Friday, July 26, 2019

For Sale or Not For Sale

Acer palmatum 'Yuki yama'

It's a monumental task to compile our two sales lists: 1) Liners Ready Now and 2) the Specimen List, with the latter ranging from pots at one-gallon size up to a huge wood box of Stewartia pseudocamellia at $24,000. The liner list (LRN) is far more simple, with plants constantly appearing on the list...which often sell out quickly. The specimen availability is released at one time in July, whenever Seth and I can finish the task. I walk up and down the rows and count and price, and try to keep a balance between what we can part with and what we need to keep for future propagation needs. For example I could sell a thousand Acer palmatum 'Yuki yama' in the size of my one largest specimen, but then I would be cutting my own throat for future production if I was to sell it.

No way!                            Me neither

I'm a true capitalist and I love money, but the sales department is always fighting with the production department. Since I head both departments, neither gets their entire way. Micromanaging the balance is my responsibility, as no other employee is capable or wants the job. The notion of “incapable” might sound demeaning, but one cannot be capable if one does not wholeheartedly want to do said task, and they don't, believe me.

Acer japonicum 'Maiku nishiki'

Acer japonicum 'Maiku nishiki'

Acer japonicum 'Kujaku nishiki'

Let's look at what's not for sale, for there are some fantastic plants, and it's mostly that I need more time to build up my stock. I have one plant each of Acer japonicums 'Maiku nishiki' and 'Kujaku nishiki'. Originally I assumed that they were the same since kujaku is Japanese for “peacock” and maiku jaku means “dancing peacock,” and the latter is the Japanese name for what we Westerners call 'Aconitifolium'. Now that my stock is older it appears that 'Maiku nishiki' and 'Kujaku nishiki' are separate cultivars, but then sometimes variegation in a cultivar does not always look the same, with some trees being sparsely colored and others lustfully so.

Acer x 'Gossamer' 

Another maple that I won't part with yet is x 'Gossamer', a supposed hybrid between A. japonicum and A. palmatum f. dissectum. A. japonicum was the mother tree and that is quite obvious with the brilliant orange-to-red autumn color. According to “'Gossamer' was found as a chance seedling by one of our good friends, Billy Schwartz, under a large Acer japonicum at the original Red Maple Nursery in Lima, Pennsylvania.”

Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons' in July

Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons' in November

You can't have Acer palmatum 'Bloody Talons' either, but my original seedling discovery has fascinated me since it was tiny and its future looks very promising. Today in mid July, the leaves are an unusual olive-green with just a hint of red along the center of the downward-curling lobes, then they will turn absolutely bloody-red in autumn. We kicked around names for this seedling for a couple of days before office manager Eric hit the homerun. The mother tree for 'Bloody Talons' was Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost' which is famous for being a great source for new cultivars.

Acer oliverianum 'Hot Blonde'

Augustine Henry
Acer oliverianum 'Hot Blonde' should probably be listed as Acer x 'Hot Blonde' since it was “found by the brothers at Mr. Maple as a chance hybrid between Acer oliverianum and a golden Japanese maple.” The Nichols brothers from North Carolina was my source and thankfully they didn't patent it as they once considered. A. oliverianum is a central-Chinese species discovered by Augustine Henry and introduced in 1901 by E.H. Wilson while the latter toiled for Veitch Nursery. It was named in honor of the English botanist Daniel Oliver (1830-1916) who was Librarian of the Herbarium, RBG Kew from 1860-1890. In the greenhouse the foliage of 'Hot Blonde' is a light yellow with orange-peach new growth, then in autumn it will flame to brilliant red. Chatting with Tim Nichols about 'Hot Blonde', I expressed the worry that some women in the “new-order” squad might take offense at the name, but Tim dismissed the comment because it was named for brother Matt's wife who is a hot blonde, and “she's fine with the name.” I love the North Carolinians, or at least those from East Flat Rock, y'all.

Acer palmatum 'Red Whisper'

Acer palmatum 'Red Whisper' originated as a seedling from A.p. 'Fairy Hair' and the offspring is similar to its mother except for being a little more red. I've never propagated 'Red Whisper' because my one tree never puts on suitable new growth for scionwood, but it is named in case I try propagating with older scionwood, which I probably should by this summer; in any case keep your hands off of it in the meantime.

Cardiocrinum giganteum

You can't buy a Cardiocrinum giganteum which produced a bizarre fasciated flower stalk – we want to collect seed this fall to see if any of its offspring will replicate with fasciations. Probably they won't, and in fact our one plant may never do so again. A fasciation is a banded or bundled portion of growth, a deformity, which is believed to be caused by a hormonal imbalance. It can occur from random mutation or may be caused by insects or physical injury to the plant, but fortunately it doesn't spread to other plants. Some cultivars such as Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata' and Taxodium distichum 'Peve Minaret' regularly produce fasciations, at least at Buchholz Nursery. As you can see from the seed-head (above), the Cardiocrinum in question contained far more flowers than normal, but they were of smaller size. For us it takes about six years for a Cardiocrinum to germinate from seed until it reaches flowering size. When small they are grown in the greenhouse, and every year they are potted into a larger size. We move them outside under shade when they are ready to flower because the flower head seems to resent the heat and humidity of a daily-watered greenhouse and they will often rot. Cardiocrinum (from Greek for “heart lily”) is another one of our “crops,” but we all ooed and aahed to see the one plant freak out.

Poncirus trifoliata 'Snow Dragon'

I received my start of Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon' years ago from a California nursery and I have sold quite a few myself. In The Hiller Manual of Trees and Shrubs, back with the old 1st edition...and at least continuing until the 5th, Hillier goes with the generic name of Poncirus which is probably derived from Latin pomum fruit & citreum (or citron), from “Citrus tree.” In the Hillier's 8th edition (2014) we have somehow arrived at an improved classification, and today we are instructed that the Poncirus genus (in the Rutaceae family), is more accurately included in the Citrus genus (also in the Rutaceae family). The “Japanese bitter orange” flowers white, then evolves into the production of enticing little oranges, but which are impossible to eat. I was gifted two dwarf cultivars of P. trifoliata, 'Tiny Dragon' and 'Snow Dragon', with the former exhibiting diminutive green growth, and the latter with a similar dwarf habit, but also featuring variegated leaves and stems. The new treasures are from Japan I think, for the gifter, Rick Crowder of Hawksridge Nursery in North Carolina, is a frequent visitor to the eastern Islands. Our cutting propagation, unfortunately, is not very successful, so every visitor who wants to purchase my original stock plants must be turned away.

Stewartia monadelpha 'Fuji shidare'

One reason that Buchholz plants are not for sale is because they have not reached a profitable point on the price curve. I used to hide a dozen older Stewartia monadelpha 'Fuji shidare' at Flora Farm because I knew that visitors to the main nursery would want to order them and I would have to disappoint. I needed them for scionwood if I was to continue with the rare weeping cultivar at all. Sadly our graft takes are so poor that the small percentage that make it must be grown to a larger, more profitable size. A few female plants hounds are adept at sniffing out these back-corner treasures, and if happy and attractive they always seem able to wheedle a few plants out from under me. My original two plants came from A. Shibamichi in Japan, and I was successful to acquire them because my happy, attractive wife was able to charm the old geezer into sending them, plus other choice plants. Nothing is off limits if the right woman asks.

Picea engelmannii 'Snake' 

I can sell the bizarre Picea engelmannii 'Snake' with ease, but I refused to part with my few stock plants that remain. It is such a strange Dr. Seuss-like creature that I can understand why plantsmen are attracted to it, but it is a tuff cultivar to get into production. The long, arching “snake-branches” often contain only one suitable scion for reproduction, but if you cut that off the rest of the branch will cease and eventually die completely. No two specimens will look alike, and honestly, it is one of the ugliest trees we grow, like a pathetic Charlie Brown-Christmas tree. Again, I wish I owned some secret property where I could house that which is not for sale. I once toured with an arrogant nursery big-shot who condescendingly advised me that anything not for sale should be placed on one side of the nursery, and what was for sale should be on the other...because most of what he wanted was not on the sales list. He never did buy anything from me – even though I thought I had a wonderful for sale group of plants. He had no understanding or appreciation of the difficulty to manage a wholesale nursery/arboretum, and certainly he did not have the drive and intelligence to organize my nursery any better. And by the way, I have discarded a number of employees who fit into the same category. There's nothing more useless than employing a smart-pants, college-educated knuckle-head who proclaims: “If it was my nursery I would, or would not, do this or that.” When you ask the question: “Then what would you do?” you find that the simpleton never sufficiently developed an opinion that would resolve the matter.

Pleione alishan 'Mt. Fuji'
Pleione askia 'Cinnabar'
We grow about 50 species or cultivars of Pleione, the (relatively) hardy terrestrial or epiphytic orchid. The intention is to eventually offer all of them for sale, but for most we don't yet have sufficient stock. Most species will thrive outdoors in western Oregon (USDA zone 7, 0 F), but do prefer part-shade and protection from winter wet. They are often grown in containers in a greenhouse or cold frame, then brought indoors and put on the window seal to bloom. The photo of the attractive couple above was taken on March 24, their wedding date.

Gustave Dore - Les Oceanides (Les Naiades de la mer)

Pleione 'Riah Shan'
Pleione 'Irazu'
As I wrote a couple of years ago:
The name Pleione originates in Greek mythology, and as a star she was the mother of seven daughters known as the Pleiades. At the same time the Greeks knew Pleione as an Oceanid nymph, and naturally I am partial to her when I consider her depiction in a painting by French artist Gustave Dore. There are other possible origins to the name Pleione – all of them great stories – but her name is associated with grace, speed and elegance.

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa'

All right, one tree that is absolutely NOT for sale, but IS for sale, is perhaps the large Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa' which lines the main road into the nursery. No plantsman from America, Japan or Europe can report of one larger or more attractive. I admit that it would be a shame to move it – to sell it – as there is the possibility that it would succumb. It's better to leave it alone, so, it's not for sale...well, unless you buy the entire nursery, which is always for sale.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The "Titan Arum" Opens

The Northwest (USA) was abuzz this past week with the flowering of Amorphophallus titanum, the "Titan Arum," in nearby Vancouver, Washington. The event occurred at the Washington State University campus and thanks to news stations and social media it drew thousands of visitors. The Sumatran flower is the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, and there was no way that I was going to miss it.

To avoid the crowd I abandoned the nursery to its own devices and headed early to Vancouver where I picked up my Grandfather Gerald, as I knew he would also want to witness it. The flower only lasts for 24-48 hours before collapsing, and as you read this it has probably turned to mush. There weren't many people around at the early hour, but the drawback was that the spathe was not fully open, and also that it's "rotting corpse" smell was not evident, when I actually looked forward to getting a whiff.

Amorphophallus titanum

The Amorphophallus name is from Greek amorphos meaning "without form, misshapen" and phallos for "phallus," and that for obvious reason. The creature is native to Sumatra and western Java where it grows in rainforest clearings on limestone hills. The natives call it bunga bangkai where bunga means "flower" and bangkai means "corpse" or "cadaver." It reeks  to attract carrion-eating beetles and flesh flies that accomplish pollination. When in flower the tip of the spadix heats up to human body temperature, while the spathe's – the petal-looking part – color of burgundy-red adds to the illusion of a piece of meat.

Both the male and female flowers grow in the same inflorescence, with the female opening first and then followed by the male flowers a day or two later, nature's trick to keep from self-pollination.

Odoardo Beccari

Amorphophallus was first scientifically described in 1878 by Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari (whose first name sounds a little fishy). It first flowered in cultivation at RBG Kew, London, in 1889. It is in the Araceae family, as is Calla palustris and Zantedeschia aethiopica which are commonly known as "calla lily."

David Attenborough

The British naturalist David Attenborough is considered the father of the modern nature documentary. While narrating the BBC series The Private Life of Plants, he avoided using the scientific name of Amorphophallus as he thought it was too "improper" to say on TV. What a dick.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Growing Plants for the Heck of It

One of the best perks of a horticultural operation such as mine is that I can collect plants on a whim and write them off as a business expense. I grow hundreds of bushes just for the heck of it, when I know full well that I'll never propagate or sell any of them. In fact, that is the whole point of Buchholz Nursery: to grow and sell some plants as an excuse to be around others. Buchholz Nursery and the Flora Wonder Arboretum is an incredible place – and I say so without boasting – because while I am not so great, the plants certainly are.

I hate walnut trees. I detest the acrid fruits, and the sloppy smelly trees are a big mistake planted next to a house. I know from experience, and the five or six trees on the Buchholz Nursery property were quickly dispatched. You see, I grew up with walnuts as a youth in Forest Grove, and my mother was always crabby when we tracked the slimy leaves and rotten nut hulls into the house. And what teenager needs another payless job raking walnut leaves? I considered it a blessing when they all blew over in our famous Columbus Day Storm of 1962, when winds exceeded 100 miles per hour.

Platycarya strobilacea catkins in May

Platycarya strobilacea nuts in July

Platycarya strobilacea nut in October

In spite of these harsh walnut ruminations, I have absolutely fallen in love with a member of the Juglandaceae family, Platycarya strobilacea, a tree native to eastern Asian in China, Korea and Japan. It is a medium-sized deciduous tree with green pinnate leaves which turn to yellow in autumn. I first encountered it last fall in North Carolina at the Charles Keith Arboretum, and I was particularly attracted to the fruits which resembled conifer-like cones. I went online and found a company that was selling them, and bought three trees for a reasonable price. This spring erect male catkins developed, and they were curious little guys. Now light green nuts are appearing which I know will turn to a mahogany color by autumn. I don't understand a thing about walnut sex, but the fruits exist at the same location as the pollen flowers, and in one case a female cone has enveloped itself around the male flower. One wonders what goes on at night when I'm not there to watch. I've always stayed away from drugs to help manage mountain sickness when I have been in the Himalaya, but one doctor and another trek member used carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, and the diuretic properties can be found in Platycarya. Commonly called the "Broad Nut," an extract of the flower can be used as an active ingredient in anti-aging cosmetics as well. More about Platycarya can be found on the Flora Wonder Blog, A Carolina Wrap-up from November 22, 2013, but finish this blog first.

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'

Ensete is the "Abyssinian Banana" and is so-called because it is native to Abyssinia, or what we refer to today as Ethiopia. I have seen it listed as Ensete ventricosum and as Ensete maurelii and as Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii'.* It really doesn't matter to me – and one of the very few times for that – because it is just a fun red banana that I'll never grow to sell. Ensete is only hardy to 20 degrees F and so it is hauled into our no-profit house, GH20 for the winter. Last winter we had a heater malfunction and both of my Ensete specimens died, so I replaced them with two new ones this spring. I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that I bought them for cheap at the local box store, where a 3-4 foot plant had a Wow! $17.99 sticker on the pot. I replanted them immediately into a larger pot and grow them in full sun; and stand back for you can almost watch the movement of growth. Ensete can be grown from seed but they usually only flower in hot tropical regions. Mine were propagated via tissue culture and originated from a large bankrupt wholesale nursery with locations in Oregon and California, a company that doesn't seem to be bothered by failure. Bankruptcy as a business strategy absolutely irks me, because in the case of H. Nursery they never go away; they screw their suppliers and keep on going. Maybe my heater in GH20 failed last winter because I was cursed for buying from a box store supplier.

*The maurelii name honors J. Maurel who drew the attention of French authorities in Ethiopia to the red bananas. In 1853 the British Consul in Ethiopia sent seed to Kew Gardens, and mentioned the local name "ansette," but before, in 1769 the Scottish traveler James Bruce wrote that its local name was "ensete." The English so love Ensete that it gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Sarracenia wrigleyana 'Scarlet Belle'

Sarracenia wrigleyana 'Scarlet Belle'

I have also squandered company resources on carnivorous plants. Maybe someday I will propagate and sell, but that was never my intention when I acquired them. I originally bought a few for my daughter's birthday, as I imagined she would be intrigued by them. A few years ago she is on record as saying "I hate boys. They're like bugs: you just can't get rid of them." I thought Harumi would enjoy watching plants that devoured bugs, and I was right. Occasionally a yellow-jacket will be lured into her pitcher plant, a Sarracenia wrigleyana cultivar named 'Scarlet Belle'. He doesn't perish without a struggle though, however futile, as part of his head poked through the side in an attempt to eat his way out. As you look at the pitcher traps sideways with the sun as back-light, you can see a black mess of dead critters, with a few buzzing bugs that have yet to die.

Sarracenia flava

Our Sarracenia hobby has even extended to the nursery, where we keep a few bog tubs by the office. The myth that they are difficult to grow and require a terrarium is nonsense. They thrive in full sun and you only need to keep them wet. They will not be happy, however, unless your water source is free of excessive minerals. They catch insects by producing nectar along their pitcher rims. The bugs try to get more by going further into the pitcher, and oops! they lose their footing and fall in. Insects cannot climb out because the inside walls are too smooth, and they cannot fly out because there is no airlift. They are trapped! and die from heat or dehydration while the evil carnivore absorbs nutrients from the bug-mush.

Sarracenias are easy to acquire, for we have Sarracenia Northwest in Oregon, a company that Harumi thoroughly enjoys to visit. At age eleven now, she has softened somewhat, and allows that some boys are ok...just not the annoying ones, and she is known to spend an hour in front of the mirror to make sure her clothes and hair are proper before heading to school. Some mornings are quite tense when things don't work right, but I escape to the nursery in that event.

Rhododendron keiskei 'Yaku Fairy'

Rhododendron keiskei 'Yaku Fairy'

I have acquired a classy – I won't say world-class – Rhododendron collection, partly through my Rhododendron Species Garden membership, and largely through friend and plantsman Reuben Hatch who used to grow them for a living. His nursery property in Vancouver, Washington was undergoing development and I rescued many of his prized specimens. For example I have a large R. keiskei 'Yaku Fairy' from his garden, and Rhododendron aficionados would be hard-pressed to find one larger. I do propagate from that plant and sell liners, but most of Hatch's Rhododendrons are simply here to look pretty. It's nice to have plants this way: they exist for my pleasure only and do not become crops to worry about. Many times I wish that my plant involvement was not commercial, that my living was not based upon crop outcome. In fact, I sometimes dream of going cold-turkey and cultivate nothing. I would live in a condominium in the city and dotter daily to the nearest park and swat the dandelions with my cane. Or I would live in a mountain shack, surrounded by native flora only, and I wouldn't care if ice storms, record heat or cold came my way. However, I'm not there yet. I came to work early this hot Sunday to make sure my plants are all right, that the watering crew actually showed up...which they did. I guess I am not really ready for retirement just yet, but I am tired.

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum

Rhododendron campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum

The Rhododendrons I like the best are usually straight species, not the hybrids that are bred to impress with large gaudy flowers. My preference is for plants that intrigue me regardless of their flowers, in fact sometimes the blossoms are a distraction from the plant's beauty. One of my favorites is R. campanulatum ssp. aeruginosum. It is a species occurring in the Himalayan alpine regions of northern India, Bhutan and Nepal, and is recorded at 12,000 to 14,500 feet. No photograph can adequately capture the beauty of this species. On a spring day you gasp when you encounter the blue foliage, as it has something to do with the light on that particular day. The flowers are bell-shaped, hence the specific name campanulatum, while the subspecies aeruginosum refers to the Latin word for "rusty," the color of the leaf's underside. This species is practically perfect in the garden. It is slow-growing and compact and truly unique for the blue mouse-ear type leaves.

Rhododendron daphnoides

Rhododendron daphnoides

Rhododendron daphnoides is another slow-growing plant with small glossy-green leaves. I actually do like its blossoms, whatever that color would be, and the swallow-tails love them too. I have an old 10' tall by 10' wide specimen that I can see out the office window. Something bothered me about it though, it was a big green blob that stood in the way. One winter we "treed it up," which means to make more tree-like by pruning out much of the lower portions and exposing the trunk. That did the trick, and I am much happier with it now. Apparently there is still no consensus among Rhododendron experts whether daphnoides is a species or a hybrid. It was "developed" by T. Methven and Sons in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1868.

Chinese market products

Other "useless" plants, from an economic point of view, is my collection of Pleione species and hybrids. I have never sold one in twenty years, but at least I have had the pleasure to give a few away. My favorite species is probably P. forrestii, a gorgeous yellow orchid from Yunnan, China, which is not so easy to cultivate. I have twice had it for a year or two but couldn't keep it alive. The species is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and I know why. I was plant hunting in Yunnan in the 1980's, and our group was resting on a grassy hillside at 8,000-10,000 feet elevation. Over the hill came a loud group of Hans with their sacks full of Pleione bulbs. I don't know for sure if they were grubbing the forrestii species, or if they were gathering another, but the Chinese can be quite ruthless with their native flora. As you would guess, Scottish plant explorer George Forrest was in our exact area about one hundred years prior, so it was probably P. forrestii that they were gathering. The bulbs are harvested in summer and autumn and they are boiled until they are cooked to the core, then are dried for future use. They are not used for food, even though sweet and slightly pungent in flavor, but rather medicinally to clear away heat to expel toxic substances and to relieve inflammation. Pleione is used for treating carbuncles and cellulitis, malignant tumors, scrofula and subcutaneous nodules, and poor Biblical Job could have used it to treat his sores and boils. And, if you combine Pleione with ground beetle, pangolin scale and mole cricket, the compound softens the liver and spleen and aids in the recovery of the hepatic functions. One of the most fascinating experiences about rural China – at least it was in the 1980's – was visiting the markets, where a whole lot of medicine was going on. I have a beautiful photograph of some P. forrestii blooms in a hanging basket, but unfortunately they are still in slide form and I haven't been energetic enough to convert it to digital. Finish this blog first, then go online to see the rich beauty of P. forrestii.

Pleione 'Alishan'
Pleione 'Ridgeway'

Pleione 'Versailles'

Pleione hybrids are generally more easy to cultivate, and in England they are known as "windowsill orchids." Bring a pot into the house in February, and by March you will be delighted with the pretty flowers. I particularly like the cultivars 'Alishan', 'Versailles' and 'Ridgeway', but a photo of the sweet white purity of 'Claire' is also stuck in a shoebox of slides like P. forrestii.

Wollemia nobilis

Wollemia nobilis trunk (left), "polar cap" (right)

Wollemia nobilis male flower (left), female flower (right)

Seven or eight years ago I acquired a Wollemia nobilis* and I keep it in GH20 because I doubt that it would survive a harsh Oregon winter. Wollemia was recently discovered (in 1994) in the Wollemi National Park in a steep canyon just 100 miles northwest of Sydney, Australia. Previously it was only known through the fossil record. This evergreen conifer is not a true pine, but rather a member of the Araucariaceae family. A small population exists in a secret location as it would probably be fatal if the public knew where it was. It is an odd tree with black bubbly bark and a "polar cap" (white sap) on the terminal bud. Wollemi will root, but not to great success, and just as well as it is only hardy to about 20 degrees F. My tree survived in GH20 even when the heater failed and temperatures dipped to about 10 degrees F for a short period. Ultimately it will hit the greenhouse roof and I will look to sell it, and maybe start again with a little tree...or maybe not.

*The species name nobilis honors David Noble who discovered the grove. Wollemi is an Aboriginal word that means "look around you, keep your eyes open and watch out."

With my no-profit tree collection I behave like a wealthy aristocrat. Thanks to Buchholz Nursery and its customers for funding my folly.

"Oh Talon, I love what you're doing."