphnoides

Everybody knows, “April showers bring May flowers,” and I remember both Grandmothers saying so when I was about five or six. I've heard the saying dozens of times, and even the weather lady spouts it coyly as if she invented the meteorological observation herself. May is long gone and most blossoms have petered out. I look out the office window at Rhododendron daphnoides and see a few lavender-purple blossoms, but mostly I see hundreds of withered brown smudges on the thick 8' tall and wide bush. It was embarrassing in a recent blog that I identified a butterfly on the R. daphnoides flower as a Monarch, when in fact it was a Swallowtail. I know that, after all I've been to the Monarch's migrational grounds in Mexico, and I hope my brain lapses are not going to increase.

Roscoea beesiana

A month ago we nearly hit 100 F – a record for the date in Oregon – and that cooked the crap out of the flowers of Iris, Cardiocrinum and most Rhododendrons. We're in an End-of-June swoon, what with chicken, beer and the Fourth of July just around the corner, but there are still some wonderful blossoms to be seen. Roscoea x beesiana is growing lustfully in our old basketball court and dozens of creamy yellow-white flowers rise above the dark-green foliage. This herbaceous perennial is a possible hybrid of R. auriculata (from the Himalaya) and R. cautleyoides (from Yunnan and Sichuan, China), allegedly developed by the English plant nursery, Bees Ltd., but there is no positive evidence that Bees performed the cross. Anyway the genus is in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and was named for William Roscoe (1753-1831) who founded the Liverpool Botanic Garden. Even though the x beesiana name is horticulturally invalid – being Latin, coined after 1958 – nevertheless it received the Award of Garden Merit by the RHS in 2011. Roscoea flowers, to the novice, would appear to be like a cross between an Iris and an orchid and it's hardy to USDA zone 6 (-10 F).

Lilium formosanum var. pricei

The Roscoea flowers are far more demure than a nearby specimen of Lilium formosanum var. pricei, the “Taiwan lily.” The lily features cream-white trumpet flowers with brownish-red outside stripes, which kind of remind me of Rhododendron dalhousiae var. rhabdotum which I saw earlier in the conservatory at the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden, and I wonder if those linear markings serve some purpose, as in an aid to pollination. I don't know how var. pricei differs from the type because it is the only L. formosanum that I've ever grown. In any case the blossoms are highly fragrant – maybe so much so that they're overpowering when brought into the home.

Lilium regale

Lily box at the nursery

Actually many of my lilies are in flower now besides the L. formosanum, one being the impressive L. regale that E.H. Wilson collected over one hundred years ago in China. I have eight 4' x 5' boxes with hundreds of bulbs, most of them hybrids. Over the years when the crew weeds or cuts off the old foliage in autumn...well, let's just say there's no thought to the lilies' identity. Most labels went into the garbage – the sick reality of a plantsman with mindless employees. Oh well, my grandmothers didn't label their plants; they just enjoyed them for the pleasure they brought, but then they didn't try to make a living from them either.

Lilium nepalense

A final lily* that I'll mention is L. nepalense. It is native to lower Himalayan foothills and surrounding (non-hardy) regions, and that's why I have never grown it outdoors. Some would consider it temperamental and so do I. Furthermore we transplanted bulbs a few years ago, but very few sprouted; I don't know – maybe they were overwatered. It's a beauty though, with yellow-lime green petals with a significant deep purple-red throat. Interestingly the flowers are mostly without scent during the day, but are heavily scented after dark.

*Lilium is a Latin term that was derived from Greek “leirion,” and its root is one of the first name for a flower. The lily represents purity and the beauty of youth, or it can mean motherhood and fertility. Ancient alchemists considered it a “lunar” plant with feminine qualities, while in Traditional Chinese Medicine many varieties of Lilium are said to produce a cooling and soothing effect on the body.

Hemerocallis 'Kwanso'

Hemerocallis 'Kwanso'

“Daylilies” are not in the Lilium genus; they are Hemerocallis in the Asphodelaceae family, and the name is from Greek hemera for “day” and kalos for “beautiful.” Generally I don't care for them – there are thousands of cultivars – but I acknowledge their toughness and ease to grow. The genus is native to Asia, however the species fulva (the orange or tawny daylily) can be found along roadsides in the United States and is considered invasive. I do have one cultivar, 'Kwanso', which features interesting variegated leaves but I don't care for its brownish-orange flowers, besides it is known to revert to just green leaves. The Gardener's Chronicle in 1867 says that it was introduced by von Siebold under the name Hemerocallis Kwanso flore-pleno. If that is true, then my Japanese wife suggests that Siebold botched the spelling, as there is no “w” in the Japanese language.

Aquilegia longiflora

Aquilegia longiflora (or longissima) remains my favorite “Columbine.” Its butter-yellow flowers feature extremely long (over 10cm), slender spurs and the lucky hawkmoths that jump on them have tongues with lengths from 9-14 cm long. The rare perennial is native to northern Mexico, Texas and Arizona* and is found in oak-pine woodlands in shaded canyons. I keep my one plant in the greenhouse where it has faithfully flowered for over 20 years, as I'm not sure of its hardiness outside.

*From the Big Bend region of west Texas and in the far south of Arizona on the Baboquivari Mountains.

Leucothoe keiskei

Leucothoe keiskei

Keisuke Ito
Leucothoe keiskei is a wonderful species but beware of L.k. 'Royal Ruby', especially if you purchase the latter from a long-time but dubious mail-order nursery from Oregon. 'Royal Ruby' may be a hybrid – I don't know – but it has larger and more green leaves than the true L. keiskei. With the specific epithet of keiskei you know that it is a Japanese native, the same with Rhododendron keiskei, and the name honors Keisuke Ito, the Japanese physician and botanist who studied the Japanese flora and fauna with Phillip von Siebold. He put his doctor skills to good use by developing a vaccination against small pox, then went on to become professor at the University of Tokyo in 1881. “Ito” is the name used as the author when citing a botanical name, and he is commonly referred to as the Father of modern Japanese botany. Concerning the growing of L. keiskei, I have learned (from failure) to site it carefully: in moist but well-drained soil, and in Oregon PM shade is absolutely necessary. It's urn-shaped pale-white flowers are evident today, but for me the rich mahogany-colored winter (evergreen) foliage is the main appeal.

Inula royleana

Inula royleana is an herbaceous perennial in the daisy family. Even when not in flower it is impressive for its huge green leaves, then all the better when the golden-orange flowers rise above the foliage. I knew nothing about the genus until I encountered in the Himalayan foothills about 25 years ago at 9-10,000' altitude, then when back in Delhi I bought a copy of The Flowers of the Himalaya and could identify what I had seen. We used to have a vegetable garden in the back yard and I placed an Inula at the edge. Since we don't garden there anymore, the daisy was left with no irrigation for the past 12 years. My one plant self-seeded and now I have 5 or 6 vigorous, healthy plants. Its flowers are hermaphrodite (having both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees, flies and itself, so the plant is self fertile. Don't mess with it though, because it – I don't know what part – is used as a disinfectant and insecticide. The name is derived from Latin Enula campana meaning “elecampane” + campana “of the field.”

Inula ensifolia

Inula ensifolia is far more dwarf than royleana and it is actually smothered with blossoms, though much smaller. It is commonly called the “Swordleaf Inula” due to the narrowly pointed leaves, and it is native to Europe and Asia. My one plant hugs a large rock where it stays neatly put, and my only worry is that the crew might mistake it for a weed before it flowers and spray it out – they have done that with other things (in spite of the label in front). Every employee walks past it in the morning and evening, but apparently thoughts of drudgery overwhelm them in the AM, while thoughts of happy liberation engulf them at quitting time. I doubt if any employee has walked the ten steps over to it when it flowers to check out its identity.

Cotinus coggygria 'Daydream'

We no longer produce Cotinus cultivars, due to a lack of demand really, but nevertheless I'm happy with a few specimens in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. I had forgotten about C. coggygria 'Daydream' that a few years ago I bought 20 of the patented cultivar – meaning that I can't propagate it – and that I sold 19 and kept one for the collection. I noticed on my drive to the house how brilliant its “smoke” flowers were, glowing in the evening light, as this was the first year that it has looked so good. But let's face it: I would have given the thumbs-down to the patent and I don't think the discoverer has garnered much income from it. As I drive into town, just past the Hispanic grade school, is a seedling Cotinus that I have noticed for years that is quite similar to the 'Daydream'. I won't belabor my aversion to patented plants – I've done that enough before – but I concede that 'Daydream' was given a catchy name. Probably most of you don't know that Cotinus is in the Anacardiaceae family, which I didn't know either until I just looked it up. The generic name is from Greek kotinus meaning “olive,” and the specific epithet comes from Greek kokkugia meaning “smoke tree.” Some Cotinus cultivars are much more purple than 'Daydream' however. The genus is native to southern Europe and Asia, and if you're in Beijing, China in October-November you can see it ablaze with autumn color along the Great Wall.

Pelargonium endlicherianum

Our Pelargonium endlicherianum is delightfully blooming at this time, and thanks to office manager Eric for the excellent photo. Actually Eric is like me: we are both mediocre photographers...but we are surrounded by great things. Pelargonium is commonly known as a geranium*, but botanically it's not, although both genera are in the Geraniaceae family. Another common name for P. is “storksbills,” and the generic name is derived from the Greek pelargos for “stork” because the seed head looks like a stork's bill. Hey, wait a minute – Eric collected seed from our one plant last fall...whatever happened to that project?

*Geranium was named after a crane, from Latin gerania or geranos.

Kniphofia thompsonii 'Triploid Form'

Kniphofia thompsonii var. snowdenii

I grow both Kniphofia thompsonii 'Triploid Form' and K.t. var. snowdenii. Both were given to me by Far Reaches Nursery in Washington state (if I remember correctly). Anyway, check out their website and absolutely buy something from them – you won't be sorry. As they look alike, and I received them at different times, I wonder if they are one and the same. I describe the 'Triploid Form' as a cultivar, but of course it is not and it's just a way to document it into the collection. On the Buchholz Nursery website I describe it as: “A perennial with a spreading form. Long narrow grass-like leaves are bright green. In late summer flower spikes produce beautiful orange-red flower tubes. Hummingbirds will not miss them!” Instead of “orange-red” I probably should have described them as pink-orange?

Eucryphia lucida 'Ballerina'

Hmm...what else is blooming now? Actually quite a lot, but I'll finish with Eucryphia lucida 'Ballerina'. First of all I admit that she's a touchy bitch to grow, just like it is raising my teenage daughter...who is a career ballerina. But, the beauty of both overwhelms me, with thanks to my wife's genes for the latter. A British Nursery's website,, describes 'Ballerina' as a “frost hardy, columnar, densely branched, evergreen tree with oval, glossy, dark green leaves and, in summer, fragrant, saucer-shaped, pale pink flowers with crimson eyes.” Wow! I know that I often over-whrite myself, me and I etc., but I've never encountered a plant description with shootgardening's plethora of comma's and adjectives, but, every, one, of, them, is, spot...on.

Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion'

The above account lists probably only a couple of percent of what is now flowering in the collection, but then I count “flowering” as parts which now exist and which will continue to develop. Flowers are fascinating...things: they're a “mixture” of structural functions to procreate as well as possessing the ability to fascinate.


The word “flower” is an English name for a blossoming plant which is derived from Old French, that from Latin flos. We can have fun with the various names for “flower,” for example:
1) Floortje in Dutch.
2) Fleur or Florette in French.
3) Flora or Fiorella in Italian.
...Oh, “Fiorella,” my favorite...
or maybe not, I'm torn:
How about SSSpanish with Flora, Florina and Florinda?
No, I still choose Fiorella.

I think you'd better stick with Flora, Talon.”

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