Friday, June 12, 2020


Acer 'Hot Blonde'

Acer 'Hot Blonde'

The term hybrid is from Latin hybrida, and we know it as a “composite of mixed origin.” It can refer to animals, people or plants...and to machines also which can be variously charged by more than one source of power, as in a hybrid car which can run on either gas or electricity. For example the “television” is a hybrid word made up from the Greek tele meaning “far” and Latin visio meaning “see.” Remember, a week or two ago I featured in the Flora Wonder Blog the accidental cross of Acer x 'Hot Blonde' which arose in a North Carolina Nursery, MrMaple, between an Acer oliverianum and an Acer palmatum, thus resulting in a “Chinese-Japanese maple.” Today I walked past my first plant gifted by the Nichols Brothers which is already 7' tall and loaded with scions, and I anxiously await the beginning of maple grafting season.

Honestly I don't know what God thinks/thought about it, but in prehistory hybrid humans existed, with anatomically modern humans mixing with Neanderthals as recently as 40,000 years ago. Neanderthals occupied a large Eurasian range, but they were classified as such because the type specimen, Neanderthal I, was found in 1856 in the German Neander Valley. Some evidence suggests that the Neanderthals didn't go completely extinct, and when I consider some of the male German interns I employed in the past, the species is alive and well and still breeding with modern human females.

Acer palmatum 'Japanese Princess'

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'

Acer palmatum 'Strawberry Spring'

Acer palmatum 'Ikandi'

A number of times I have been introduced as a “plant breeder,” one who has introduced many outstanding cultivars, in particular maples. Those who claim so show their horticultural ignorance, for I have “bred” no plant ever, although I have successfully bred five children...and no, I did not use a female Neanderthal to do so.* Just because I have discovered and introduced many maples from either seedling or witch's broom origin, I have never forced into union cultivars or species for my interest or pleasure. I merely harvest from nature's prolific variations, with the confidence that if the named-cloned mother tree is fascinating or original, then her progeny might also be so. Everyone, for example, likes Acer palmatum 'Mikawa yatsubusa', and one delicious daughter was selected out and named 'Japanese Princess'. Acer palmatum 'Amber Ghost' yielded A.p. 'Strawberry Spring', while Acer palmatum 'Higasa yama' begat 'Alpenweiss', which in turn bore the even more spectacular 'Ikandi'.

*The last two were inter-racial, inter-continental hybrids between this German-American and an ornamental...err, oriental species from Japan.

Rhododendron orbiculare 'Edinburgh'

Rhododendron orbiculare 'Edinburgh'

Rhododendron orbiculare 'Exbury'

There can be considerable variation within a species, just as there is with homo sapiens. Rhododendron orbiculare, the “round-leaf rhododendron” from China (known locally as tuanye dujuan), is represented in the Flora Wonder Arboretum with two forms, 'Edinburgh' and 'Exbury', and I take great pains to make sure the crew doesn't mix them up. I don't know the history of these two forms, how one wound up at the Royal Botanic Garden in Scotland and the other at Rothchild's place in Hampshire, but both are considered better than a brand x orbiculare in another's garden. I know that my two are not cultivars in the traditional sense even though I mark them with single quotes, but that helps to keep my employees from mixing them up. We produce them by grafting onto hybrid rootstock, so it can be said that I propagate them, but I'm certainly not “breeding” them.

Pleione x confusa 'Golden Gate'

Years ago we had a state plant inspector, now retired (with fantastic benefits), who poo-pooed the notion of hybrids, that his interest was only for the pure species. I don't know why the government functionary developed such a snobbish distaste for hybrids, as if the hand of man was somehow inferior to the hand of Mother Nature. While the inspector was good at spotting aphids, he failed to understand that some hybrids occur naturally. A month ago I discussed that Pleione x confusa was a natural hybrid between P. forrestii and P. albiflora, and while it looks similar to the beautiful but finicky P. forrestii, the P. albiflora blood provides the hybrid with a boost of vigor that this gardener appreciates.

Acer x 'Red Dawn'

Acer x 'Shira Red'

Personally I don't care if a plant originates as a natural hybrid or as a man-made cross, for it is what it is and it does what it does. Who really cares, except for the holder of the patent rights I suppose, which will never be me. Acer x 'Red Dawn' – nice name – was originally listed as an Acer shirasawanum, but most growers and collectors now reckon it to be a hybrid with palmatum, but it's a non-event in any case. We introduced a look-alike, A.s. 'Shira Red', with the mother tree absolutely A. shirasawanum. It looks like a hybrid too, but the seed on ours rises up (per the shirasawanum species) while 'Red Dawn's' seed dangles down. Since I grow both cultivars in small numbers I don't need a scientific analysis, and frankly my introduction is really a non-event too.

Acer x 'Mikado'

Acer x 'Mikado'

Much more interesting is another Buchholz introduction, 'Mikado', which is also possibly a hybrid. I won't go so far to say that I'm tired of the deep red-purple foliage of Acer palmatums 'Bloodgood' or 'Red Dragon', but after a long career of producing them by the thousands, I've grown to appreciate the plummy hue of 'Mikado'. The only problem is that the original tree (photo above) is now twice that size in a space way too small, and I fret about the enormous task to transplant it. The word Mikado was formerly used for the Emperor of Japan, from mi for “honorable” and kado for “gate” or “portal,” and it was first used in 1727. Of course The Mikado was an operetta by W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan which premiered at the Savoy in London on March 4, 1885. It was an instant hit and ran for 672 performances, with fun characters such as The Mikado for the Emperor, Nanki-Poo, The Mikado's son (disguised as a wandering minstrel), the maiden Yum-Yum – I married a Yum-Yum too – and Pooh-Bah, the Lord High of Everything.

Acer x 'Kawaii'

Acer x 'Kawaii'

The final maple “hybrid” that I'll mention is what we classify as Acer shirasawanum 'Kawaii', a Buchholz introduction, so-named because when my wife first saw it she uttered "kawaii," the Japanese word for “cute.” This selection originated as a seedling from the late Jim Baggett of Corvallis, Oregon from the parent tree of Acer shirasawanum 'Palmatifolium' in his open garden setting. “Open garden” means that he had a number of maple species growing in close proximity, so who knows which tree pollinated which? Like 'Mikado' it features the plum-red foliage except that the leaves are finely dissected. It does not “weep” as do many of the Acer palmatum laceleafs, rather it is low and spreading and very slow growing. Very slow, indeed, and I remember some years ago that a customer complained that the specimen we shipped to him was too small for the price. Too small, ha!, I explained that it was two years older than some of the other trees he got for the same money. I have to ask myself why I grow it at all since it is far less profitable, but anyway I still hold a grudge that someone questioned my price.

Quercus x 'Luscombeana'

Quercus suber

In the rather crowded garden of Arboretum Kalmthout in Belgium I saw an interestingly fissured trunk in the distance but I was not able to identify the canopy. Fortunately the label was in place and it was identified as Quercus x hispanica 'Luscombeana', a hybrid I was not familiar with. The climate in Belgium is similar to that of western Oregon, so their old tree had survived a lot of winters. Returning home I opened The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) and read, “A large, ornamental tree raised by Mr. Luscomb in his nursery in Exeter about 1762...Many of the plants grown under this name appear to be seedlings.” x Hispanica is the “Turkish oak” (Q. cerris) crossed with the “Cork oak” (Q. suber), and the latter, while listed as USDA zone 8 (10 F) has survived about 10 years in my field. Even if the 'Luscombeana' became available I really don't have room for another large oak, especially since it is not as fissuredly pronounced as the Q. suber. Hillier calls x hispanica a “variable hybrid” which can occur in the wild as well as in cultivation. In that case no two will appear exactly the same, and so the true 'Luscombeana' can only be replicated by asexual propagation.

Quercus x 'Pondaim' at Arboretum Trompenburg

Quercus dentata

Another interesting oak hybrid is x 'Pondaim Group' with the “group” meaning that the cross has been made (or occurred) more than once, with the parents being Q. pontica x Q. dentata, the “Armenian oak” and the “Daimyo oak” respectively. I saw the original 'Pondaim' in Rotterdam – or I think it was the original – at the Arboretum Trompenburg, and indeed the cross was raised by JRP van Hoey Smith (Trompenburg's owner) about 1960. I have specimens of both of Pondaim's parents and I prize them greatly, but I don't have the hybrid and have never seen it before in America. Unfortunately each parent is on separate properties about five miles apart so I won't find a hybrid unless I move them together. An attractive feature of 'Pondaim' is that the leaves are marcescent, which means that they change color in the fall, but they persist through the winter. This is caused by the veins that carry the sap slowly closing in autumn, until a layer of cells called the abscission layer completely closes off and the tree cannot rid itself of its leaves. I admit that I've never seen a 'Pondaim' in winter, but I include (above) photos of marcescent Q. dentata whose foliage begins a warm orange and then evolves to a glowing brown. The name 'Pondaim' is from the combination of pontica and daimyo: 'Pondaim'.

Phylliopsis 'Sugar Plum'

William H Brewer
x Phylliopsis is an intergeneric hybrid between Kalmiopsis and Phyllodoce and it forms an attractive dwarf shrub perfect for a rock garden (with necessary sharp drainage). This Ericaceae cross originated at Hillier Nursery in 1960, and was thus given the specific epithet of hillieri (Cullen and Lancaster). American horticulturists were slow to the race apparently because both genera come from the western portions of southern Oregon and northern California. I've been to this area a number of times but have not encountered either parent, or didn't recognize them if I did, but I guess they bloom at a time when I'm locked up at the nursery. We used to grow the cultivar 'Sugar Plum', and you could almost imagine fairies dancing around the flowers. Alas we discontinued production because they resented being overwatered in black plastic pots in the greenhouse. Also it probably prefers a more acidic media and to be treated as an alpine plant. The Phyllodoce species used in Hillier's hybrid was breweri, named for botanist William Henry Brewer (1828-1910) of Picea breweriana fame. The Kalmiopsis parent's specific epithet of leacheana honors Lilla Leach* who discovered it in 1930 in what is now known as the Kalmiopsis Wilderness reserve. It is a rare endemic to the Siskiyou Mountains where one also find the “Brewer's Weeping Spruce.”

Lilla Leach

*Lilla Leach is long gone, but we still have the Leach Botanic Garden in Portland, Oregon.

Platanus x hispanica

Platanus x hispanica 'Suttneri'

Platanus x acerifolia is nomenclaturally no more; now we should call it x hispanicalike with the oak hybrid. I don't get the epithet though, as the “London plane” is a cross between the east-coast America Platanus occidentalis and the southeast European Platanus orientalis.* Besides, Hillier casts doubt when he suggests that it might not be a hybrid, but rather just a form of P. orientalis. In any case it was first recorded in 1663. Regular readers know that I am a fan of torsos, and I can appreciate the colorful trunks, but no way would I want the monster in my collection. I remember at the beginning of my career when I moonlighted at the crabby Dutchman's nursery where we had to pot up a couple hundred of the brutes (when in leaf) for a special order. Something on the leaves' undersides – dried hairs maybe – caused us to cough, cry and sneeze, and it was a torture I'll never forget. Nevertheless it is one of the 50 Great British Trees that the Tree Council selected in 2002 to honor Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee. And by the way, apparently Prince Charles was too busy that day to help us pot up the damn planes.

*Perhaps the cross first occurred in Spain.

Rhododendron davidsonianum

Rhododendron racemosum

Rhododendron 'Ginny Gee'

Rhododendron 'Ginny Gee'

Pere Delavay
I've never seen the Rhododendron hybrid x pallescens, but I do know the wonderful parents of R. davidsonianum x R. racemosum. I wonder if the cross can be found at the Rhododendron Species Botanic Garden in Washington state, especially since they claim to have the largest collection of Rhododendron species in the world. I'm overdue for a visit – damn it Covid 19 – for I used to go three or four times every year; and I am a member and I discover new (to me) and wonderful plants each time. R. davidsonianum is native to Szechuan and Yunnan, China at moderate elevations of 6,500 to 11,500 feet elevation and the flowers can range from white to purplish pink. The specific epithet honors W.H. Davidson who participated in the Christian Friends Mission in China. R. racemosum is another Chinese evergreen shrub which can grow straggly. It was first introduced to cultivation by the French missionary Pere Delavay in 1889. It is a parent to R. x 'Ginny Gee' which I have had in the garden for over 30 years. The specific epithet racemosum means that the flowers have a raceme, from Latin racemus for a “bunch of grapes.”

Camellia x 'Night Rider'

Camellia x 'Water Lily'

Camellia x 'Water Lily'

Camellia x williamsii is a hybrid so-named because C. japonica x C. saluenensis was first raised by J.C. Williams at Caerhays Castle, Cornwall about 100 years ago. There are numerous cultivars, half of which are named for people I suppose. I have become enamoured with Camellias in my latter years and we find good sales for them, and I've even learned that the genus is spelled with double ll. 'Night Rider' blooms with very dark-red double blossoms, but the rich mahogany new growth is what mostly attracts me. 'Water Lily' was gifted to me by the great plantsman, Roger Gossler of Oregon, and it was the first Camelia...err, Camellia in the collection. The blossom speaks for itself and my words are not necessary.

Again, I've never performed a plant cross – I guess I'm too busy making a living with what others have accomplished – but I like that often it is done by puttering hobbyists trying to improve upon what Flora has provided.

No comments:

Post a Comment