Winter is a good time to be Hairy

Looking exceptional in the garden is the selection of the North American native Yucca flaccida ‘Hairy’. Yucca ‘Hairy’ is a Tom Foley selection that we feel is probably the finest clone of Yucca flaccida that we’ve ever seen. It’s truly puzzling why this isn’t an industry staple. Below is a photo of our 20 year old clump, taken recently.

Yucca flaccida ‘Hairy’

Grass of Parnassus

In flower now at JLBG is the rarely seen, Southeast native, Parnassia caroliniana. This amazing, but difficult to grow bog perennial begins flowering for us in mid-November. Even more odd than the plant itself, are it’s relatives. It’s a member of the Celastraceae, meaning its cousins include the genus, Euonymus, and the bittersweet vine, Celastrus.

In the wild, it’s only native to North Carolina, South Carolina, and a single population in North Florida, where it can be found in open pine savannas that are regularly subject to fire. Due to timber production, commercial agriculture, and housing, it has gone from being fairly widespread, to becoming vulnerable with a Global-3 rarity rank and only 80 known populations. We inherited our specimen from a friend of the late Larry Mellichamp, who got his start from Larry many years earlier. We’d love to figure out how to propagate and make this available, so fingers crossed.

Parnassia caroliniana, close up
Parnassia caroliniana

Splendid Splendida

Our garden patch of Agave lophantha ‘Splendida’ is looking rather splendid this morning as we approach December. This patch started as a single rosette in 2013, so has now been in the ground for a little over a decade. We think it’s one of the best forms of the North American native Agave lophantha that we’ve ever grown. This originally came to us from our friend Ted Stephens of Nurseries Caroliniana.

Agave lophantha ‘Splendida’

Falling for Sarracenia

Many of our sarracenia (pitcher plants) have started to go dormant by now, but that’s not the case for Sarracenia leucophylla and any of it’s hybrids. Patrick explained this difference by noting that this species is designed for attaching moths, due it’s white tops that illuminate at night. These moths are prevalent in the fall, hence the plant realized it was a good idea to produce a huge crop of fall pitchers. Below is our patch of Sarracenia ‘Daina’s Delight’ in mid-November–pretty impressive!

Sarracenia ‘Daina’s Delight’

A Nickel-siae for Your Thoughts

Our oldest clump of the amazing Agave nickelsiae (formerly A. ferdinandi-regis) is now over a decade old, so we’re probably within five years of flowering. Often confused with the similar Agave victoriae-reginae, this North American (Northern Mexico) endemic is somewhat similar, but has more leaves, darker spines, and more prominent leaf markings.

Some seedlings offset, while others, like this selection, do not, so this will die after it flowers, but not before we spread its pollen far and wide on every other flowering agave we can find. It’s still hard for us to comprehend that such an amazing plant is actually growable in our garden. Obviously, bright sun, and well-drained soils are the key. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.

Agave nickelsiae ‘Winter Wonder’

If you grow it, they may not buy it

One of the frustrating things about growing and propagating plants is when you find an incredible plant, offer it for sale, and virtually no one buys it. Such is the case with the Texas native, Ageratina havanensis, aka: Havana Mistflower, Eupatorium havanense. This fascinating woody perennial, formerly classified as a eupatorium, forms a 3′ tall x 7′ wide mound of foliage, that’s smothered starting in late October with a dense blanket of white flowers. I can think of little else that gives you this much flower power in the fall sun garden. An array of butterflies and moths are regular visitors. The photo below is from mid-November this year. Located with enough space, there is never any required maintenance. Any idea why we never could get folks to purchase these when they were offered through PDN?

Ageratina havanensis

A Snow-white Beauty

Putting on a lovely show in the fall garden this month is the native Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’. Callicarpa americana is a native from Maryland southwest to Texas, where it pops up, usually in disturbed areas as an early/mid successionary species in sunny sites. The typical fruit color is purple, but the white-fruited Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’ was originally discovered in Evangeline Parish, Louisiana. It typically comes true from seed. In addition to humans, the fruit is also enjoyed by squirrels, possums, racoons, and foxes.

It’s foliage has also long been used to repel mosquitos, validated by the USDA, who discovered that the leaves contain two different insect repellents, callicarpenal and intermedeol. Hardiness Zone 6b-11.

Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’
Callicarpa americana ‘Lactea’ – close up of fruit

Mt. Holly Palmetto

We’ve planted quite a few forms of our native Sabal palmetto through the years. Only two have survived long term; the the form from Bald Head Island, NC, and one propagated from an ancient specimen in Mt. Holly, NC, just west of Charlotte. Taken recently, our Mt. Holly specimen is now 22 years old. It’s been almost that long since we’ve had any to share, so we’re hopeful our plants are getting old enough to flower soon.

Sabal palmetto Mt. Holly form is now  years old in the garden.

Tressing Up for the Fall Dance

Here is one of our bog gardens showing off the lovely native Spiranthes bightensis ‘Chadd’s Ford’, wrapping up its flowering in early November. This easy-to-grow native orchid is right at home with sarracenias (pitcher plants) in very moist soils.

Despite its popularity in gardens, Spiranthes bightensis has a global rarity rank of G1, meaning it is the rarest of the rare plant species. It is currently known from only nine populations in the Delmarva region of the US East Coast. DNA testing showed that it is an ancient hybrid between two other species, Spiranthes odorata and Spiranthes cernua. The plant was named after the NY Bight, which is the geological area at the mouth of the Hudson River.

It would be interesting to know how those individuals who abhor hybrids deal with this.

Spiranthes bightensis ‘Chadd’s Ford’, Sarracenia leucophylla ‘Fruit Punch’

An aster by any other name

Looking great in our trials in early November is Symphotrichium dumosum ‘HillandSchmidtii’. Also, known as Aster dumosus before its name change, this fascinating 2018 Zac Hill/Jeremy Schmidt collection from Wilkes County, Georgia has proven to be quite a winner, so it will certainly be slated for a future Plant Delights catalog. We initially though this was the plant formerly known as Aster pilosa, before Patrick straightened us out. Evidently, virtually everything in the trade as Aster dumosus is incorrectly named.

Aster dumosus ‘HillandSchmidtii’

Oh, Berkeley!

In full flower now is Patrick’s selection of the native Helianthus angustifolius from Berkeley County, SC. This widespread wetland, often shaded species can be found from New Jersey to Texas. As is the case for most species, each population varies in one or more traits. Most Helianthus angustifolius usually reaches 5′ in height, but this amazing compact selection matures at only 3′ tall x 7′ wide. Here, we have in growing in slight moist, but un-irrigated sandy loam ammended with compost, in full sun. I have a feeling this one is heading for the propagation shed next year.

Helianthus angustifolius ‘Berkeley Gold’

Dalliances with Daleas

We have a number of favorite legumes in the garden, but most flower in the spring or early summer. The star of the fall garden is undoubtedly Dalea bicolor var. argyaea, which starts flowering in mid-October. All summer, we get to enjoy the silver foliage, which thrives in our summers, only to be further rewarded in fall with the floral show. This amazing North American native hails from Texas and New Mexico, where it can be found in alkaline sandy uplands.

Dalea bicolor var. argyaea

A Grape Sensation

The beautiful Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri ‘Grape Sensation’ is still in full flower as we approach the end of October. This amazing, but quite rare blanket flower is only found in a small area of the East Texas pineywoods region. Although it’s currently listed as a variety of Gaillardia aestivalis, we feel it deserves to be elevated to species status, and am shocked that no taxonomist have tackled this yet. Good drainage and plenty of sun are keys to success. Hardiness Zone 7a-9b.

Gaillardia aestivalis var. winkleri ‘Grape Sensation’

Endless Stares

Solidago mexicana ‘Endless Stares’, in flower at JLBG, is a wild, but almost unknown Southeast US native, which ranges in coastal settings from Maryland south into Mexico. This goldenrod is Patrick’s SC native selection, with stunning purple red stems all summer. We love the large size, but this probably freaks out most gardeners.

Solidago mexicana ‘Endless Stares’

Cigar plant is the Bees Knees

We just love this surprisingly winter hardy cuphea (cigar plant). Cuphea cyanea, a North American native, looks so delicate, but it’s rock hardy here in Zone 7b. Our original plant came from Asheville gardeners, Peter and Jasmine Gentling, where it survived fine in Zone 6b/7a. Our plant continues to be in full flower in mid-October. As you can see, the native bumblebees are thrilled to have it around.

Cuphea cyanea ‘Ashevilla’
Cuphea cyanea ‘Ashevilla’

Texas Kidneys

Our plants of Eysenhardtia texana ‘Uvalde’ are perfuming the air with their sweet fragrance in October. As you can imagine, it’s abuzz with pollinators. This Texas/Mexico native, known as Texas kidneywood, makes a 10′ tall shrub that’s quite heat and drought tolerant. The common name comes from the fact that the genus Eysenhardtia has been used for centuries by the indigenous peoples of Mexico and parts of Central America to treat urinary ailments. We’d killed this species once before due to our cold temperatures, but Patrick’s collection from Uvalde, Texas has proven to be rock hardy for us.

Eysenhardtia texana 'Uvalde' blooming this fall in our dryland alpine berm.

Shaggy, but not a dog

The shaggy blazing star, Liatris pilosa has put on quite a show over the last few weeks. Looking quite different in the garden than it did in the wild, this native from Delaware south to Florida enjoys bright sun and well-drained soils. Our plant is growing in one of our Permatill amended rock gardens. Hardiness is Zone 6-9.

Liatris pilosa blooming in our rock garden this fall.

Why not try Tridens?

In full flower now at JLBG is the longspike tridens, aka: Tridens stricta ‘Buffalo Feathers’. Athough native from NC west to Texas, the genetics of our clump hails from a Wade Roitsch (Yucca Do) collection in Lee County, Texas, and is superior ornamentally in both form and longevity.

We have found this little-known ornamental grass to be an excellent garden addition, giving a Calamagrostis acutiflora-like presence in hot, humid summer climates where that popular grass fears to tread. Our plants have been in the ground for over three years, and we continue to be impressed.

Tridens strictus ‘Buffalo Feathers’

Likin’ Lycopodiella

Ever since I first saw Lycopodiella prostrata as a young child, I have been fascinated with this alien-looking oddity. Botanically, these belong to a primitive group of plants known as clubmosses.

Every trip to the coast, I seem to wind up with a small piece to try in the garden, and every time, I fail. This spring, I was headed east to check out the site of a major road widening near Wilmington, NC, and mentioned to Patrick my frustration with trying to grow this. The secret, he shared is to get only the tip where it has rooted down, and only move it in winter/early spring. To my amazement, that tiny piece has now well established in one of our new bogs, along with another favorite, the bright orange native annual, Polygala lutea. So often, it’s just one small tip that makes the difference between success and failure.

Lycopodiella prostrata growing in the bog with the native annual Polygala lutea.

Horehound Butterfly Bush

Everyone grows the Asian butterfly bushes because of their huge flower panicles, but there are some really cool native buddleias that are mostly overlooked. Below is Buddleia marrubifolia from Presidio, Texas. Native to the Chihuahuan Desert, mature plants can reach 6′ tall x 6′ wide. The hairy white foliage serves as a nice foil for the odd, small orange, sattelite-looking flowers that adorn the plant starting in late summer. We last offered this in 2000 to raucous sales–just kidding about the raucous sales. Nurserymen disdainingly refer to these as BIO plants….botanical interest only. Hardiness Zone 7b-10b.

Buddleia marrubifolia
Buddleia marrubifolia

Foliage Mimic

Here’s our clump of Chrysopsis gossypina in the garden this week, looking shockingly like a South African Helichrysum petiolare (straw flower). This little-known Southeast US native (Virginia to Mississippi) is usually found on dry, sandy soils. So far, our plants of the short-lived cottony golden aster are thriving in our well-drained agave/cactus berms. The yellow daisy flowers should be appearing soon.

Chrysopsis gossypina

Grandma’s Hat Pins

Flowering this month is one of my favorite curiosities, Grandma’s hat pins. Eriocaulon decangulare hails from costal habits from New Jersey south to Texas, where it can be found in bogs and swamps. They thrive in the same conditions as pitcher plants. Perhaps it’s time to send some seed to the nursery since we haven’t offered this through Plant Delights since 2003. What do you think? Hardiness Zone 7a – 10b.

Eriocaulon decangulare

The Grape Savant

I recently had the opportunity to visit the grape breeding trial garden of grape savant, Jeff Bloodworth of Orange County, NC. I didn’t realize it until my visit that Jeff, now 73, and I were in the Horticulture Department at NC State together from the mid to late 1970s. While I was starting on my undergraduate work, he was working on a Masters and later a Doctorate. After school, Jeff went on to become a Research technician with NC State grape breeder Dr. Bill Nesbitt, until he unexpectedly passed away in 1983 at the age of 51.

Departmental leaders decided to do away with the grape breeding program due to a lack of commercial interest in NC, so Jeff saw an opportunity. Scrambling quickly, he found and purchased 12 acres in rural Orange County, where all the NCSU research genetics found a new home. Jeff, and his wife, Peggy, still live on the same property today.

Jeff Bloodworth, grape breeder

I’ve grown and studied muscadine grapes for almost 40 years, but Jeff’s little finger has far more knowledge than I dreamed existed. To say Jeff is obsessive about his work with grapes is a grand understatement.

Bloodworth trial vineyards

We were joined by video producers Bill Hayes and Erin Upson of Carboro’s Thunder Mountain Media, who are working on a video project to help tell Jeff’s amazing story.

Jeff with Video Producers Bill Hayes, Erin Upson

Until 2013, Jeff had never introduced a single new grape. Part of the reason is that his breeding goals were regarded as impossible “pie in the sky” ideas. Jeff was trying to cross seedless bunch grapes (pictured below), which grow well in California, but sulk in our summers, with the Southeast US native muscadine grapes.

California bunch grapes in NC

After 10 years of no success, he finally was able to secure a viable offspring, and so was off to the races. Despite this eventual breakthrough, Jeff struggled to get any commercial or academic entities interested in his creations.

That was until plantsman and Gardens Alive owner, Niles Kinerk and his team, heard about Jeff’s work, and soon after, hired Jeff as an employee, providing some welcome financial support. Below are Jeff and Peggy Bloodworth with Mark Wessel, Gardens Alive Director of Horticultural Research.

Jeff and Peggy Bloodworth, Mark Wessel

Jeff’s first introduction through Gardens Alive, in 2013, was the light purple Vitis ‘Razmatazz’. This small-sized grape was the first seedless muscadine hybrid on the market. Although the fruit size is small by conventional standards, it is long producing as well as deliciously sweet. This was followed a few years later by Vitis ‘Oh My’, a bronze fleshed, larger seedless muscadine hybrid.

My trip last week was to join the Gardens Alive team as they sampled the new hybrids and made their final selections for future introduction. I was particularly excited by one of Jeff’s hybrids with 1″ seedless bronze grapes, but Jeff explained by slicing the grape in half and examining the ovary, that this was a female grape, which would need a male pollinator. Most commercial muscadine varieties are “perfect”, with both male and female flowers on the same plant. The size of Jeff’s seedless grapes continue to increase, and the variance of sweet flavors are astounding, so the future of grapes in the Southeast US is very exciting.

Nearby Jeff’s farm, investors have purchased much of the regional farmland with the goal of large scale production, including hundred of acres of Jeff’s grapes. We salute Jeff’s brilliance and persistence in this amazing endeavor!

When is a Mimosa not a Mimosa?

What would you say if I told you that virtually everything you know as a mimosa, isn’t? In fact, the commonly known mimosa is actually an albizzia. Albizzia julibrissin, native from Japan through to the Transcaucuses, was brought to the US back in the 1700s as an ornamental. Back in the day, it was actually thought to belong to the genus Mimosa, but this error was corrected by 1806, but as you can see, old names die hard. Although beautiful, albizzia is a prolific seeder, so is rarely planted any longer.

Interestingly, virtually no one grows any of the 25 North American native species of true Mimosa. Below is our plant of Patrick’s collection of the Southwest US native, Mimosa dysocarpa in flower now. This 3-6′ tall, highly thorny shrub, grows natively from 3,500′ – 6,500′ in the dry deserts of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. So far, it seems to be liking its new home in NC. It’s a particularly good food for bees, butterflies/moths, and birds, while the fruit is adored by quails.

Mimosa dysocarpa

A Pop of Purple

Ruellia malacosperma is providing a lovely pop of purple in front of the variegated gardenia. The fine-textured foliage in the foreground is provided by the rare Texas native, Hibiscus dasycalyx. When you’re planting in the garden, think of each planting as a photographic vignette, and you’ll be amazed what it will do for the visual appeal of the garden.

The racemose Tofeldia/Triantha

Looking lovely in the bog garden during August is the native coastal bog asphodel, Tofeldia racemosa (aka: Triantha racemosa). This little-known native of the Southern coastal plain can be found in moist lowlands, often growing with pitcher plants. Tofelida is so unusual that no other plant family would accept it, so it had to create its own, Tofieldiaceae. Recent DNA has even kicked it out of its genus, and into its sister genus, Triantha. Hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, at least.

Tofeldia racemosa

Sticky Blazing Star

I first ran into the sticky blazing star, Liatris resinosa, a few years ago when botanizing in the eastern part of NC. Since that time, it has thrived in our garden, where we grow it in a bog with pitcher plants as well as in an alpine berm. Our plants have just topped 3′ in height as they start to flower in late August/early September. Liatris resinosa, formerly considered a variety of LIatris spicata, hails from New Jersey southwest to Louisiana. We particularly like the compact habit, sturdy stems, and small foliage. Hardiness should be Zone 6a-8b.

Liatris resinosa ‘American Voices’

The Standing Silphium

We have a large collection of silphiums at JLBG, but unfortunately most have limited garden value since they splay apart and often completely fall over when in flower. While they’re loved by native bees, we have been frustrated to not find many that are mainstream garden worthy. One that has been impressive in our trials, however, is the southeast US native whorled rosinweed, Silphium trifoliatum var. latifolium. These 15 year-old clumps at JLBG, which originated from Scott County, Mississippi are now 6-7′ tall, and quite garden worthy. Hardiness Zone 5a-8b, at least.

Silphium trifoliatum var. latifolium

Umbrage to Umbrosa

No garden is complete without at least one rudbeckia. Looking good in the garden now is the lovely Rudbeckia umbrosa. Formerly recognized as a a subspecies of the more commonly grown Rudbeckia fulgida, this is a very different plant that’s taller, and with very hairy foliage. For us, this moist woodland native tops out between 30″ and 36″, with a much more open habit. Although it’s little known in gardens, it’s actually native from the Carolinas west to Missouri. Zone 5a to 8b.

Rudbeckia umbrosa

Time to bring back Resurrection Ferns

One of my favorite plants when I strolled through the woods as a young child was resurrection fern, Pleopeltis michauxiana. If the Latin name sounds unfamiliar, it was originally published in 1939 as a member of a different fern genus, Polypodium polypodioides var. michauxiana. It’s natural distribution range is quite large, from West Virginia south into Central America.

From the time I first saw this fern, nearly 60 years ago, I found it fascinating that this native evergreen fern could grow on both trees and rocks, without being rooted into the ground. Through the years, I’ve tried to cultivate it many times, both in containers and in the garden, failing repeatedly.

Finally in 2004, we took a small piece and glued it to a water oak in the garden using the commercial outdoor adhesive, Liquid Nails. Below is that same plant, almost 20 years later at JLBG. When the weather dries, the clump quickly shrivels and looks dead, only to revive when rain arrives or the garden is irrigated. We’re still trying to figure out how to get this into the nursery, so we can share it more widely.

Pleopeltis michauxiana

Piqued by Piriqueta

Raise your hand if you’ve grown the Southeast native perennial, piriqueta. Piriqueta caroliniana is a little-known Southeast US native that hails from NC, south to Florida. Botanically, it’s a member of the Turneraceae family, after being unceremoniously booted from its previous home in the passiflora family, Passifloraceae. We had never heard of the genus before Patrick introduced us a couple of years ago.

So far, our plant is thriving in our dry alpine garden, where it shares a bed with agaves and other desert denizens. For us, flowering begins in mid-summer, although in more southern climates, it reportedly flowers almost year round. For us, the flower open around lunchtime, and close by 5pm. We’re still testing its winter hardiness, but it sailed through this winter’s 11 degrees F, with no problems.

Piriqueta caroliniana

Blackhawks

Looking great in the garden now is Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’. This Brent Horvath selection of the native (Canada south to Mexico) Andropogon gerardii, has beautiful, almost black foliage, compared to the typical glaucous green. Hardiness Zone 4a-8b

Andropogon gerardii ‘Blackhawks’

Pouring over another Pitcher

We grow quite a few sarracenia (pitcher plants) from seed, with only the very best (most unique and most vigorous) getting planted in the ground for further trials. Through the decades, we’ve only had a few that we eventually found worthy of a name. Below is a photo taken this week of a newly selected Sarracenia purpurea hybrid, that we’ve named Sarracenia ‘Fire Chief’. This almost certainly has genes from Sarracenia leucophylla. Later this year, we’ll chop into the plant to start propagation, so we can share.

Sarracenia ‘Fire Chief’

Taylor-Made

Most of us plant geeks marvel at the genetic diversity of plants as we drive, and one of my passions is studying the incredible diversity our our native red cedar, Juniperus virginiana. Below is an exceptional been pole-like form, Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’, selected from a population in Taylor, Nebraska, and released in 1992 by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Mature size should be around 20′ tall x 4′ wide. Our plants below are five years old.

Ramble On — A Native Groundcover with Year-round Interest and a Pollinator Smorgasbord

Over a decade ago I decided to try planting the native Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) in the maritime grassland exhibit at the South Carolina Botanical Garden. To my amazement, this species that I knew of from the fringes of saltmarsh in the Lowcountry thrived in both wet and dry soils of the upper Piedmont of South Carolina! The plant has proven to have incredible versatility and grows well in sand or clay and can be flooded for weeks and completely dry as well. Unlike many other plants that can accommodate such diverse conditions it isn’t so ugly that only a mother could love it, in fact, it’s charming.

Frogfruit is a low (4” tall) trailing groundcover with 1.25” long leaves that forms a solid mass of foliage but lacks deep root structures and thus does not compete with deeper rooted structural element plants. The flowers are pale pink to lavender and resemble tiny lantanas (a close relative). The flowering season here in the south begins in April and can continue through hard freezes (typically November) but may produce flowers year-round in mild winters.

Phyla nodiflora ‘Ramble On’

Our plants, Phyla nodiflora ‘Ramble On,’ are from a Charleston County, South Carolina collection along the margins of a wet ditch (freshwater), but the species has an amazingly wide range being found from New Jersey west to California and throughout the tropical regions of the world. Another species, Phyla lanceolata, is a more upright plant, with a similar range (but extending north to Ontario) it has longer leaves and is generally less showy as a groundcover.

Phyla nodiflora ‘Ramble On’

 This is the ideal living mulch for tough areas of your landscape. It spreads rapidly but is easy to keep contained by trimming the edges of your patch. We placed it in one of our pond overflow pits and were amazed to see it completely transform a time-sink of constant weeding into a mass of lovely little flowers while allowing the Hymenocallis and Hibiscus to continue to rise through the groundcover without obstruction.

The flowers are favored by skipper butterflies, particularly the smaller species and there is an all-day-long collection of hundreds on our patch every day. In addition, small flies, native bees, sweat bees and tiny wasps are fond of their constantly produced flowers. The leaf and stem color ranges from green to deep purple depending on the environmental conditions—generally, the more exposed to sun, intermittent drought or salty soils, the more purple in the plant. If the goal of your garden is to increase the production of life by filling all your spaces with plants that are loved by insects while at the same time reducing the need for mulch and weeding, this plant is definitely worth a try. Look for this in the near future. – Patrick McMillan.

Summer Buckeye Time

Looking lovely in the garden this week is the amazing native small tree, Aesculus parviflora var. serotina ‘Rogers’. Despite this amazing plant being native only in Alabama, it thrives in gardens well north of Chicago. This named selection was discovered in the early 1960s in the yard of University of Illinois professor Donald Rogers, and named because of its more floriferous nature, as well as its more pendulous flower spikes.

Aesculus parviflora var. serotina ‘Rogers’

4Ever and Ever, Amen

The North American native Thuja plicata ‘4Ever’ is looking particularly stunning in the garden this summer. Of all the forms of Thuja plicata we’ve trialed, this is undoubtedly the brightest. Reportedly maturing at 12′ tall x 3.5′ tall, I’m left to wonder what they used the measure the size. Our 4 year old specimen is 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Based on the current growth rate, we’d expect 12′ tall x 12′ wide in 10 years, so if you’re looking at “forever”, I’d probably put these on 15-20′ centers.

Coral Bean

Erythrina herbacea, commonly known as coral bean is an amazing southeast native, hailing from South coastal NC to Texas. Our plant of the coral pink Woodlander’s Nursery selection is looking fabulous in the garden this week. This deciduous perennial regrows from a large underground caudex each spring, only emerging after June. It’s drought tolerance is legendary, and as you can imagine, it’s a treat for hummingbirds. Hardiness is Zone 7a-10b.

Erythrina herbacea ‘Woodlander’s Pink’

Erect Blues

Below is our 5 year old clump of Commelina erecta looking absolutely dazzling, as it does each spring and summer. Commelina erecta is an amazing perennial, virtually unknown in horticultural circles, despite being native from 30 of the 50 states (Minnesota to New Mexico). Our collection below is from Elbert County, Georgia.

Each plant forms a 4′ wide mat of fleshy green foliage, highlighted by erect 1′ tall flowering stems. The stems are topped from July through September with rich pure blue flowers (a rarity in the hardy plant world). Although each flower is only open for a day, the succession of blooms rivals most annuals. So, why isnt’ this grown more? In the wild, it’s a fairly sparse plant, since it occurs naturally in the light/open/partial shade. Consequently, most authorities encourage you to plant it in similar conditions. Most references also write about its potential weediness, which raises all kinds of red flags.

In our trials, we have found that it grows and flowers far better in full sun. I can’t imagine why anyone would want to put this in the shade. Although it has legendary drought tolerance, it also grows great in moist soils.

Our selection from Georgia produces very few if any seedlings in the garden, so after 5 years of growing in excellent garden conditions, we see zero signs of weediness. Did I mention that it’s a great food for quails, and doves? Winter hardiness is most likely Zone 4a-9b.

So, the question is—do you think anyone would buy this if we propagated a few?

Commelina erecta

Do you know Polygonella?

We have been playing around with the genus Polygonella since 2000, but have still only grown 3 of the 11 US species so far. We are fascinated why these native, highly drought-tolerant members of the buckwheat (Polygonaceae) family aren’t more widely grown.

The common name of jointweed, probably is the biggest factor in their lack of popularity, but then botanist aren’t usually known for their marketing prowess. The plants do have joints, but they are far from being weeds. Polygonellas look like miniature subshrubs of obscure green joints until they burst into flower with hundreds of tufts of small white flowers, that are covered by all kinds of bees.

Below is a current photo of our 4-year-old clump of Polygonella americana. In my humble opinion, honeybee keepers should be planting these everywhere, since they flower during what is known as the “nectar dearth” season, starting here in June. For us, Polygonella americana flowers from June until October. Our plant is growing the un-irrigated crevice garden in a Permatill dominant soil, since great drainage is essential.

Polygonella americana

Parlin’s Pussytoes

We’re always on the lookout for great garden groundcovers, that don’t try and take over the garden. One that’s impressed us is the North American native, Antennaria parlinii ssp. fallax. The photo below is of our 2020 collection, Antennaria ‘Buckhorn Babe’, from nearby Orange County, NC. This widespread plant ranges natively from Maine to Texas, so, as they say, it’s common as dirt.

Despite it’s wide native range, I couldn’t find a single legitimate commercial offering on-line. Perhaps, it’s like several other great plants we tried to commercialize and no one will actually purchase it. That would be a shame, since we think this deserves to be grown in more home gardens.

The foliage emerges silver, and ages to glaucous green as the weather warms. It also rarely looks this nice in the wild, which is possibly why it’s been overlooked for a garden specimen. Our clump receives regular irrigation during dry periods, which although unnecessary, makes it much happier, as long as the drainage is good.

Antennaria parlinii ssp. fallax ‘Buckhorn Babe’

Baptisia’s Little Cousin – Shunned by the Masses

A few years ago, we propagated and offered what we think is a really cool native perennial, closely related to baptisia, Orbexilum psoralioides. That experiment was a flame out, as sales were some of the worst we’ve ever experienced. We dumped most of the crop, but planted several in the garden, where we continue to grow them today. The photo below is our patch in flower today. They grow similar to a baptisia, but smaller in all parts, and flower about six weeks after most baptisias have finished. These genetics are from a population about 30 minutes from JLBG.

Orbexilum, formerly Psoralea psoralioides, ranges from Illinois south to the Gulf Coast and west to Texas. It’s quite easy to grow, so perhaps the name just frightened people away. It’s really disappointing for us when we track down a great new plant, get it photographed and propagated, and then no one is willing to give it a try. Perhaps the box stores just make it much too easy to all buy the same, cookie-cutter plants so that all our gardens look the same. Unfortunately, the pollinator need much more diversity than you’ll usually find at these venues. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b, at least.

Orbexilum psoralioides ‘Nash’

Lophiola who?

The native Lophiola aurea put on a lovely show in the garden this spring. Thanks to Patrick McMillan for introducing me to this little-grown, lowland bog endemic that has a bizarrely scattered range in a few coastal sites from Nova Scotia south to Florida. We have ours growing with pitcher plants, where it has thrived. We’d love to propagate this, but am not sure anyone would purchase it. Thoughts?

Lophiola aurea

Blowin’ in the Wind

We love the North American native ornamental grass, Nassella tenuissima! The airy texture is amazing, and it looks like an extra from the move Twister, even in the slightest breeze. Here’s a recent image from the gardens. It stops growing in summer, re-emerging when the worst of the heat has passed in fall. As you can see, it flowers for us in late spring. Hot sun, good air movement, and well-drained soils are the keys to success.

Nassella tenuissima

And Now for Something Completely Different – Pretty Parasols

Plant breeders often get stuck in a rut, copying each other, with only slight variances in each new selection. What makes us stand up and take notice is when a breeder dares to head in a completely different “Pythonian”-like direction. Such is the case with Echinacea ‘Pretty Parasols’, which is in flower now at JLBG. We love this oddity from Belgium’s Jan Spruyt, but am unsure if anyone else will share our excitement. The plant is taller (3′), and much more airy than the form typically seen in other echinacea hybrids. So, what do you think?

Echinacea ‘Pretty Parasols’

Pipevines – A weirdo that you and your swallowtails can’t live without.

by Patrick McMillan

The past couple of weeks the small, freakish flowers of one of the strangest of plants have begun to open in our gardens – pipevines. It’s difficult to believe that nature could summon up anything as strange as the flowers of pipevines. If you remember the “regular” aka actinomorphic and the “irregular” zygomorphic flowers from high school biology then you would have to consider the strange, inflated flowers of pipevines highly irregular.

These plants are related to wild gingers/heartleafs (Asarum) and are members of the basal angiosperms, which are plants with lineages that predate monocots and true dicots. Many of the early angiosperms have flowers that are pollinated by flies or beetles that they lure to the flowers with the pleasant smell of rotting meat or dung. Pipevine is no exception. They trick flies into entering the strangely shaped flowers which often have a funnel-like flare with a narrow opening and trap the fly in a chamber with the pollen and nectar to accomplish pollination.

The general shape of the pipevine flower also approximates the anatomy of a uterus and birth canal. As was all the craze in the early years of medicine, the resemblance to the uterus must mean it is good for treating issues with difficult pregnancies and childbirth. This archaic mode of determining herbal remedies is referred to as the doctrine of signatures – basically if a plant part looked like a part of the human anatomy it would be used to treat ailments associated with that organ. This avenue of medical care led us to the highly unsuccessful use of liverleaf (Hepatica) to treat ailments thought to be caused by the liver, like cowardice and freckles. Medical science has since progressed, maybe?

The pipevines include herbaceous upright perennials, short rambling vines, and enormous lianas (woody vines). The toxic chemical aristolochic acid is contained in all parts of the plant and though it is known to cause kidney failure (which probably didn’t decrease the problems with difficult childbirth) this chemical has also been shown to have antitumor properties. Don’t go munching on the leaves! Pipevine Swallowtails depend exclusively on pipevines for their larval food source and all the species we grow are host to large numbers of caterpillars in the summer.

Pipevine caterpillars

The Pipevine Swallowtail accumulates aristolochic acid which deters predators like birds from wanting to consume them (they don’t want kidney failure either). This may explain why Spicebush Swallowtails and Red-spotted Purples look so similar to the Pipevine Swallowtail, they’re taking advantage of blending into the poisonous crowd.

These beautiful butterflies always seem to find your pipevines, no matter how secluded you think they are. Don’t worry, we can’t have enough swallowtails and the vines regrow without issue. These are great plants to include in your garden to support our butterflies. The caterpillars have another interesting behavior, when disturbed they have bright orange “horns” that are technically referred to as osmeteria that it pushes out of the front of its body and emit a very foul odor!

Three native pipevines are found in the Carolinas. Common Pipevine (Isotrema macrophyllum) can become a huge liana, reaching the canopies of old-growth trees and spreads through runners and can be difficult to keep contained. It grows best in cool climates and tends to suffer or not grow in warmer parts of the Southeastern US.

Isotrema macrophylla

Woolly Pipevine (Isotrema tomentosa) grows very well in hot, humid climates and is known from only a few native populations in the Carolina coastal plain. Like its mountain cousin it is very difficult to restrain and may quickly outgrow the space you envision for it.

Isotrema tomentosa

The only other pipevine is very dissimilar to the others, Virginia Snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria), which is an upright herbaceous perennial that rarely gets a foot tall. If you’re wondering why these former Aristolochia are now in the genera of Isotrema and Endodeca, well, it appears to all be about genetics. They are closely related but currently in different genera.

One of the easiest to grow and showiest, best-behaved species in our garden hails from Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, Fringed Pipevine or Fringed Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata). The plants form scrambling vines that act more like a groundcover than a vine and have beautifully silver-veined small leaves. The flowers are intricately patterned with lines and fringed with long “tentacles” to create one of the most bizarre flowers you’ll ever include in the landscape. Though you wouldn’t pick a plant from Brazil to be rock-hardy here in Raleigh, this one has been fully hardy (zones 7a-9a). For those of you looking to add some swallowtails but unwilling to devote the space to a monstrous mass of vines this one is for you. Fringed Pipevine is also incredibly drought-tolerant and perfect for part-sun to dappled dry shade.

Aristolochia fimbriata

Check out this Kickin’ Bouteloua

The ornamental grass genus Bouteloua gained a huge rise in popularity with the introduction of David Salman’s 2010 introduction, Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition‘. While David’s selection hasn’t thrived in our heat and humidity, one of Patrick’s Texas collections has thrived.

Bouteloua chondrosioides hails from West Texas south into Mexico, but surprisingly, doesn’t appear to be in horticultural cultivation. We’ve only had our plants in trial for 1 year, but the 15″ tall clumper sure is looking good so far. Dry, well-drained soil and full sun are the keys for success. It’s in flower this week as you can see below.

Bouteloua chondrosioides

Schocking Gold

One of favorite native trees is looking stunning in our parking lot. Acer rubrum ‘Schocking Gold’ was discovered by NC plantsman Richard Schock near his home in Boonville, NC. Richard shared his find with us in 1993, and we subsequently named the tree after him. Occasionally, when we’ve seen it offered, it’s listed incorrectly as ‘Shocking Gold’. We propagated one of these for the upcoming Southeastern Plant Symposium auction.

Acer rubrum ‘Schocking Gold’

Backyard Gold

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.

Phytolacca americana ‘Sunny Side Up’

Hello Lily

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.

Lilium canadense

Goldencrest

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.

Lophiola aurea in the garden
Lophiola aurea

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.

Dodecatheon media

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.

Amsonia ‘String Theory’

Barbara’s Buttons

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.

Marshallia caespitosa

Finzell’s Ginger

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.

Asarum finzelii
Asarum finzelii

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.

Aesculus pavia

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

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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.

Asarum virginicum
Asarum virginicum – flowers

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.

Asarum memmingeri true (currently known as H. rhombiformis)
Asarum memmingeri true (currently known as H. rhombiformis) – flowers

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.

Asarum sp. nov. Allegheny Mountains

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.

Baptisia ‘American Goldfinch’

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.

Allium ‘Ambassador’

Allium drummondii

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.

Minimally Endangered

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).

Escobaria minnima

Radiata radiating

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.

Carex radiata ‘Halifax’

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.

Rhododendron ‘Jane’s Gold’

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.

Cypripedium ‘Rascal’

Shady Iris

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.

Iris cristata ‘Eco Orchid Giant’

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.

Diamorpha smallii

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.

Cheilanthes lanosa
Cheilanthes tomentosa
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.

Aesculus sylvatica dwarf forms

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.

Shortia galacifolia
Shortia galacifolia

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.

Micranthes micranthidifolia

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.

Lygodium palmatum

The difficult to grow Asarum heterophyllum was scattered throughout our several mile trek, almost all plants were the solid green leaf form.

Asarum heterophyllum

Far easier to grow is the native Hydrangea radiata (formerly known as H. arborescens var. radiata), with its shimmering white-backed leaves.

Hydrangea radiata

As we walked along the towering cliffs, the red fruit adorning the carpets of partridge berry, Mitchella repens glistened in the rain.

Mitchella repens

Several patches of mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum had some of the largest foliage that I’d ever seen, measuring 1′ in width.

Podophyllum peltatum

Not far away we saw some of the most strikingly patterned form of Pachysandra procumbens we’ve ever seen.

Pachysandra procumbens

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.

Kalmia latifolia streaked branch

Below is our incredible, but soaking wet, botanizing team (l-r) Adam Black, Bartlett Arboretum, Zac Hill, JLBG, Patrick McMillan, JLBG.

Osmundas Rising

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.

Osmundal regalis

Below is another clump nearby, that emerges about a week earlier, and as such, is further along in opening.

Osmunda regalis

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.

Osmunda x japalis ‘King Kong’

Skinny Trillium

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 lancifolium ‘Lancelot’

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.

Trillium lancifolium 'Black Panther' in the garden
Trillium lancifolium ‘Black Panther’

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.

Baptisia perfoliata 'Flying Saucers'  in the garden
Baptisia perfoliata ‘Flying Saucers’
Baptisia perfoliata 'Flying Saucers' in flower
Baptisia perfoliata ‘Flying Saucers’ in flower

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.

Dentaria laciniata Yell County
Dentaria sp. nov. Montgomery County

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.

Cerastium beeringianum ‘Southern Snowstorm’

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.

Arabis procurrens

Redneck Nation

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.

Fothergilla milleri ‘Redneck Nation’

Wooly-headed Willow

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.

Close up of the catkins of Salix eriocephala 'Big Ears'.
Salix eriocephala ‘Big Ears’
Salix eriocephala ‘Big Ears’

Burnsville Beauty

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.

Dentaria diphylla ‘Burnsville Beauty’

Delicate Toadshade

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.

Trillium delicatum

Embroidered Sedge

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.

Carex picta ‘Bama Beauty’

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.

The native groundcover, Pachysandra procumbens, is known for its evergreen, variegated foliage and the early spring blooming white flowers are sweetly fragrant.
Pachysandra procumbens ‘Angola’

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.

Gordonia lasianthus with Vince and Vinny
Gordonia lasianthus
Evergreen foliage of Gordonia lasianthus.
Gordonia lasianthus
Close up of the bark of Gordonia lasianthus
Gordonia lasianthus
Chamaedaphne calyculata

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.

, Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’
A close up view of the winter blooming flowers.
, Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’.

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.

Agave x protamericana ‘Funky Toes’
Agave x protamericana ‘Funky Monkey’

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.

Opuntia drummondii ‘Bodie Island’

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.

Our 22 year old Illicium parviflorum 'Florida Sunshine'
Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’