From a mysterious source I received scions of Picea farreri, a China/upper Burma species named for the eccentric English plant explorer and author Reginald Farrer (1880-1920). I don't know if I'll be around long enough to plant the spruce out at landscape size, and besides it is only hardy to USDA zone 8, but I'm happy to have it especially since its conservation status is Endangered. It is well-described in the Grimshaw and Bayton book New Trees – Recent Introductions to Cultivation which was commissioned by the International Dendrological Society – yes, I am a member – and produced by...The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew 2009. While I have had this book for ten years already, and have met the personable Mr. Grimshaw a couple of times at Maple Society gatherings, I overlooked – rather underlooked – this mild-hardiness spruce named for the effusive plant author whose writings I can barely slog through.
The New Trees authors (whom I'll refer to as Grim-Bay) go to some length to explain what is a "new" tree, and I read the defining parameters after first perusing the book's contents and wondering why trees such as Abies vejarii, Acer pseudosieboldianum, Juniperus pingii etc. were considered "new" when I have been growing them for almost 40 years. After studying the definition twice I'm still not certain about the rules. Apparently the book was commissioned as a supplement, a continuation of W.J. Bean's Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, and I find the majority of the book's inclusions to be well-written and interesting even if the trees in question have been in cultivation since I began my career.
|Osmanthus fragrans 'Conger Yellow'|
Unlike Bean who described trees and shrubs, New Trees does not include shrubs, so of course there needs to be a definition of tree versus shrub, and the Englishmen attempt to do so. Osmanthus is considered a tree in this work, while Rhododendron is not. That's curious because the Greek name for the latter is "rose tree." The second sentence in the Osmanthus section says "They are evergreen shrubs or small trees..." Osmanthus fragrans displays flowers ranging in color from white to yellow to orange, but unfortunately it is barely hardy in USDA zone 7. Someone named Hudson wrote in 2004 that "once encountered the fragrance is never forgotten; it is full of tropical overtones, especially on a warm evening." Dirr wrote in 1998, "Not to try the plant is to cheat one's garden."* The evergreen shrub...err, tree is native to the Himalayan foothills through southern China, and is known as guihua in Chinese and mokusei in Japanese. If the species flowers white in Japan it is deemed ginmokusei for "silver osmanthus" and if yellow it is kinmokusei for "gold osmanthus."
*A hundred years before Dirr and Hudson waxed poetic Reginald Farrer in 1909 wrote that O. fragrans is "a glimpse through the gate of Paradise."
|Sir Hans Sloane|
|Abies vejarii 'Mountain Blue'|
Anyway, let's discuss some of the trees that I do know. I used to grow a number of conifers from seed because I could produce various species cheaply, and there was actually a small market for them. One only had to be careful to not produce too many. Out of a group of Abies vejarii, a Mexican fir native to steep mountain slopes between 2,000-2,200 m, I selected the most blue seedling and named it 'Mountain Blue'. I sold the remainder of the seedlings – or dumped them, I don't remember – so I had only one specimen of 'Mountain Blue' left at the nursery. New Trees says there's a shapely tree at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle that "has not suffered any winter damage, and appears to be very well suited to the Seattle climate." I wasn't so fortunate because my 12-year-old tree (photo above) perished from a particularly soggy spring, and I had neglected to propagate from it, foolishly.
I saw Pinus yunnanensis in China where defoliated hillsides were replanted with it. It was a spectacle because it was apparently forbidden to cut them down, but the locals were allowed to limb them up for firewood. Thus they were bare-legged and skinny for the majority of their height, where the adage "no shoot, no root" would seem to apply. New Trees says "In North America it is found in West Coast arboreta and nurseries, but seems to be absent from collections further east." That probably is explained by its zone 9 hardiness rating, but I know that it can go colder because the photo above was taken at Dancing Oaks Nursery, Oregon, and they are in a zone 7 climate. Curiously Grim-Bay say, "It may not be the most spectacular pine in the world blah blah blah;" I agree that it is not the most spectacular pine in the world, but the Dancing Oaks specimen is spectacular nonetheless, and I was pleased that they shared seed with me. According to the Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014), Pinus yunnanensis used to be considered a variety of Pinus tabuliformis, and was collected by E.H. Wilson in southwest China. I grow Pinus tabuliformis 'Twisted Sister' which was gifted to me by Rich Eyre in Illinois, so who knows the real hardiness? Hillier states that P. yunnanensis has more long and slender drooping needles than P. tabuliformis.
I used to grow another Chinese pine, Pinus wangii, and my start came to me as var. wilsonii. New Trees lists it as the "Guangdong white pine," but there's no mention of E.H. Wilson being involved with it. New Trees says it's hardy to USDA zone 9-10, but it survived here at zone 7, maybe because of the hardy Pinus strobus rootstock. I remember that some (male) customers would chuckle at the name because Pinus is pronounced as peenus in Europe and wanger is a euphemism for penis in America...a double dose, if you will, as in a dick dick.
New Trees lists one of P. wangii's subspecies as kwangtungensis, but I always assumed they were separate species. My start of the latter came from the aforementioned Washington Park Arboretum – when no one was looking – and Grim-Bay mentions the early (1940) group of trees that were there grown from seed from northern Guangdong (OMG – dong – here we go again.) Years ago I looked up the province of Kwangtung (hence Pinus kwangtungensis) from my world atlas but it wasn't there. But then, neither was the Chinese capital Peking for it was changed to Beijing, and similarly Kwangtung was renamed Guangdong, a province in southeast China near Hong Kong. In any case the subspecies is very attractive, to me moreso than Pinus parviflora. Grim-Bay mentions the "vivid white stomatal bands," and they are complemented by the delicious – my account – blue-green upper sides. I am so taken with the pine that a 30-year-old specimen is planted at the entrance to Buchholz Nursery. It is well-behaved, and is only about 20' tall with a 12' wide canopy...with Pinus strobus as its rootstock.
Cupressus bakeri is the "Modoc cypress" or the "Siskiyou cypress," a conifer native to northern California and southern Oregon where it grows on volcanic or serpentine soils. I'm not sure why it is considered a "new" tree, other than the possibility that collections continue to be made. You can see it at the Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon and also at the Solberger conifer collection, just a 20 minute drive from my nursery, where a specimen is about 60 years old. The specific epithet honors Milo Baker (1868-1961), a California botanist who discovered it in 1898. The appearance can be rugged in the wild, but trees are more formally pyramidal in cultivation, and attractive with blue-green foliage. Cupressus (or Callitropsis or Hesperocyparis to some) is not my favorite conifer for foliage, but C. bakeri has a wonderful reddish-brown trunk with bark that peels in curling plates. My favorite story about C. bakeri is that the late Dr. Bump of Forest Grove, Oregon – my doctor in my youth – would walk out into his garden on summer evenings and conclude that his neighbor had taken up cigar smoking. Night after night the doctor would get annoyed with his neighbor...until he realized that the odor was coming from his own cypress tree.
Daphniphyllum teysmannii 'Variegated'
I learned from New Trees that my species name for a Japanese Daphniphyllum is misspeld, that teijsmannii is incorrect (Grim-Bay blames the Dutch) and it should be teysmannii. That's odd because the name commemorates the Dutch botanist Johannes Teijsmann (1809-1882). I don't grow the straight species, but rather a boldly variegated version that was given to me years ago by a former Japanese intern. He gave me a blank stare when I asked for a cultivar name, as if it wouldn't need to have one. Anyway I was happy to get the plant and ever since I just label it as 'Variegated'. I've seen at least three other variegated forms, and Grim-Bay says, "Variegated seedling occur occasionally in Daphniphyllum, and are highly sought after." I've tried to root cuttings of my specimen a couple of times; I always get 100%...failure.
Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'
New Trees says that Illicium parviflorum, a Florida-Georgia native, is rated by Michael Dirr (author of Manual of Woody Landscape Plants) as the "most rugged landscape performer of all Illicium species." The flowers are considered insignificant, though, so insignificant that I've never seen one. Actually I don't grow the regular green species, but rather just the golden evergreen called 'Florida Sunshine', a selection from Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina. Owner Tony Avent has a fun imagination and he calls the foliage "screaming yellow." I planted one next to my house last fall so I can hear it well. Avent claims it is hardy to USDA zone 7b, and my shrub – I refuse to call it a "tree" – looks as fresh today as it did in the greenhouse. Maybe I was bravely foolish to put my original specimen in the ground, but I now have backups due to summer propagation under mist.
One of my favorite conifers is Juniperus cedrus, the "Canary Islands juniper," and I assume the specific epithet is due to the gracefully nodding branches which are reminiscent of a young Cedrus deodara. Grim-Bay says the juniper is Endangered due to overgrazing and timber exploitation, and that "mature trees have become restricted to inaccessible cliffs." The book suggests the likely champion grows at Mount Usher, measured in 2000 at 10.5m tall. I had one in the garden early in my career but it died in a 5 degree F winter, and indeed Grim-Bay rates it as hardy to USDA zone 9. But I now have a new clone that has survived in my Conifer Field for the past fifteen years, and it is grafted onto Juniperus scopulorum 'Skyrocket'. We still don't sell many J. cedrus because of the perception of mild hardiness, but I suspect that there's no place in the British Isles that gets winters as cold as in Oregon.
New Trees gives short shrift to another handsome conifer, Juniperus pingii. I've had one for 38 years and it's planted along the main road into the nursery, so I see and appreciate it every day. The book states that "The species is well established in cultivation and is available commercially, although often in the form of selected cultivars." Wow, I've never seen any selected cultivars, nor have I seen the straight species planted anywhere except here in the Flora Wonder Arboretum. Furthermore it is written that "It is not clear when or by whom this was introduced." What's not clear to me is why this species is included as a "new tree." What I do know is that "Ping's juniper" is closely related to Juniperus squamata, and I went outside just now to compare it to a J. squamata cultivar, and yes...they must be very close taxonomically. Research independent of New Trees, reveals that the specific name of pingii honors Jin Bangzheng – great name – (1886-1946) whose name during his life was Romanized as P.C. Ping, and he was a founding member of the Science Society of China, and a president of Tsinghua University. Internet research doesn't tell me more about President Ping and his work, but I hope that the botanic scholar didn't suffer undue duress during Chairman Mao's Uncultural Revolution...but he probably did.
I have grown – at least one for 25 years – Quercus turbinella, but for me it has just been a "shrub." Nevertheless G-B consider it a tree, and "new to introduction" says it is hardy to USDA zone 5, and it is considered "the hardiest of the American evergreen oaks." Well, Ok – thanks – but my one Flora Farm specimen suffered a few years ago at 10 degrees F. – a "fry" (far cry) above minus 20 degrees F at USDA zone 5. G-B relates that "it is rare in cultivation, but that in North America it hybridizes freely with the most disparate-seeming partners, including Quercus robur." Well, I hope for some fun since my Q. turbinella is planted in the vicinity of three huge Q. garryana. The species is oddly absent from The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs but the California-to-Texas-to-Mexico tree is commonly called the "Sonoran scrub oak" which the Spanish have named the "Encino oak." Of course the "turbinella" name refers to the acorn's shape of a Turkish turban with the circled top. Every now-and-then we root a flat of 100 – of which maybe 50 strike – and then it takes us about five years to sell them off. You could say that I just flirt with the species.
An interesting entry is for Rehderodendron, with its five recognized species, but with R. macropodum being the only one I grow. Grim-Bay describes it as a "solid, wide-limbed tree whose masses of white flowers are succeeded by red, sausage-shaped fruits." The Englishmen continue with "It deserves the adjective magnificent" by Hillier and Coombes 2002. I originally saw it in Seattle at the Washington Park Arboretum, and I grafted a few onto Styrax japonicus...with initial success, but I honestly don't remember whatever became of that project, or those trees. I acquired a tree once again, now from the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden in Washington state, and I suppose it is a propagule from Director Steve Hootman's collection on the Daliang Shan, Sichuan, China in 1995 which are "now flowering, and produce rose-colored capsules," according to New Trees. The genus name honors Alfred Rehder (1863-1949), the German-American botanical taxonomist and dendrologist who worked at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. The species is described (by me) as "A rare upright deciduous tree from China, only known since 1931." I'll attempt to root some cuttings this summer, especially since Hootman waved it off as "easy to root." All of the photographs above are from his collection, and it would be a shame to not propagate and share it with other collectors of rare and wonderful trees.
With that, I'll end my review of New Trees...and honestly I don't care much about the definition of "new" or of "trees" or any of the other described parameters in the book – one could quibble with almost everything – but the Grimshaw-Bayton publication is a useful survey of interesting plants from around the world and I spent a full week with it. Thanks to Mister Mystery Man for sending scions of Picea farreri which led me back to the book describing it.