A Weeping Wonder

Few plants I’ve ever grown enchant me like Forestiera angustifolia ‘Woodlanders Weeping’. This incredible weeping selection of the Texas native is typically known as a scraggly upright bush that grows in dry alkaline soils. This special form was discovered in Calhoun County, Texas in 1992 by our friend Bob McCartney and the late Texas plantsman, Lynn Lowrey. In 1996, Bob, Lynn, and Patrick McMillan returned to the site for cuttings. It was subsequently propagated and introduced by Woodlanders Nursery. Surprisingly, it also thrives in moist acidic soils, and seemingly has no garden conditions where it doesn’t thrive.

We actually enjoy the incredible structure of the deciduous bare stems more in the winter time without the tiny deciduous foliage. The photo above was just taken at JLBG in late September. Mature size is 6′ tall x 25′ wide, so be sure you have a large enough space. I would think this is a plant that would be embraced by every native plant nursery, unless they have one of those bizarre hang-ups that man-made state political borders matter. Winter hardiness is unknown, but at least Zone 7b-9b.

Forestiera angustifolia ‘Woodlanders Weeping’

Slightly Deranged Hydrangeas

We love the genus hydrangea, but are really fascinated by those at the far end of the family tree. While most hydrangeas flower in late spring, we actually have a couple flowering now we’d like to share.

The first is Hydrangea involucrata, a native to both Japan and Taiwan. The word “involucrata” indicates it has some serious involucres (the bracts surrounding the inflorescence). The first image shows the plant in bud, the second in full flower, and the third image is after the flower color has faded. All three stages are on display at once in the garden this week. They typically reach 6′ in height and width. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.

Hydrangea involucrata in bud
Hydrangea involucrata

Hydrangea involucrata

Hydrangea amamiohshimensis (below), from Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands, was once considered a hydrangea cousin, until a 23andMe test confirmed it was actually a true hydrangea. Prior to the test, it belonged to the genus cardiandra, which was effectively a perennial hydrangea, dying back to the ground each fall like most perennials. It too is in full flower in the woodland garden this week. Perhaps now that it has a recognizable name, more folks will be willing to grow it. This is the only one of the four former cardiandra species that has survived in our climate.

Hydrangea amamiohshimensis

Getting Pinked

Now that fall has arrived, we’re all enjoying peak plume season for many of our favorite ornamental grasses. Unfortunately, there are a few significant mixups in the trade. The top photo is our native Eragrostis spectabilis, known as purple love grass. I’ve long admired this beautiful, but short-lived native, but have declined to offer it because of its propensity to seed around much too vigorously in the garden. In prairie restorations or less-tended gardens, it can be a spectacular addition. Hardiness is Zone 5-9.

Eragrostis spectabilis

Because most nurserymen aren’t plant taxonomists, you can perform a Google images search and find several on-line vendors who pretend to offer Eragrostis spectabilis, but show photos of the grass below, known as Muhlenbergia capillaris. Who knows which of the two they are actually selling.

If that’s not confusing enough, the plant below is known in the trade as Muhlenbergia capillaris or Gulf Coast muhly grass/pink muhly grass. The only problem is that this is actually a different muhlenbergia species. All of us have taken this name for granted, but as our Director or Horticulture/Gardens, Patrick McMillan taught us, all commercial plants labeled as such are actually Muhlenbergia sericea. We are updating our records and this name change will be implemented in the near future.

The misidentification originated with a Florida taxonomist, who mistakenly lumped three muhlenbergias together…a problem that can occur when you only study dead/smashed plants in a plant herbarium. As it turns out, the two plants, Muhlenbergia capillaris and Muhlenbergia sericea (also formerly known as Muhlenbergia filipes) are nothing alike.

Muhlenbergia sericea (sold as M. capillaris)

The true Muhlenbergia capillaris is a rather homely plant that few folks would want in their garden. Muhlebergia sericea, on the other hand, is a stunning ornamental plant, commonly known as sweet grass, and used for making those amazing hand-woven baskets that you find for sale in towns like Charleston, SC.

Such nomenclatural faux pas take decades, at least, for nurseries to get the names corrected since the public knows and purchases plants under the wrong name. This problem is far too common. The shrub, Ternstroemeria gymnanthera, was originally mistakenly identified as Cleyera japonica, and that mistake still persists over five decades later. Most gardeners despise name changes, often not realizing that many instances like these aren’t changes, but instead corrections of an earlier identification mistake.

You can learn more details about the mixup from Patrick’s article.

Palmetto State of Mind

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Patrick McMillan’s new book, A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina, has been published. While Patrick taught at Clemson, he was approached to update The Guide to Wildflowers of South Carolina (Porcher), first published in 2002.

After studying over 200,000 herbarium sheets (dead, smashed plants), and making countless trips into the field to photograph and study the plants in habitat, the updated book, A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina has been born. This amazing 613-page book is a dramatic update from 2002 version, complete with more images, completely revised distribution maps, and an additional 200+ plant species.

I have known Patrick for over 30 years, and we are so blessed to have him as our JLBG Director of Horticulture and Gardens. We are the beneficiary of his encyclopedic plant knowledge every day, but now everyone can benefit from that same knowledge through this amazing new book.

His new book, which has an official publication date of next month, is available through your favorite on-line bookseller. Whether you live/travel, or botanize in NC, SC, or any of the Southeastern states, you will find this book invaluable.

Patrick McMillan and his new SC Wildflower book
A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina
A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina table of contents
A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina table of contents cont.
A Guide to the Wildflowers of South Carolina

Randy Ferns

It’s not unusual for ferns to have sex in the wild, even with other species in the same genus. It is, however, unusual for them to have meaningful sex with ferns of an entirely different genus. Such an odd occurrence recently happened in the greenhouses of Louisiana’s James Georgusis.

One night, possibly after a wild Mardi Gras party, a willing Phlebodium got it on with a crested tongue fern of the genus Pyrrosia. The result was a new genus of fern, x Phlebosia. It was adopted and given the cultivar name, ‘Nicolas Diamond’. At least the parents had the good sense to sexually stay within the same family, Polypodiaceae

We planted our first specimens in the garden this February, and so far, it’s growing well. The key will be to see how much winter hardiness it has…fingers crossed. Both parents are pictured below the new hybrid.

x Phlebosia ‘Nicolas Diamond’ PP 30,873
Phlebodium pseudoaureum
Pyrrosia lingua crested

Low Country Treasure Hunt

Last week, Patrick, Zac, and I spent a couple of day botanizing in the low country…i.e. Coastal South Carolina. In between swatting away the incredible troupe of mosquitos which chose to join us, we were able to capture a few images to share below.

The ancient lime sinks are fascinating. Here, old sinkholes due to subsurface limestone rock breakdown have collapsed, forming natural depressions, creating a habitat for our native pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) and other fascinating wetland species…like alligators. Yes, we did see several, but they were too fast for our camera.

Taxodium ascendens
Taxodium ascendens

The high water marks are visible on the buttressed trunks of bald cypress.

Taxodium ascendens

Much of the region is, or was, a pine/grass habitat. The pines could either be longleaf (Pinus palustris) or slash pine (Pinus serotina) .The dominant grass is known as wiregrass, aka: Aristida beyrechiana.

Pine/Wiregrass habitat

On the dry sand ridges, we saw these piles of fresh sand adjacent to a nearby tunnel entrance. These are homes to the rare gopher tortoise, which live in the region. Patrick tells me these tortoises will use the same underground lair, which may stretch 40′ long and 10′ deep, for up to 60 years.

Gopher tortoise mound/tunnel

Gopher tortoises only emerge from their tunnels when temperatures are between 80 and 90 degree F. Sure enough, we were able to wait and get some images of these amazing creatures.

Gopher tortoise

Another surprise spotting was a bright orange mutant katydid. Our entomologist Bill Reynolds tells me these are crazy rare, and worth well north of $1000 to collectors. Who knew?

Orange katydid

Yes, we also saw some cool plants. Asclepias obovata is a little-known milkweed that’s quite rare in South Carolina, so it was great to catch it in flower.

At another site nearby, we caught some late flowering plants of Asclepias tuberosa var. rolfsii.

Asclepias tuberosa var. rolfsii

We visited several patches of amazing pitcher plants, one site with a tremendous variation of Sarracenia flava, which is typically solid yellow. Other sties had three species growing side by side including Sarracenia minor, Sarracenia rubra, and Sarracenia flava. It’s great that such natural area still exist, although they are always in danger from those who sadly dig plants from the wild for sale.

Sarracenia flava in situ
Sarracenia flava clump – typical yellow pitchers
Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
Sarracenia flava red pitcher form
Sarracenia flava with a particularly large hood
Sarracneia flava with brown hood and nice veining
Sarracenia flava red neck form
Sarracenia minor
Sarracenia rubra

A plant often seen near the pitcher plants is the native orchid, Plantanthera ciliaris.

Plantanthera ciliaris orchid

We were thrilled to find a couple of large patches of the scrub palm, Serenoa repens, from one of the coldest natural populations, which happened to be in full seed. Clonal patches like this are incredibly slow-growing. Researchers in Florida found that such clonal patches are often between 5,000 and 10,000 years old.

Serenoa repens clonal patch
Serenoa repens clonal patch
Serenoa repens seed

It was great to see large drifts of one of our finest native ferns, Thelypteris kunthii, aka: maiden fern. This superb deciduous fern thrives in both sun and shade, tolerating everything from wet to average soil conditions.

Thelypteris kunthii

A lovely surprise was stumbling on a population of Hamamelis henryi. This coastal species is often listed as a variety of Hamamelis virginiana, but we think it’s probably deserving of species status. Several of the clones we found had lovely dusty blue foliage.

Hamamelis henryi

One of the most amazing shrubs was the hawthorn, Crategus munda var. pexa. These ancient specimens topped out at 4-5′ tall, and looked like ancient bonsai specimens.

Crategus munda var. pexa

I’ve long had a penchant for finding gold leaf sweet gums, and this trip added another one to the list. When many woody plants are cut to the ground, they are much more likely to produce mutations as they re-sprout. In my experience, the genus Liquidambar must be the most prone to such mutations.

Liquidambar styraciflua gold sport

The fall-flowering Georgia savory, Clinopodium georgianum was in full flower. We’ve grown and offered this for decades, but it was fascinating to see the flower color variation in the wild.

Clinopodium georgianum

At one stop, we found five different liatris species, including the little-known Liatris elegans.

Liatris elegans

The native vining legume, Centrosema virginiana, aka: butterfly pea, was in full flower and looking lovely…first cousin to the better known genus, Clitoria.

Centrosema virginiana

I’m not a fan of most smilax species, but I was quite smitten by the non-running dwarf Smilax pumila, which grew in the shade like an Asarum (wild ginger). While some clones had green leaves, others had patterns every bit as good as the best Asarum.

Smilax pumila

On the ride home, we kept ourselves amused unscientifically researching the fastest speed at which leaf-footed bugs could hold onto a car window while copulating. Since our test speed topped out at 65mph, we aren’t sure what it was take to pry these loose, but perhaps someone should research how they are able to hold on so tight, as I’m sure it has numerous industrial applications.

Leaf-footed bugs

Hear, Hear…lend me an ear

We always look forward to elephant ear evaluation day at JLBG, which was recently completed.

Colocasia trials

Each year, Colocasia breeder, Dr. John Cho flies in from Hawaii to study and select from our field trials of his new hybrids. This year we were joined by Robert Bett, owner of the California-based plant marketing firm, PlantHaven, who handles the Royal Hawaiian elephant ear program. The JLBG trials consist of all named colocasia introductions growing alongside Dr. Cho’s new hybrids created the year prior.

Robert Bett (l), John Cho (r)

JLBG staff members, Jeremy Schmidt and Zac Hill spent most of the morning working with Robert and John on the time-consuming evaluation process.

Robert Bett (l), Zac Hil (c), John Cho (c), Jeremy Schmidt (r)

After lunch, Jim Putnam from Proven Winners, joined us to see which remaining plants struck his fancy for potential introduction into their branded program. As you can see, lots of amazing plants didn’t make the final cut, which is necessary, since we’ll need more room for the new selections.

John Cho, Robert Bett, Jim Putnam

Plants selected for introduction are then sent to a tissue culture lab to be produced for the next step, which is grower/retailer trials. If these are successful, and the plant can be multiplied well in the lab, the plants are scheduled for retail introduction.

Hopefully, by now, most folks are familiar with our 2020 top selection, Colocasia ‘Waikiki’, which hit the market this year. There are more really exciting new selections in the pipeline, but we can’t share photos of those quite yet…stay tuned.

Colocasia ‘Waikiki’

A rosea by any other name would look as sweet.

We think Juliet would agree that Cuthbertia rosea is one sweet perennial. Looking great now is the southeast native (Maryland south to Florida) spiderwort, Cuthbertia rosea, which for us, begins its flowering season in spring, and continues sporadically through the summer months. Native primarily to dry sand, this easy-to-grow perennial has exceptional drought tolerance. Like all spiderworts, the flowers open in the morning and close each evening.

This poor plant has long suffered from an identity crises due to dueling taxonomists. This poor plant is also known as Callisia rosea, Tradescantia rosea, Phyodina rosea, and finally Tripograndra rosea. Despite the naming conundrum, it’s surprising that more people don’t grow this amazing plant.

Mid-Summer Surprises

We’ve just enjoyed peak surprise lily week at JLBG. The lycoris season starts for us in early July and continues into early October, but the last two weeks of August is peak bloom. Below are a few samples from the last few weeks.

The first two image are our field trials, where lycoris are studied, photographed, and evaluated for possible introduction.

Lycoris field trials @ JLBG
Lycoris field trials @ JLBG

There are only 6 lycoris species (despite what you read on-line). Four of these have foliage produced in spring, and two have foliage that emerges in fall.

Lycoris longituba is a spring-leafed species with flowers that range from white to pink, to yellow/orange.

Lycoris longituba ‘Early Riser’
Lycoris longituba ‘Trumpeteer’

Lycoris chinensis is a spring-leafed species with bright gold/orange-gold flowers. There is little variability in the color of this species.

Lycoris chinensis ‘Piedmont Gold’

Lycoris sprengeri, whose foliage emerges in spring, is the only pink flowered species, almost always with a blue petal tip.

Lycoris sprengeri ‘Soft Cloud’

Lycoris sanguinea is the fourth spring-leafed species, but one that performs quite poorly in our climate, and consequently rarely flowers for us.

Lycoris radiata is one of only two fall-leaved species. Lycoris radiata var. pumila is the fertile form, while Lycoriis radiata var. radiata is sterile and consequently never sets seed. There is little variability with regard to color, but there is great variability with regard to bloom time. Lycoris radiata is the earliest lycoris to flower in July and the last lycoris to flower in October.

Lycoris radiata ‘Fourth of July’
Lycoris radiata with white pollen

Lycoris aurea is the only other fall-leaved species. In appearance, it is indistinguishable from the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis, except that the foliage emerges six months earler.

Lycoris aurea ‘Landing Pad’

Lycoris traubii is a hotly debated plant in taxonomic circles. Occurring only in Taiwan, some taxonomists insist on it being its own species, while other simply find it a form of the mainland Chinese Lycoris aurea…similar to the debate about Taiwan’s political status. Until we see other evidence, we view it as a form of Lycoris aurea.

Lycoris aurea var. traubii

All other lycoris are hybrids. Sadly, botanists continue to name new lycoris species, but after having grown each, we have yet to find any that are anything more than a previously named naturally occurring hybrid. Below are a few of the validly named hybrids.

Lycoris x albiflora is a group of naturally occurring crosses between the two fall-leafed species, Lycoris aurea and Lycoris radiata. Most emerge yellow and age to pink-blushed. If these hybrids cross back to the Lycoris radiata parent, the hybrids take on lovely orange shades.

Lycoris x albiflora ‘Yellow Cream’

Lycoris x caldwellii, named after the late Lycoris breeder, Sam Caldwell, is a hybrid between the spring-leafed species, Lycoris longituba and Lycoris chinensis.

Lycoris x caldwellii ‘Gold Crown’

Crosses between the fall-foliaged Lycoris radiata and the spring-leafed Lycoris sprengeri have been made more than any other interspecific lycoris cross. We currently grow over 200 clones of this hybrid, with flower colors that range from solid pink to bright red, and everything in between. Backcrosses onto one parent or the other influence the flower color expression.

Lycoris x rosea ‘August Red’
Lycoris x rosea ‘August Rose’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Berry Awesome’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Cherry Crush’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Cotton Candy’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Magenta Magic’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Mini Me’
Lycoris x rosea ‘Natsu no Odoriko’

Lycoris x rosensis is a hybrid between the fall-leafed hybrid above, Lycoris x rosea and the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis.

Lycoris x rosensis ‘Colorama’
Lycoris x rosensis ‘Three Towers Mirroring the Moon’

Lycoris x sprengensis is a cross between the spring-leafed Lycoris sprengeri and the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis. The flower buds almost all show a blue tip, whose color disappears as the flowers age.

Lycoris x sprengensis ‘Lemon Cheescake’

Lycoris x straminea is very similar in appearance to Lycoris x albiflora. The only difference between the two is that one parent of Lycoris x straminea is the spring-leafed Lycoris chinensis instead of the fall-leafed Lycoris aurea. Interestingly, Lycoris x straminea is fertile, while Lycoris x albiflora is not. Because Lycoris x straminea is fertile, it can be crossed back onto its Lycoris radiata parent, created some stunning orange-hued flowers

Lycoris x straminea ‘Caldwell’s Original’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Gennen’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Peach Chiffon’

Most Lycoris x straminea clones open pure yellow, and acquire a reddish-orange blush as they age, from the Lycoris radiata parent. You can see an example below with two images taken 2 days apart.

Lycoris x straminea ‘Peach Taffy’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Peach Taffy’
Lycoris x straminea ‘Strawberry Lemonade’

Lycoris ‘Peppermint’ is an old passalong hybrid of two spring-flowered species, known and sold as Lycoris x incarnata…a cross of Lycoris longituba and Lycoris sprengeri. Our studies, however have shown that this plant could not have arisen from such a cross. In hybrids between a spring and fall-leafed species, the offspring always has foliage that emerges in early fall (September, October). The foliage on this emerges in late November, and the only way this could happen if the hybrid included 2 spring species and 1 fall species.

The only species that could provide the red color is the fall-foliage Lycoris radiata and the only species which could contribute the white color is Lycoris longituba. The other parent must be a spring-foliage species, so the only option is Lycoris sprengeri. We now feel confident that this hybrid could only have occurred with a cross of Lycoris sprengeri x radiata x longituba. We call these hybrids, Lycoris x longitosea (longituba x rosea).

Lycoris ‘Peppermint’

To determine which lycoris will thrive in your hardiness zone, simply look at when the foliage emerges. The fall-foliage species/hybrid are best from Zone 7b and south, although some will grow in Zone 7a. The spring-foliaged species/hybrids should be fine in Zone 5, and possibly as far north as Zone 3.

While lycoris will grow and flower in sun, they perform far better in filtered deciduous shade, where the foliage will have some protection from the ravages of winter. The amount of light they receive in summer when they have no foliage isn’t really relevant to their performance.

Yucc’ing it up

We’ve been playing around with yucca breeding for almost a decade, and now have hybrids that include from 3-5 different species. Here’s a shot of one of our evaluation beds when it was in full flower recently. Flower spike height ranged from 3′ to 10′. There should be some wild and crazy introductions once our trials are finished.

Monarch Bait

As gardeners around the country are encouraged to plant more asclepias to encourage monarch butterflies, many folks are finding out that not all species of asclepias make good garden plants. As a genus, asclepias consists of running and clump forming species. There are number of horribly weedy garden plants like Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias syriaca, and Asclepias fasicularis. These plants are fine in a prairie garden, but are disastrous in more controlled home gardens.

One of our favorite clumping species is the easy-to-grow, Arizona-native Asclepias angustifolia ‘Sonoita’. This superb species was shared by plantsman Patrick McMillan. It has proven to be an amazing garden specimen, thriving for years, despite our heat and humidity. Did I mention it flowers from spring through summer?

A Time for Turmeric

I’m always amazed that so many people don’t realize that turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an amazing garden perennial. We’ve had our plants in the garden for nearly 30 years. This week, the flowers of this delightful ginger lily from Southern India emerge, looking like fancy pink pine cones. Curcuma longa is very easy to grow, as long as the soil is reasonably well-drained. Just mark the planting spot, since it usually doesn’t break ground before June. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10.

Perennial Gathering

Just back from the Perennial Plant Association meeting in Lancaster, PA, held in person for the first time in three years. It was like a family reunion after such a long period of no contact, except via Zoom. Over 450 people from around the world showed up for the first year back.

The Perennial Plant Association is a professional organization for people involved in production, sales, trials, research, landscaping, or growing perennials. The annual meetings consist of a week of talks, tours, and a trade show. There are plenty of tour options, so attendees can select whether they are more interested in landscape design, retail, or production.

Briggs Nursery booth at PPA trade show in PA

Aris Greenleaf is a large liner producer, who also has a trial garden. Sadly, non of the trial plants here had been planted more than a few months.

Aris Greenleaf production and shipping facilities
Aris Greenleaf trial garden

Cavano’s Nursery in nearby Maryland, was one of several top notch perennial growers we visited.

Cavano’s Nursery tour
Cavano’s Nursery

North Creek Nursery, a leading producer of native plant liners in PA, hosted the group for an amazing dinner

Dinner @ North Creek Nurseries
North Creek Nurseries production greenhouses

Owner Ed Snodgrass welcomed the group to his Emory Knoll Farms, an “off the grid” nursery that only produces plants for green roofs. 100% of their power is produced by solar panels on site.

Ed Snodgrass

For those unfamiliar with green roofs, shingles are replaced with plants, which help insulate the structure, while also reducing runoff.

Green roof planting at Emory Knoll Farms
Green roof plant production at Emory Knoll Farms

What interested many on this tour, was their use of an outdoor version of a Stanley Steamer, for weed control. The manufacturer, Weedtechnics is out of Australia, but has a few US distributors.

Steam is applied too kill weeds as you would clean a carpet. The steam only penetrates the ground to 5 mm, but that’s enough to kill both the weed and weed seed, without bothering nearby plants. This is certainly a technology many of us on the tour will be investigating.

Weedtechnics tractor mounted weed steamer
Weedtechnics steamer in action

We visited the amazing Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, a place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting several times over the last 30 years. The gardens have undergrown a dramatic facelift that made a great garden even better. It was great to catch the native Zigadenus glaberrimus in full flower by the lower pond.

Zigadenus glaberrimus

The amazing Chanticleer Gardens and Longwood Gardens both hosted the group for two incredible dinners and a chance to stroll the grounds. At Chanticleer, we caught the water lotus (Nelumbo) in full flower, looking eerily like something from the Little Shop of Horrors.

Nelumbo @ Chanticleer Gardens

Of course, we are all there to see the latest and greatest in new plants, and these gatherings never fail to show us something new we need to try. Below are the latest from the world of echinacea breeding.

Echinacea ‘Rainbow’
Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ @ The Perennial Farm
Echinacea ‘Tres Amigos’ @ The Perennial Farm

Lysimachia lanceolata ‘Burgundy Mist’ and Sorghastrum nutans ‘Golden Sunset’ are two new US natives that are just hitting the market.

Lysimachia lanceolata ‘Burgundy Mist’
Sorghastum nutans ‘Golden Sunset’

Of course, in addition to the plants, these meetings are also about the people and the networking that these meetings afford. It was great to see two former JLBG’ers in attendance, Adrienne and Jon Roethling. Adrienne is now the Director of the Paul Ciener Garden in NC, and Jon heads up the grounds at Reynolda House and Gardens.

Adrienne and Jon Roethling

And it was great to catch up with Simple, the Roving Garden Artist…one of the most “out of the box” designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Simple, The Roving Garden Artist

It was a lovely surprise to run into an old friend, plantsman Barry Yinger, who was in town, taking a break from his Sanseveria conservation work in Tanzania to visit his sister, and happened to be staying next door to the convention.

Barry Yinger

It’s always great to catch up with old friends, Nanci Allen (long time PPA director), and Allan Armitage (retired UGA professor). You never know who you’ll run into at these meetings. If you work in the field, check out the PPA, and perhaps we’ll see you at a future symposium.

Time to Eat your Greens

We stumbled on this convention (or orgy) of the native green June beetles recently. We’ve long been fascinated with this amazing type of scarab beetle. They really don’t cause any significant garden damage…unless your garden is seriously stressed and you’re slow to pick your soft, sweet fruit like ripe figs.

In June and July, the beetles emerge from below ground, where they’ve been munching on grass roots for up to five years. As you can imagine, they’re a bit lonely…and horny. They immediately begin looking for a mate, and something to eat other than grass roots. From the look of these fellows below, they’ve found plenty of mates.

Green June Beetles actually make a great food for a variety of critters including an array of skunks, racoons, insects, birds, and even humans. Estimates of their protein content is an impressive 40-50%! No wonder some Native American tribes fire roast them to eat. On-line recipes include baking them into biscuits and wrapping them with cheese and bacon. I’m not making this up! Instead of reaching for the sprayer, perhaps we could find more sustainable ways to recycle your June beetles.

They Came, They Listened, They Learned, They shared

We’ve just wrapped up the 2022 Southeastern Plant Symposium in Raleigh, and were thrilled to have nearly 200 attendees. It was great to be back in person after two years of remote Zooming. The symposium is co-sponsored by the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with all proceeds split between the two institutions (JCRA operations and the JLBG endowment).

Attendees were entertained and enlightened by fourteen of the top horticultural authorities in the country/world. This years symposium was focused on perennials, 2023 will be focused on woody plants (trees/shrubs), and 2024 will focus on geophytes (bulbs, tubers, etc.) as part of our three year rotation.

We hope you’ll join us for 2023, and mark June 9, 10 on your calendar. Not only are the speakers excellent, but the symposium includes a rare plant auction, which this year, offered over 430 plants, most of which aren’t available anywhere else in the world.

Mark Weathington, Director JC Raulston Arboretum
SPS lecture room
SPS speaker line-up
SPS attendees taking a break..speaker Adam Black on left
A few of the amazing SPS auction plants

Gold Anole

Carolina anoles are our most prolific garden pet, occurring by the thousands in our garden. It’s rare that a garden photography session doesn’t include several anole shots.

Carolina anoles are the only North American lizard with the ability to change color…usually ranging from green through brown. Despite being studied for years, researchers still have no idea what causes anoles to change color. Researchers know that their skin color has absolutely nothing to do with the material they are sitting on. The next best theory that anoles change color to regulate temperature has also been disproven.

Current research seems to link color change to stress, be that from entering the territory of another anole or relating to a pending sexual encounter. The natural world has so many secrets that we still don’t understand…ain’t mother nature grand!

The Accidental Green Meatball

Recently PDN staffer Chris Hardison, who heads up our marketing team, noticed an odd green meatball in a local shopping center parking lot. Upon closer examination, he found it to be a specimen of our native willow oak, Quercus phellos.

It’s obvious that the low-end mow and blow crew who take care of the plants in the parking lot assumed it to be another plant, like the hollies nearby, that needed to be butchered into the most unnatural shape possible…a green meatball.

We were curious if the oak was a natural dwarf, or was damaged when it was young, and was simply trying to resprout, when it caught the eye of the crew of horticultural butchers. It does have three smaller trunks than its nearby same age siblings, which seem to indicate damage during its youth.

To confirm this theory, we have taken cuttings and if we can get them to root, we’ll plant them out at JLBG and see if it maintains the dwarf form, which could actually be a fascinating option for homeowners. The second image below shows the green meatball oak in front of it’s sibling, planted the same time.

We love horticultural mysteries.

Quercus phellos green meatball form
Quercus phellos green meatball in front of its more typical sibling

Hostas don’t grow here…

We often hear and read that hostas won’t grow well in the mid and deep south, so we thought we should share a few garden photos from this week at JLBG (Zone: 7b), to bust yet another garden myth.

Starting with some small/miniature hostas, the first is Doug Beilstein’s Hosta ‘Baby Booties’, a superbly vigorous dwarf that has really been exceptional.

Hosta ‘ Baby Booties’

Hosta ‘Blue Fingers’ is a PDN/JLBG introduction of one of the very few tiny blue-leaf hostas with excellent vigor and a good multiplication rate.

Hosta ‘Blue Fingers’

Hosta ‘Wriggles and Squiggles’ is an exceptionally wavy-leaf, small, gold introduction from plant breeder, Hans Hansen.

Hosta ‘Wiggles and Squiggles’

Hosta ‘Fire and Ice’ is another Hans Hansen introduction that was a reverse sport of Hosta ‘Patriot’. It fares much better when given more light, even a few hours of sun in the morning.

Hosta ‘Fire and Ice’

Hosta ‘Swamp Thing’ is a PDN/JLBG introduction with great vigor and glossy foliage

Hosta ‘Swamp Thing’

Hosta ‘Beyond Glory’ is a Hans Hansen sport from Hosta ‘Glory’. This is just one exceptional hosta, which also benefits from a bit of morning sun or very open shade.

Hosta ‘Beyond Glory’

Hosta ‘Diamond Lake’ is a stunning new Hans Hansen creation with large blue corrugated leaves with exceptional leaf rippling.

Hosta ‘Diamond Lake’

Hosta ‘Gold Meadows’ is one of our favorite sports of Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’. When the weather warms, the central pattern fades to solid blue, but in spring, it’s absolutely stunning. It has also shown great vigor in the Southeastern US.

Hosta ‘Golden Meadows’

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’ is a Hans Hansen/Walters Gardens sport of Hosta ‘Dancing Queen’. We think it’s hard to beat this amazing plant. The vigor is evident in our photo.

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’

Calling all Plant Nerds

Just over a month remains before the 2022 Southeastern Plant Symposium kicks off in Raleigh at the Sheraton Hotel, downtown. This joint venture between JLBG/Plant Delights and the JC Raulston Arboretum brings together the top horticultural speakers from around the world to regale attendees with tales of their favorite new plants. Each symposium rotates a focus on either on woody plants, perennials, or geophytes. The 2022 symposium is perennials focused.

The dates are Friday, June 10 and Saturday June 11. Both the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden/Plant Delights will be open for visitors on the Thursday prior and the Sunday morning after the symposium.

A few of the amazing speakers include:

Leftherios Dariotis – If you’re a sports fan, you’ve heard the nickname “Greek Freak” applied to NBA star, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Well, Leftherios (aka: Liberto Dario) is to horticulture, what Giannis is to basketball…a true superstar. Leftherios will travel from his home in Greece to dazzle you with an array of little-known plants that thrive in hot, dry climates.

Eleftherios Dariotis

Dan Hinkley, founder of Heronswood and Windcliff, plant explorer extraordinaire, and recipient of the world’s top horticultural honors, will join us to share his latest botanical adventures and plants that have potential for our hot, humid climate. Dan bring a new perspective from having experienced 117 degrees F. in his Washington garden in 2021.

Dan Hinkley

Patrick McMillan is a NC native, who spent two decades as a professor at Clemson. While there, he hosted the Emmy Award winning PBS show, Expeditions with Patrick McMillan, as well as directing the SC Botanical Garden. After a 1.5 year stint as Director of Heronswood, he has returned to his roots in NC, and joined the staff of JLBG. Patrick is widely recognized for his incredible botanical knowledge. His new book, Wildflowers of South Carolina will hit bookshelves soon.

Patrick McMillan

Peter Zale is the Associate Director of Conservation, Plant Breeding and Collections at Pennsylvannia’s Longwood Gardens. Peter specializes in a number of plant groups that include hardy orchids and phlox. You can’t help but be amazed at Peter’s conservation and breeding work as well as his extensive knowledge of the natural world.

Peter Zale

Plantsman Adam Black is known worldwide for his botanical exploits, primarily focused on the state of Texas. Adam has spent years traversing every corner of Texas, both re-discovering long lost plants and finding new ones. Adam’s horticultural background gives him a unique take on which Texas native plants will have great garden value for gardeners in the southeast. Adam has recently moved to NC to take a job as an Assistant Curator at the Bartlett Arboretum. We guarantee you’ll meet more new plants than you ever thought possible.

Adam Black (l)

Kelly Norris is a true renaissance horticulturist. Growing up in a Midwest iris nursery propelled Kelly into the public horticultural arena. After a stint beefing up the collections at the Des Moines Botanic Garden, Kelly now splits his time between landscape design, writing, and extolling the virtues of new plants on QVC. Kelly is one of the new wave of great thinkers in our industry who understands the need for the fields of botany and horticulture to collaborate.

Kelly Norris

On Saturday, the pace picks up even more, with shorter, but intensively focused talks. The list of Saturday presenters include Mark Weathington, Director of the JC Raulston Arboretum will speak on his favorite new perennials. Ian Caton, founder of Wood Thrush Natives in Virginia will speak on Underused and Little-known Appalachian Natives. Hayes Jackson, Alabama Extension Agent and Director of The Longleaf Botanical Garden in Alabama will speak on Creating a Tropical Garden Feel in a Temperate Climate.

We are pleased to welcome Richard Hawke, Manager of the Perennial Trials at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Richard’s detailed cultivar evaluations are prized by gardeners throughout the country. Shannon Currey, Marketing Manager for Hoffman’s Nursery, will share her passion for sedges, while Adrienne Roethling, Director of the Paul Ciener Botanical Garden will discuss her favorite vines. Yours’ truly, Tony Avent, will share more than you ever thought possible about the genus Baptisia.

Did I mention the symposium includes the now world-famous rare plant auction, which has garnered International attention? The auction and symposium will be available both on-line and remote.

We are pleased to welcome Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs as a presenting sponsor for 2022. Additionally, Ball Seed is offering 10 student scholarships to attend the symposium. You can find out more about these and apply here.

Mark and I truly hope you will join us for this incredible perennials-focused symposium, back in person for the first time in three years. The Symposium is an important fundraiser for both the JC Raulston Arboretum as well as the Juniper Level Botanic Garden Endowment. Here is the link to register for the Symposium. We’ll see you in June!

Hi Jacks

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a plant survey of a local woodland area of about 30 acres. The low, moist areas are filled with Arisaema triphyllum, (Jack-in-the-pulpit) which is quite common in our area. The first image is what is typical for the species.

Arisaema triphyllum Wake County, NC

I’ve been studying patches of Jack-in-the-pulpit for well over 55 years, always looking for unusual leaf forms that showed any type of patterning. Until last month, I’d never found a single form with atypical foliage. That all changed with my first trip to this local site, where so far, I have found several dozen forms with silver leaf vein patterns. Up until now, there are only two pattern leaf forms of Arisaema triphyllum in cultivation, Arisaema ‘Mrs. French’ and Arisaema ‘Starburst’.

Each patterned leaf clone varies slightly as you would expect within a population including both green and purple stalk coloration.

Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with green stems
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with purple stems

While I’d never found any true variegation prior to this, I had found plenty of transient leaf patterning caused by Jack-in-the-pulpit rust (Uromyces ari triphylli). This site was no exception, with a number of plants showing the characteristic patterning. If you find these, turn the leaf upside down and you’ll see the small orange rust pustules.

While these may seem exciting, the pattern are not genetic and will disappear without the fungus. Fortunately, this rust can be cured by cutting off the top of the plant and discarding it where the spores can not spread via the wind. Infected plant should be fine, albeit smaller next year. The susceptibility of Arisaema triphyllum to jack-in-the-pulpit rust varies with genetics. Of the tens of thousands of plants I observed at the site, less than 10% were infected with the rust.

Arisaema triphyllum with rust induced pattern
Arisaema triphyllum rust induced pattern on leaf back

The House of Plant Science

We recently attended the dedication the new Plant Science Building at NC State. This $160 million dollar facility will house high level plant research where interdisciplinary researchers will work together to solve high level plant concerns. I can only imagine being a student and being able to work in such an amazing facility. The top floor is a high-tech greenhouse.

Flowers at Flower Hill

We’re just back from a quick outing to the Flower Hill Nature Preserve in Johnston County, NC…just a few miles from JLBG. This unique coastal plain site contains remnants of species more common in the NC mountains, nearly 5 hours west. The top of the bluff is a small stand of enormous Rhododendron catawbiense, while along the bottom of the hill is a bank of the deciduous Rhododendron canescens.

Rhododendron catawbiense
Rhododendron canescens

In the mid-slope area, we found Cypripedium acaule (pink ladyslipper orchid), just waiting to be photographed. Sadly, it’s one of the most difficult species to transplant, so just enjoy these in situ when you find them.

Cypripedium acaule

There were beautiful masses of the evergreen groundcover galax, growing on the eastern slope.

Galax urceolata

It was particularly great to see the Asarum vriginicum in full flower. True Asarum virginicum is rarely seen in cultivation, and the diversity of flower color was outstanding.

Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum

Playing 3 on 3

Here’s a fun combination this from the garden this week, where we combined two three-leafed plants together…a silver leaf Trillium cuneatum with the hardy purple-leaf shamrock, Oxalis triangularis. You can have all kind of fun making these little vignette combinations in your garden, using your school colors, or any other design scheme that suits your tastes.

Mama…where do fern babies come from?

If you’re a nursery, and you’d like to offer ferns, the plants at your disposal are somewhat limited. A large majority of ferns sold in America are still sadly dug from the wild. When you see a catalog listing primarily these ferns together…usually an very inexpensive prices, you can be pretty much assured they were dug from the wild: Osmunda regalis (royal fern), Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon Fern), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern), Matteuccia Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern), Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair fern), Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern), and Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern). These ferns are often sold bareroot, to save the nursery the expense of having to pot the collected plants, many of which are so large, they won’t fit in small containers.

The other majority of ferns in the market are produced by tissue culture, either by a couple of labs in Florida, one in Texas, and one in Holland. Without the amazing work of these labs, the fern selections available to homeowners would be limited to the wild collections. Even with their amazing work, these labs must focus on well-known ferns that sell in very large numbers.

While we make use of the lab offerings, we also made a commitment over 30 years ago to grow many of our own ferns from spores. Outside of a few small fern specialists, there are few nurseries who grow their own ferns from spores, since this is the most costly and time consuming option. The reason we do this is so that we can offer fern species and selected forms that are otherwise unavailable.

Below is a quick summary of how the process works. Fern spores (fern equivalents of seed) are collected through the summer, and are dried in paper envelopes until they separate from the foliage. They are then sown in pots with potting soil that is sterilized here, and then sealed in ziploc bags. The spore takes from 1 month to 6 months to germinate. Once the spores germinate, they are ready to have sex…a process that is reversed from more modern evolved flowering plants.

To assist the ferns have sex, we gently add water to the newly germinated sporelings, since ferns (other than desert ferns) only have sex while they are swimming. The water is swirled around to mimic the feel of a whirlpool, then the bags are then resealed, and put in the dark where they are subjected to a near constant montage of Barry White music.

Within a few weeks, tiny fern fronds begin to emerge. At this point, the ziploc bags are opened to allow the humidity to equalize with the ambient air. After another couple of weeks the pots are removed from the ziploc bags. If the spore were viable and cleaned well without contamination, and if germination was good, there will be up to several hundred plants per pot.

After a few weeks, the sporelings are transplanted into a cell pack flat. Here they grow out for another few months until they are ready to be planted into our 1 qt. pots, in which they will be sold. In all, it’s about an 18 month process, and a good bit of labor. We’re really quite passionate about our fern collection at JLBG, which the visiting British Fern Society declared one of the largest/most diverse in the world. We hope you find the results worthwhile.

Voles in Holes

This is the time of year (October – April) when voles are extremely active in the garden, as you can see below from this recently chewed aspidistra in the garden. Voles are vegetarian mouse relatives that tunnel underground eating the roots of plants…usually those with the most expensive price tags. Once the roots are gone, plant remains are then stealthily pulled underground so you won’t notice the damage.

The formulation of most commercial vole baits changed in the last few years and are now composed of Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol). While Vitamin D is quite effective on voles, it still needs to be kept away from pets, since too much Vitamin D isn’t a good thing. We prefer the large blocks, compared to the smaller pellets since they are less likely to be swallowed by pets.

We’ve also always recommended using PVC-tubes for vole feeding, or simply bury the bait underground or under a rock, etc. Of course, there’s always the option of using mouse traps to catch voles, which is much more labor intensive and not really really viable on a large scale.

Vole bate stations should be placed every 10′ apart in high problem areas, and must be checked every couple of weeks to make sure bait remains. We have been using various vole baits for 35 years, and have yet to have any issues with our fleet of garden cats, but it is important that you be careful with bait placement.

Once vole populations are under control, we recommend using traps around the edge of your property to prevent new intrustions. We do this by spreading a square of black plastic with bait underneath, along your property line…every 50′ or so seems to be adequate. The voles are attracted to the black plastic and the bait, so this way there never venture further into the garden.

Raisin’ Cain

I had a great visit recently with David Cain and Denny Werner. Most of you know Dr. Werner from his work at NC State, first as a peach breeder and later as the creator of a parade of amazing redbud hybrids.

David and Denny were both grad students together back at Michigan State. Dr. Cain went on to become a fruit breeder, and is the papa of the incredibly famous Cotton Candy grape. On the off chance you haven’t tried it, be sure to search for it at your local grocery store. David worked in academia and later the USDA, before embarking on his own venture, where he made several incredible fruit breeding breakthroughs.

I didn’t realize David is a long-time plant nerd and Plant Delights customer, and has recently moved from California to the East Coast for his next plant breeding adventure. We had a blast talking plant breeding and looking at a few of our crazy breeding projects at JLBG.

An Exciting New Expedition

Please join me in welcoming our newest JLBG team member, Dr. Patrick McMillan. I’ve known Patrick for 30 years, going back to his days as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and long before he became a legend in the plant world.

We’ve followed his amazing journey, most recently as Director of Heronswood Gardens in Washington. Prior to that, he was Director of the SC Botanical Garden and Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson since 2000. Patrick was the Emmy Award winning host of the renown PBS series, Expeditions with Patrick McMillan. Patrick is a highly-respected botanist/naturalist, who has won far too many awards to mention, but we’ll let Patrick tell you a bit more about himself and why he decided to partner with JLBG.

My first experience with Juniper Level and Tony was sitting at the kitchen table in 1991, the inaugural year of Plant Delights Nursery, talking about Asarum and star-struck by Tony’s knowledge and passion that has continued to grow into one of the world’s premier gardens and nurseries. In those days I dreamed of the opportunity to work alongside such talented horticulturalists and intrepid explorers.

My love of plants and all things slithering, creeping, crawling, and flying came at a very early age. I can’t remember a time when my life wasn’t centered on them. Fast forward 31 years and I found myself sitting at the same table reminiscing about the past, marveling at how far JLBG has grown, and stirring excitement for the future. I am so enthusiastic about joining the staff at JLBG, learning from the lifetimes of incredible knowledge and skill that is assembled among the employees and sharing my own experience, passion, and knowledge to bolster the mission and the horticultural and conservation accomplishments of this magical place.

I’m probably best described as a plant nerd. I have never met a plant I didn’t love. Every plant has a story and each is connected to our lives and the lives of the biodiversity upon which we all depend. Much of my horticultural experience and focus in South Carolina and at Heronswood Garden in Kingston, Washington has been focused on generating and supporting insect, bird and other wildlife diversity in the home landscape.

My philosophy of natural community gardening and the generation of life is a fairly simple one based on filling every space with life – diversity generates diversity. My exploration of the plant world has taken me from pole to pole and over every continent except Australia. I was trained as a sedge taxonomist but my interests include anything with cells. I’ve described new species ranging from ragweeds to sedges and begonia.

I also believe strongly that our greatest gift is sharing knowledge and I have worked as a lifelong educator. You may also have seen me on your local PBS station, where for 15 years I wrote, hosted, and produced the series “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan” – distributed by American Public Television. Conservation, preservation and generation of life is at the core of my life’s mission and I can imagine no better place to be nested within than JLBG. I hope to meet you soon and share some hearty plant nerd conversation.

Beyond Bread

What do the plants pictured below have in common, and it’s not what you might think. These common plants are actually food crops…read more at the end of the photos.

Cosmos sulphureus
Nepeta (catmint)
Polymnia
Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew)
Cyperus (nutsedge)

These are a few of the plants that can be used to make wheat bread…and flavorful bread at that. Yes, the kind you eat.

A fascinating 2017 research study from Tavria State Agrotechnological University in Ukraine describes how common garden plants (and weeds) can be used in the production of bread. Most people probably have little idea of the amazing research that goes on in Ukraine. If you’re curious to give it a try, here is the link to the original research publication.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ukrainians as they endure the horrific invasion of their wonderful country.

Richer for Ritchie

I was scanning some older slides recently, and came across this image of the late Ritchie Bell from 1968. Dr. Bell was director of the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill for 25 years, from 1961 to 1986. Here he is in 1968, posing by a sign for the first nature trail opened at NCBG, just a couple of years earlier.

Ritchie is not just known for his work at the garden, but for his many books, most notably, his contributions to the revered, 1964 Manual of the Vascular Flora of North Carolina, with Al Radford and Harry Ahles. We’ve never forgot Ritchie’s motto of “Conservation through Propagation”…something that’s even more important today in the face of a changing climate. Ritchie passed away in 2013 and the age of 92, but his powerful legacy endures.. He was a good friend and an incredible inspiration.

Ritchie had just made a previous presentation to the Men’s Garden Club of America regional meeting in Reidsville about the new NCBG trail system. Below is an image from that 1968 meeting with MGC Regional President, Sam Fairchild (r) of Reidsville, NC. Most people don’t remember Ritchie prior to growing his trademark beard.

Ruscus Crazy

We love the evergreen ruscus in garden, but realize they are a plant that will never be found at most mainstream garden centers. A genus of only 6 currently recognized species, native from Europe into Eurasia, these horticultural oddities are so odd that they once qualified to have their own plant family, Ruscaceae.

Now, with improved DNA testing, they were found to actually be members of the Asparagus family. Exactly where within the Asparagus family is still an ongoing debate. Within the last decade, they were grouped with Nolina and Dasylirion, which to those of us who work with live plants, made no sense. Most likely, they will wind up in their own section, but as distant cousins to better know genera like Rohdea and Liriope.

Ruscus are great evergreen plants for dry shade, in regions where they are winter hardy, which is usually Zone 7b and south. Ruscus are unique in that they don’t produce leaves, but instead have leaf like structures known as cladodes, from which the tiny flowers emerge. All ruscus species have both separate male and female plants, although there are four hermaphroditic (bi-sexual) cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus in commerce, which produce the lovely red fruit without a mate.

The most common ruscus species in cultivation is Ruscus aculeatus, which has a wide range from Western Europe through the Caucuses. A handful of named cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus can be found in the gardens. Below is a photo this month of Ruscus ‘Sparkler’ a self-fruiting form, whose 2′ tall height is mid-way between Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Wheeler’.

Ruscus aculeatus ‘Sparkler’

Ruscus hypophyllum is a species, which ranges from Spain to Northern Africa, that’s rarely cultivated in the US. Other than the very tender Ruscus streptophyllus, this has proven to the be the next most tender species. Prior to trying these new forms of Ruscus hypophyllum, which were planted in early 2020, we had only grown a single clone, which had consistently died in our Zone 7b winters. These new plants are seedlings, grown from an Alan Galloway seed collection in Majorca, Spain.

Ruscus hypophyllum

Ruscus hypoglossum, which hails from Italy to Turkey, is a similar sounding species that we were fortunate to study in the wilds of Slovenia a few years ago, where it grew in mountainous open forests.

Ruscus hypoglossum
Ruscus hypoglossum flowers

Ruscus x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.

Ruscus x microglossum

Ruscus colchicus is a species we fell in love with during a trip to Hillier’s Arboretum in 2005. Hailing from NW Turkey to the Western Caucuses, Ruscus colchicus is possibly the most elegant garden species. We are fortunate to have three different clones growing at JLBG, which we hope to one day have enough to share.

Ruscus colchicus

Voted least likely to be found in an ex-situ plant collection is Ruscus hyrcanus, a species, whose native range is from the Crimea into Iran. In appearance it somewhat resembles a dwarf, horizontal-growing version of Ruscus aculeatus. We are thrilled to have been able to offer this little-cultivated species in the past through Plant Delights.

Ruscus hyrcanus

We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.

Mid-Winter Grotto

Here’s a mid-winter shot of our front grotto, showing what that section looks like during the most trying time of year. We try to emphasize to those building new gardens to treat gardens just like rooms of your home. Each should have a floor, ceiling, walls, furniture both large and small, and decorations. In the garden, we also try to emphasize year round interest, which in our area includes a good selection of evergreens. Our Winter Open Nursery and Garden Days coming up in a few weeks is a great time to get ideas and inspiration for your own garden. Below is a “before” picture of the same area.

JLBG grotto garden 2022

Below is the same shot when this section was begun in 1988.

JLBG grotto garden 1988

Information you can trust

With over 60% of retail plants now purchased at the box stores, we wonder if most consumers know you can’t trust much if anything you read on a label at a mass marketer. Our most recent example is this tag on an Illicium parviflorum at our local Lowes. I particularly love the common name, Japanese Anise. Unfortunately, Illicium parviflorum is native only to Florida…quite a few miles from Japan.

The tag mentions full sun, which Illicium parviflorum certainly tolerates, but in the wild, it grows naturally in moist woodlands.

Then, there is the note about cool temperatures and warm soil promotes root growth. Well, warm soil does promote root growth for some plants, but not for all. Wouldn’t the soil have been warmer in mid-summer than now? Just wondering…

And, if that wasn’t enough, our staff taxonomist, Zac Hill spotted this tag for our native bald cypress, Taxodium distichum at a different Lowes store. The problem is that the plant is actually a Chinese Dawn Redwood, Metasequoia instead of a Taxodium. I wonder if they thought…”what the hell, those dumb consumers will never know the difference.”. After all, it’s just another little green lie. As Anita likes to say, ‘The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.”

Sex for the Centuries

Since we are limited in the number of hardy century plant species, our only option for more agave diversity in the garden is to create it by crossing existing hardy species together. Here are a few of our recent successes.

Agave x amourifolia is a Plant Delights/JLBG creation from a cross we made in 2016 that combined the genes of three century plants, Agave ovatifolia, Agave lophantha, and Agave x pseudoferox ‘Logan Calhoun’. Our size estimates were that the offspring would mature at 3′ tall x 5′ wide. Here is one of our garden specimens photographed this week, which has already reached 2′ tall x 3′ wide.

Agave x amourifolia

Below is Agave x ovox, a 2017 cross of the two giants, Agave ovatifolia and Agave x pseudoferox ‘Bellville’. We expect this to get huge…perhaps 5′ tall x 10′ wide.

Agave x ovox ‘Large Ox’

Below is Agave x protifolia is a 2016 Mike Papay cross of Agave x protamericana x Agave ovatifolia. We also expect this to get quite massive.

Agave x protifolia

Below is Agave x ovatispina ‘Blue Arrows’, a 2016 Mike Papay cross of Agave ovatifolia x Agave flexispina. We would have expected this to be a mature size, but it’s achieved this in only 5 years, so we think we’re seeing some serious hybrid vigor.

Agave x ovatispina ‘Blue Arrows’

Below is Agave x ocareginae, our 2016 cross of Agave ovatifolia x Agave victoriae-reginae. Most likely, this elegant small grower will never offset.

Agave x ocareginae

Below is Agave x schuphantha, a 2015 Mike Papay cross involving three century plant species, Agave schidigera, Agave lophantha, and Agave lechuguilla. It’s formed a beautiful, symmentrical rosette, which should be getting close to mature size.

Agave x schuphantha ‘Wheel of Fortune’

The Case of The Beautiful Imposter

This is one of the rare summers we actually got flowers on Amaryllis belladonna in the gardens at JLBG. The only problem is that they aren’t really Amaryllis belladonna. This poor South African native has suffered a series of nomenclatural mix ups over the last 250 years, that sadly continues today.

First was the battle over which plant really belongs to the genus name, amaryllis. The mix-up started with the grandfather of modern taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, when he published the genus name Amaryllis in 1753. In his initial publication, Linnaeus applied the name amaryllis to a group of plants, which later turned out to include at least five different genera; amaryllis, nerine, zephyranthes, sprekelia, and sternbergia. A few years later in 1819, botanist William Herbert and others tried to clean up the mess using Linnaeus’s notes, and in doing so, assigned the genus name amaryllis to the solitary South African species, Amaryllis belladonna, which had been in Western cultivation since 1633.

Fast forward 119 years to 1938, when taxonomist Cornelius Uphof upset the proverbial apple cart when he published a paper in which he declared that the assignment of the name amaryllis for the South Aftrican plant was against Linnaeus’s wishes, since it was clear to Uphof that Linnaeus intended the genus Amaryllis to be applied to the American genus, Hippeastrum. Uphof’s paper renamed the American genus Hippeastrum to Amaryllis and the South African Amaryllis belladonna became Callicore rosea. This caused quite a taxonomic uproar which would continue for another 50 years.

The following year, 1939, taxonomist Joseph Sealy dug deeper into the original amaryllis name mix-up, and found it impossible to determine which plant Linnaeus intended to bestow with the genus name, Amaryllis, since most of Linnaeus’s original description referenced the South African plant, and only one small part referenced the American plant. Consequently, Sealy left the name amaryllis to apply to the solitary Amaryllis belladonna, and not to the much larger genus Hippeastrum.

The battle was far from over, and in fact, it turned into a war, led by American taxonomist Dr. Hamilton Traub, who from 1949 until his death in 1983, was defiant that the genus name amaryllis should instead apply to the American hippeastrums. Finally, in 1987, after Traub’s death, the International Botanical Congress confirmed the assignment of the name amaryllis to the South African species. Despite this resolution to 250 years of wrangling, most gardeners still refer to the plants that they grow widely in homes and gardens for their large flowers as amaryllis and not the proper name, hippeastrum.

One would hope that the 1987 decision would be the end of the mess, but not so fast…there was yet another taxonomic snafu. Amaryllis belladonna is a plant which is widely grown throughout California, where it thrives and flowers annually. But, is it really Amaryllis belladonna? While it’s certainly not a hippeastrum, the answer is no. To solve this mix-up, let’s step back a few years, to 1841, when Australian plantsman John Bidwill, first crossed Amaryllis belladonna with another African relative, brunsvigia, creating a bi-generic hybrid that would become known as x Amargyia parkeri. Because x Amargyia parkeri had more flowers, a more radial flower head, and better vigor, it gradually replaced true Amaryllis belladonna in cultivation, especially in California. I chatted with Californian Bill Welch (Bill the Bulb Baron), the largest grower/breeder of Amaryllis belladonna, prior to his untimely death in 2019. Bill admitted that everything he grew and sold as Amaryllis belladonna was actually the hybrid x Amargyia parkeri. Nurserymen have a bad habit of using incorrect names, because they realize that names which are familiar to customers always sell better.

If that’s not confusing enough, we should add that about half of the people who grow Lycoris x squamigera, a Zone 4 hardy bulb, also have their plants also labeled as Amaryllis belladonna, which is only winter hardy from Zone 8 south. We can thank several large mail order bulb catalogs who have no interest in either correct nomenclature or correct photography for that fiasco.

To quote the late Paul Harvey, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

So, do you see why plant taxonomist generally have little hair remaining?

Got Cicads? We’ve got Cicada Killers

I noticed this odd soil formation in the garden this week and checked with our staff entomologist Bill Reynolds, who identified this as the nest of a Cicada Killer Wasp. These large, yellow banded wasps which we see around the garden, capture and paralyze cicadas, then bring them back to their in-ground lairs. The wasps drag the stunned cicadas into the mound and proceed to lay eggs in their paralyzed bodies. The eggs, then hatch and use the cicadas for food, eating the non-vital body parts first, so their food source remains alive as long as possible. When the hole is full of cicada bodies (generally less than a dozen), the wasps seal up the entrance, leaving no trace of what’s going on underneath. Sounds like a real-life zombie storyline.

Bruce and his conifers

We recently visited conifer collector Bruce Appeldoorn at his nursery in the tiny town of Bostic, west of Charlotte, NC. Not only are the gardens amazing, but Bruce has transitioned from his career in landscape design/installation, to an amazing dwarf conifer nursery. He now sits atop the throne, having what is almost certainly the top conifer nursery in the Southeast US. Most everything is propagated here from either cuttings or grafting. He is part of a small contingent of regional broom hunters, who seek out and graft dwarf witches broom mutations from area pine trees. You can find out more about how to visit or order here.

Visiting Kentucky in Texas

It was a real thrill last week to visit a population of Cypripedium kentuckiense (Kentucky Ladyslipper Orchid) in Texas with native plant guru, Adam Black. Adam has made numerous trips to this and other nearby sites, carefully pollinating the orchids to ensure seed set and enhance reproduction. While we’ve offered this species as seed-grown plants (8 years from seed to flower) for years, this was my first chance to actually study them in the wild. Cypripedium kentuckiense is one of the easiest ladyslipper orchids to cultivate, thriving in a wide variety of woodland conditions. Here, they were growing just above a seasonally flooded stream in very sandy soils.

Let’s talk cells

If you’re a gardener, especially one who likes to stay in touch, there are few things more annoying than those hard-sided cell phone cases that come standard when you buy a new cell phone. I constantly found those hard plastic swivel belt clips beyond aggravating, when bending down working in the garden. I lost track of how many time the clip and my belt separated, tossing my cell phone into everything from ponds to spiny cactus.

Searching on-line, I discovered these amazing soft side cell phone cases with dual belt straps, that turned out to be a godsend for a gardener. I’m now on my third, with each one lasting several years before I simply wore out the threads. So if you’ve cursed your current hard-sided case every time it leaps from your belt, give these a try. There are many brands out there, but our favorite is a Zeato Tactical brand.

Sweet as Snow Cream

One of our most popular introductions is Edgeworthia ‘Snow Cream’…a plant we first selected back in 1995…long before more than a handful of gardeners had even heard of the Chinese native genus.

The late JC Raulston grew a plant, known then as Edgeworthia papyrifera, just outside of the arboretum lath house back in the early 1990s, when I was Curator of the Shade House. It was a fascinating plant that I remember watching each winter as the tight white buds burst into yellow flowers. There was little detectable floral fragrance, the plant never exceeded 3.5′ in height, and it suffered mightily in cold NC winters. I was still entranced by the plant and propagated several and planted them around the NC State Fairgrounds, where I worked full time.

An interesting back story is that a population of Edgeworthia papyrifera was discovered along Wolf Creek in Rabun County, Georgia back in 1971. Author Wilbur Duncan and other native plant researchers were shocked and puzzled to find this new plant growing in the wild until it was later determined to be escapees, probably circuitously from an earlier 1903 introduction by the USDA..