Looking absolutely divine in the garden this week is our 2011 introduction of a Robert Hughes discovery, Phytolacca americana ‘Sunny Side Up’. This vigorous native (Maine west to Texas), known by the common name, poke salad, typically has green foliage, followed by a huge array of pendent purple fruit in late summer. While most folks decry the green form as a garden weed, European garden designers hold it in high regard. We think the gold leaf form adds a whole new dimension of native beauty to the sun garden, as long as its properly maintained. For us, that means removing the fruit before it drops. Hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
Tag Archives: American Native Plants
The US native (Maine south to Alabama) Lilium canadense is looking quite lovely in the sunny garden this week. This particular form is from Cabarrus County, NC. Hardiness Zone 3a-8b.
Looking great now in the bog garden, alongside the pitcher plants is another little-known native (Canada south to Mississippi) perennial, Lophiola aurea. Lophiola is one of only five genera in the Nartheciaceae family. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
Shooting at Stars
This marks the first year we’ve had success with the native Dodecatheon media, know better as shooting stars. The US native, which is naturally found from the Midwest, east to the Appalachians, has been a complete failure for us, until we tried it in our crevice garden seeps, where it’s looking quite content. As with so many plants, it’s just finding (or creating) the proper habitat.
String Theory Propagation
Our trials of Amsonia ‘String Theory’ are looking quite good. This dwarf version of Amsonia hubrichtii is headed for our 2024 catalog. This Hans Hansen creation has topped out at 22″ tall x 3′ wide, which is exactly 1/2 the size of the typical species.
Looking lovely this spring has been our patch of Marshall’s Barbara’s Buttons, Marshallia caespitosa. This cute perennial hails from prairies from Missouri south to Texas and will be available this fall. Hardiness is Zone 5a-8b.
One of the newest discovered species of our native asarum (formerly Hexastylis) is Asarum finzelii, from northeastern Alabama. In foliage, the plant resembles both Asarum arifolium and Asarum speciosum. The flowers, however, are quite different from both, as you can see below. It is our hope to get this propagated before too long, so we can work to make it more widely available.
Pavia is a Fav-ia
The lovely Aesculus pavia, native from Illinois south to Texas, and east to Florida, has been absolutely glorious over the last few weeks. This easy-to-grow small tree typically tops out between 15-20′ tall.
Much ado about Memminger’s Heartleaf Wild Ginger
This spring, we flowered the highly confused NC native wild ginger, mistakenly known as Asarum memmingeri in the garden. In reality, it’s never been given a proper name, so we refer to it as Asarum sp. nov. Allegheny Wild Ginger. Below, Patrick explains how this ginger was dropped into a botanical abyss, and what needs to be done to return it to proper recognition, and to correct a cascade of past taxonomic errors. -ta
When I was a boy the tiny-flowered evergreen wild gingers that grew all over our land in Alleghany County, North Carolina seemed like they must be a common species, and should have a name. As a boy of 12, however, I had a hard time placing a name on them since they didn’t seem to fit the photographs in popular wildflower books or match the plants that my grandmother’s flora called Hexastylis virgnica (now Asarum virginicum).
I became obsessed with heartleafs as a child and the curiosity remains strong. When I entered college I was lucky enough to take Dr. Peet’s Ecological Plant Geography class at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Our class, which was all graduate students and me (as a sophomore), was expected to do a project detailing and explaining the range of a particular genus or family of plants. I chose the smooth-leaved evergreen Asarum, then known then as Hexastylis.
I spent the spring semester travelling to every corner of the American South seeking species I didn’t know and trying to fill in the vacant counties in the range maps of those species that I did know. I took countless measurements of calyces and made copious notes on habitat. I was shocked when I travelled to southeastern Virginia to visit the area where Asarum virginicum was likely first collected. These true Asarum virginicum plants were nothing like the “A. virginicum” I was so used to seeing in my boyhood home.
A quick trip to the Earl Core Herbarium at West Virginia University, and later to the Smithsonian, brought to light a serious problem with what botanical taxonomists currently refer to as Asarum virginicum and an even larger problem with what we call Asarum (Hexastylis) rhombiformis and Asarum (Hexastylis) memmingeri.
It seemed as if the Alleghany County plants I had called Asarum virginicum as a child had been mistakenly identified by WVU taxonomist Earl Core as Asarum memmingeri. Complicating this further was that the probable original type specimen for A. memmingeri would later be published under a new name, H. rhombiformis!
To make sense of the cascade of errors, we need to go back further in time. This story begins in 1897 with W.W. Ashe’s publication of The glabrous-leaved species of Asarum of the southern United States in the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society. Here, Ashe describes for the first time Memminger’s Heartleaf (A. memmingeri). From the description it is obvious that he is describing a plant with a very small flower with a very narrow opening (7 mm wide or less).
Error #1 occurred when Ashe described the original type locality as Mitchell County, based on a collection by E.R. Memminger. When I was looking for a type specimen, the best option I could find was a specimen collected (in duplicate) by E.R. Memminger himself that he says in his own handwriting represents the type location. During Ashe’s time, it was not required to designate a type specimen, but the problem was that Ashe’s citation of Memminger’s specimen was actually from Henderson County (“Tranquility”, Flat Rock, NC), not Mitchell County.
Type specimen of Asarum memmingeri collected by E.R. Memminger
Error #2 occurred as we fast-forward to 1987, ninety years after Ashe published his work, when L.L. Gaddy described a new species of Hexastylis that occurs in Southwestern NC and Northwestern SC as H. rhombiformis (Asarum rhombiformis (combination not yet made). In this description he cites E.R. Memminger’s specimen from Henderson County, which, is actually the type specimen of Asarum memmingeri as representing his new species H. rhombiformis. Consequently, the name H. rhombiformis is invalid and this plant should be known as A. memmingeri.
Error #3 occurred when J.K. Small of the New York Botanical Garden, Earl Core of West Virginia University and others annotated (attributed) numerous Asarum collections from West Virginia, Virginia, and NC, of an un-named species that they mistakenly identified as A. memmingeri. Blomquist and all modern authors have since combined these tiny-flowered plants with small openings to the calyx tube within a “catch-all” concept of A. virginicum. Other taxonomists since have followed their mistaken identification of A. memmingeri or A. virginicum for these plants that are known to range from WV south to NC.
We know that these plants that J.K. Small, Earl Core, and others called A. memmingeri actually represent the heartleaf from my Alleghany County childhood homestead and surrounding regions that still has no accepted name.
It is time to clear up the confusion and formally describe these plants along with a new, correct scientific name. For our purposes we will refer to them here as Allegheny heartleaf for a common name (in reference to the mountains, which have a different spelling than the NC county, rather than Alleghany County, NC).
In vegetative form, the Allegheny heartleaf is similar to most of its relatives including A. virginicum, minus, heterophylla, and naniflora. They are tightly clumping with leaves that tend to be as wide or wider than long with a broad cordate base. Though I have found populations with some mottling on the leaves, they tend to lack any variegation altogether.
The flowers on the undescribed Alleghany County heartleaf are much smaller in all dimensions and also differ in the tube constriction from both A. virginicum and true A. memmingeri.
The Allegheny heartleaf is found in typical heartleaf habitat: highly acidic, organic duff beneath oaks and pines and often in association with Rhododendron and Kalmia. They are found along the margins of Southern Appalachian fens and small stream swamps as well as along stream banks and on steep rocky slopes and bluffs that are most often north or east-facing.
The natural range of the species seems to be from Watauga/Avery counties North Carolina, north through West Virginia at low to moderate elevations. In North Carolina nearly all populations are located along the New River drainage, though there are outliers along the Yadkin River drainage downstream to Donaha Bluffs in Forsyth County. This taxa is tightly tied to the Appalachian range with outliers into the piedmont in areas with cool microclimates along rivers that originate in the mountains. Between the mountain populations of Allegheny Heartleaf and the coastal Virginia Heartleaf (Asarum virginicum) occurs A. minus, which largely replaces Allegheny Heartleaf in most of the piedmont of North Carolina.
Allegheny Heartleaf was very difficult for me to grow, even in seemingly hospitable microclimates in Clemson, South Carolina. It seemed to survive but only for a short time, gradually declining and producing dwarfed leaves by the 2nd season and then disappearing by the 3rd. I am extremely pleased to have this species growing strong, flowering and producing normal sized leaves for its second season here at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens.
What needs to happen is for Hexastylis rhombiformis to have a name correction to Asarum memmingeri, and for the plant widely known as Asarum memmingeri to finally be named for the first time, hopefully with a specific epithet named for the Allegheny Mountains, which incorporate the heart of its range.
A Fine Yellow Bird
Our clump of Hans Hansen’s hybrid, Baptisia ‘American Goldfinch’ looked quite outstanding this April. This is a 4 year old clump from a 1 quart pot. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
I weep for Alliums–of all sizes
Flowering in the garden in late April were an array of amazing Alliums. The top image is Allium ‘Ambassador’, a hybrid of Allium stipitatum x giganteum. This sterile gem is a 2005 release from the breeders at Hollands’ Fa. A. Langedijk.
Below that is the smaller Allium drummondii, a native to the prairies from South Dakota to Texas.
A Taste of Honey
Looking stunning now is one of our favorite native shrubs, the golden leaf selection of Hydrangea quercifolia, named ‘Little Honey’. Our plant below is now 19 years old, and measures 4′ tall x 7′ wide. There are few woodland plants that can brighten a corner the way this gem can–and this is without the spikes of white flowers. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9a.
Flowering now is the Federally Endangered hardy cactus, Escobaria minnima. Our plants are now almost five years old from seed. We are thrilled to see that these have performed so well, sailing through our 11 degree F. winter this year. This extremely rare gem (G1 rank) is only found a single rock outcrop in Brewster County, Texas, hence it was added to the Endangered Species list in 1979. (Hardiness Zone 5b-9b).
Our patches of the evergreen radiating sedge, Carex radiata, are looking lovely in the spring garden. Ranging natively from Canada south to Louisiana, our plants are from a NC population in Halifax County. Although they will tolerate full sun, they are best in light open shade.
The Allure of Aromi’s
Our collection of the native deciduous azalea hybrids, bred by the late Dr. Gene Aromi, of Mobile Alabama, is almost in full flower. Dr. Aromi was a professor at the University of South Alabama, who liked azaleas so much, he taught himself how to make crosses. During his lifetime, he named over 108 azaleas, many of which are just finally starting to get out in the trade. We love them for their vigor and amazing heat tolerance. Below is the stunning cultivar, Rhododendron ‘Jane’s Gold’ in the garden today.
What a Rascal
Below is our 16 year old clump of the ladyslipper, Cypripedium ‘Rascal’, this week. This amazing Carson Whitlow hybrid is a cross of two North American species, Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum x Cypripedium kentuckiense. As you can see, it thrives despite our summer heat and humidity.
Looking great for the last few weeks in the woodland garden is Iris cristata ‘Eco Orchid Giant’. This native gem matures at only 6″ tall, but puts on a splendid early spring show in the garden. Hardiness zones 3a to 8b.
Very Wet behind the Ears
Despite the impending flooding late last week, Patrick, Zac, and I took off to the mountains of western South Carolina for a few days of botanizing. Despite the monsoon-like rains, we managed to visit seven amazing sites. Below is a highlight.
One stop was at a giant granitic outcrop. The rocks are covered in an array of mosses, lichens, and other associated flora, most growing in shallow pockets or organic debris that alternation from inundated to bone dry for months.
Large patches are covered with the colorful, 1″ tall, annual sedum, Diamorpha smallii, commonly known as Elf orpine.
Another site also had large granite flatrocks, but with a complete different flora. Here, two dryland ferns, Cheilanthes lanosa and Cheilanthes tomentosa formed large patches, along with the amazing Selaginella tortipila.
The more shaded slopes were filled with amazing clones of the dwarf painted buckeye, Aesculus sylvatica, which at this site, mature at only 3-5′ in height. In most other area, the same species matures at 10-20′ tall. The flower colors here ranged from peachy yellow to screaming orange red.
One of our next stops was an amazing watershed where, Shortia galacifolia grows by the acre, carpeting the mountain side. This is the world’s largest population of this amazing native. We even found it growing epiphytically on a rock, perched in the middle of a stream.
The native Micranthes micranthidifolia grew along the moist stream banks. This is the first time I’ve seen this, since I first purchased the plant back in 1995 from the former We-Du Nursery. In that case, I killed it, before getting it planted.
Another plant I’ve killed in my previous attempt was the native climbing fern, Lygodium palmatum. Here, it grew with the easy-to-grow Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.
The difficult to grow Asarum heterophyllum was scattered throughout our several mile trek, almost all plants were the solid green leaf form.
Far easier to grow is the native Hydrangea radiata (formerly known as H. arborescens var. radiata), with its shimmering white-backed leaves.
As we walked along the towering cliffs, the red fruit adorning the carpets of partridge berry, Mitchella repens glistened in the rain.
Several patches of mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum had some of the largest foliage that I’d ever seen, measuring 1′ in width.
Not far away we saw some of the most strikingly patterned form of Pachysandra procumbens we’ve ever seen.
We almost got through the entire trip without finding a single variegated or colored foliage mutant, when not far from the parking area, we spotted a streak sport on Kalmia latifolia.
Below is our incredible, but soaking wet, botanizing team (l-r) Adam Black, Bartlett Arboretum, Zac Hill, JLBG, Patrick McMillan, JLBG.
We always get excited when the Osmunda regalis fronds begin to unfurl in the bog garden at JLBG. Here are some images from this week, showing the new fronds. The rosy emerging growth is the sterile part of the fern frond, while the green growth at the top is the fertile part, which will produce the spores (fern seed). Hardiness Zone 3a-9a.
Below is another clump nearby, that emerges about a week earlier, and as such, is further along in opening.
Below is our hybrid, Osmunda x japalis ‘King Kong’, a cross between the American native Osmunda regalis and the Japanese native, Osmunda japonica. Unlike the 4-5′ tall Osmunda regalis, Osmunda japonica is much smaller (to 3′ tall), emerges 1-2 weeks later, and has dimorphic fronds—the spores are on different stalks than the foliage. Our hybrid has dimorphic fronds like the O. japonica parent, emerges later, but is much larger to 7′ tall.
Many gardeners tend to ignore the narrow leaf Trillium lancifolium in favor of the larger, more impressive species, but we think this smaller toadshade is quite garden worthy. Below are two clones we’ve named and introduced in the past. One is in full flower here at JLBG, and the other is right behind in mid-March. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Those of us who have studied trilliums extensively in the wild, feel that all Trillium lancifolium are not created equal. In other words, what is currently known as Trillium lancifolium is most likely 2-3 different species. These are botanically known as cryptic species, since they are hiding in plain site. Advances in DNA now allows researchers to confirm field observations, so don’t be surprised if you see more new trillium species being named from this complex.
The first image below is Trillium lancifolium ‘Lancelot’, a selection from North Florida that forms dense clumps, compared all of the other plants from this population, which grew as solitary stems. The flowers are also butterscotch instead of the typical purple.
Trillium ‘Black Panther’ is a JLBG selection from a cross of genetics from a Florida population with a Tennessee collection. It also forms dense clumps.
Flying Saucers in the Garden
We love it when Baptisia perfoliata ‘Flying Saucers’ emerges in the garden. The purple stems and perfoliate foliage (the stems run through the middle of the leaves) are fascinating as they awaken from their winter slumber. This special clone of the native to Interstate 20 in South Carolina was a 2020 Plant Delights introduction. We hope to have enough propagated to offer again next year. Zone 5a-9b.
Still Pulling More Toothwort Images
We love the amazing winter flowering toothworts of the former genus, Dentaria. The latest taxonomic work moves these into the genus Cardamine, which means quite a few tag changes here at the gardens. It’s fascinating that more native plant nurseries don’t have a better offering of these amazing plants.
Flowering below this week are two of our collections from a botanizing expedition to Arkansas a few years earlier. The first is a very nice, compact form of the native Dentaria laciniata from Yell County. Below that is a new, un-named species that we discovered in Montgomery County, Arkansas.
Carpet’s of White
Here are a couple of groundcovers that are looking nice in the garden in early March. The first is the Western US native, Cerastium beeringianum (Western Snow in Summer), which is a close relative of the Italian Cerastium tomentosum. We selected this form from seed we grew, originally purchased from a native plant nursery as the US native, Arenaria stricta–oops! Both genera are at least members of the dianthus family, Carophyllaceae.
We’re still pretty excited, despite the misname, since this is an alpine species that typically grows above 10,000′ elevation. We’ve added the name ‘Southern Snowstorm’ to this exceptional clone.
Below is the Balkan native, Arabis procurrens. This member of the Brassicaceae family makes a superb groundcover. Our 5 year old, well-behaved, evergreen clump pictured below is almost 4′ wide.
In flower this week is Fothergilla milleri ‘Redneck Nation’. Most people have probably never heard of Fothergilla milleri, since it was just described as a new species in 2020. When a DNA analysis of the genus was completed, it showed several diploid populations previously thought to be Fothergilla gardenii were actually a new, undescribed species. Immediately after being described, it was listed as a Globally imperilled species (G2 rank).
Currently, Fothergilla milleri, which grows in swampy bog forests, is known from only 6-20 populations: a few in Coastal Alabama, one in Georgia, and a few in the Florida panhandle. This Baldwin County clone was discovered by naturalist, Fred Nation. The species was named to honor Dr. Ron Miller.
It’s pussy willow time in the garden, and looking great this week is the native Salix eriocephala. The species S. eriocephala (which means wooly head) has a wide distribution from Maine west to Minnesota, and south to Alabama. Interestingly, it seems to have completely skipped over the Carolinas. Our plant is from a population in North Central Georgia. The photos are of the clone Salix ‘Big Ears’ due to the huge winged stems.
Dentaria (Cardamine) diphylla ‘Burnsville Beauty’ is our 2008 collection of the native woodland groundcover, Dentaria (Cardamine) diphylla from a collection in Burnsville, NC. This selection stood out in the wild with much narrower and more pointed leaflets that any other clones we’ve seen. Since 2008, our division has grown into a 4′ wide patch. The foliage emerges in fall, flowers in March, and then goes summer dormant. We hope to release this selection for the first time next year.
Flowering now in the garden is the delicate toadshade, Trillium delicatum. This diminutive trillium, published in 2019, hails from Central Georgia, where it naturally grows in floodplains. Despite a damp habitat, it has performed beautifully for us, even in average to dry garden soils. This species is quite rare, and is suffering significant damage from feral hogs, making ex-situ conservation even more important. Our clumps are getting large enough for us to hopefully make divisions available within the next year.
Carex picta ‘Bama Beauty’ is looking particularly wonderful in the garden today. Native from Indiana south to Mississippi, this little-known sedge has been delighting us in the garden since 2014, when Zac Hill, JLBG’s Taxonomist and Plant Records Specialist, brought a piece back from a botanizing excursion to Alabama.
In the garden, it’s been very slow to multiply, but we hope to make this available before too much longer. Carex picta is an oddity in being one of very few sedge species that are dioecious–plants are either male or female. This collection is a male selection, which has more showy flowers–as carex go.
Splurge with Allegheny Spurge
Flowering in the garden now is the wonderful US native Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny spurge). Native from Indiana south to the gulf coast, our selection, Pachysandra ‘Angola’ comes from the woods near that well-know Louisiana prison. This stunning evergreen, variegated, slow-spreading, woodland groundcover, is quite different from its better known and much faster spreading Asian cousin, Pachysandra terminalis. The flowers are also sweetly fragrant, what more could you want? Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
Big Baby Bay
We’ve grown the native loblolly bay, Gordonia lasianthus for several decades, but I’d never stumbled on one as large as the one we spotted last week while botanizing in coastal southeastern North Carolina.
The specimen we ran across has a 26″ diameter and a height of 70′, which although huge, turned out to be slightly smaller than the state champions in Currituck County, which top out at 85-90′ tall. Posing by the trunk is the landowner, Vince and his son Vinny, who moved to coastal Carolina from Brooklyn, NY.
Also, on the same site, we found a population of Chamaedaphne calyculata, a bog-loving, blueberry relative with a circumboreal distribution in mostly cold and sub-arctic regions. When we returned, Patrick told me that it was quite rare in NC, but he found a singole documented record for North Carolina on Hwy 211 in Brunswick County (Vince’s property), that we’d accidentally stumbled upon. Sadly, Hwy 211 is being widened, so this population, along with many other amazing natives are in jeopardy. Fortunately, we now have a small division now growing in our ex-situ conservation garden at JLBG.
We have a hunch you’ll like Quasimodo the Witch
Flowering now is one of our favorite native witch hazels, the semi-dwarf, Ozark witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’. This amazing gem was discovered and introduced by the late Dutch nurseryman, Pieter Zwijnenburg. I would argue that this is a far more significant introduction than his much better known Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’. Our 8-year-old specimen is now 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Not only does the compact size fit in most gardens, but the density of the deliciously fragrant flowers is unparalleled in the genus.
Funky Toes – No Sign of Defeet
Agave x protamericana ‘Funky Toes’ is looking fabulous in the garden today, having sailed through our cold winter in tip top shape. This unique form of the well-known North American native agave is an introduction of the former Yucca Do Nursery, from one of their collections in Northern Mexico.
In 2018, we found a streaked leaf on a potted offset. By using a technique called crown cutting, we were able to isolate the bud from the streaked leaf into a yellow center, which we named Agave ‘Funky Monkey’…photo below. Hopefully in the next few years, we’ll have enough of this new introduction to share.
A Bunch of Little Pricks
If you go through the garden slow enough, you’ll notice little treasures like the NC native, Opuntia drummondii. This tiny growing coastal native prickly pear cactus can be found from NC around the gulf coast to Mississippi. Our specimen was shared with us from a collection on NC’s Bodie Island–a name made famous as the place where the Wright Brothers took flight. This prostrate grower is great to keep animals from trespassing onto your property.
Up and Underwood
Our 2nd earliest trillium is up and almost ready to flower. The deep south native Trillium underwoodii is the second toadshade to emerge, only behind the Florida genetics of Trillium maculatum, which emerges here in December. Although there is plenty of cold remaining, Trillium underwoodii is able to tolerate multiple nights of hard freezes below 20 F after the foliage has emerged. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Florida Sunshine in North Carolina
We thought we’d share a photo taken this week of the original plant of Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’ from our garden. All plants sold worldwide originated with cuttings taken from our specimen. The original plant has now been in the ground here for 22 years and measures 8′ tall x 8′ wide. The foliage becomes brightest in the cool temperatures of winter. Who says Southeast US native plants look ugly? Hardiness zones 6a to 9b.
A Lumpy Pancake
I was just admiring our specimen of the East Coast native, Thuja occidentalis ‘Concessarini’ today. I find this a fascinating plant in the garden, sadly never promoted by those who claim to extoll the virtues of native plants.
Our oldest specimen below is now 10 years old and measures 3′ tall x 6′ wide…quite a bit larger than it’s introducer claims it to be at 1′ tall x 2′ wide. If you dig deeper, you’ll see that the plant patent application shows they only measured a three year old plant, and have never bothered to update the mature size in their marketing or on their tags. It shows how little many plant introducers think of the end consumer, when they set them up for failure by promoting these fake mature sizes. Commercially, it is marketed under the fake trade name of Pancake arborvitae. That’s one seriously lumpy pancake.
This juvenile-foliage sport of Thuja ‘Linesville’ was discovered by nurseryman, Gabriel Cessarini. We think it’s pretty cool, just allow enough room in the garden. Winter hardiness is Zone 3a-8b.
Green Bean Pole
We have been very impressed with the very narrow selection of our East Coast native arborviatae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Brobeck’s Tower’. This has been in the garden now for 4 years, and is 6′ in height and just over 1′ in width. This seedling selection was made by Sweeden’s Anders Brobeck, where the same plant takes 20 years to reach this height, due to a lack of summer heat.
Few gardeners outside of California and the Pacific Northwest have tried growing Cupressus sargentiae (Sargent’s Cypress). We often assume that plants endemic to California won’t grow on the East Coast, but our trials have found such a broad assumption to be quite false. Our specimen from Patrick’s collection north of San Francisco still looks great after our recent 11F temperatures. The amazing lemon-scented foliage fragrance is quite incredible, and as such, should make it a great plant for making holiday arrangements/wreaths. The plant should mature size should be between 40-70′ in height. Taxonomy of this Cupressus is stuck in a taxonomic tug of war, with one camp, who wants to rename it Hesperocyparis sargentii. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10, guessing.
Pack of Red Berries
Looking wonderful in the garden this week is Ilex x attenuata ‘Pack’s Weeping’. This superb, but almost unknown cultivar, is a selection of the naturally occurring North American native hybrid of Ilex cassine x Ilex opaca, and was selected by Alabama’s Pack’s Nursery. Foster’s holly is prized for being parthenocarpic (produces fruit without the need for a male pollinator).
So Long Sotols…In the Spirit of Plant Extinction
We’ve long been enamored with the Southwest native genus of slow-growing woody lilies belonging to the genus, Dasylirion. Since the early 1990s, we’ve been growing these, trialing as many species as we could obtain to see how well they adapted to our climate here in the colder, wetter Southeast.
So, far, we have grown 16 of the 21 recognized species and succeeded with 12. We found four unable to survive our coldest winters, including Dasylirion durangensis, Dasylirion longissimum, Dasylirion lucidum, Dasylirion sereke.
The five species we have yet to try in the garden are Dasylirion graminifolium, Dasylirion longistylum, Dasylirion micropterum, Dasylirion palaciosii, and Dasylirion simplex. We have seed planted of both Dasylirion graminfolium and micropterum, so those will be next in line for our in ground trials. That leaves us still searching for seed of the final three.
Sotols, like agaves, are members of the Asparagus family. They are becoming wildly popular, but not because of gardeners. Instead, their popularity is driven by those who are driven by a need/desire to imbibe alcoholic spirits. First, there was Mescal, a Mexican drink made from one of a number of different agave species, depending on what grew in proximity to each village. Of the Mescals, the most popular is Tequilla, which is made from a single species, Agave tequiliana.
Now, Sotol alcohol has joined the ranks of the “hot new spirits”. Made from agave’s cousin, plants of the genus Dasylirion, Sotol is rapidly becoming the new “flavor of the month”. Sotol alcohol certainly isn’t new, and if you regularly travel south of “the wall” you probably already know that Sotol is the state drink of Mexican states Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango.
Not so long ago, Sotol alcohol had a history that somewhat parallels moonshine in the Southeast US. For years, Sotol alcohol was illegal and subject to government raids, during which master sotoleros were punished or imprisoned. During the US prohibition of the 1920s, Sotol sales in the US skyrocketed, but soon after its repeal, Sotol sales plummeted back into obscurity. Now, with not only social acceptance, but a wide wide embrace of virtually anything that can be used to produce alcohol, Sotol has been mainstreamed with the assistance of the Mexican government and willing marketers.
Most agaves for Tequila production are now commercially grown in massive farms, and most plants are now produced from tissue culture for a more consistent yield and to take pressure off wild popuations. Even under ideal farming conditions, it take 5-7 years to get an agave large enough to harvest for tequilla production. With dasylirions, the same process takes at least 12-15 years according to Sotol marketers. Based on our 30 years of work with the genus, I’d say the time involved is more likely 24-30 years, even in a high rainfall climate like ours.
I’m not aware of many farm operations that can afford to grow a plant for that long before expecting a return on investment. This means that poaching of plants from the wild is very likely to increase. With such a low rate of return, i.e. 1 pint of liquor for each plant harvested, I can’t see the plants coming out on the good end of this industry. While making alcohol from dasylirions isn’t new, it’s been done on a very limited scale in Mexico, prior to word spreading around the world via social media.
Reportedly Sotol spirits taste quite different based on the species used, and whether it’s from an exceptionally dry region or an area with better rainfall. Sotol conniseurs describe the tastes as being a bit like menthol or pine/mushrooms if the plants are grown well hydrated, while those from drier regions taste more like leather. To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up!” And this sounds appealing to who???
Supposedly, the spirit producers are cutting off the wild dasylirions and leaving the bases to resprout, but I’ve got my doubts about how well that works. Assuming the cut dasylirion does resprout, there will be a decade of lost seed production, so plant populations in the wild are almost certain to decline. I’m left to wonder if we really are so desperate for a new taste in alcohol that we are willing to sacrifice another genus of plants in the process.
In celebration of these amazing plants, here are photos of those we have grown in our ex-situ conservation gardens at JLBG.
Dasylirion acrotrichum, named in 1843, is native to Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert. Of the seven plants we planted, only one survived, which is now over 20 years old. This widespread sotol, which occurs on igneous soils, has been split by various authors into several subspecies. Undoubtedly, winter hardiness varies based on the seed procurement location. At maturity, the trunks can reach 5′ tall.
Dasylirion berlandieri, named after French/Mexican naturalist, Jean-Louis Berlandier (1803-1851), was first published in 1879. Native to steep rocky hillsides in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico, it’s one of the largest species in the genus in width, but with a trunk that never exceeds 1′ in height. Below is our plant in bud. Unlike agaves, dasylirion rosettes do not die after flowering.
Below is a fully open flower spike, which is abuzz with a large number of bees
Dasylirion cedrosanum, first documented in 1911, hails from 3,000′ – 6,000′ elevation on rocky, gypsum-laced hillsides in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. They are restricted to the Mexican states of Chihuhua, Coahuilla, and Durango. At maturity, they produce a 3′ tall trunk.
Dasylirion durangensis is another species first described in 1911, which hails from the dry alkaline/limestone-gypsum deserts of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas. In parts of its range, it interbreeds with Dasylirion wheeleri. We flowered this prior to losing it during a particularly cold winter. Below is our Obit photo.
Dasylirion gentry was only published as a species in 1998. It has a very limited range between 3,500′ – 4,000′ in Sonora, Mexico, where it grows on rocky slopes in openings of pine/oak woodlands.
The inflorescense of Dasylirion gentryi is one of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen.
Dasylirion glaucophyllum is a species whose discovery dates back to 1858. It can be found naturally, only in Sonora, Mexico, growing on rocky hillsides at elevations to almost 8,000′. At maturity, trunks measure up to 6′ in height.
Dasylirion leiophyllum, published in 1911, only grows north of Mexican border in Texas and New Mexico. Based on where it grows, it should be one of the most winter hardy sotol species. The first photo is at JLBG, and the second in situ at 5,400′ elevation. The second image is from the late plantsman, David Salman, of a Zone 5 population he discovered and shared seed with us just prior to his untimely death. Plant Delights is currently offering this as Dasylirion leiophyllum ‘Chaves’.
Dasylirion miquihuanense, only described in 1998, hails from Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico. Also occurring on rocky slopes, this sotol is one of the tallest species, producing massive 8′ tall trunks. We have succeeded long term with only 2 of 8 specimens we planted.
Dasylirion parryanum, published in that banner year of 1911, hails from up to 8,000′ elevation in the San Luis Potosi State in Northern Mexico, where it produces 3′ tall trunks.
Dasylirion quadrangulatum (1879) hails from the Southern (warmer) end of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. It is much too tender for us to grow in the open here in Zone 7b, but we’ve kept it alive for a couple of decades by siting it in a microclimate adjacent to a brick wall house foundation. It is one of only two species lacking leaf spines. With great age, it produces trunks to 9′ in height.
Dasylirion serratifolium, first described in 1838, is from Oaxaca, Mexico, where is grows on rocky, alkaline hillsides to 6,600′ elevation. The location and elevation means it really shouldn’t survive our winter. That said, our only remaining specimen below is now 20 years old, but is still far from reaching the 6′ tall trunk height it does in the wild.
Dasylirion texanum (1850) is another very winter hardy species, found on rocky slopes, ranging from Central Texas into the mountains of Northern Mexico. It is one of the shortest species, with a trunk that doesn’t exceed 1′ tall.
Dasylirion wheeleri, first documented in 1878, ranges from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico south into the mountains of Northern Mexico. It matures at 6′ tall, and in situ, can be found in both grasslands as well as openings in pine/oak forests. It is another of the most cold hardy species.
An old clump we planted years ago in flower is quite remarkable.
We hope you’ll limit your consumption of Sotol as a drink and instead join us in becoming an ex-situ conservation garden for this amazing genus of plants.
Mr. Russell’s Mahonia
Mahonias have long been garden staples, but few people have ever seen or tried the rare Mahonia russellii. Discovered in 1984 in Vera Cruz, Mexico by the UK’s James Russell, this member of the “paniculate” clan of mahonias is more closely related to other Southern Mexico and Central American species, than anything most of us grow in our gardens. In other words, there is no way we should be able to grow this outdoors.
Below is our specimen flowering in the garden just prior to our low of 11 degrees F and three consecutive nights in the teens. Surprisingly, it escaped with what appears to be minor foliar damage, and of course a loss of the floral show.
Houstonia…we have a great plant
Flowering in the garden this week is the fascinating, but little-known Houstonia procumbens. This Southeastern US coastal native (South Carolina west to eastern Louisiana) is a spreading, winter flowering bluet. We collected cuttings in Clay County, Florida in 2003, and this patch has been thriving in our sunny alpine garden since then, forming a 1.5′ wide patch.
Our oldest clump of the North American native Agave lophantha ‘Splendida’ is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the garden at JLBG. What started as a single pup, now has an extended family. Please join us in sending birthday wishes to this great century plant selection.
Excelsior…Fit for a King
Here’s a new photo of Agave parryi ssp. huachucensis ‘Excelsior’ from our garden this week. We typically don’t have many variegated century plants that will survive our winters, but this is one of the exceptions. This superb clone was first introduced in 1967 from a small California nursery by the same name. Protection from excess winter moisture and exceptional drainage is always the key in cold, wet winter climates. This particular planting is under a roof overhang. Hardiness zone 7b to 9b.
A Melting Pot of Carex
We’ve published blogs about a number of carex from our rather large collection (108 species) several times this year, but here are a few more that look great here in early December. We have been fortunate to be able to collect members of this amazing genus from around the world, all of which now reside happily here at JLBG. As you can imagine, the majority of our collections are US native species, but just like with Homo sapiens, we value diversity and consequently don’t profile or discriminate based on ethnicity or origin.
The first is the US native Carex austrolucorum. This is Jeremy’s collection, named Carex ‘Tennessee Mop Top’.,
Carex gentilis ‘Yushan’ is our collection from Taiwan, and the only fall-flowering carex we know. Duke Gardens has made stunning use of this in their magnificent Asian garden expansion.
Carex ‘Silk Tassel’ is a stunning selection of the Japanese Carex morrowii var. temnolepis, brought to the US back in the 1970s by plantsman Barry Yinger. We still view this as one of the finest carex we’ve ever grown. While it grows great in shade, it truly excels in full sun, where its narrow variegated leaves appear silver.
Happy about Hepaticas
I’ve been very blessed on several UK visits to spend time at the amazing Ashwood Nursery of plantsman John Massey. One of the real treats of each visit is a chance to spend time in John’s private hepatica greenhouse. To say John is a bit obsessive about the genus is a grand understatement, so it should be no surprise that he has channeled all that knowledge into a new Hepatica book, that’s hot off the press.
We first learned of John’s obsession with the genus, when he joined us on a 2000 expedition through NC, SC, Alabama, and Tennessee to study the hepatica in the wild…along with our main goal of studying trillium. Below is an image from that expedition. Hepatica are also native to Asia.
Our copy of My World of Hepaticas arrived recently, and John’s book is a massive 296-page compendium of pretty much anything you’d want to know about hepaticas, compiled from John’s decades of work with the genus. John’s writing style is easily readable, coming across as if you’re having a relaxed conversation over dinner, and the incredible photos are an equal match to the text. Right now, you can only obtain a copy by ordering it from the Ashwood website.
Looking wonderful in the fall garden is the evergreen Choisya ‘Limo’, known commercially as Goldfingers choisya. This gold-leaved selection is from a cross of two Southwest US native shrubs, Choisya arizonica and Choisya ternata, subsequently referred to as Choisya x dewitteana. The genus Choisya is named to honor the late Swiss botanist/philosophy professor Jacques Denis Choisy (1799-1859) This gold-foliaged selection from the UK’s Peter Moore forms a 3′ tall shrub in 5 years.
The fragrant white clusters of axillary flowers adorn the plant starting in April (NC). We have our specimen planted in a full sun rock garden, where it thrives in very well-drained soils. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Poli wants a Freda
A couple of years ago, we made bi-generic crosses of the North American Manfreda maculosa and the naturally occurring hybrid Mexican tuberose, Polianthes x bundrantii ‘Mexican Firecracker’. These fascinating plants were still in full flower prior to our first hard freeze in the last few days. These are images of our top three clones, which we refer to as x Polifreda. Because we used the non-fragrant tuberose species, there is no noticeable aroma, but we opted for a much more diverse flower color range instead.
Hopefully, next year, we can use these to cross with agaves to create a new series of xHanseras. Pollen has been gathered and stored in the refrigerator in case bloom times don’t coincide next year.
Autumn’s last buzz – Elliott’s Aster
Elliott’s aster (Symphyotrichum elliottii) is the absolute last of our asters to flower at JLBG. It doesn’t begin to flower until the first of November and withstands the mild frosts of October like they didn’t even happen. It is naturally found in tidal freshwater marshes and other moist open sites from the Virginia and Carolina coastal plain south to Florida and west to Louisiana. Though it hails from moist environments it thrives under general garden conditions if the soil isn’t allowed to become too droughty.
The plant has a lot to recommend it besides the time of flower. It forms stiff stems rising 5-6’ tall crowned with a dense pyramidal arrangement of inflorescences of pale pink with a hint bluish-purple ray flowers and bright yellow disk flowers. The lack of lanky branches allows this tall aster to display its flowers without flopping all over the rest of your garden in the manner typical of asters. It spreads via rhizomes, so you need to be sure to give it space to roam a bit. It provides a dramatic impact when planted at the back of borders. Though it spreads, it doesn’t roam far from the parent plant and can be easily kept in place by yearly thinning of the outer edges of the clumps.
The most outstanding feature of this beautiful aster to me is the number and diversity of pollinators it supports. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plant that attracted more. In addition to swarms of honeybees, bumblebees, carpenter, and solitary bees the flowers draw in numerous pollinating flies, halictids, moths and skippers. I love plants that extend the color season and though we all think about early spring, we really should also plant to extend our love affair with color into the leafless season and Elliott’s aster does this is a big way.
Juniperus communis is a common landscape juniper with a wide natural distribution…one of the widest of any woody plant in the entire world.
In the North American part of its range, it’s widespread throughout the Western US, and across the northern tier of the country all the way to Maine. East of the Mississippi River, however, it’s virtually not-existent south of the Great Lakes.
Patrick McMillan had been telling us about a population he rediscovered from an earlier Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887) documentation of a single clone growing naturally in Aiken, South Carolina. Last week, we made the 4 hour drive to visit this ancient living fossil. Here is all that remains, growing in an amazing nature park, known as Hitchcock Woods, where it grows surrounded by a forest of Kalmia (mountain laurel).
We have this propagated and growing at JLBG, and hopefully in the future, when our plants get larger, we can share these amazing genetics with a wider audience.
Raise your hand if you grow the native October Flower? Polygonella polygama is a little-known, but absolutely amazing wildflower in the Buckwheat family, suited to well-drained, sunny gardens. Although completely non-descript through spring and summer, when people are buying plants, it bursts into flower in October, also when no one is buying plants. Below is our plant strutting it stuff in one of our full sun rock gardens in mid October. Polygonella polygama is native from Virginia southwest to Texas, along the coast. Winter hardiness should be at least Zone 7b and south.
Looking great this week are most of the desert ferns, especially the wonderful Cheilanthes tomentosa. So many folks still don’t realize that an entire group of ferns grow naturally in desert conditions, often alongside cactus. This fern favorite has a shockingly large and unusual distribution, from Arizona east to Virginia. We’re fascinated why this evergreen fern known as Wooly lip fern, isn’t more widely grown. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b, at least.
Mid-October is flowering time for the widespread (Canada south to Texas) native oblong aster, Aster oblongifolius (aka: Symphyotrichum oblongifolium). This amazing plant forms a large clump to 2′ tall x 8′ wide. This is the clone Aster ‘October Skies’, which is quite similar to the other widely grown clone, Aster ‘Fanny’. Average to dry soils in full sun is the key to success. Hardiness is Zone 4a-9b.
Havin’ a Blast in the Fall
The shrubby North American native salvias including Salvia greggii and Salvia microphylla are spectacular plants in the fall garden. The same goes form the hybrids between the two species, known as Salvia x jamensis. Here is our clump of Salvia x jamensis ‘Blast’ looking absolutely stunning in late October. Flowering is heaviest in spring, slowing in summer, but again equaling it’s spring show in fall. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, and possibly a good bit colder.
Cow Tongue Takes a Lickin’
The gigantic, winter hardy, North American native, cow tongue cactus, Opuntia lindheimeri ‘Linguiformis’ is looking wonderful in the fall garden. We planted our original plant back in 2000, but when reworking a bed, needed to move it about 4 years ago. We took a couple of pad cuttings which languished, laying bare root on a bench for nearly 2 years. Despite this abuse, this is the result two years after those cuttings finally went in the ground. We find this to be the largest of the Zone 7 winter hardy prickly pear cactus, maturing around 7′ tall x 12′ wide. Winter hardiness is at least Zone 7b-10b, and perhaps colder.
Agave ‘Prince of Whales’
Our 2016 century plant hybrid is looking quite lovely in the garden this month. This plant, which we named Agave x victorifolia ‘Prince of Whales’, is a hybrid of the Whale’s tongue century plant, Agave ovatifolia (male parent), and the Queen Victoria century plant, Agave victoriae-reginae (female parent).
Since both parents are non-offsetting, this means that the offspring will grow to maturity, flower, then die. Consequently, in order to be able to propagate and share, we will have to drill out the central core of the plant to trick in to offset. While this ruins the appearance of the original, it’s the only way for this to ever be shared and preserved. This plant has been in the ground since 2018, so we expect to have another eight years (guessing) prior to flowering. Consequently, so we’ll probably gamble on waiting a few more years before performing surgery. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
Below is a photo of both parents.
Pir a whattia?
You go straight through to the round of botanical superstars if you recognize this little-known southeast native (SC to Florida), Piriqueta caroliniana. This Patrick McMillan collection from coastal SC has thrived all summer in our full sun rock garden, flowering constantly, with new flowers opening every other day. This oddity is a member of the Turneraceae family, which comprises nine other equally obscure genera. We’ve yet to determine if this will actually make a good garden plant, but evaluation continues. Hardiness north of Zone 8a is unknown.
Little Miss Sunshine
One of the stars of our late summer/early fall garden has been our selection of Chrysopsis mariana ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. We made this roadside collection of this East Coast native in 2020 in neighboring Orange County, NC, unsure of what we had collected, but loving the purple stems of this clone. This planting in our rock garden has produced an amazing 18″ tall x 2′ wide specimen that glows for months. Dry soils and at least half day sun are the keys to success. We’ll start propagating this showy, clumping native perennial in spring. Winter hardiness is Zone 4-8.