Zhejiang Wintersweet

Here’s a winter-flowering shrub that few people have grown. Flowering now in the garden is the evergreen Chimonanthus zhejiangensis, a little-known relative to the more popular, deciduous Chimonanthus praecox. This is a small genus of only six species in the Calycanthaceae family, all native to China. Our plants originated from seed from the Shanghai Botanical Garden.

While we value it for its uniqueness, rarity in the wild, and winter flowering appeal, we can’t see this ever becoming a horticultural staple, due to it rank growth habit to 6′ each year, and it’s maturing size of 15′ tall x 15′ wide. The fragrance is also quite musty, and probably not something that would appeal to the masses.

Chimonanthus zhejiangensis
Chimonanthus zhejiangensis

Strumming on a Strumaria

Flowering in the crevice garden in early November is the little-known South African bulb, Strumaria discifera ssp. bulbifera. These hail from the winter wet/dry summer region of the Western Cape, and have been right at home in the ground here since 2018. Okay, so it’s not as flashy as a tulip of daffodil, but to quote Abraham Lincoln, “for people who like that kind of thing, I think that is just about the kind of thing they’d like.”

Strumaria discifera ssp. bulbifera

Blink and You’ve missed it

I doubt any of our garden visitors actually slow down enough to notice some of the smaller treasures flowering now, like the dwarf Chinese gesneriad, Petrocosmea oblata. When I say small, I’m talking 2″ in full flower. We are fascinated by the array of Asian gesneriads that thrive in rock cracks, most of which are fairly unknown outside of their native habitat, unless they are grow in containers by members of the American Gesneriad Society. It’s our hope to bring more of these treasures to light.

Petrocosmea oblata blooming in the garden.

Euonymus…a New Take

We were thrilled to see that our Euonymus myrianthus sailed through our recent cold snap. This fascinating species was first introduced to Western horticulture by renown plant explorer, Ernest Wilson in 1908, and has been quite slow to get around. Recent collections have finally made this available for trial in the US.

This small evergreen tree matures at 12-15′ tall, adorned with a show of bright orange fruit. We have tried a couple of collections, but this recent one from a Dan Hinkley, Ozzie Johnson, Scott McMahon collection is thriving for us. Hardiness is unsure, we we expect it will be fine from Zone 7a and south.

Image of  Euonymus myrianthus
Euonymus myrianthus

Anchors Away

I’m going to go out and a limb and guess that few people grow Colletia paradoxa…commonly known as anchor plant. Colletia was named to honor French botanist Philibert Collet (1643-1718). I’m not quite sure what we find so fascinating about this botanical oddity, but something causes us to be drawn to a plant with large spines, no leaves and a terrible form. Perhaps it’s the lightly fragrant winter flowers that are just beginning.

Colletia paradoxa hails from scrubby dry hillsides in Southern Brazil and Uruguary, which have yielded so many amazing, well-performing plants for our Zone 7b climate. Bright sun and a baking dry site are the keys to success. Instead of producing leaves, Colletia is clothed with triangular cladodes, similar to plants in the genus Ruscus. Colletia is not related to Ruscus, however, but instead is a member of the buckthorn family, Rhamnaceae. Because colletia is native to nutritionally poor soils, it evolved to fix nitrogen, which is more common in the legume family.

Colletia paradoxa produces triangular shaped cladodes rather than true leaves.
Colletia paradoxa
Colletia in flower in the winter garden. The white flowers are lightly fragrant.
Colletia paradoxa

‘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’

Stunning bergia

Looking lovely in the garden today is the fall-flowering geophyte, Sternbergia sicula. This Mediterranean native is found in the wild growing on alkaline hilly sites. Some taxonomists list it as a subspecies of the more common Sternbergia lutea, but it seems consistently smaller. At JLBG, our plant thrives in the crevice garden. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.

Sternbergia sicula flowering in the crevice garden
Sternbergia sicula in the crevice garden

A Weeping Wonder

Few plants I’ve ever grown enchant me like Forestiera angustifolia ‘Woodlanders Weeping’. This incredible weeping selection of the Texas native is typically known as a scraggly upright bush that grows in dry alkaline soils. This special form was discovered in Calhoun County, Texas in 1992 by our friend Bob McCartney and the late Texas plantsman, Lynn Lowrey. In 1996, Bob, Lynn, and Patrick McMillan returned to the site for cuttings. It was subsequently propagated and introduced by Woodlanders Nursery. Surprisingly, it also thrives in moist acidic soils, and seemingly has no garden conditions where it doesn’t thrive.

We actually enjoy the incredible structure of the deciduous bare stems more in the winter time without the tiny deciduous foliage. The photo above was just taken at JLBG in late September. Mature size is 6′ tall x 25′ wide, so be sure you have a large enough space. I would think this is a plant that would be embraced by every native plant nursery, unless they have one of those bizarre hang-ups that man-made state political borders matter. Winter hardiness is unknown, but at least Zone 7b-9b.

Forestiera angustifolia - Woodlanders Weeping
Forestiera angustifolia ‘Woodlanders Weeping’

Lynn’s Big Monkey

Flowering today at JLBG is Liriope gigantea ‘Lynn Lowrey’. This selection is named after the late Texas plantsman, and is the largest form of the largest species of monkey grass. This tight clump former can reach 3.5′ tall, when happy. The flowers don’t emerge until early September, making it one of the latest liriope species to flower. We offered this a couple of times, but so few people purchased it, we dumped out most of the crop and planted the rest around the garden. We think it’s pretty darn cool. Winter hardiness is at least Zone 7a-9b.

Liriope gigantea 'Lynn Lowrey'
Liriope gigantea ‘Lynn Lowrey’

Spathicarpa…a true BIO plant

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.”

Spathicarpa hastifolia at JLBG
Spathicarpa hastifolia

Who is Molopospermum?

Chances are pretty good that few US gardeners have grown molopospermum. We’ve long been fascinated with members of the Apiaceae family (think carrots, celery, Queen Anne’s lace, etc.). Not only are most members culinary/medicinal, but they are also great host and food plants for insects.

Several of the Apiaceae family members are great for garden design, because they possess an airy fern-like texture. One such plant that I’ve long been fascinated by is the monotypic Molopospermum peloponesiacum. Despite the specific epithet indicating that it’s native to the Peloponnesian peninsula (Greece), such is not the case. An error was made when Linnaeus named the plants, that has never been correct. Molopospermum is actually native to the Alps and Pyrenees, spanning from Spain through France and into Italy, where in grows in open woodlands.

We weren’t sure if it would survive our hot, humid summers, but after finally tracking down seed, we have several thriving plants in the garden from a 2018 planting. Although we haven’t had any flower yet, we await the 5′ tall spikes.

Meet Jack from Ilan

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.

Rad Windflower

Flowering now in the woodland garden is this rad little windflower, Anemone raddeana. This Asian native (China, Japan, Korea, and Russia) is a plant you’ll almost never see for sale. First, it flowers in the middle of winter when few people are thinking about gardening. Secondly, it’s ridiculously small, producing only a single white flower per stalk, which rises only a couple of inches from a slowly creeping rhizome. Third, it’s a spring ephemeral, meaning it will be dormant by the first of May. Finally, most people move through life too fast to even notice little gems like this. That said, if you like things like this, this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll really like. We certainly do!

Dainty Dirca

Few people know the fascinating native shrub, Dirca palustris. It’s little wonder it gets overshadowed by showier members of its family, Thymelaeaceae, which includes the likes of Daphne and Edgeworthia. Our 6′ tall plant is flowering alongside a large edgeworthia, and rarely gets noticed by visitors.

Dirca palustris, the plant, is actually widespread across Eastern North America, with a range from Canada to Florida, where it thrives in slightly moist, acidic soils. It’s often known as leatherwood, due to its thick, but very pliable branches, which have been used by Native Americans for making rope as well as baskets.

There are three other less poorly known dirca species…if that’s possible. We grow the rare Dirca decipiens from Kansas/Arkansas, but have not yet tried D. occidentalis from California, or D. mexicana from Mexico.

The genus takes its name from the Dirce in Greek Mythology, who bit the big one while tied to the horns of a bull….a truly sordid story. The specific epithet “palustris”, lacks the fascinating story of the genus, but only means that the plant naturally lives in very wet sites. Winter hardiness is Zone 3-9.

Palm-leaf Oxalis

One of our winter garden favorites is looking so good right now, that we had to share. Oxalis palmifrons is an amazing, but slow-growing rock garden gem, that hails from the South African karoo. We offered this through Plant Delights almost a decade ago, and it will be some time before we have enough to offer again.

Oxalis palmifrons

Arisarum in hiding

We were delighted to find a flower on our Arisarum simorrhinum in early February, tucked in a the base of a dwarf Chamaecyparis (false cypress). This little-grown Mediterranean native, dryland aroid is first cousin to the better known mouse plant, Arisarum proboscideum. This baby has been in the ground for 20 years, so slow is the operative word.

Arisarum simorrhinum

Laosy Mytilaria

Okay…everyone raise your hand if you’ve grown Mytilaria laosensis. This odd monotypic genus, native from Southern China to Laos, is first cousin to the also virtually unknown genus Exbucklandia, both in the Witch Hazel family, Hamamelidaceae . Since we’ve had our Exbucklandia in the ground since 1997, we though it was worth trying its cousin.

Our Mytilaria is Dan Hinkley’s collection from Huanan…probably the first accession in the country. Dan has actually never put one in the ground and told me that it would certainly die when we hit 27F. Well, we’ve dropped to 25 so far, and it still looks great, so we’ve already pushed the envelope. We truly have no idea what temperatures it will take, but that’s why we trial plants. As the late JC Raulston used to say, “Unless you’re killing plants, you’re not growing as a gardener.”

Meet Urophysa

Unless you’re a serious plant nerd, you’ve probably never heard of the plant genus, Urophysa. This small genus of only two species in the clematis family (Ranunculaceae) is only found growing in Karst cliff crevices in a few limited provinces of South Central China. In other words, they are quite rare. Urophysa henryi was originally named Isopyrum henryi, when it was thought to be a brother of our native Isopyrum biternatum. Urophysa is now considered most closely related to the famed half-columbine, Semiaquilegia adoxoides.

While the Chinese people mostly use Urophysa henryi as a medicinal treatment for bruises, etc., we prefer it as a winter-flowering gem in the rock garden. Here are our plants, which began flowering in our rock garden, just as we turned the page on the new year, 2022.

Grapefruit time in the garden

We love December, since that’s when the grapefruits start to rain down from our xCitroncitrus ‘Dustan’ tree at JLBG. Few people who come to the garden actually look up enough to notice this fascinating plant. xCitroncitrus ‘Dunstan’ is a bigeneric hybrid between the hardy trifoliate orange, Poncirus trifoliata and a grapefruit. The result is a winter hardy fruit that’s pretty darn close in size, taste, and appearance to a grapefruit. To be technically correct, the fruit is known as a Citrumelo. Whatever you want to call it, it’s pretty darn cool to be harvesting hardy citrus here in Zone 7b. Last year, we harvested over 3 dozen fruit off our single tree.

In celebration of the obscure

It’s hard to imagine a plant more obscure that the Southeast coastal native Houstonia procumbens. You may recognize the name houstonia as belonging to one of the many more common bluets. Instead, this is a creeping white-et. We’ve had this in our alpine rock garden for a couple of decades, but barely notice it until November, when the flowering picks up as other plants around it are going dormant. In the wild, Houstonia procumbens can be found in moist pine savannahs as well as nearby disturbed habitats. We’re unsure if this is showy enough for anyone to actually purchase.

Tarahumara Oak

One of our prize plants in the garden is the Tarahumara Oak, Quercus tarahumara. This truly odd oak is native to Northern Mexico, where it resides in the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountain range in the Mexican states of ChihuahuaSonoraDurango, and Sinaloa.

In cultivation, Quercus tarahumara is extremely rare and of high conservation value. It seems that there are only a few plants existing in cultivation, although a few others in collections turned out to be hybrids. So far, temperatures in the upper single digits haven’t posed a winter hardiness problem.

Quercus tarahumara is named after the Tarahumara Indians, who live in the botanically rich region, popularly known as Copper Canyon.

Quercus tarahumara

The foliage is ridiculously thick and feels like hard plastic. Turned upside down, the leaves function quite well as a drinking cup or small sink.

Quercus tarahumara

Engler’s Arum

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.

The ultimate BIO plant

In the plant world, plants that have no chance of selling, except to a tiny few crazed plant collectors, are called BIO plants, which stands for “of botanical interest only”. Coptis japonica var. dissecta fits the bill on all accounts. This fascinating Asian woodland perennial maintains a small evergreen rosette, topped in spring with tiny spikes of tiny fuzzy white flowers that age to these fascinating seed heads in the garden now.