Friday, February 7, 2020

...Coming Out of the Closet

The Buchholz Nursery office closet contains various and sundry items such as flagging tape, old employee records, a customer card index – yes, by hand since I couldn't trust previous office workers to maintain it accurately on their computers. Also, a shelf of dictionaries of French/English, Spanish/English, three German/English, Latin/English and a Tibetan phrasebook which was useful for when I traveled frequently to the Himalaya.

There's also a box of maple scions in the closet from 2004 that were sent from France. Previously I quizzed the Oregon Department of Agriculture inspector, and he, after reading the rules, saw “no prohibition of importing maple scions from France.” Oh, except he was wrong. DH, the Administrator of the Department and JH, the lead Horticulturist drove all the way from 635 Capital Street, Salem, Oregon to tell me that “Acer is a Federal prohibited plant from Europe. The USDA [United States Dept. of Agriculture] will be in contact with you to let know [sic] what you are going to need to do next. Do not ship or sell these plants.” Well, that was 16 years ago and nobody ever did contact me about the affair. Now, some nurserymen would have been tempted to go ahead and graft the dormant scions, and simply replace them with other maple sticks, but I would never want to violate Federal Rules!

I also have a couple of banker's boxes in the closet filled with miscellaneous plant information, articles that I would copy or tear out of horticulture magazines, as well as plant lists from various arboreta. A 1990 list of conifers from the Morton Arboretum, for example, indicates that they grow a surprising number of Abies (true fir), among them two specimens of the “Min fir,” Abies recurvata which I also grow, the “Cilician fir,” Abies cilicica, the “Manchurian fir,” Abies nephrolepis etc. I don't remember how I ever got ahold of this plant list, and honestly I forgot that I even had it.

Acer japonicum 'Ao jutan' (top) and 'Green Cascade' (bottom)

I always assumed that whatever I put into the boxes might be referenced at a future date for some purpose, but in fact, now that I am nearly at the end of my career (40 years running Buchholz Nursery), I never delved into the boxes, not even once until today. One item surprised me: a single page which at first looked like a hand-drawn sketch of two Acer japonicum leaves, A.j. 'Green Cascade' and A.j. 'Ao jutan', but upon studying it further I guess they are photocopies. They were very faint – so tentative – that I had FWB (Flora Wonder Blog) co-producer, Seth, darken them so you can see the relative leaf-sizes and shapes. The tree captions are hand-written, as you can see, but they're not by my hand and I definitely don't remember who did it or why I have it. 'Green Cascade' was an Oregon cultivar introduction by the late Art Wright of Canby, Oregon. It was unique (at the time) – a weeping A. japonicum with dissected green leaves and fantastic autumn color – wow!, what a worthy introduction. However, you can see that, in comparison, 'Ao jutan' (meaning “green and spreading”) produces larger leaves with greater dissection. I named and introduced 'Ao jutan' but the original seedling, from the mother tree of A.j. 'Aconitifolium', was sowed and selected by the late, great plantsman, Edsal Wood of Oregon, and he gave me the start shortly before he died. Sadly, the very generous plantsman passed and never knew that now Buchholz gets credit for his wonderful discovery. In truth, I was never smart or lucky enough to begin and operate a successful nursery for 40 years without the assistance and generosity of many others such as Edsal Wood.

Puya raimondii

I don't remember the magazine where I saw the fantastic photo of Puya raimondii, the “Queen of the Andes” – titanka in the Quechua language – which is the largest member of the Bromeliaceae family. I was in the Andes a couple of times in the 1970's but never encountered this Puya, and my second daughter L. actually lived and attended a university in South America for a year and learned the native Quechua language, but she didn't see the Puya either. The situation for me was that I never knew the giant (up to 50 feet tall) existed, but I would love to go back and seek it out. The specific epithet used to be gigantea, but that name was discarded because it was used previously for a Chilean species, so the name was changed to raimondii to commemorate the Italian scientist Antonio Raimondi who undertook botanical explorations in Peru. The first scientific description was rendered by the French scientist Alcide d'Orbigny in 1830 when he found the Puya at 3,960m (12,990') in Bolivia. I should hurry to see it because it is considered an endangered species by the IUCN where its main threat is from human-caused fires. Imagine: a single plant can produce between 8,000 and 20,000 nectar-rich flowers in a three-month period.

Twenty years ago, before marriage, I asked my current wife Haruko if she would translate Japanese maple names. She came to work the following morning with six pages of translations, and I suspect she took all night to do it. I eventually rewarded her with myself. Though I appreciated her effort, nevertheless the six pages ended up in a bankers box, stuffed away for the past twenty years. If you check the Vertrees/Gregory Japanese Maples book, sometimes the name's meaning is provided, but for many of the cultivars the meaning will never be known. Where the names are translated, such as with 'Akegarasu', the publication says it means “the crows at dawn'. Haruko spells it as two words, 'Ake garasu', and her meaning is “daybreak crow.” V/G lists 'Aoyagi' and says the name is literally “green coral.” Haru went with 'Ao yagi' and for her it means “green willow.” V/G doesn't attempt to translate 'Beni fushigi' but Haru says it's “red mysterious.” V/G says the variegated Acer palmatum 'Kagero' is an “outstanding form,” but I disagree because it always reverted and I have discontinued it. To V/G the name means “gossamer,” but Haruko suggests “heat haze.” So, I don't know who is correct or more correct, but perhaps Haruko should be invited by Timber Press to sit on their editorial board. Anyway I didn't return Haruko's work to the white box, and instead I tucked it into the first page of Japanese Maples where it can rest comfortably next to Peter Gregory's name, for Haruko and the skinny Englishman instantly hit it off with each other.

Cathaya argyrophylla

I fished out of the closet box a folder that said “Cathaya info.” Cathaya argyrophylla is the Chinese evergreen conifer that, like its better-known (deciduous) cousin Metasequoia glyptostroboides, was previously only known to exist from the fossil record...until Chinese botanists discovered living plants in China in 1955. For years it was considered off limits to Western plantsmen and arboreta, and therefore it became the Holy Grail of plants that, for people like me, we were most desirous to acquire. The monotypic genus is most beautiful anyway – so photogenic – that the Sciadopitys/Pseudotsuga-like creature positively shimmers in the landscape. The specific epithet argyrophylla aptly describes the light green needles' silvery undersides, and it makes for an elegant presence in the landscape. The exotic name CathayaXitay in Uyghur, Khatay in Persian, Kitay in Russian, Kitaj in Polish, Catai in Italian, Catay in Spanish etc. – was used in a poetic sense for the denizens of China, while in Javanese the word Katai or Kate refers to “east Asian,” literally meaning “dwarf” or “short-legged.” Marco Polo wrote a story called The Road to Cathay, or Travels in the Land of Kublai Khan.

My banker's box contained a copy of the Arnold Arboretum News, Fall 1995 entitled “Cathaya Comes to the Arnold Arboretum” by Horticultural Taxonomist Stephen A. Spongberg which describes “a rare and endangered conifer endemic to China, which has not been grown or cultivated previously outside of the People's Republic.” Actually, I acquired seed of Cathaya before the Arnold's coup of 1995 but they did not germinate. I did not challenge the venerable Arnold's assertion of being the “first” because no one there would believe me or care, even though one-upmanship is a powerful force in the world of plant collecting. My seed source was...well, it doesn't matter now, since the seed didn't germinate, but by 1996 I had seed from another source that did germinate.

Cathaya argyrophylla

Collecting Cathaya seeds

Subsequently we propagated additional Cathaya either by seed or via rooted cuttings, but even to this day neither method is particularly successful. Sadly – ridiculously, really – I sold off the original propagules, and it was only about 15 years ago that I permanently planted one at Flora Farm and another in the Conifer Field at the nursery. Both are plump specimens, but they currently dwell in obscurity and are only known to me. In other words: no employee at Buchholz Nursery knows that the rare conifers – even now at 9' tall – exist on the properties. Perhaps that fact sums up the nature of Buchholz Nursery and the Flora Wonder Arboretum: that neither neighbors, visitors or employees give a damn about my rare, difficult-to-acquire Chinese conifer. In the spring and summer, every 12-to-14 days, a man mows the grass around both Cathaya specimens, but he toils without any knowledge or appreciation for the species, and would only grow furtive and apprehensive if I recounted its history and value. But, I invite any true plantsman to visit, and we'll walk out to pay our respects to the trees. Two years ago I had a wonderful time on Christmas eve, when my extended family went out at night to collect the cones...then we broke them apart to bag the tiny seeds while drinking Pinot Noir. Only a few germinated, but that is what has become normal for me.

Digging deeper into the box I brought to light a little booklet – New Pronouncing Dictionary of Plant Names – but what good did it do for me as it languished in the dark closet for the past 25 years? It was published by the Florists' Publishing Company of Chicago, Illinois, and the 62 page booklet begins with Abbreviatus meaning “shortened” and ends with Zygopetalum for “showy tropical orchids.” I have the 24th printing of 1980, and in the Foreword it is promoted as a “handy reference” where “several hundred thousand” copies have been produced. In the booklet's middle I learn that Ismene is the “Peruvian daffodil, spider lily (now Hymenocallis), that Ixia are “cormus plants like gladoli,” and that krigia are “plants like dandelions.” So apparently you don't spell dandelion as dandylion, such as with the golden Picea abies weeping cultivar. In any case the common name is from French dent-de-lion meaning “lion's tooth” – for whatever reason – and the genus in the Asteraceae family is also known botanically as Traraxacum. I have read that the definition of dandelion is “a yellow wild flower that often grows where people do not want it to,” such as with the hundreds that appear on my front lawn every spring. Actually I don't mind them, and I delight in their Japanese name of tampopo. All parts of the plant are edible, and my father used to make a fairly decent dandelion wine.

Cornus kousa 'Heart Throb'

Cornus kousa 'Heart Throb'

An advertising flyer describing the “recent introduction” of Cornus kousa 'Heart Throb' must be about twenty years old. The late Jim Schmidt of Boring, Oregon is credited with the introduction and I suppose the patent is still valid. Flowers are billed as “larger than the species, around 4” in diameter,” and they last well, “sometimes as much as two months in Oregon.” The flyer claims that “bract color is a deep red,” but I know from experience – one is planted along the long road to my home – that some years they are deep red and other years they are positively pink. In any case it is a heavy bloomer as advertised. I don't know the origin of 'Heart Throb', whether it was a random seedling, or a seedling from another red-flower cultivar such as 'Satomi', but 'Heart Throb' is a great name and a great plant anyway.

I discovered a July 1996 newsletter written by the late J.C. Raulston from the North Carolina State University Arboretum. He talks about 1995 being a burnout stressed year with he being out of the state for 43 weeks with “too much lecturing, too much fundraising, too much teaching and too much too much.” I remember him visiting my nursery where he allotted only a half hour, and he literally sprinted from plant to plant. Panting, with not much time between “hello” and “goodbye,” he sped off to visit yet another garden. Raulston was generous with his plants, though, not like the typical arboretum director, and thanks to him I received the variegated Pinus cembroides 'Pina Nevada' from a Mexican discovery. About 10-15 years ago I heard from one grump that the NCSU Arboretum was “not much of a destination.” I visited about five years ago and found it to be an amazing collection. Shortly after this newsletter was written J.C. died in a car accident, and what a shame he passed away and was not able to see the fruits of his energetic labor.

A further discovery in my miscellaneous plant box was another “newsletter,” this time from the International Conifer Preservation Society – “A non-profit organization to ensure species survival.” I knew that the prevailing botanist was John Silba and the reason he latched onto me was because I loved to collect rare species, and that I was also qualified to propagate them. Therefore, I was the recipient of dozens of obscure Asian conifers – obscure in the sense of their true botanical identity – and I had to somehow (magically) produce healthy, viable plants out of his crappy scionwood. One conifer, that I don't know if I should even have (legally) was Abies beshanzuensis, and it was sent to me by Prof. Silba about twenty five years ago. With only six trees left in the Chinese wild, how was old Silba able to obtain scions and send them to this simple Oregon nurseryman? I now have a beautiful specimen in my Upper Gardens, and maybe it is the largest in the world outside of China. I don't know, though, maybe storm-troopers from the Department of Righteousness will march onto my property to cut it down and to confiscate it. Perhaps my collection will eventually be bulldozed to make for a Walmart parking lot, but in the meantime I'm going to pretend that I'm doing something useful and important with these plants.

Another example of my relationship with J. Silba – who I never met personally – concerns the “Hsing spruce” or the “Flat-leaf Veitch spruce,” Picea neoveitchii Masters, that is “an endangered species from China and may not be in cultivation outside of China in its true form.” Silba continues: “One plant cultivated in Brooklyn (New York) may be of wild origin from Wilsons's [Ernest Henry] collection, though its exact origin seems uncertain. Scions from this plant were sent to Buchholz Nursery in Gaston (Oregon) recently for establishment and ex-situ preservation.” Yikes! – why was I selected to be Noah of the floral ark? Anyway the damn spruces flopped around in containers at the nursery for a few years, then perished in a record cold. I'll repeat the adage yet again: we can never own a tree, we can only borrow it for a short period of time, and we all want our plantings to out-live us.

My misc. plant-info boxes serve as a reminder, a measuring stick to my career, about what I thought was important at the time. I never could imagine that I would be (already) 55 years into a life with plants...but still as ignorant as ever. Thanks to all who supported me.


  1. Good Evening

    Great read as usual, however i do have a couple questions. First, what were the cultivars of the scions you were not allowed to graft? Secondly, will you share all the pages Haruko translated?

    Best Regards,
    Mahdi Robert Mathews
    Grateful Maple

  2. hi Talon know you if avalaible in Europe ?