Opening up a Mis-can-thus of worms

Flowering this week at JLBG is the amazing Miscanthus transmorrisonensis. Many gardeners, who blindly believe everything they read/hear think the genus miscanthus is the horticultural version of the devil itself. Like everything in life, it’s all about those pesky details, which so many people simply don’t want to be bothered with.

Most miscanthus in the horticultural trade are selections of the species Miscanthus sinensis. Some selections of that species reseed badly and should be avoided in gardens. Others are sterile or nearly so, and unquestionably still deserve a place in American landscapes.

If we make good/bad evaluations at the species level, what would happen if visitors to the earth had their first encounter with a Homo sapiens that was a less than ideal representative of the species at large. They could easily assume that the entire species was a problem and should be eliminated. It’s fascinating that such species based prejudices are acceptable with ornamental plants, but not with people.

Then there are species, which have proven themselves to be complete without seed in our climate, such as Miscanthus transmorrisonensis. All plants in cultivation all appear to be derived from a 1979 Ferris Miller (Chollipo Arboretum)/ Paul Meyer (Morris Arboretum) collection at 9,500′ elevation on Taiwan’s Mt. Daxue. We have grown this for 30 years in rather good conditions, and have yet to see a single seedling. The beauty of this species is that it flowers continuously from summer into fall. I guess it’s too much to ask for environmental fundamentalists to actually pay attention to facts.

Miscanthus transmorrisonensis

Stoned Oak

Our 12 year-old stone oak, Lithocarpus glaber is looking fabulous this month, as it has come into full flower in early September. We love the stone oaks, which contrast to regular oaks in the genus, Quercus, by having upright insect-pollinated flowers, compared to wind-pollinated, drooping flowers in the genus Quercus, and by having exclusively evergreen foliage. Lithocarpus glaber is native to China, Japan, and Taiwan.

Frosty Pearl

One of our favorite broadleaf shrubs is undoubtedly Orixa japonica ‘Pearl Frost’. Orixa is a monotypic (one species) genus in the citrus (Rutaceae) family, that’s virtually unknown in US gardens.

We are particularly enamored with this superb variegated form, brought into the US by plantsman Barry Yinger. Orixa ‘Pearl Frost’ matures at 8′ tall x 6′ wide, and we have found it to thrive in both full sun to light shade, although full sun plants require more moisture.

Orixa japonica ‘Pearl Frost’

Pteris on the Terrace

We’ve long loved the fern genus, Pteris (pronounced terrace), but struggled for years to find any that were winter hardy here in Zone 7b. That changed with our 1996 Chinese expedition to Yunnan Province, and later a subsequent expedition by gardening friends to Sichuan Province. On both trips, high elevation collections of Pteris vittata were made that were much more cold hardy than anything from previous introductions. Both introductions have thrive here since the late 1990s. What we also love is that these ferns thrive in full, baking sun. Even now, in mid-July, these ferns look absolutely amazing in the gardens. Plant Delights currently has one of these amazing selections for sale. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Very Variegated

This spring, one of our flats of Rohdea japonica seedlings turned up with an inordinate number of variegated seedlings. In a flat of approximately 1,000 seedlings, we typically expect 3 – 10 variegated offspring, when the parent plant has white streaking in the middle of the leaf (L2 layer).

All of the variegated seedlings were removed and potted individually last week…all 300 of them. It will be fascinating to see what unique forms result.

Pinto – A Subcompact Love Lily

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.

The Cobras of Summer

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.

Arisaema candidissimum
Arisaema franchetianum
Arisaema purpureogaleatum

Baker’s Lily

We were thrilled to have Lilium bakerianum show up recently with a couple of flowers. This rare, dainty, woodland lily rarely exceeds 2′ in height. The arching stems are difficult to spot in the Chinese grasslands that they call home, unless you are lucky enough to catch them in flower. Lilium bakerianum, named after English botanist  Edmund Gilbert Baker (1864–1949), is quite variable, and as such is divided into five distinct varieties.

Our plants, which are Lilium bakerianum var. rubrum, are located at the top of our crevice garden so they are easy to appreciate when walking below.

Korean Celery

I first grew Korean celery for years for the flowers, never realizing it was an edible food crop…a first class edimental! I have a fascination for plants in the Apiaceae family, whose members include Angelica, Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus), carrots (Daucus), celery (Apium), parsley (Petroselenium), etc. Not only are many of the family members attractive in flower, but they are supremely attractive to pollinators, especially wasps.

Not all of my Apiaceae experiments have turned out well. More often than not, members of the family are short-lived (monocarpic or biennial), while other are prolific seeders. One which has far exceeded my expectations is the Korean native, Dystaenia takesimana.

Dystaenia takesimana is an endangered native to Ulleung Island, where it’s known by the local name, Soembadi. Most likely, dystaenia is endangered because it was also used to feed livestock (pigs). Humans eat Korean celery mostly in late winter, when it can be eaten raw like celery, or boiled, tasting quite like spinach.

This amazing evergreen perennial puts on a show with 5′ tall stalks of white umbels, starting for us in early June. When flowering is complete, the stalks die back as the new basal foliage emerges. Unlike many members of the family, the attractive cutleaf basal foliage remains evergreen all winter. You’ll see this popping up soon in an upcoming Plant Delights catalog. We hope you enjoy this as much as we have.

Dystaenia takesimana
Dystaenia takesimana

Oldham’s Azalea

Few gardeners have probably grown the Taiwanese Rhododendron oldhamii, but this little-known species has become one of the most important azaleas in American horticulture. Here it is flowering in our garden in late spring. Then will be followed by a late summer/fall rebloom.

Rhododendron oldhamii was named for British plant explorer Richard Oldham (1837-1864). Here’s a fascinating summary of Oldham’s life/work. Despite dying at the young age of 27, Oldham made significant contributions to botany, including the rhododendron (azalea) named in his honor.

In the early 1980s, Louisiana nurseryman, Buddy Lee decided to see if the fall reblooming trait of Rhododendron oldhamii would transfer to its offspring. Indeed they did, and because of Richard Oldham his namesake azalea, and Buddy’s imagination, we now have an entire series of reblooming azaleas, known as the Encore azaleas.

Holy Holly Fern

Looking great in the JLBG gardens is the amazing Cyrtomium fortunei ‘China Ruffles’. This superb spore strain is from an original introduction by Michigan plantsman, Hans Hansen, who made the spore collection in 2003 in Sichuan, China. Hardiness is Zone 6-9.

The Seals of Solomon

Solomon’s Seals comprise several genera of woody perennials, but the common name is most commonly associated with the genus, Polygonatum in the Asparagus family. It seems hard to imagine, but the Asparagus family now includes many popular garden plants including its namesake Asaparagus, but also hosta, agave, liriope, ruscus, and yucca.

The genus Polygonatum is native through much of the world, although the center of distribution is in Asia. We’ve been collecting these amazing woodland perennials for years, and now have a collection of over 380 different taxa. Here are a few from this week in the garden.

Polygonatum mengtzense is a dwarf, rarely cultivated species from North Vietnam.

Polygonatum mengtzense BSWJ11691

The dwarf, glossy-leaf Chinese Polygonatum nodosum just oozes elegance.

Polygonatum nodosum

When you run out of species to grow, you start creating hybrids. This is our new selection of a cross of the giant Polygonatum martinii and the more compact, Polygonatum falcatum. We’ve named this clone Polygonatum x marcatum ‘Winsome Wonder’

Polygantum x marcatum ‘Wisome Wonder’

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Chanticleer’ is a superb, large-leaf form of the Asian Polygonatum odoratum that I spied at Chanticleer Gardens, and they kindly shared in 2006. Hopefully, we’ll finally have enough to share next year.

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Chanticleer’

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Angel Wings’ (aka: ‘Carlisle) is a superb form of Polygonatum odoratum from Massachusetts plantsman, Roy Herold. This gem grows in both half day sun as well as shade.

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Angel Wings’ (aka: Carlisle)

A Little White Lying Groundcover

False lily-of-the-valley (Speirantha gardenii) is one of our favorite early spring-flowering evergreen groundcovers for shade, but one that just hasn’t caught on with customers. Every time we put this back in production at Plant Delights, we wind up throwing out most of the crop. Perhaps one day, folks will realize what a gem this is. Hardiness is Zone 5b-8b.

Calanthe Love

Here is a clump of Calanthe ‘Takane’ in our garden in early April. This amazing and easy-to-grow terrestrial ground orchid forms a dazzling clump with age. This mass started as a single division in a 4″ pot, 17 years ago. Not only do they thrive in the ground, but in Japan, they are prized as container plants.

Calanthe ‘Takane’ is a group of hybrids between Calanthe sieboldii and Calanthes discolor, so each seedling is slightly different in flower color. The foliage remains evergreen during most winters for us, but when temperatures drop near 0 degrees F, the foliage will die back completely. Calanthes thrive best in light shade. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9a.

Mukdenia – a Rocky Sax

Mukdenia is an odd monotypic genus in the widespread Saxifrage family, along with cousins heuchera, tiarella, and the namesake saxifraga. The odd genus name honors the former city of Mukden in Manchuria, which is now known as Shenyang. Mukden was the site of the largest modern day battle, prior to WWI. In case you missed it, the final score was Japan 1, Russia 0.

Several on-line sites, including that purveyor of accuracy, Wikipedia, proclaims there to be two species of Mukdenia, which is sadly incorrect. Although I’m sure Mukdenia rossii would like a sibling, one simply does not exist. I think of Mukdenia like Smucker’s…with a name like that, it has to be good…and it is.

Mukdenia naturally resides in China and Korea, where it can be found in some rather inhospitable places. I had to laugh when I read countless on-line articles that repeat the myth that mukdenia needs water during summer drought. It certainly doesn’t mind summer water, and will probably look better as a garden specimen with some irrigation. My first encounter with mukdenia in the wild was in fall 1997 on South Korea’s Mt. Sorak, where it thrived, growing in the rock cracks of a nearly vertical cliff (below)

Mukdenia in situ, Mt. Sorak, Korea

When we built our concrete crevice garden, mukdenia was one of the first plants I wanted to plant to see if it would mimic what I had seen in the wild. Below is our 2017 planting of Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’ in late March/early April 2022, as it emerges in flower. The foliage continues to expand around the flowers. Our plants get 3-4 hours of sun each morning, then shade the remainder of the day. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-7b.

Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’ in crevice garden – late March
Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’ in crevice garden – early April

Sweet as Snow Cream

Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’ is a 2000 Juniper Level Botanic Garden/Plant Delights introduction that has proven to be one of our most popular introductions. We made the original selection from a group of seed-grown plants, imported from China by Canada’s Piroche Plants in the late 1990s. We were drawn to this seedling because of the particularly large flowers, and large leaves that reminded us of a plumeria. Let me be clear that all Edgeworthia chrysantha seedlings are nice, but there is certainly a significant difference between flower and leaf sizes of seed-grown plants.

Below are photos from our winter open nursery and garden days this year, where our garden specimens never cease to amaze visitors with both its sweetly scented flowers and amazing floral show. Sadly, no matter how many we propagate, it never seems to be enough to meet the demand. A more open site results in a much better floral show. Hardiness is Zone 7a – 10b.

A Forest of Pink

Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ put on a splendid show this year in early to mid-March. Sold as a cultivar of the Chinese Magnolia denudata, some magnolia experts insist that it’s actually a hybrid, due to the intensity of the pink color as well as the form of the plant.

Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ originated as an introduction from Treseder’s Nursery in Cornwall, England, who propagated and named it from an original introduction from China by Scottish botanist, George Forrest (1873 – 1932), that was growing at England’s Caerhays Castle.

Magnolia denudata, a typically white-flowered species, native to Central China, has been cultivated around Buddhist monasteries since 618 AD…in other words, nearly 1,500 years. Another long-cultivated Chinese native magnolia with pink flowers and an overlapping native range is Magnolia liliiflora. The commonly known hybrids of the two species are known as the Magnolia x soulangeana hybrids. Since plant explorer George Forest was known to collect both in the wild as well in cultivated areas, it is quite probably that the magnolia that bears his name is not pure Magnolia denudata, but actually a Magnolia x soulangeana hybrid. Looks like someone will need to do some DNA work to sort out this nomenclatural tussle.

Whatever you want to call it, our 25 year-old specimen of Magnolia ‘Forest’s Pink’ was rather stunning this March. Thankfully, the flowering was mostly complete before our mid-March freeze of 23 degrees F.

Japanese Princess Sedge

Carex conica ‘Hime’ has been in horticultural commerce for many decades, and remains a superb woodland garden sedge. The evergreen species Carex conica is native throughout Japan, where it occurs in woodland conditions. This variegated selection that goes by an array of names such as ‘Snowline’ and ‘Marginata’, but Carex conica ‘Hime’, which translates to “princess” seems to the the correct cultivar name. The tight 10″ tall x 20″ wide clumps of narrow white-edged leaves are topped with this fascinating floral show for us in early March. In 35 years of growing this, we have yet to see a single garden seedling.

Fritters in the Garden

We’ve made a regular habit of killing fritillarias (the bulb…not the fried food) in the garden, especially those ungrowable brightly-colored species like Fritillaria imperialis that tantalizingly appear each fall in the major bulb catalogs.

Although it lacks the bling of it’s showier cousins, the species that is reliable for us in the garden is Fritillaria thunbergii. This native of Kazakhstan has naturalized in both western China and Japan, where it has been used medicinally for almost 1,000 years as a treatment for respiratory ills. There is still some debate among botanists whether some of the Chinese population might actually be native as well.

In the garden, Frittilaria thunbergii emerges in February, and is full flower at 2-3′ in height by early March. As with most spring ephemerals, it has gone to sleep by early May. Light shade or part sun seems to suit it fine. Hardiness is at least Zone 7a-8b.

Ginger drama in the Garden

One of the fun reasons to grow plants from seed is that each seedling is different…unless you’re growing highly bred annuals. Most non-hybrid seedlings will be under the bell curve, meaning they all look and behave relatively similar. As plant collectors, we get excited when one appears that falls outside the bell curve. An example is our wild ginger selection, Asarum maximum ‘Floragasma’, which has both far more flowers than we typically see with the species, but it also flowers 2-3 weeks before our other clones. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.

Iris days of Winter

Here are an assortment of Iris species flowering at JLBG during the last week of February. So many folks only know the bearded iris of later spring, and miss these amazing winter gems. Join us this weekend for our Winter Open Nursery & Garden Days and explore our winter blooming iris.

The first is Iris tuberosa, a winter blooming tuberous iris from Mediterranean Europe. Iris tuberosa is one of the few examples, where a Latinized name change actually results in something that’s easier to pronounce. This gem was formerly known by the tongue twisting name, Hermodactylus tuberosus. Most iris grow from rhizomes, with the tuberous iris being a much smaller and less-known group. We have found these to grow best in part sun. Winter hardiness Zone 7b-10b.

Iris tuberosa

The West-Asian (Caucuses, Iran, Turkey, and Russia) Iris reticulata is also different, in that it grows from a bulb. These are quite easy to grow, and are available commercially in a number of named color forms. Below is Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’…looking stunning today. The reticulate (netted) iris grow best in full to part sun. Hardiness is Zone 3-8.

Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’

We’ve shown some of the Mediterranean Iris unguicularis recently, but here are a couple more looking particularly nice this week…Iris ‘Front Drive’ (top) and Iris ‘Winter Echos’ below. Hardiness for both is Zone 6b-9b.

Iris unguicularis ‘Front Drive’
Iris unguicularis ‘Winter Echos’

Plant Imposters

The first plant looks for all the world like a fine textured carex, but in fact, it’s an iris. Iris dabashanensis is a little-known species from China, that thrives for us in light shade, but will also take a few hours of early morning sun. Our plant is a Darrell Probst collection from Sichuan, China. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a -8a.

Iris dabashanensis

Below is the same plant flowering in early April.

Iris dabashanensis

The other plant growing nearby in our gardens that fools even the keenest plantsmen is this liriope look-alike. In fact, this is a cast iron plant, Aspidistra linearifolia. This demonstrates why those pesky taxonomic traits matter. In 2008 we introduced a selection with a lighter central stripe down the center of each leaf called A. linearifolia ‘Skinny Dippin’ which we will be offering again in 2023. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.

Aspidistra linearifolia

Weeping cast irons

Most gardeners know the genus aspidistra (cast iron plant) from one or two species, and if that’s the case, you probably only know those which hold their leaves vertically upright. There are equally as many species with pendant leaves, which provide a completely different form in the woodland garden. Here are two of those pendant-leaf species from the garden this week.

The first is Aspidistra sichuanensis, which is one of the larger growing species. A single clump can easily spread to 6′ in width in a couple of decades. This clump has topped out at 3.5′ in height.

Aspidistra sichuanensis

Below that is Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’. With narrower, wavier foliage, it makes a large clump, albeit slightly smaller than Aspidistra sichuanensis. Both plants are winter hardy from Zone 7b and south.

Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’

The Spectrum of Siblings

Throughout the years, we’ve grown literally thousands…perhaps 10s of thousands of seedlings of the Japanese sacred lily, Rohdea japonica. Each one varies slightly, but we only save those at the far end of the bell curve. Here are three of our seedlings which well represent that dramatic variation at each end of the spectrum…a wide leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Stork Nest’ (15 yrs old), a very narrow leaf form we named Rohdea ‘Thin Man’ (16 years old), and a miniature that has yet to be named.

Rohdea japonica ‘Stork Nest’
Rohdea japonica ‘Thin Man’
Rohdea japonica JLBG-091