Jurrasic Park Thujopsis

We’ve long been a fan of the central Japan native conifer, Thujopsis dolobrata, which we’ve grown for decades. For those, who aren’t students of the Latin language, the ending -opsis, means “looks like”. When Thujopsis was formally named in 1894 by Franz von Siebold and Joseph Zuccarini, they chose a name that could be translated to “looks like the American genus, Thuja”.

On a 2012 trip to Joann Currier’s former Unique Plant Nursery in NC, we noticed a plant of Thujopsis that looked unlike any we’d seen. Since the genus only has a single species, the variant was either a mutation or odd seedling. The very thick, plastic-like foliage on this selection gives the appearance of a ploidy mutation (extra chromosomes).

The cutting they shared was rooted, and subsequently went in the ground here in 2013. A decade later, our plant is pictured below this month, topping out at 10′ in height. Joann originally got the plant from Randy Plante at Greener Visions Nursery, who got it from NC conifer nurseryman Geoff Driscoll, who got it from someone “up north”. That’s where the trail goes cold. We’ve shared cuttings with several NC nursery folks, in the hopes this amazing selection becomes more commercially available in the future.

Thujopsis dolobrata ‘Jurrasic Park’

Splendor in the Cracks – Urophysa

I’m betting that even the most seasoned plant collectors probably haven’t grown or even heard of Urophysa henryi. This odd generic member of the Ranunculaceae family hails from China, where it can be found only in a very few scattered populations, hanging out from cliff-side karst rock fissures in Guizhou, Sichuan, Western Hubei and into Northwestern Hunan.

Urophysa henryi is very closely related to the highly prized, but rather difficult to grow, rock garden plant, Semiquilegia adoxoides. I was particularly interested to read in a 2021 Chinese research paper, “In field observations and laboratory experiments, we found that U. rockii and U. henryi can not survive outside the karst limestone, which indicated that the karst limestone plays a significant role in their growth and development.” This is why you never send a botanist to do a horticulturist’s job!

In our garden, sans the Karst limestone, it has thrived in our rock garden, not blinking this year at 11F. The 4″ tall x 6″ wide evergreen clumps of columbine-like foliage are topped with clusters of small, outfacing white flowers, which resemble our native Isopyrum biternatum, Like Isopyrum, Urophysa flowering starts for us in early January, and continues through March. We think these are an outstanding addition to the winter garden and are going to do our best to get these propagated to share before words gets out that they can’t be grown in cultivation.

Urophysa henryi

“Little” Hariyama

Looking quite lovely atop our crevice garden is Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Hariyama’. This incredibly heavily-spined seedling of Osmanthus ‘Sasaba’ was brought to the US by plantsman Ted Stephens, who acquired it from Ishiguro Nursery in Japan. Our 15 year old plant has topped 10′ in height. Earlier in the fall, it was adorned with small, fragrant white flowers. Despite the small congested foliage, this is not a small plant, but where an oriental specimen plant is needed, this is very special.

Image Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Hariyama'
Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Hariyama’

A Mound of Mitama

Cryptomeria is a monotypic genus (only one species) of conifer, native to Japan. Despite many reports that it hails from China, DNA has shown that these were brought from Japan and planted over 1000 years ago.

For over 40 years, we have been fascinated with the genus and have worked to collect as many cultivars as possible, currently 49 different ones in the garden. One of our long-time favorites is Cryptomeria japonica ‘Mitama’, an old Japanese dwarf selection that’s sold under the name ‘Globosa Nana’. Without any clipping, these retain a slightly informal green meatball shape, maturing at 6′ tall x 10′ wide. Below is our garden plant this week. Hardiness zone 5a to 9b.

An unpruned specimen of Cryptomeria japonica 'Mitama', commonly sold under the name 'Globosa Nana'.
Cryptomeria japonica ‘Mitama’

Aroid Passion – Purple Dragon

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 purple undersides of the foliage are visible, along with the green hooded flower.
Pinellia x cortita ‘Purple Dragon’

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.

Pinellia x cortita 'Purple Dragon' in the woodland garden
Pinellia x cortita ‘Purple Dragon’

Winter Showstopper

Our 13 year old clump of the evergreen Japanese Asarum asperum is looking superb in the garden this week. Looks like it’s about time to divide this for the first time and start to build up stock so we can share in the future. Winter hardiness is Zone 6-9.

Image of Asarum asperum 'Showstopper' in the garden
Asarum asperum ‘Showstopper’

This Bark’s for Yew

Sadly, folks who have a predilection to butcher evergreens like yews (Taxus) into green meatballs completely miss the beauty of their bark as they age. Here is our plant of Taxus mairei (Nepal to Vietnam) in the garden this week, looking absolutely stunning. Woof Woof!

Taxus mairei
Taxus mairei

Casting Around Seed

We can’t imagine there are many people who grow cast iron plants from seed, but we have found the results quite fascinating. Below are a couple of our seedling which we found good enough to name. Neither has been divided yet, and are still under evaluation, but we think they have good potential.

Aspidistra ‘Bright Lights’ is a 2015 seedling from Aspidistra ‘Okame’ and has a similar variegation pattern, although it has more white banding than its parent.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Bright Lights’

Aspidistra ‘Illumination’ is a 2016 seedling of Aspidistra ‘Sekko Kan’, and inherited the white tips from its mama, but has also pickup up more streaking that wasn’t present in the preceding generation, so perhaps it outcrossed to a nearby streaked parent. If you’re interested in trying this yourself, the seed are found in a 1-2″ wide green ball at the base of the plant now. The seed should be mature in the next 4-6 weeks.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Illumination’

Tuff Tuft

In 2014, Plant Delights introduced this amazing, wild collected mondo grass, which we think is one of the coolest ophiopgons we’ve ever grown. This Darrell Probst collection from China has formed a 20″ tall x 4′ wide mound of foliage. This image was taken in the garden this week after our 11 degree F freeze, and is looking absolutely fabulous. Although it keys out to Ophiopogon japonicus, it doesn’t phenotypically (what it looks like) that species. We’re pretty sure it represents a new undescribed species.

We love the texture, both in the woodland garden and in half day full sun. Although it’s winter hardy throughout Zone 6, it was one of the worst selling plants we ever offered. Sometimes we just want to throw our hands up trying to figure out why people don’t purchase some of these amazing plants.

Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Tuff Tuft Lavender’

At the Coast with Holly

The typical holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum, is considered fairly reliable in Zone 7b, but no further north. The oddball is the coastal form, which grows on the coast of both Japan and Korea. We received the plant shown below in 2005, as Cyrtomium falcatum var. maritimum, which our taxonomy staff tells me, isn’t a valid name. According to Patrick and Zac, the Japanese coastal material is correctly called Cyrtomium falcatum var. littorale, but there is no mention in the literature they’ve reviewed of the same coastal form occurring off Korea.

Other than the dwarf size, which is often seen in plants that grow in harsh coastal conditions, these weather-battered denizens adapt by developing thicker leaves and a denser habit. Additionally, this form is significantly more winter hardy than the typical material of Cyrtomium falcatum seen in the trade. We’ve always listed this dwarf form as a Zone 7a plant, but we wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s also hardy in Zone 6. If you’ve been adventurous enough to try it, we’d love to hear from you. Our mature clumps below, photographed over Christmas, are now 8″ tall x 18″ wide.

Crytomium falcatum ‘Eco Korean Jade’

Holiday Cast Offs

During the holidays, house plants often get relegated to dark, unattended corners, but some house plants make great holiday decorations without any special seasonal input. One of those is the Taiwan native cast iron plant, Aspidistra attenuata. Here are 3 clones in our collection, all photographed this year on Christmas day. In order, they are Aspidistra attenuata ‘Alishan Broad’, ‘Dungpu Dazzler’, and ‘Taiwan Treasure’. These are but a few of the amazing cast iron plant species and cultivars that are sadly ignored commercially. We think they’re pretty cool.

Image of Aspidistra attenuata 'Alishan Broad'
Aspidistra attenuata ‘Alishan Broad’
Image of Aspidistra attenuata 'Dungpu Dazzler'
Aspidistra attenuata ‘Dungpu Dazzler’
Image of Aspidistra attenuata 'Taiwan Treasure'
Aspidistra attenuata ‘Taiwan Treasure’

Genetics Matter

We have long been enamored by the elegant, evergreen fern, Polystichum neolobatum, but have failed countless times with the commonly sold material in the horticultural trade. It was not until we grew spores from a Hans Hansen Chinese collection from 7,000′ elevation in China’s Sichuan province that we met with success. Below is a specimen from that trip, taken here at JLBG last week.

As is the case with so many commercially sold plants, their origin is lost. While the commercial material of Polystichum neolobatum may be fine in the cool temperatures of the Pacific Northwest, that is simply not the case here in the hot, humid Southeastern US. This species has a wide native range from the Himalayas all the way to Taiwan, where it can be found from 4,000′ elevation to 10,000′ elevation. Both elevation and origin location matter when determining the adaptability of many plants. We are finally getting good spore set, and hope to be able to make this form available through Plant Delights in the near future.

Polystichum neolobatum ‘YuWa’

Pregnant Rohdeas

This is a very good year for the annual winter fruit show on Rohdea japonica (sacred lily). The attractive berries remain until early March, when they begin to drop. Although seed from these cultivars do not come true, you’ll always end up with an interesting variety of offspring.

Rohdea japonica ‘Get in Line’
Rohdea japonica ‘Shichi Henge’
Rohdea japonica ‘Golden Eggs’

Dry-opteris on a Wet, Rainy Day – New Relevations

The cold and raw weather of late autumn and winter provide the perfect opportunity to sit down with the dissecting scope and put our ferns through the identification mill. Often gardens and nurseries receive a plant into their collections from an exporter or collector who has put their best guess on the identification. After many years in cultivation, we realize what we thought was the right species name for our specimens is incorrect. Today’s nasty weather provided the opportunity to examine, in detail, one of our favorite evergreen fern groups – Dryopteris section Variae.

These firm-leaved evergreens produce thick-textured, durable, medium-sized fronds of varying shape but all display a noticeably longer basioscopic pinnule (that’s fancy talk for the lowest, innermost segments of the divided leaves).  All members of the section that we have grown have proven to be very adaptable to our hot, humid summers and unpredictable winters if grown in shade or partial shade in moist woodland garden conditions. The fronds tend to burn if they receive too much light. They are late risers in the spring often not producing a new flush of leaves until late spring or even early summer.

At the beginning of the day, we started with 8 accessions of Dryopteris varia, 2 accessions of Dryopteris bissetiana, 6 accessions of Dryopteris formosana, one accession of Dryopteris saxifraga and a couple of unknowns. From these numbers you would expect that the one plant we would know best would be Dryopteris varia.

Dryopteris bissetiana comparison

Well…it turns out all the plants we had received or had identified as D. varia were actually representative of other taxa. If you’ve never tried keying ferns using The Flora of China or The Ferns and Fern Allies of Taiwan, you would have no idea just how difficult a process this is. The floras of these areas are notoriously difficult to use and often contradictory or difficult to assess using illustrations or pictures (yes even plant taxonomists google names to find images). Very quickly we became intimately familiar with the nature of the stipe and rachis scales, frond outlines, and disposition of the vestiture (yeah you think that sounds easy, right?).

We found most of our collection was actually composed of Dryopteris bissetiana, which are mostly from collectors who sent us tentatively identified wild-collected material. The majority of these were from Sichuan in China, however one very beautiful, deep green and glossy selection that is only half the size or less of the others was Tony’s collection in Korea, and has tentatively been identified as Dryopteris saxifraga. All of these are remarkable garden plants, but we are very excited to some day offer the choice dwarf from Korea which we have named ‘Cheju Dwarf.’

Dryopteris bissetiana commercial clone
Dryopteris bissetiana CSC009008 (Darrell Probst collection)

It was a pleasant surprise to find that our collections of Dryopteris formosana were correctly labelled, but we weren’t prepared for there to be two distinctly different looking plants represented in our garden that are the same species.

One of these is the plant that has been shared among fern enthusiasts for some time that is the typical sexually reproducing diploid. The other is an apogamous triploid that looks like a completely different species. In a diploid (like you and I) the pairs of chromosomes uncouple and one copy of each goes into making the male and female gametes.

Dryopteris formosana forms

Thus, each gamete has only one set of each chromosome (haploid) and when combined with those from the complementing sperm or egg results in another diploid. Plants sometimes have a mistake in their cells that lead to the production of gametes with twice as many chromosomes as they would normally have and when such tetraploid plants breed with a diploid the result is a gamete with 2 copies of each chromosome combining with a gamete with only one—thus triploid. In your average plant this triploid is a dead end for reproduction by seed or spore because they have an uneven base number 3—which can’t be divided into an equal number of chromosomes, so it is sterile.

Dryopteris formosana comparison diploid left triploid right

This triploid avoids the curse of having an uneven number of chromosome pairs by avoiding sexual reproduction and producing spores that will result in new plants without the traditional interplay of sperm and egg on a germinated gametophyte (yes apogamy in ferns is still legal in all states and countries). We were puzzled when two very different looking ferns keyed to the same species. Everything that was in the key matched. The bullate hairs, the shape, the color, the basioscopic pinnae and the overall shape.

Our taxonomist, Zac Hill, very quickly uncovered a recent paper by Kiyotaka Hori, et al (2017) which explained and beautifully illustrated our conundrum. The triploid produces a wider, far more pentagonal frond with a less erect nature in the way the blade is held, and a deeper green, highly pleasing color—now that’s pretty darn cool! This new discovery we have named ‘Yushan 2 X 4.’ A new plant for us all to grow in the years to come and now you know why we chose the name diploid (2) X tetraploid (4).

Dryopteris formosana triploid

Now that we realize we grow seven different forms of Dryopteris bisettiana, each collection will be given a cultivar name, which will refer back to their specific origin and uniqueness.

Every day brings discovery when you manage a collection of 30,000 taxa but one thing we know for sure, these are amazing, well-behaved, slow growing woodland plants that are the essence of what makes Juniper Level Botanic Garden so amazing.

Patrick McMillan, director of horticulture and gardens

Literature cited:

Hori, Kiyotaka, L. Kuo, W. Chiou, A. Ebihara and N. Murakami. 2017. Geographical distribution of sexual and apogamous types of Dryopteris formosana and Dryopteris varia (Dryopteridaceae) in Taiwan. Acta Phytotax. Geobot. 68 (1): 23-32.

Happy about Hepaticas

I’ve been very blessed on several UK visits to spend time at the amazing Ashwood Nursery of plantsman John Massey. One of the real treats of each visit is a chance to spend time in John’s private hepatica greenhouse. To say John is a bit obsessive about the genus is a grand understatement, so it should be no surprise that he has channeled all that knowledge into a new Hepatica book, that’s hot off the press.

My World of Hepaticas - newly published book by John Massey and Tomoo Mabuchi

We first learned of John’s obsession with the genus, when he joined us on a 2000 expedition through NC, SC, Alabama, and Tennessee to study the hepatica in the wild…along with our main goal of studying trillium. Below is an image from that expedition. Hepatica are also native to Asia.

Hepatica americana var. acuta in situ 2000
Hepatica americana var. acuta in situ 2000
John Massey with Hans Hansen in the Hepatica greenhouse
John Massey with Hans Hansen in the Hepatica greenhouse
Image of Ashwood Hepatica greenhouse
Ashwood Hepatica greenhouse

Our copy of My World of Hepaticas arrived recently, and John’s book is a massive 296-page compendium of pretty much anything you’d want to know about hepaticas, compiled from John’s decades of work with the genus. John’s writing style is easily readable, coming across as if you’re having a relaxed conversation over dinner, and the incredible photos are an equal match to the text. Right now, you can only obtain a copy by ordering it from the Ashwood website.

Sasanqua Satisfaction

We love the fall-flowering show of Camellia sasanqua, that’s underway now at JLBG. Here are a few of our favorites, starting with the amazing Camellia sasanqua ‘Fall Fantasy’. This hybrid from the late Chapel Hill camellia guru, Cliff Parks is unlike anything we’ve seen both in number of flowers as well as the incredible double pink form.

Camellia sasanqua 'Fall Fantasy' in full flower
Camellia sasanqua ‘Fall Fantasy’

Camellia sasanqua ‘Ginba’ is Japanese introduction with lovely frosted-tipped leaves. This is also a slower growing selection.

Camellia sasanqua 'Ginba'
Camellia sasanqua ‘Ginba’
Close up of the variegated foliage of Camellia sasanqua 'Ginba'
Camellia sasanqua ‘Ginba’

Camellia sasanqua ‘Leslie Ann’ is truly breathtaking. With a much more open habit, this cultivar is truly elegant. In form, it resembles a flowering cherry, far more than a camellia. This is an introduction from Alabama’s Ray Davis in 1960.

Close up of the flowers of Camellia sasanqua 'Leslie Ann'
Camellia sasanqua ‘Leslie Ann’
Open habit of Camellia sasanqua 'Leslie Ann'
Camellia sasanqua ‘Leslie Ann’

I’ll end up with another truly unique selection, also from the late Cliff Parks. Camellia sasanqua ‘William Lanier Hunt’ is the closest to blue flowers we’ve seen. Each pink flower has a blue cast that increases as the flowers age. This selection is named after the late NC plantsman of the same name.

Camellia sasanqua 'William Lanier Hunt' in bloom
Camellia sasanqua ‘William Lanier Hunt’
Camellia sasanqua 'William Lanier Hunt' in bloom
Camellia sasanqua ‘William Lanier Hunt’

Fall-flowering hemiboea

For several years, we’ve been fascinated with the genus, Hemiboea, a collection of 23 species of African Violet relatives, all native to China. We currently grow five of those, and two others that are still to be identified. On a 2020 trip to England, we picked up Hemiboea strigosa, which has been flowering beautifully here at JLBG, starting in early fall. The Latin word “strigosa” means stringy, which certainly describe the mat of stolons which lie right at the soil surface. So far, our plants have been through two winters, where they fared very well. If the good performance continues, we will start propagation soon.

Hemiboea strigosa blooming in the garden.
Hemiboea strigosa

That Won’t Grow Here

Begonia U-521 is a species we got from a customer in Alabama, which has sailed through our winters at JLBG since 2017. Flowering begins for us in early fall, with clusters of large pure white flowers, which hide just below the leaves. For those unfamiliar with Begonia U-numbers, these are assigned by he American Begonia Society for plants new to cultivation that represent potential new species.

This amazing begonia was purchased by begoniaphiles Charles Jaros and Maxine Zinman from the Bangkok Market in Thailand. For those who haven’t visited this amazing marketplace, it’s a massive venue where local vendors (nurserymen and collectors) sell their wares.

It turns out that this species came from the wild via a collector who lives on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, where no plants should be winter hardy here in Zone 7b. We’re not aware of anyone currently working on naming new begonias from that region, so to offer it, we’ll need to assign a cultivar name, which will remain connected to the plant, once it becomes a published species.

Begonia sp. nov. U-521 foliage in the fall garden.
Begonia sp. nov. U-521
Begonia sp. nov. U-521 white flowers hidden just below the foliage.
Begonia sp. nov. U-521

You’re so Vein…Anastomosing, that is

Nurses and plant taxonomists are among the few fields in which you would run into the term, anastomosing veins. Having been in the plant world all my life, I had never even run into the term until trying to key our some bamboo ferns in the genus, Coniogramme, almost a decade ago. It turns out that to distinguish between species, you need to determine if the spore patterns on the back of the leaf have an anastomosing or parallel vein pattern. Anastomosing veins are those which diverge and reconnect forming a pattern like a snake skin. We’ve grown quite a few ferns, but none have the amazing vein patterns of coniogramme. Below are the leaf backs of Coniogramme japonica in fall.

Coniogramme japonica - spore pattern on leaf back
Coniogramme japonica – spore pattern on leaf back
Close up of Coniogramme japonica showing anastomosing veins
Coniogramme japonica – spore pattern close up

Soooo Sweet!

Have you ever been seated by someone who exercised no self control when it came to their application of perfume to the point that they left you gasping for fresh air? Well, there’s a shrub with the same degree of insanely sweet scented flowers, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Kaori Hime’.

This fascinating Japanese selection of the Japanese/Korean/Taiwanese native shrub is renown for its tiny foliage as well as the multitude of tiny white flowers with an over-the-top perfume sweet fragrance. Our plant has been flowering for nearly a month…an incredible treat for the fall garden. Our 10 year-old specimens measure 7′ tall x 12′ wide…much larger than most on-line vendors indicate.

Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Kaori Hime' - a shrub with sweet scented flowers
Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Kaori Hime’

Delavayi’s Schefflera

We love the winter hardy Chinese schefflera, Schefflera delavayi. This smaller and hardier version of the small tree that’s planted throughout central and southern Florida, is reliable for us here in Zone 7b. Here’s an image taken just prior to our first hard freeze. It’s been a few years since we got viable seed, so fingers crossed for this year.

Schefflera delavayi in flower at JLBG
Schefflera delavayi in flower

Kinky Fatsia

Flowering now in the garden is the fabulous Fatsia japonica ‘Ripple Effect’. Although this isn’t currently on the market, we’re working diligently on propagation. Thanks to the US National Arboretum for sharing this amazing selection, which we hope to introduce in the next couple of years.

Image of Fatsia japonica 'Ripple Effect' growing in the garden.
Fatsia japonica ‘Ripple Effect’

Dinner Jackets

This week, we fielded a call from our garden staff that there were large yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons) nests in several arborvitae near where they were working. Knowing how aggressive and toxic the stings of these native vespid wasps can be for humans, they had requested help in getting the nests eliminated.

When Patrick arrived to check out the problem, he noticed that instead of finding nests, the yellow jackets were actually feeding on the arborvitae. Since this species of arborvitae was currently in the midst of pollen and cone production, there also appears to be some type of resin being exuded at the same time, which is a delicacy for the yellow jackets.

We estimate there were between 100 and 200 yellow jackets per plant. Because they were busy feeding, they had no interest in us, despite our close up study of their behavior. Our entomologist, Bill Reynolds, who had observed this phenomenon before with vespid wasps and arborvitae, showed us that we could actually touch the yellow jackets without drawing their ire. This is certainly not the case if you’ve ever been anywhere near a yellow jacket nesting site.

The other interesting phenomenon is that despite being Eastern US natives, the yellow jackets were only interested in the Asian arborvitae species, Platycladus (Thuja) orientalis. Growing adjacent was the East Coast and West Coast arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis and Thuja plicata, but neither attracted a single insect. This is another nail in the coffin of that oft repeated myth that only native plants feed native pollinators. One of many lessons here, but it’s especially important not to spray first and ask questions later.

Wide view photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills'
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’
Up close photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills' hosting a yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons)
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’
Up close photo of Thuja orientalis 'Beverly Hills' hosting a yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons)
Thuja orientalis ‘Beverly Hills’

Jurrasic Fern

The amazing Chinese native Pronephrium penangianum ‘Jurassic Park’ is looking fabulous in the garden this week. This large growing, spreading fern has the feeling of a plant from the time when dinosaurs roamed. We continue to make cool, but little-known ferns like this available to a wider audience. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9a at least.

Pronephrium penangianum 'Jurassic Park'
Pronephrium penangianum ‘Jurassic Park’

Soaring Microsorum

One of our most amazing dwarf ferns is our 2008 Taiwanese spore collection of Microsorum brachylepis ‘Datun’. Our garden patch pictured below, which is looking great this month, was planted outdoors in 2017, and is now 4″ tall x 3′ wide. We offered this personal favorite a few years through Plant Delights, but the sales were rather miserable…what a shame. This delightful evergreen makes a superb, dense groundcover. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Microsorum brachylepis 'Datun'
Microsorum brachylepis ‘Datun’

‘Hot Tai-male’

Raise your hand if you grow Debregeasia orientalis? This fascinating plant, which looks great now at JLBG in late October is an Adam Black, collection of a male form from Taiwan that we named Debregeasia orientalis ‘Hot Tai-male’. While we realize the mature 7′ tall x 14′ wide size of debregeasia is a bit large for smaller gardens, it’s an amazing Cousin It-shaped specimen where you have enough space. It belongs to the weedy nettle family, Urticaceae, which is why it isn’t more widely known….guilt by association. Our plant has performed wonderfully since 2014. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.

Debregeasia orientalis 'Hot Tai-male'
Debregeasia orientalis ‘Hot Tai-male’

Mahonia nitens

If you think you know mahonias, then check out this little-known species, flowering now at JLBG. Mahonia nitens is endemic to Guizhou and Sichuan, China. This is a form selected by Japanese plant explorer, Mikinori Ogisu. For us, the plant matures our at 4′ tall x 5′ wide, with flowers that appear orange, due to the color of the flower buds. Hardiness is unknown north of Zone 7b.

Mahonia nitens
Mahonia nitens

Slightly Deranged Hydrangeas

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

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

Hydrangea involucrata in bud
Hydrangea involucrata in bud
Hydrangea involucrata flowering
Hydrangea involucrata

Hydrangeas flowering
Hydrangea involucrata

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

Hydrangea amamiohshimensis

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.

A large clump of Miscanthus transmorrisonensis
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.

Lithocarpus glaber - Stone Oak
Lithocarpus glaber – Stone Oak

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.

Image of Orixa japonica Pearl Frost
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