Sometimes you see a plant, or a photo of a plant, that raises your horticultural lust to somewhat unhealthy levels. At this point in life, that happens far less than it used to, but one plant that remained on my lust list for over a decade was the aroid, Pinellia ‘Purple Dragon’.
For those who aren’t familiar with pinellia, they are an Asian genus of only 9 species of hardy woodland aroids, related to Arisaema (Jack-in-the-Pulpit). I will admit to have eliminated most pinellias from the garden because they grow too well, and spread too prolifically.
The only Pinellia species we retained in the garden are the non-weedy Pinellia cordata and Pinellia peltata, which don’t move outside of a small area. Pinellia hybrids have also always intrigued us. The first hybrid to be named was from the former We-Du Nursery, Pinellia ‘Polly Spout’ (P. pedatisecta x tripartita), and is sterile unless it is grown near one of it’s weedy parent species. We have grown this in the garden since 2004, and it remains a solitary clump, producing no seed.
When we heard of a second hybrid (P. cordata x tripartita), the search was on. Pinellia x cortita ‘Purple Dragon’ showed up at NY’s Glover Perennials, which unfortunately doesn’t ship. We finally tracked down a plant in 2019, and have subsequently fast-tracked it in the production process, so we could share this amazing gem that excited us so much. As we expected, none of our plants have ever produced a single seed.
The only problem with the plant is the cultivar name Purple Dragon, which has been used for years as the common name for the purple-spathed form of the weedy Pinellia tripartita, which sadly many folks will probably confuse with this new sterile hybrid.
Pinellia ‘Purple Dragon’ is effectively an everblooming arisaema, with flowers being produced non-stop from spring into fall. The new foliage emerges dark purple and opens olive green on the top and purple underneath. This has proven to be an exceptional plant in our garden. Our trial plant in half day sun has thrived as well as our specimens in more shade. If you like Jack-in-the-Pulpits, we hope you enjoy this new treasure as much as we do.
Several plants emerge in the fall/winter season…some native, and others from far away Mediterranean climates. One of the most unusual plants we grow is the pig’s butt arum, Helicodiceros muscivorus. Depending on the location of the original population on one of the Mediterranean islands, it can emerge in our climate as late as February or as early as December. Here is a photo of our plant of an Alan Galloway collection from Majorca, which is the earliest to emerge in our garden. Let’s hope it’s ready for our upcoming cold snap. Even if this never flowered, we marvel at the glaucous, three-dimensional Escher-esque foliage.
I’m just back from a recent plant trip to coastal Virginia and wanted to share some trip highlights and photos. Mark Weathington of the JC Raulston Arboretum and I headed north for a quick 2 day jaunt to the Norfolk area of Virginia.
Our first stop was the garden of long time garden friend, Pam Harper. For decades, Pam was probably the most prolific and knowledgeable garden writer in the country, in addition to having what was once the largest horticultural slide library.
At 92, and despite suffering from debilitating eyesight issues, Pam still gardens, including planting and pushing carts of mulch around the garden. It was such a joy to once again walk her amazing garden, listening to the both the historical details and performance of each plant we passed.
Pam was donating the remainder (20,000) of her slide collection, which previously numbered over 100,000 images, to the JC Raulston Arboretum. There, they will be digitized for public availability.
Her 45 year-old Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ was the largest either of us had ever seen.
We both also fell in love with Camellia x vernalis ‘Meiko Tanaka’…a plant we’d never encountered in flower, but seems to have good commercial availability.
The gold barked Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’ was also showing off its stunning winter color.
Pam’s garden has always yielded some of the most amazing Arum italicum seedlings I’ve ever seen. We are already growing two of her selections in hopes of future introduction, but we found a few more that we couldn’t resist.
Our next stop was the Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum at the Hampton Roads Experiment Station. It had been many years since either of us had visited.
What we found was an amazing plant collection that has been mostly abandoned, except for some minimal mowing maintenance. In most cases the labeling was somewhat intact, although some required Easter egg-like hunts, and others were simply nowhere to be found.
The late Virginia Tech researcher, Bonnie Appleton had worked to get homeowners to plant shorter maturing trees under power lines. To make her demonstration more authentic, she had faux power lines installed, which you can make out among the branches. It was interesting to see that virtually all of the plants she promoted as dwarf, had all grown well into the power lines. Mark recalled conversations with her decades earlier explaining that her choices weren’t really very sound.
There were a number of amazing older specimens including one of the largest Quercus polymorpha (Mexican Oak) that we’d ever seen in cultivation. This 75′ tall specimen dated to 1989, was originally gifted to them by the late JC Raulston, from a Yucca Do Nursery wild collection.
The old specimens of Ilex buergeri were absolutely stunning. This is a beautifully-textured, spineless broadleaf evergreen that’s virtually unknown in the commercial trade.
Another spineless holly, Ilex pedunculosa (long-stalk holly), is known for being difficult to grow in our hot, humid climate. Their specimen, however, looked absolutely superb.
We caught Fatsia japonica in full flower…always a great nectar source for honeybees in the winter months.
A highlight for me was catching the amazing stinkhorn fungus, Clathrus columnatus in full splendor…both visually and odoriferously.
Leaving the Hampton Roads station, we headed to the Norfolk Botanical Garden, where Mark worked before he came to the JCRA. Much of their efforts in the fall and winter are put toward their massive winter lights festival.
Norfolk Botanical Garden is home to an extensive and renown camellia collection, so we spent a good bit of time roaming the woodland garden where they grow. We were particularly interested in their Camellia species collection, several of which had questionable labeling. Here is one that was correct, Camellia gaudichaudii.
We spent a good bit of time studying a holly, labeled Ilex purpurea (syn. chinensis). The plant was amazing, but looks nothing like that species. Hopefully, a holly expert will be able to help us identify it from our photos.
This was my first time seeing the self-fertile idesia, Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’. I can’t imagine why this amazing, easy-to-grow plant isn’t more widely planted. I can think of few trees with more winter interest.
The shrub/small tree that blew us away from several hundred feet was a specimen of Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’. We’ve grown Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ for decades at JLBG, but have never seen anything as stunning as this clone.
While we’re talking about plants with red fruit, I was fascinated with their specimen of Cotoneaster lacteus. I had mistakenly assumed that most cotoneasters fail in our hot, humid summers, but obviously, I’ve never tried this species, which is typically rated as hardy only to Zone 8a. I think we need to trial this at JLBG.
Finally, I was particularly fascinated with a Quercus nigra (water oak), that formerly had a planter built around it’s base. As you can imagine, the tree roots made short work of the planter, but once the planter boards were removed, the resulting tree root sculpture is simply exquisite.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the highlights of our recent trip.
A first cousin to the better known aroid, arisaema is the lesser known aroid, arisarum. While arisaema has a distribution that is primarily North American and Asian, arisarum is primarily European. We planted our first arisarums back in 1994, and since then have tried quite a few and killed quite a few. The best species for our climate is Arisarum vulgare, a Mediterranean native, found naturally in the countries of Albania, Algeria, Baleares, Corsica, Crete, Cyprus, East Aegean Islands, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon-Syria, Morocco, Palestine, Sardinia, Sicily, Sinai, Spain, Transcaucasus, Turkey, and the former Yugoslavia.
With such a wide range of occurrence, some forms are naturally going to be more adaptable to our Zone 7b climate than others. The star in our trials has been a 2010 Crete collection of Arisarum vulgare from near the town of Lakki. From a tiny rhizome piece, it has spread to a 3′ wide patch. Like its’ other cousin, arum, arisarum goes summer dormant, re-emerging in fall. All of the previous forms of Arisarum vulgare we’ve grown have flowered only in early spring, but this amazing form flowers quite well every fall, in addition to being incredibly vigorous. We’ve just dug some of our patch today, and will work on propagating them for a future PDN catalog under the name Arisarum vulgare ‘Lady Lakki’. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
We are always interested in checking out the offspring, when plants in the garden have unexpected romantic rendezvous with their distant cousins…often when we least expect it. We have found arums tend to be quite promiscuous in the garden. While most offspring go to the great compost pile in the sky, a few are worthy of adoption and naming.
Below is our selection of a cross of Arum dioscorides x Arum italicum that we named Arum ‘Love Child’. While the foliage resembles typical Arum italicum, the spring-borne flowers show great influence of Arum dioscorides with the purple spotting inside the spathe. It’s our hope that Plant Delights will have a first crop of this new hybrid to share in the 2023 catalog.
Flowering today at JLBG is one of the tiniest of the geophyte aroids, Ambrosina bassii. This tiny gem, which matures at a whopping 1-2″ in height, is native to the Mediterranean region from Southern Italy to Northern Africa, where it grows on woodland slopes over alkaline rocks. There is only a single species in this little-known genus.
We always look forward to elephant ear evaluation day at JLBG, which was recently completed.
Each year, Colocasia breeder, Dr. John Cho flies in from Hawaii to study and select from our field trials of his new hybrids. This year we were joined by Robert Bett, owner of the California-based plant marketing firm, PlantHaven, who handles the Royal Hawaiian elephant ear program. The JLBG trials consist of all named colocasia introductions growing alongside Dr. Cho’s new hybrids created the year prior.
JLBG staff members, Jeremy Schmidt and Zac Hill spent most of the morning working with Robert and John on the time-consuming evaluation process.
After lunch, Jim Putnam from Proven Winners, joined us to see which remaining plants struck his fancy for potential introduction into their branded program. As you can see, lots of amazing plants didn’t make the final cut, which is necessary, since we’ll need more room for the new selections.
Plants selected for introduction are then sent to a tissue culture lab to be produced for the next step, which is grower/retailer trials. If these are successful, and the plant can be multiplied well in the lab, the plants are scheduled for retail introduction.
Hopefully, by now, most folks are familiar with our 2020 top selection, Colocasia ‘Waikiki’, which hit the market this year. There are more really exciting new selections in the pipeline, but we can’t share photos of those quite yet…stay tuned.
We’ve long been fascinated by Amorphophallus konjac ‘Shattered Glass’, an unstable variegated cultivar, developed by plantsman Michael Marcotrigiano. Some years, the foliage emerges solid green, other years with a small bit of sectoral variegation, and this year with a fully variegated leaf.
Plant nerds use the term BIO plant, short for Botanical Interest Only, for plants which have little, if any ornamental value, but are highly prized by crazed plant collectors. Spathicarpa hastifolia is such a plant. This odd aroid from Southern Brazil has actually thrived in our woodland garden since 2019. The coldest winter temperatures we’ve experienced in that period is 16 degrees F.
The small woodland plants mature at 1′ tall x 1′ wide, with oddly interesting flowers, which you can see in our image…if you squint. If this continues to perform well, and we can get it propagated, perhaps we’ll have some to share in the future. To quote our friend Bob McCartney, “We have the market cornered on plants for which there is no market.”
One of our favorite love lilies in our 2003 introduction, Amorphophallus konjac ‘Pinto’. This amazing dwarf never has foliage that exceeds 16″ in height. Unfortunately, the ridiculously slow growth rate has kept us from offering it again since, but perhaps one day. Here is our parent plant in the garden this week. Even if you don’t have a home garden, this form is superb in a container. We had a large crop of dwarfs from seed two years ago, and are looking for more unique new compact selections.
While most arisaemas flower in early spring, several members of the Franchetiana section of the genus are summer bloomers. There are five species in this section, but the only one that flowers in spring is Arisaema fargesii. Flowering recently are those pictured below, A. candidissumum, Arisaema franchetianum, and Arisaema purpureogaleatum. The debate still rages on whether Arisaema purpureogaleatum is merely a form of Arisaema franchetianum, but regardless, it has a distinct appearance when in flower. Of these three, Arisaema candidissimum is the least tolerant of our summer heat.
We love “vulgar” plants, which are good for providing unexpected shrieks from garden visitors. One of our favorite plants for evoking such moments is the European native, Dracunculus vulgaris. For those who took Latin in school, you’ll know that the English translation of the Latin name is Vulgar Dragon’s Butt. This fascinating spring ephemeral is native to very rocky, dry sites in the Southwest corner of Turkey, the Aegean Island (inc. Greece), and into the Balkans.
Virtually all of the material in commerce, which comes from the Turkish populations, are the red spathe/purple spadix form. Once you move to Crete, the inflorescences take on a different color theme with blends of white in spathe, and spadices which range from black to yellow. Below are a few which flowered at JLBG this spring.
We inherited the work of the late aroid researcher Alan Galloway, who actively hybridized dracunculus in an attempt to study the genetics as well as create new color forms for gardeners. Once final selections are made, these will require tissue culture for reproduction. Without tissue culture (dividing plants with a tiny knife), commercial quantities could never be obtained. Wish us luck!
Below are two variations on a theme…calla lilies in the garden. Here is Zone 7b, both are reliably winter hardy in the ground.
The striped-leaf selection of the winter-blooming South African native, Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘African Gold’ has looked fabulous all spring, where we have it planted in a seep, which gets full sun for 3-4 hours in the morning.
Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’ is a hybrid, created using several of the summer-flowering South African native calla lily species. Here it is in our garden in mid-June, where it gets 4-6 hours of sun daily, and the soil stays reasonably moist.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a plant survey of a local woodland area of about 30 acres. The low, moist areas are filled with Arisaema triphyllum, (Jack-in-the-pulpit) which is quite common in our area. The first image is what is typical for the species.
I’ve been studying patches of Jack-in-the-pulpit for well over 55 years, always looking for unusual leaf forms that showed any type of patterning. Until last month, I’d never found a single form with atypical foliage. That all changed with my first trip to this local site, where so far, I have found several dozen forms with silver leaf vein patterns. Up until now, there are only two pattern leaf forms of Arisaema triphyllum in cultivation, Arisaema ‘Mrs. French’ and Arisaema ‘Starburst’.
Each patterned leaf clone varies slightly as you would expect within a population including both green and purple stalk coloration.
While I’d never found any true variegation prior to this, I had found plenty of transient leaf patterning caused by Jack-in-the-pulpit rust (Uromyces ari triphylli). This site was no exception, with a number of plants showing the characteristic patterning. If you find these, turn the leaf upside down and you’ll see the small orange rust pustules.
While these may seem exciting, the pattern are not genetic and will disappear without the fungus. Fortunately, this rust can be cured by cutting off the top of the plant and discarding it where the spores can not spread via the wind. Infected plant should be fine, albeit smaller next year. The susceptibility of Arisaema triphyllum to jack-in-the-pulpit rust varies with genetics. Of the tens of thousands of plants I observed at the site, less than 10% were infected with the rust.
Here are a few buttery-colored plants flowering today in garden, starting with Arum creticum ‘Golden Torch’. This started as a small field division of a particularly large flowered selection from our 2010 expedition to Crete.
Paeonia mlokosewitschii is known for being un-pronouncable, so most folks refer to it as Molly the Witch peony. This is a particularly lovely butter yellow form from Ellen Hornig of the former Seneca Hill Perennials.
Trillium sp. nov. freemanii is a still unpublished new trillium species (hopefully soon), that we discovered in 1998. Normally red flowered, this is a rare yellow-flowered form.
Flowering at JLBG since early March is the little-known Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema ilanense. This collection hails from Ilan (Yilan), in northeastern Taiwan, and for us is the very first arisaema to flower each winter, even when temperatures are still quite cold. The mature size is only 4-6″ in height, so this is one for a very special site in the rock garden. There are very few plants of this species in ex-situ conservation collections, so thanks to JCRA Director, Mark Weathington for sharing. Our specimen has been in the garden since 2016. Hardiness is unknown, but we’re guessing Zone 7b-9b.
This is our first flowering of Dracunculus canariensis, the rare cousin of the more commonly-grown aroid Dracunculus vulgaris. Dracunculus canariensis hails from Madeira (reportedly extinct) and the nearby Canary Islands, all off the coast of Morocco.
We inherited our specimen from the late plantsman, Alan Galloway, who planned to cross it with Dracunculus vulgaris. The task now falls to us. Both species have a similiar chromosome count of 2N=28, so this should be a easy cross by saving pollen. To us, the flower smells like watermelon rhine, which is a nice change from the more offensive smell of its sibling.
One of the last plant exploration trips the late plantsman Alan Galloway made, was to Majorca, Spain. Alan was so excited to return home with some special selections of the fall-flowering Arum pictum, which typically has solid green foliage…except on Majorca. This beautiful form is known by collectors as Arum pictum var. sagittitifolium, although the name isn’t considered valid due to the natural variability in leaf patterns. This is Alan’s favorite form from his trip, to which we added the cutlivar name, A. pictum ‘King James’. It seems that back when Majorca had kings (thirteenth and fourteenth century), before its merger with Spain, they had a propensity for naming most of them, James.
Many gardeners are familiar with or have grown arum…mostly forms of the widespread Arum italicum, but few have grown the blingy gem of the genus, Arum pictum var. sagittitifolium. We are thankful to have this amazing collection from an Alan Galloway expedition to Majorca, Spain. Sadly, this species isn’t nearly as winter hardy (Zone 7b and warmer) as Arum italicum and we have never been able to coax it to set seed.
Here’s a recent image of the amazing Colocasia esculenta ‘Maui Sunrise’, still looking great in late October! Moist, rich soils and full sun are the key for your plants to look this spectacular! Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Most gardeners are familiar with arums, but few know Engler’s arum…aka: Englerarum hypnosum, a genus first recognized in 2013. This horticultural oddity was kicked out of several better known aroid genera (Colocasia and Alocasia) due to its odd genetics (anastomosing laticifers and colocasioid venation). The lone species of Englerarum can be found in forests from Southwest China to Southeast Thailand, where it grows as a lithophyte (lives on rocks) on karst limestone, spreading by rhizomes to form large colonies. It has been surprisingly winter hardy for us, surviving upper single digits F, when growing in typical garden soils, where it reaches 5′ in height with 30″ long leaves. Here is our patch at JLBG this summer.
Just flowering at JLBG is our largest clone of the hardy aroid, Dracunculus vulgaris, that we named ‘Supersize’. This one produced a massive 30″ inflorescence. A typical length is 15-20″. We’d be curious is anyone has grown one any larger. As you can imagine, it was quite a feast for the pollinating flies.
Flowering in the garden now are the amazing and very rare white-flowered Dracunculus vulgaris. This wild and crazy aroid, which typically has a red/purple inflorescence, hails from the Mediterranean region, centered around Greece and Turkey. The late aroid guru Alan Galloway worked extensively to breed these, and since we now hold his collections, we wanted to share the wonder of his work. It is our hope that tissue culture will be able to make these amazing color forms available one day.
This weekend marked our first flowering of the rare aroid, Pseudohydrosme gabunensis. We inherited this weird tropical after the passing of our friend and adjunct researcher Alan Galloway last spring. Alan had grown it from seed acquired in 2008 from the famed aroid researcher affectionately known as Lord P. Our staff describe the floral smell as stale potatoes…a far cry from the fragrance of it’s sister genus, amorphophallus. Pseudohydrosme gabunensis is from Gabon, where is resides in tropical rain forests.
Last week, I was innocently feeling up the spadix on our flowering Sauromatum, when I noticed it was incredibly hot…not in the biblical sense, you understand. We grabbed our new Covid thermometer to take its temperature, and with an ambient outdoor temperature of 61 degrees F, our Sauromatum spadix registered 96.3 F….that’s a 35 degree F fever!
In the plant world, this “fever” is known as thermogenesis. Pretend you’re a plant, and a pretty homely one at that. You’re ready for the big once-a-year moment and are probably wondering if you’ll get lucky in the short time window that your sexual parts will be functional. You also know you were born with an aphrodisiac to help you get laid, but it’s only good if you can get the word out. That’s where thermogenesis comes in handy. Many members of the aroid family (think anthurium and philodendron) were born with the ability to crank up the temperature in their sexual regions to disperse the fragrance of their aphrodisiac. In the case of aroids, that would be the smell of rotting flesh. Once our sauromatum got the heat going, there was a steady stream of incoming flies looking to get laid. Actually, they were looking for food and got tricked into satisfying the desires of our horny sauromatum. Isn’t nature amazing!
I was recently looking for some flowers to put in a vase for our patio and got thinking…what would you use if your dinner guests were the type of people you wanted to eat and leave…quickly. The answer was right before me…Pig Butt Arum, Helicodiceros muscivorus. So, here’s my creation…also perfect if your child has a “favorite” teacher who they want to be sure remembers them over summer vacation.