In full flower this fall is Disanthus cercidifolius. Ok, so full flower on a disanthus may not seem too exciting to the petunia and pansy crowd, but plant geeks find these flowers pretty darn cool. We’d nearly given up on growing this witch hazel relative after finding in our first few attempts that it has zero heat tolerance. It wasn’t until we obtained a plant from a Chinese population (Disanthus cercidifolius ssp. longipes) of the better known Japanese native, that we realized there is a form we can grow, and grow well. Not only does the Chinese form have heat tolerance, but it also thrives in full sun. The specific epithet “cercidifolius” means foliage like a cercis (redbud).
Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’, a JC Raulston Arboretum release from NC State woody plant breeder, Dr. Dennis Werner, was just awarded the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Plant of the Year for 2021. In Europe, Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ is marketed as Eternal Flame. Here is our plant at JLBG this summer. Congratulations to Denny and the Arboretum for this huge honor!
Here are two of our favorite new redbuds growing at JLBG…both from the NC State breeding program of Dr. Dennis Werner. The first is Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’, which boasts pumpkin colored leaves that emerge gold. The second is Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’, a fabulous pendulous form, whose leaves remain gold all summer.
We are just in love with Cercis chinensis ‘Kay’s Early Hope’, a recent redbud release from the JC Raulston Arboretum. Here’s our specimen in full flower. The plant is named in honor of the late Kay Yow, longtime women’s basketball coach at NC State.
I had the wonderful opportunity recently to spend the day with NC State plant breeder, Dr. Dennis Werner in his extensive redbud breeding plots. So far, four redbuds have been named and released, including Cercis ‘Ruby Falls’ (weeping purple leaf), Cercis ‘Whitewater’ (weeping variegated leaf), and Cercis ‘Merlot’ (upright purple leaf with better color retention), and Cercis ‘Pink Pom Poms’ (double pink flowered upright). The new plants in the pipeline are almost unimaginable, from foliage colors to size, form, and even leaf shape. If you’ve never bred plants, it’s hard to imagine the incredible amount of thought, work, and time it takes to create such an amazing array of plants. Even though Dr. Werner has now retired, he will be continuing his work as a JC Raulston Arboretum volunteer plant breeder…how cool! We’re saving some room in our garden for more of these exciting introductions that will be coming soon.