In the hot, humid south, the word Dianthus is jokingly translated as “prepare to die”. As of this spring, we’ve grown 169 different dianthus taxa (different accessions). Of those, most are dead, a few are hanging on, and then a much smaller subset are absolutely thriving. Below are a few images from the spring garden of some (but not all) which are thriving spectacularly.
The first image is Dianthus anatolicus, planted in 2020. Virtually unknown by most gardeners, this species is native from the Black Sea region into the West Himalayas. Typically, plants from this region don’t thrive in our heat and humidity, so this was a pleasant surprise. This is growing in our typical compost amended garden loam.
Dianthus arenarius is a Baltic Sea species that has thrived for us since 2018 in our crevice garden.
Dianthus Dianthus kuschakewiczii, aka: D.tianshanicus, a Central Asian native, has also fared amazingly well in our compost ammended beds since 2015. The idea that this tolerates our heat and humidity is quite shocking.
Dianthus plumarius is a well-known garden species, originating from the Northwest Balkan peninsula. It has been grown as a pass-along perennial throughout the Southeastern US for over a century. This species has been cultivated in the UK since 1100AD, and in the US since 1676. Our clone is one that has been passed along in the Birmingham, Alabama area.
The horticultural world has been replete with an array of dianthus hybrids through the years. We’ve managed to kill quite a few, but the ones below have been exceptional in our tough conditions. Dianthus ‘Bright Light’ (aka: Dianthus Uribest52), is a Korean hybrid from the breeding firm, Uriseed, which was derived from crossing Dianthus alpinus (from the Alps) with Dianthus callizones from Romania. Our clumps have been in since 2018, and excelled in unirrigated sections of the garden. This is one of the finest garden dianthus we’ve ever grown.
Dianthus ‘Cherry Charm’ is a Dutch hybrid of Dianthus gratiopolitanus , which has been every bit as exceptional as Dianthus ‘Bright Light’. Our clumps, which are now four years old are nothing short of outstanding.
Dianthus ‘White Crown’ is the smallest of the excellent performing selections in our trial. We have had this in the crevice garden since 2017, growing in 3′ of Permatill, so we doubt this would thrive in typical garden soils. This is a Wrightman Gardens introduction of unknown parentage.
One of the newest discovered species of our native asarum (formerly Hexastylis) is Asarum finzelii, from northeastern Alabama. In foliage, the plant resembles both Asarum arifolium and Asarum speciosum. The flowers, however, are quite different from both, as you can see below. It is our hope to get this propagated before too long, so we can work to make it more widely available.
Our patches of the evergreen radiating sedge, Carex radiata, are looking lovely in the spring garden. Ranging natively from Canada south to Louisiana, our plants are from a NC population in Halifax County. Although they will tolerate full sun, they are best in light open shade.
A couple of years ago, we were thrilled to acquire seed of Euphorbia ‘Rubicund’ from the Hardy Plant Society seed exchange. That little-known clone is a selection from a cross of Euphorbia myrsinites x E. rigida made by Rhode Island’s Issima Nursery. While the clone doesn’t come true from seed, we love our offspring and look forward to seeing what our seed crop from the plant below will have in store.
For this hybrid, we’ve settled on the nothospecific name E. x myrsida, going forward. Over 15 years ago, we acquired a similar cross from California salvia guru, Betsy Clebsch, but we unfortunately let our plant get shaded out. Both plants we’ve grown of this cross produced much larger seed heads with a form similar to both parents. It has been stunning in our our rock garden for the last month. Hardiness is probably Zone 6a-8b.
The last several weeks have been a floriferous blur in our epimedium collection house. These amazing woodland perennials flower for 4-8 weeks, depending on the variety. Below is a small fraction of the exceptional clones we grow.
Epimedium ‘Rise and Shine’ is a 2020 PDN/JLBG introduction of a hybrid of Epimedium ‘Domino’. The leaves are extremely glossy, and in early spring have a magenta border, along with a great floral show.
Epimedium ‘Songbirds’ is our 2014 introduction of an extremely floriferous selection.
Epimedium ‘Pumpkin Pie’ is a potential future introduction with long sprays of large peachy flowers. This is a hybrid of Epimedium wushanense.
Epimedium ‘Picture Frame’ is one of our later flowering introductions that hit the market in 2014. This has probably the best edged foliage of any fairy wing we’ve grown.
Epimedium ‘Totnes Turbo’ has been really impressive in our trials. This hybrid from the former UK’s Desirable Plants Nursery, is a cross of Epimedium latisepalum x pinnatum ssp. colchicum.
One of the finest epimediums we grow is Epimedium x versicolor ‘Cupreum’. Although this selection has been around since 1854, it’s still near the top of our list of favorites.
We love the miniature Coptis japonica var. dissecta in full seed now. This dwarf, evergreen, woodland-growing member of the Ranunculus family (Clematis, Helleborus), has small white flowers in the winter, but we adore the seriously cute seeds heads that are adorned in March and April. Not only is this Japanese endemic a cool garden plant, but it’s highly prized as a medicinal plant, thanks to chemicals harvested from its roots, which are used to treat an array of ailments, from infections to pain, dysentery, fevers, and much more. Hardiness Zone 5a-8b.
We’ve been enjoying our giant Photinia serratifolia, which has been in full flower for the last few weeks in the garden. We love this giant evergreen, which hails from China, Taiwan, Japan, and a few adjacent countries. This behemoth matures at 30′ tall x 25′ wide, although our 9 year old plant has yet to reach full size. Flowering typically begins for us in mid-March with large, showy panicles of white. We love the unique floral fragrance, although not everyone feels the same. We’ve never experienced any of the disease issues that bother the more commonly grown, Photinia x fraseri, of which this is one of the parents. Hardiness is Zone 6a-10b.
Looking great in the garden now is the false red agave, Beschorneria. Beschorneria is a small, little-known genus of only 8 species of plants in the Asparagaceae family–first cousin to the better known genus, Agave. Beschornerias are native from Northern Mexico, south to Honduras. Through the years, we’ve grown 7 of the 8 species, having not bothered to try B. wrightii, due to it’s tropical origin.
The only species that has proven reliable and evergreen here is Beschorneria septentrionalis–a species introduced by the former Yucca Do Nursery from their collections in Northern Mexico.
Several years ago, we were given seed of hybrids of B. septentrionalis x B. yuccoides ssp. dekosteriana. Most of the hybrid plants died because they inherited too many genes from the more tender B. yuccoides, but two plants still remain. Below is one we named Beschorneria ‘Fire Towers’, which appears close to B. septentrionalis in appearance, but perhaps with a bit more vigor.
Ajuga ‘Cordial Canary’ is one of the new generations of well-behaved bugleweed selections, this from the work of Chris Hansen. It looks pretty amazing for mid-March at JLBG. We love colorful groundcovers that play nice with their surroundings. Zone 4a-9b.
Here are a couple of groundcovers that are looking nice in the garden in early March. The first is the Western US native, Cerastium beeringianum (Western Snow in Summer), which is a close relative of the Italian Cerastium tomentosum. We selected this form from seed we grew, originally purchased from a native plant nursery as the US native, Arenaria stricta–oops! Both genera are at least members of the dianthus family, Carophyllaceae.
We’re still pretty excited, despite the misname, since this is an alpine species that typically grows above 10,000′ elevation. We’ve added the name ‘Southern Snowstorm’ to this exceptional clone.
Below is the Balkan native, Arabis procurrens. This member of the Brassicaceae family makes a superb groundcover. Our 5 year old, well-behaved, evergreen clump pictured below is almost 4′ wide.
We love the late winter flowering Drabas, which thrive in our dry crevice garden. Below is the miniature Draba hispanica, which has been in flower since late February. This Spanish species likes to grow in dry limestone cracks, such as the one we provided here. Unless you’re an avid rock gardener, you may not realize that draba is actually in the cabbage family, Brassicaceae. Once the flowers finish, you’re left with a fuzzy evergreen bun of foliage for the rest of the season. Zone 5a-8a, at least.
Looking fabulous in the garden now is Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia Blue’. We’ve grown this amazing groundcover in the garden since 1990, and find it as great now as it was 33 years ago. This superb introduction was originally collected in the wild in Georgia (the country, not the state) by England’s legendary plantsman, Roy Lancaster in 1979. In 30+ years of growing it, its never misbehaved or thrown a single seedling. Flowering time for us is usually from mid February through March, so it can be used as a background for spring bulbs.
Flowering in the garden now is the wonderful US native Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny spurge). Native from Indiana south to the gulf coast, our selection, Pachysandra ‘Angola’ comes from the woods near that well-know Louisiana prison. This stunning evergreen, variegated, slow-spreading, woodland groundcover, is quite different from its better known and much faster spreading Asian cousin, Pachysandra terminalis. The flowers are also sweetly fragrant, what more could you want? Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
Our plants of the shrubby Distyllum myricoides has been in stunning flower for the last few weeks. This fascinating evergreen shrub, mostly native to China, is in the same family, Hamamelidaceae, as its’ better-known cousins, Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Fothergilla (witch alder).
Due to the breeding efforts of Dr. Michael Dirr, distyllum has actually begun to show up in box stores…something that was unthinkable two decades earlier. We love it for the evergreen foliage, but what really excites us is the amazing winter floral show as you can see below.
So often we think we know all about a plant, when we’ve only grown a single clone, and we all know what happens when we assume! A good example is the Southwest US native Agave parryi ssp. truncata, which is now grown around the world. 99.9% if the plants in commerce are a single clone, know as the Huntington form. Unfortunately, this clone is not reliably winter hardy north of Zone 8b.
Many years ago, we received a new clone via the late nurseryman, George Hull. Having survived for us without damage since 2010, including two winters of single digit F temperatures, we have christened this Agave parryi ssp. truncata ‘Hardy Boyz’. Below is a photo taken last week. It’s been very slow to offset, but we feel this an exceptional clone worthy of propagation and distribution. Stay tuned.
We’re several years into an experiment to see how well the epiphytic (grow mostly on trees) tongue ferns of the genus Pyrrosia fare in hanging, moss-lined baskets when left outdoors all year. This is our coldest winter to date since the test began, with a low of 11 degrees F. Here is a photo of one of those baskets taken today. They were not protected in any way during the cold. We have 17 clones on trial in this manner, and some do show a bit of foliar damage, while others are untouched. We think it’s quite amazing to have evergreen hanging baskets of live plants that can remain outdoors here in Zone 7b.
The Dryopteris kinkiensis is still looking fabulous in the garden as we inch closer to spring. This little-known Chinese native fern was first brought into the country as spore by plantsman Hans Hansen in 2005. It is also native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The name was originally published for the material in Japan, named after the Kinki region. The foliage is a very glossy dark green with a nearly plastic texture. We estimate hardiness to be zone 7a-9b, but we could be greatly underestimating its potential in that regard.
The variegated wide-leaf holly, Ilex latifolia ‘Snow Flash’ is loaded with berries and looking quite spectacular in the garden this month. We’ve shared cuttings with several nursery folks, so hopefully, this will be making its way into the market. The plant was originally brought to the US from Japan by plantsman Barry Yinger. Our specimen below is now 18 years old. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
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.
The earliest of the lenten roses, Helleborus x hybridus, have just opened. Depending on the genetics of each clone, they will continue to open until mid-March. Flowering on each variety continues for many weeks to over a month if the temperatures remain cool. Only a few weeks remain before our Winter Open Nursery and Garden, when you can visit and see these first hand in the garden, and even select your own flowering plants from our on-site nursery, Plant Delights.
We were thrilled to see how well our Mexican bear grass, Nolina hibernica fared through our recent cold. We had lost this ten times previously, and were close to giving up, but decided to plant this one in a partially shaded site. Previously, we had only planted these in full sun, where they thrived except during cold winters. By growing this partially under shade, it reduces the amount of cooling on cold nights by having a tree canopy nearby. This 8 year old specimen has a way to go before it reaches its potential mature height of 20′. Fingers crossed.
Agave ‘Crazy Horse’ is an amazing agave hybrid we purchased back in 2005 from an Ebay seller in Texas. The vendor had found the plant growing at a real estate office in Montgomery County, Texas. It’s obviously a hybrid, but we still don’t know the parentage for sure. If we had to guess, it appears to be a hybrid of Agave x protamericana and Agave cupreata. In the 18 years, we’ve grown it, it’s been an exceptional plant, forming 3.5′ tall x 5′ wide rosettes, and suckering tightly against the main clump. This year, it sailed though our winter cold of 11F. It’s been almost a decade since we’ve offered this, so perhaps it’s time we propagate a few more to share.
In 2011, we spotted a tiny creamy white streak on a single leaf of a small pup, which was potted for further observation. After several years, and thanks to crown cutting, we were able to produce a highly-streaked plant, which we call Agave ‘Craziness’…see below.
Several years later, we were able to isolate the streaked leaves into a stabilized central variegation we named Agave ‘Bareback Rider’. Although winter hardiness also disappears with the creamy white foliage, it still makes a superb container plant. With that much white in the leaf, the growth rate has also slowed dramatically. It’s our hope that within the next year or two, we can finally release this amazing form through Plant Delights.
Every year when we have a significantly cold winter, we are reminded of the wonder of the Southeastern native needle palm, Rhapidophyllum hystrix. This native of Northern Florida and nearby areas in the adjacent states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, is the most winter hardy palm in existence.
Established needle palm clumps have been documented to have survived -15 F to -20F. I still remember checking on the old specimen at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh after we dropped below 0F for two consecutive nights in January 1985 (-3 on Jan 20, and -9 on Jan 21). I was amazed I was to find the plant undamaged by the cold. Below is one of our many specimens in the garden after our 11 F freeze a few weeks ago.
Needle palm is generally considered to be a non-trunking palm, although with great age, it will develop a short trunk, that will eventually become decumbent. I’m fascinated why this and other native palms are never promoted by the native plant enthusiasts.
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.
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 ‘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.
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.
We love camellias, but we really love the amazing banded leaf, variegated camellias, of which we’ve assembled a decent collection. Here is our plant of Camellia japonica ‘Taiyo’ in the garden now, which is just absolutely striking.
We’ve long been enamored with the Southwest native genus of slow-growing woody lilies belonging to the genus, Dasylirion. Since the early 1990s, we’ve been growing these, trialing as many species as we could obtain to see how well they adapted to our climate here in the colder, wetter Southeast.
So, far, we have grown 16 of the 21 recognized species and succeeded with 12. We found four unable to survive our coldest winters, including Dasylirion durangensis, Dasylirion longissimum, Dasylirion lucidum, Dasylirion sereke.
The five species we have yet to try in the garden are Dasylirion graminifolium, Dasylirion longistylum, Dasylirion micropterum, Dasylirion palaciosii, and Dasylirion simplex. We have seed planted of both Dasylirion graminfolium and micropterum, so those will be next in line for our in ground trials. That leaves us still searching for seed of the final three.
Sotols, like agaves, are members of the Asparagus family. They are becoming wildly popular, but not because of gardeners. Instead, their popularity is driven by those who are driven by a need/desire to imbibe alcoholic spirits. First, there was Mescal, a Mexican drink made from one of a number of different agave species, depending on what grew in proximity to each village. Of the Mescals, the most popular is Tequilla, which is made from a single species, Agave tequiliana.
Now, Sotol alcohol has joined the ranks of the “hot new spirits”. Made from agave’s cousin, plants of the genus Dasylirion, Sotol is rapidly becoming the new “flavor of the month”. Sotol alcohol certainly isn’t new, and if you regularly travel south of “the wall” you probably already know that Sotol is the state drink of Mexican states Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Durango.
Not so long ago, Sotol alcohol had a history that somewhat parallels moonshine in the Southeast US. For years, Sotol alcohol was illegal and subject to government raids, during which master sotoleros were punished or imprisoned. During the US prohibition of the 1920s, Sotol sales in the US skyrocketed, but soon after its repeal, Sotol sales plummeted back into obscurity. Now, with not only social acceptance, but a wide wide embrace of virtually anything that can be used to produce alcohol, Sotol has been mainstreamed with the assistance of the Mexican government and willing marketers.
Most agaves for Tequila production are now commercially grown in massive farms, and most plants are now produced from tissue culture for a more consistent yield and to take pressure off wild popuations. Even under ideal farming conditions, it take 5-7 years to get an agave large enough to harvest for tequilla production. With dasylirions, the same process takes at least 12-15 years according to Sotol marketers. Based on our 30 years of work with the genus, I’d say the time involved is more likely 24-30 years, even in a high rainfall climate like ours.
I’m not aware of many farm operations that can afford to grow a plant for that long before expecting a return on investment. This means that poaching of plants from the wild is very likely to increase. With such a low rate of return, i.e. 1 pint of liquor for each plant harvested, I can’t see the plants coming out on the good end of this industry. While making alcohol from dasylirions isn’t new, it’s been done on a very limited scale in Mexico, prior to word spreading around the world via social media.
Reportedly Sotol spirits taste quite different based on the species used, and whether it’s from an exceptionally dry region or an area with better rainfall. Sotol conniseurs describe the tastes as being a bit like menthol or pine/mushrooms if the plants are grown well hydrated, while those from drier regions taste more like leather. To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up!” And this sounds appealing to who???
Supposedly, the spirit producers are cutting off the wild dasylirions and leaving the bases to resprout, but I’ve got my doubts about how well that works. Assuming the cut dasylirion does resprout, there will be a decade of lost seed production, so plant populations in the wild are almost certain to decline. I’m left to wonder if we really are so desperate for a new taste in alcohol that we are willing to sacrifice another genus of plants in the process.
In celebration of these amazing plants, here are photos of those we have grown in our ex-situ conservation gardens at JLBG.
Dasylirion acrotrichum, named in 1843, is native to Mexico’s Chihuahuan desert. Of the seven plants we planted, only one survived, which is now over 20 years old. This widespread sotol, which occurs on igneous soils, has been split by various authors into several subspecies. Undoubtedly, winter hardiness varies based on the seed procurement location. At maturity, the trunks can reach 5′ tall.
Dasylirion berlandieri, named after French/Mexican naturalist, Jean-Louis Berlandier (1803-1851), was first published in 1879. Native to steep rocky hillsides in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico, it’s one of the largest species in the genus in width, but with a trunk that never exceeds 1′ in height. Below is our plant in bud. Unlike agaves, dasylirion rosettes do not die after flowering.
Below is a fully open flower spike, which is abuzz with a large number of bees
Dasylirion cedrosanum, first documented in 1911, hails from 3,000′ – 6,000′ elevation on rocky, gypsum-laced hillsides in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountain range. They are restricted to the Mexican states of Chihuhua, Coahuilla, and Durango. At maturity, they produce a 3′ tall trunk.
Dasylirion durangensis is another species first described in 1911, which hails from the dry alkaline/limestone-gypsum deserts of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, and Zacatecas. In parts of its range, it interbreeds with Dasylirion wheeleri. We flowered this prior to losing it during a particularly cold winter. Below is our Obit photo.
Dasylirion gentry was only published as a species in 1998. It has a very limited range between 3,500′ – 4,000′ in Sonora, Mexico, where it grows on rocky slopes in openings of pine/oak woodlands.
The inflorescense of Dasylirion gentryi is one of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen.
Dasylirion glaucophyllum is a species whose discovery dates back to 1858. It can be found naturally, only in Sonora, Mexico, growing on rocky hillsides at elevations to almost 8,000′. At maturity, trunks measure up to 6′ in height.
Dasylirion leiophyllum, published in 1911, only grows north of Mexican border in Texas and New Mexico. Based on where it grows, it should be one of the most winter hardy sotol species. The first photo is at JLBG, and the second in situ at 5,400′ elevation. The second image is from the late plantsman, David Salman, of a Zone 5 population he discovered and shared seed with us just prior to his untimely death. Plant Delights is currently offering this as Dasylirion leiophyllum ‘Chaves’.
Dasylirion miquihuanense, only described in 1998, hails from Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon in Northeastern Mexico. Also occurring on rocky slopes, this sotol is one of the tallest species, producing massive 8′ tall trunks. We have succeeded long term with only 2 of 8 specimens we planted.
Dasylirion parryanum, published in that banner year of 1911, hails from up to 8,000′ elevation in the San Luis Potosi State in Northern Mexico, where it produces 3′ tall trunks.
Dasylirion quadrangulatum (1879) hails from the Southern (warmer) end of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. It is much too tender for us to grow in the open here in Zone 7b, but we’ve kept it alive for a couple of decades by siting it in a microclimate adjacent to a brick wall house foundation. It is one of only two species lacking leaf spines. With great age, it produces trunks to 9′ in height.
Dasylirion serratifolium, first described in 1838, is from Oaxaca, Mexico, where is grows on rocky, alkaline hillsides to 6,600′ elevation. The location and elevation means it really shouldn’t survive our winter. That said, our only remaining specimen below is now 20 years old, but is still far from reaching the 6′ tall trunk height it does in the wild.
Dasylirion texanum (1850) is another very winter hardy species, found on rocky slopes, ranging from Central Texas into the mountains of Northern Mexico. It is one of the shortest species, with a trunk that doesn’t exceed 1′ tall.
Dasylirion wheeleri, first documented in 1878, ranges from Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico south into the mountains of Northern Mexico. It matures at 6′ tall, and in situ, can be found in both grasslands as well as openings in pine/oak forests. It is another of the most cold hardy species.
An old clump we planted years ago in flower is quite remarkable.
We hope you’ll limit your consumption of Sotol as a drink and instead join us in becoming an ex-situ conservation garden for this amazing genus of plants.
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.
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.
Here’s our oldest specimen of xFatshedera ‘Curly’ in the garden this week. This fascinating bi-generic cross between the vining English Ivy (Hedera helix) and shrub Fatsia japonica ‘Moeseri’, was originally made 110 years ago this year, at France’s Lizé Frères Nursery. Since that time, we have been able to track down seven foliar mutations that have been named from the original hybrid.
Our specimen of xFatshedera ‘Curly’ has reached 6′ tall x 6′ wide in 10 years. The hybrid is no longer is capable of running like the ivy parent, but also has trouble looking exactly like a shrub. We enjoy it for its unique form, which is the anthesis of round green meatballs. .
xFatshedera ‘Pixie’ is a “dwarf” sport from F. ‘Curley’. Although the leaves are slightly smaller, the plant is actually larger. Our 10 year old specimen measures 6′ tall x 11′ wide this week.
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.
Our oldest clump of the North American native Agave lophantha ‘Splendida’ is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary in the garden at JLBG. What started as a single pup, now has an extended family. Please join us in sending birthday wishes to this great century plant selection.
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.
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 – Dryopterissection 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.
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.’
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
Here’s a new photo of Agave parryi ssp. huachucensis ‘Excelsior’ from our garden this week. We typically don’t have many variegated century plants that will survive our winters, but this is one of the exceptions. This superb clone was first introduced in 1967 from a small California nursery by the same name. Protection from excess winter moisture and exceptional drainage is always the key in cold, wet winter climates. This particular planting is under a roof overhang. Hardiness zone 7b to 9b.
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.
Looking wonderful in the fall garden is the evergreen Choisya ‘Limo’, known commercially as Goldfingers choisya. This gold-leaved selection is from a cross of two Southwest US native shrubs, Choisya arizonica and Choisya ternata, subsequently referred to as Choisya x dewitteana. The genus Choisya is named to honor the late Swiss botanist/philosophy professor Jacques Denis Choisy (1799-1859) This gold-foliaged selection from the UK’s Peter Moore forms a 3′ tall shrub in 5 years.
The fragrant white clusters of axillary flowers adorn the plant starting in April (NC). We have our specimen planted in a full sun rock garden, where it thrives in very well-drained soils. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
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.
Juniperus communis is a common landscape juniper with a wide natural distribution…one of the widest of any woody plant in the entire world.
In the North American part of its range, it’s widespread throughout the Western US, and across the northern tier of the country all the way to Maine. East of the Mississippi River, however, it’s virtually not-existent south of the Great Lakes.
Patrick McMillan had been telling us about a population he rediscovered from an earlier Henry William Ravenel (1814-1887) documentation of a single clone growing naturally in Aiken, South Carolina. Last week, we made the 4 hour drive to visit this ancient living fossil. Here is all that remains, growing in an amazing nature park, known as Hitchcock Woods, where it grows surrounded by a forest of Kalmia (mountain laurel).
We have this propagated and growing at JLBG, and hopefully in the future, when our plants get larger, we can share these amazing genetics with a wider audience.
Looking great this week are most of the desert ferns, especially the wonderful Cheilanthes tomentosa. So many folks still don’t realize that an entire group of ferns grow naturally in desert conditions, often alongside cactus. This fern favorite has a shockingly large and unusual distribution, from Arizona east to Virginia. We’re fascinated why this evergreen fern known as Wooly lip fern, isn’t more widely grown. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b, at least.
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.
We love the various shades of green displayed by the fascinating Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’. This amazing Japanese selection of tree ivy is looking rather stunning in the garden this month. This is a slow-growing shrub, which should mature at 4′ tall x 6′ wide. There is a shortage of these in commerce currently, because of a problem with tissue culture lab production. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
Carex ‘Willow the Wisp’ is one of Zac Hill’s amazing collections from nearby Willow Springs, NC. This is a widespread native, naturally ranging from Michigan south to Florida and west to Texas. We love the appearance of a head of green hair…minus the head. In the wild, this selection of Carex leptalea var. harperi thrives in wet mucky swamps, like the story of Will-o’-the Wisp. We planted this in similar conditions in a seep at JLBG, where it has made this stunning specimen. Any plant that looks this good in October is undoubtedly destined for a future catalog.
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.
Our 2008 introduction of a selection of our native Yucca x gloriosa ‘Lone Star’ has been absolutely splendid in the garden as the fall season begins. Yucca x gloriosa is a natural hybrid of Yucca aloifolia and Yucca filamentosa. We absolutely love that these flower spikes appear at a time when most other plants are past their seasonal prime. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9b.
The false yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Gold Dragon’ is looking particularly lovely during the fall season here at JLBG. This is one of our six year old specimens. We find that half day sun seems to bring out the best color without foliar burn. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Ajuga ‘Parrot Paradise’ is one of many new next generation colorful ajuga groundcovers that have hit the market in the last few years. These have been amazing in our trials, as you can see from the October photo below. Best of all, we haven’t seen any seedlings, which have been a problem with several of the more common clones in commerce. We think both the color and growth habits are truly outstanding.
Adiantum capillus-veneris ‘Bermuda Run’ is looking exceptional in the garden this fall. Actually, it looks exceptional most of the year for us. Until the temperatures drop below 12 degrees F, this amazing fern remains evergreen. This fern has a huge native range, being found on every continent except Antarctica.
Adiantum capillus-veneris, along with a couple of pteris fern species are often found growing in mortar cracks in many of the Southeast coastal cities and adjacent tropical islands. It is thought that some of these populations may have been spread along the early trade routes. This particularly dense form is our collection from the mortar walls on Bermuda. The same species is native to North Carolina, but only in a solitary population. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
We have a fairly decent collection of conifers at JLBG, but one that has really caught our eye is Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue Ice’. This charming dwarf was found in 1998 by Oregon nurseryman Larry Stanley as a sport of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Baby Blue’. Our oldest plants are now four years old and are 3′ tall x 2′ wide. The naturally dense growth and conical shape give the impression that it’s been sheared, which is not the case.
Word on the street is that it should mature around 6′ tall, but with newly discovered plants like these, we take those size predictions with a large grain of salt. Undoubtedly, mature size in the Southeast US will be quite different than in the heat-deprived Pacific Northwest.
It’s not unusual for ferns to have sex in the wild, even with other species in the same genus. It is, however, unusual for them to have meaningful sex with ferns of an entirely different genus. Such an odd occurrence recently happened in the greenhouses of Louisiana’s James Georgusis.
One night, possibly after a wild Mardi Gras party, a willing Phlebodium got it on with a crested tongue fern of the genus Pyrrosia. The result was a new genus of fern, x Phlebosia. It was adopted and given the cultivar name, ‘Nicolas Diamond’. At least the parents had the good sense to sexually stay within the same family, Polypodiaceae
We planted our first specimens in the garden this February, and so far, it’s growing well. The key will be to see how much winter hardiness it has…fingers crossed. Both parents are pictured below the new hybrid.
Blooming recently at JLBG is Patrick’s compact, silver-leaf collection of Leucophyllum frutescens from Uvalde, Texas. Leucophyllum frutescens is an evergreen, dryland shrub to 5′ tall, which bursts into an amazing show of flowers after summer rains. We’ve long-loved leucophyllums, but had failed in several attempts to grow them…0 for 7 prior to this attempt with his collection. Our plants have been in the ground for just over a year, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed for long-term success. They key to success is very good drainage in both summer and winter.
Looking good this month is our clump of Bambusa multiplex ‘Green Giant’. This giant is now celebrating it’s 22nd birthday. All members of the genus bambusa are clump formers, and are fine for gardens without the worry of spreading that comes with most genera of bamboo. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
Looking particularly lovely in the late summer garden is Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’. This irregularly gold variegated form of the typically solid green tree ivy is a star in the light shade garden. This evergreen gem is a great way to add a spot of color in the woodland garden year round. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
I wonder if the late Atlanta nurseryman, W.L. Monroe had any idea what would become of his white-flowered monkey grass, that he selected as a seedling and subsequently introduced to the gardening world in 1957?
In the 65 years that’s passed since it’s introduction, Liriope muscari ‘Monroe White’ is still the gold standard by which all white-flowered liriope are judged. Here are our plants flowering this week at JLBG. Unlike most liriope, which thrive in sun, this cultivar needs light shade for most of the day to prevent foliar scorch. Our plants in the photo only get a couple of hours of direct sun, where they thrive. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-10b.
If you’ve lived in the deep south…the land of palmetto palm trees, you know that they typically don’t flower until they have at least 5 feet of trunk. Of course, flowering can be sped up by a combination of precocious genes and good growing conditions. Those who have studied Sabal palmetto in the wild have noted that the earliest populations to flower are those from the most northern, naturally-occurring population on North Carolina’s Bald Head Island.
Well, sure enough, our oldest specimen of Sabal palmetto ‘Bald Head’, planted in 1999 finally decided to produce flower this summer, and will hopefully seed. We’ve only had enough plants of this cold hardy form to offer through Plant Delights three times in 36 years. Fingers crossed, we’ll be able to make it available more regularly now. Hardiness Zone 7b and warmer.
We love the spineless Agave bracteosa ‘Stingray’ in the garden. We’ve had these dotted throughout the garden since 2017, and so far, with good drainage, they’ve handled our winters quite well, which is certainly not normal for a variegated century plant. This particular species prefers part sun to light shade. Hardiness is Zone 7b/8a and warmer.
Asparagus virgatus is undoubtedly one of our favorite textural perennials. How many evergreens do you know that thrive in shade with such an amazing texture, and can be cut for flower arrangements. If you’ve ever worked with cut flowers, you’ll recognize this as “filler” that you purchase with your flowers to add 3-D texture to your arrangements. Few people, however realize that it’s an easy-to-grow garden perennial.
Although in the wild, it grows along streams, it has proven to be one of the most drought tolerant plants we grow. In terms of light, an hour or two of morning sun is fine, but this South African asparagus species much prefers light shade all day. Unless winter temperatures drop below 10 degrees F, the amazing foliage stays evergreen. Hardiness is at least Zone 7b and warmer.
Here’s a photo this week of one of our favorite North American native plants, Juniperus horizontalis ‘Copper Harbor’. This would certainly add significant year round color interest to any native plant garden. In our trials, this is far and away the best of the golden Juniperus horizontalis cultivars. We offered this selection for a couple of years, but there seemed to be little interest.
While doing some local botanizing recently, we ran across this fascinating form of our native Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides. Not only was it more compact than any others in the area, with more “orderly” fronds, but it also showed none of the typical terminal spore production that would be expected this time of year. Since this was from a future development site, the plant was rescued, and is now at JLBG under evaluation. The second photo is more typical plant for the species for comparison, growing at JLBG.
We’ve just wrapped up the 2022 Southeastern Plant Symposium in Raleigh, and were thrilled to have nearly 200 attendees. It was great to be back in person after two years of remote Zooming. The symposium is co-sponsored by the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with all proceeds split between the two institutions (JCRA operations and the JLBG endowment).
Attendees were entertained and enlightened by fourteen of the top horticultural authorities in the country/world. This years symposium was focused on perennials, 2023 will be focused on woody plants (trees/shrubs), and 2024 will focus on geophytes (bulbs, tubers, etc.) as part of our three year rotation.
We hope you’ll join us for 2023, and mark June 9, 10 on your calendar. Not only are the speakers excellent, but the symposium includes a rare plant auction, which this year, offered over 430 plants, most of which aren’t available anywhere else in the world.