So Long Sotols…In the Spirit of Plant Extinction

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.

Image of Dasylirion wheeleri in situ, Payson, Arizona
Dasylirion wheeleri in situ, Payson, Arizona

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.

Image of Dasylirion acrotrichum
Dasylirion acrotrichum

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.

Dasylirion berlandieri

Below is a fully open flower spike, which is abuzz with a large number of bees

Dasylirion berlandieri in full flower

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 cedrosanum

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 durangensis

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.

Dasylirion gentryi

The inflorescense of Dasylirion gentryi is one of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen.

Dasylirion gentryi bloom spike

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 glaucophyllum

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 leiophyllum – in winter at JLBG
Dasylirion leiophyllum ‘Chaves’ in situ at 5,400′ elevation

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 miquihuanense

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 parryanum

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 quadrangulatum

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 serratifolium

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 texanum

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.

Dasylirion wheeleri

An old clump we planted years ago in flower is quite remarkable.

Dasylirion wheeleri in flower

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.

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’

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’

The Little Asparagus that Could

In 2006, NC plantsman, and our long time customer, Graham Ray of Greensboro, emailed to see if we were interested in a dwarf Asaparagus densiflorus (Sprengeri) fern that he grew in his rock garden, and had been winter hardy for several years in his Zone 7a garden.

We had already worked with several asparagus species for years, and have a great fondness for the ornamental potential of the genus, so of course, we jumped at the opportunity. We were perplexed, however, how a dwarf version of the marginally hardy Asparagus densiflorus could have survived in Greensboro, which is a 1/2 zone colder than our garden south of Raleigh.

Despite our skepticism, we planted our new treasure in fall 2006, which thrived here, despite our winter hardiness concerns, not blinking during three upcoming single digit F winters. A few years later, we sent a plant to our friend Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens in Michigan for further testing. Despite their winter temperatures well below 0F with no snow cover, it thrived there also. What was going on, we wondered, since this simply shouldn’t be possible.

A mature plant of the dwarf asparagus fern, 'Graham's Cracker' growing in our rock garden.
Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’

Our mystery was finally resolved this summer when taxonomy researchers from the University of Georgia, working on the phylogeny of the genus Asparagus, learned of our extensive collection of Asparagus species, and came by to take samples for their research. This fall, we got word that our dwarf plant which we had named Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’, was in fact not a selection of the common hanging basket species, Asparagus densiflorus, but was instead a seedling of the Zone 4 hardy Asparagus cochinchinensis.

As we re-traced the plants origin, it turned out that Graham had purchased the plant here at Plant Delights, as a dwarf seedling he found in one of our sale house flats, which our staff had failed to notice.

Above is a photo of a mature plant of Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ at JLBG, which has finally reached a whopping 15″ in height…a perfect plant for the rock garden or in larger bedding schemes. Like the species, the fall foliage is a brilliant gold.

Asparagus ‘Graham’s Cracker’ in fall

And here’s mama, Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’.

Asparagus cochinchinensis ‘Chuwang’

Precious Metals…Investing in Silver

We have been fascinated with hardy cyclamen since the 1960s, but in recent years have spent a bit of time isolating some of the best silver-leaf variants that showed up in our seed pots and getting these established in the garden. These silver leaf oddities can be found in the wild, although they are fairly rare. In cultivation, however, they come fairly true (50%) from seed.

Through Plant Delights, we offer these as seed strain cultivars, under the names below…when available. A new crop of cyclamen will go on-line January 1, and there are some real beauties. Here are some images from the garden this week. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.

Image of Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Cloud' in the garden
Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver Cloud’
Image of Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silver Swan' in the garden
Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silver Swan’
Image of Cyclamen hederifolium 'Silverado' in the crevice garden
Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Silverado’

Makin’ Mangaves

While we leave all the fancy mangave creations to our friend Hans Hansen at Walters Gardens, we continue our work on creating more winter hardy (to 0 degrees F) hybrids. Over the last couple of years, we’ve made several crosses using some of Hans’ hardiest Agave ovatifolia based F1 generation selections, like xMangave ‘Blue Mammoth’ and xMangave ‘Falling Waters’ and crossing them back onto Agave ovatifolia.

The F1 mangave hybrids from Hans’ work, have all lost the monocarpic trait of pure agaves, meaning they will not die after flowering. We are curious what will happen if the hybrids have 2 parts agave and one part manfreda. With most of our crosses, we grow 100-200 of each into 1 qt pots, which allows us to do an initial culling after seeing the juvenile foliage traits.

The photos below are from that process, which happened this week. This is a cross of xMangave ‘Falling Waters’ x Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’. The first image shows the diversity in the seedlings. All plants have some degree of glaucous foliage…some more toward blue and others with purple spotting that comes solely from the Manfreda parent. It was interesting that the F2 plants still showed some degree of purple spotting…probably around 5% of the plants.

Mangave seedling variability within a F2 generation cross.
x Mangave ‘Falling Waters’ x Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’

From a batch of 100-200 plants, our goal is to select 10% for the next round of in ground trials. We focus on selecting at least one plant for each desirable trait. Those traits include: size (dwarf or large), leaf undulations, spotting density, best blue color, leaf twisting, leaf length, leaf width, overall form, best spination, and variegation.

Below are some of our final selections for the next phase of trials. These will be up-potted into 3 quart pots and overwintered indoors, since we’re already too late for planting outdoors this year. These will go into the ground in spring, after the danger of frost has passed.

Mangave seedlings selected for in ground hardiness trials.
x Mangave ‘Falling Waters’ x Agave ovatifolia ‘Frosty Blue’
x Mangave and Agave hybrids overwintering in a heated greenhouse
x Mangave and Agave hybrids overwintering in a heated greenhouse

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’

That won’t grow here!

I wish I could count how many times we’ve been told, “That won’t grow in your climate.”. Our contrarian streak has led us down many interesting paths, with quite a number of surprising results.

The most recent is Chrysophyllum oliviforme. Over a year ago, we planted seed grown plants, native to the recently hurricane-ravaged Sanibel Island, Florida. This species is native to Southern Florida, the Bahamas, the Greater Antilles, and Belize. With that distribution, it should have no chance in our winters, but, despite die back during last winter’s low of 16F, it returned, and is now approaching 4′ in height. I should add that our plant was planted on a very exposed site, with no protection.

Is it going to be a long-term plant….probably not, but there is obviously more winter hardiness than most informational sites would lead us to believe. I should add that we planted two seedling, and the other one planted nearby, succumbed to the winter temperatures. If you never take risks, you’ll rarely get to experience the joy of amazing surprises like these.

Chrysophyllum oliviforme
Chrysophyllum oliviforme

Gold Crest

In our hot, humid climate, we really struggle with keeping most cultivars of Caryopteris x clandonensis alive for very long. A lovely exception in our trials has been Caryopteris ‘Gold Crest’, a recent introduction from the plant breeders at Ball Hort. Here is our three year old clump in the garden this week. The foliage is deliciously fragrant…more so than any other caryopteris we’ve ever grown, and the native bees find it incredibly attractive. We’ll be adding this to the new Plant Delights catalog in January. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.

Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Gold Crest'
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Gold Crest’

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

Hear, Hear…lend me an ear

We always look forward to elephant ear evaluation day at JLBG, which was recently completed.

The colocasia trial gardens at Juniper Level
Colocasia trials

Each year, Colocasia breeder, Dr. John Cho flies in from Hawaii to study and select from our field trials of his new hybrids. This year we were joined by Robert Bett, owner of the California-based plant marketing firm, PlantHaven, who handles the Royal Hawaiian elephant ear program. The JLBG trials consist of all named colocasia introductions growing alongside Dr. Cho’s new hybrids created the year prior.

Robert Bett (l), John Cho (r) beginning the colocasia evaluation.
Robert Bett (l), John Cho (r)

JLBG staff members, Jeremy Schmidt and Zac Hill spent most of the morning working with Robert and John on the time-consuming evaluation process.

Robert Bett (l), Zac Hill (c), John Cho (c), Jeremy Schmidt (r) evaluating elephant ear plants
Robert Bett (l), Zac Hill (c), John Cho (c), Jeremy Schmidt (r)

After lunch, Jim Putnam from Proven Winners, joined us to see which remaining plants struck his fancy for potential introduction into their branded program. As you can see, lots of amazing plants didn’t make the final cut, which is necessary, since we’ll need more room for the new selections.

John Cho, Robert Bett, Jim Putnam inspecting the colocasia selections
John Cho, Robert Bett, Jim Putnam

Plants selected for introduction are then sent to a tissue culture lab to be produced for the next step, which is grower/retailer trials. If these are successful, and the plant can be multiplied well in the lab, the plants are scheduled for retail introduction.

Hopefully, by now, most folks are familiar with our 2020 top selection, Colocasia ‘Waikiki’, which hit the market this year. There are more really exciting new selections in the pipeline, but we can’t share photos of those quite yet…stay tuned.

 Colocasia 'Waikiki', our top 2020 colocasia selection
Colocasia ‘Waikiki’

Bifid Rhodophiala

The genus rhodophiala is in a state of flux. Some taxonomists believe the genus actually doesn’t exist and should be merged with rain lilies, while others consider it a perfectly valid genus with 27 species. Oh, the joys of taxonomy. To most gardeners, the genus rhodophiala are simply dwarf hippeastrum (horticultural amaryllis), the most commonly grown of which is the South American Rhodophiala bifida, which ranges natively from Southern Brazil into adjacent Argentina.

Rhodophiala bifida starts flowering for us in mid-August, alongside the emerging foliage. Most Rhodophiala on the market are the clonal Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’, brought to the US by German born Texan botanist, Peter Henry Oberwetter circa 1890. This clone is virtually sterile when grown alone, but will produce viable seed when grown adjacent to another clone.

Below is the clone ‘Hill Country Red’, followed by some of our selected seedlings, all photographed here at JLBG over the last couple of weeks. The best conditions are full sun to light filtered shade, and average moisture to dry soil.

A flowering clump of Rhodophiala bifida 'Hill Country Red'
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Hill Country Red’

Rhodophiala bifida ‘Harry Hay’ seems to be the only named clonal selection grown in the UK. We imported this during our 2020 UK trip.

Close up of Rhodophiala bifida 'Harry Hay'
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Harry Hay’

Rhodophiala bifida ‘Carmencita’ is our first named introduction, released in 2017.

Rhodophiala bifida 'Carmencita' in our crevice garden
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Carmencita’

Rhodophiala ‘Red Waves’ is our 2nd named selection, not yet introduced

Close up pic of Rhodophiala bifida 'Red Waves'
Rhodophiala bifida ‘Red Waves’

The rest of the clones below are our selected seedlings still under evaluation

Rhodophiala bifida JLBG-018 in the trial gardens
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG-018
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG-017 in the trial gardens
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG-017
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-14 in the JLBG/PDN trial garden
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-14
Close up of Rhodophiala bifida JLBG20-07 in the trial garden
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG20-07
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-003 in trial garden
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-003
Close up of Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-06
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-06
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG19-02
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG19-02
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-08
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG13-08
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-04
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-04
Close up of Rhodophiala bifida var. granatifolia
Rhodophiala bifida var. granatifolia
Close up of Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-16
Rhodophiala bifida JLBG21-16

Below are two fascinating plants from our breeding. The first is a cross of Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba. In theory, this bi-generic cross shouldn’t work, but the flower arrangement sure resembles a lycoris more than a rhodophiala.

Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba
Rhodophiala bifida x Lycoris longituba

This cross is of Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima is another impossible bi-generic cross. Notice the three petals are one size, and the other three petals are larger. We’ve never heard of this happening in rhodophiala, so perhaps we’re on to something.

Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima
Rhodophiala bifida x Sprekelia formosissima

The only other Rhodophiala species, which we’ve had any luck with is the Chilean Rhodophiala chilense. Below are two forms, both of which flowered this spring.

Rhodophiala chilense
Rhodophiala chilense
Rhodophiala chilense in the crevice garden
Rhodophiala chilense

Crinum Time Again

Re-appropriating a line from the late Buck Owens, it’s crinum time again. Crinum lilies begin their flowering season in our climate around April 1 (frost permitting). Some bloom for a short number of weeks, while other rebloom for months. Depending on the genetics, some crinum hybrids start flowering in spring, some in summer, and others in fall, and a few flower during the entire growing season.

Crinum ‘High on Peppermint’ is one of our newer named hybrids, which starts flowering for us around June 1, and hasn’t stopped yet.

Crinum 'High on Peppermint'
Crinum ‘High on Peppermint’

Crinum ‘Superliscious’ is another of our new hybrids that starts flowering July 1, and has yet to stop. Now that our evaluation process is complete, we’ll start the propagation process.

Crinum 'Superliscious'
Crinum ‘Superliscious’

Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is an incredible hybrid from the late Roger Berry, entrusted to us to propagate and make available. That’s a tall order since it’s one of the slowest offsetting crinum lilies we’ve ever grown. Crinum ‘Southern Star’ is a hybrid with the virtually ungrowable, yellow-flowered Crinum luteolum, which hails from Southern Australia. For us, Crinum ‘Southern Star’ doesn’t start it’s floral display until August 1.

Crinum 'Southern Star'
Crinum ‘Southern Star’

Monroe’s Monkey Grass

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.

Image of Liriope muscari (monkey grass) 'Monroe White' flowering
Liriope muscari ‘Monroe White’

Bald Head, but Sexually Active

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.

Sabal palmetto 'Bald Head'
Sabal palmetto ‘Bald Head’

False Larch

We’ve long had an affinity for larches (probably due to a hangover from watching the Monty Python larch skit far too many times), but there aren’t many larches that will survive our hot, humid summers. We can, however, succeed with the false larch, which belongs to the monotypic genus, Pseudolarix. Both larix (larch) and pseuodlarix (false larch) are deciduous conifers, whose foliage turns golden yellow in fall prior to leaf fall.

Pseudolarix is known as an open, airy species, and having seen quite a few over the last 50 years, all were very similar. Imagine our surprise, when a new seedling we purchased in 2017 turned out to be incredibly dense and fast growing. The first photo is our oldest typical pseudolarix, now celebrating 29 years in the garden.

The new clone, which we’ve named Pseudolarix ‘Greensanity’, just 5 years in the garden, is pictured below that. We look forward to working with some woody plant nurseries to get this exceptional form grafted and into the trade.

Pseudolarix amabilis - typical false larch at JLBG
Pseudolarix amabilis – typical form at JLBG

Pseudolarix amabilis 'Greensanity'
Pseudolarix amabilis ‘Greensanity’

Finding Eustoma

It fascinates us that such a widespread native like Eustoma exaltatum isn’t more widely grown in gardens. Often known by the common names prairie gentian or lisianthus, eustoma is prized by flower arrangers, but not gardeners. Eustoma is native from coast to coast…Florida to California, and north to the Canadian border in Montana.

In the wild, Eustoma exaltatum is a short-lived perennial that can also behave as a biennial or even an annual in some sites. The key is to plant it where it can happily reseed as we have done in our gravelly crevice garden, which is odd, since in the wild, they are found in moist meadows and streamsides.

Below are our plants in peak flower now, during the brutal heat of summer. So far, we’ve struggled to keep this happy in a container, in the hopes we could make this available, but we continue to try.

Commercially, eustoma has been hybridized ad nauseam to create better cut flowers, but these hybrids seem to have lost all of their perennial nature compared to the wild genetics. Our plant pictured below is the large (2′-3′ tall) subspecies russellianum from wild collected seed from Bastrop County, Texas.

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.

Pride Rainbow

Look what appeared over the garden for pride month! We are so proud to have an amazingly diverse staff to go along with our diverse palette of plants. We hope you’ll all join us on the lifelong journey of celebrating diversity.

Adding Vulgarity to the Garden

We love “vulgar” plants, which are good for providing unexpected shrieks from garden visitors. One of our favorite plants for evoking such moments is the European native, Dracunculus vulgaris. For those who took Latin in school, you’ll know that the English translation of the Latin name is Vulgar Dragon’s Butt. This fascinating spring ephemeral is native to very rocky, dry sites in the Southwest corner of Turkey, the Aegean Island (inc. Greece), and into the Balkans.

Virtually all of the material in commerce, which comes from the Turkish populations, are the red spathe/purple spadix form. Once you move to Crete, the inflorescences take on a different color theme with blends of white in spathe, and spadices which range from black to yellow. Below are a few which flowered at JLBG this spring.

We inherited the work of the late aroid researcher Alan Galloway, who actively hybridized dracunculus in an attempt to study the genetics as well as create new color forms for gardeners. Once final selections are made, these will require tissue culture for reproduction. Without tissue culture (dividing plants with a tiny knife), commercial quantities could never be obtained. Wish us luck!

Dracunculus vulgaris typical purple form
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘Phallic Blush’
Dracunculus vulgaris ‘White Rhino’

The Accidental Green Meatball

Recently PDN staffer Chris Hardison, who heads up our marketing team, noticed an odd green meatball in a local shopping center parking lot. Upon closer examination, he found it to be a specimen of our native willow oak, Quercus phellos.

It’s obvious that the low-end mow and blow crew who take care of the plants in the parking lot assumed it to be another plant, like the hollies nearby, that needed to be butchered into the most unnatural shape possible…a green meatball.

We were curious if the oak was a natural dwarf, or was damaged when it was young, and was simply trying to resprout, when it caught the eye of the crew of horticultural butchers. It does have three smaller trunks than its nearby same age siblings, which seem to indicate damage during its youth.

To confirm this theory, we have taken cuttings and if we can get them to root, we’ll plant them out at JLBG and see if it maintains the dwarf form, which could actually be a fascinating option for homeowners. The second image below shows the green meatball oak in front of it’s sibling, planted the same time.

We love horticultural mysteries.

Quercus phellos green meatball form
Quercus phellos green meatball in front of its more typical sibling

A Visit from the Sphinx

We caught the Nessus Sphinx moth feasting on a patch of phlox this spring. Remember that garden diversity brings more fascinating pollinators into the garden.

Hi Jacks

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a plant survey of a local woodland area of about 30 acres. The low, moist areas are filled with Arisaema triphyllum, (Jack-in-the-pulpit) which is quite common in our area. The first image is what is typical for the species.

Arisaema triphyllum Wake County, NC

I’ve been studying patches of Jack-in-the-pulpit for well over 55 years, always looking for unusual leaf forms that showed any type of patterning. Until last month, I’d never found a single form with atypical foliage. That all changed with my first trip to this local site, where so far, I have found several dozen forms with silver leaf vein patterns. Up until now, there are only two pattern leaf forms of Arisaema triphyllum in cultivation, Arisaema ‘Mrs. French’ and Arisaema ‘Starburst’.

Each patterned leaf clone varies slightly as you would expect within a population including both green and purple stalk coloration.

Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with green stems
Arisaema triphyllum silver veined clone with purple stems

While I’d never found any true variegation prior to this, I had found plenty of transient leaf patterning caused by Jack-in-the-pulpit rust (Uromyces ari triphylli). This site was no exception, with a number of plants showing the characteristic patterning. If you find these, turn the leaf upside down and you’ll see the small orange rust pustules.

While these may seem exciting, the pattern are not genetic and will disappear without the fungus. Fortunately, this rust can be cured by cutting off the top of the plant and discarding it where the spores can not spread via the wind. Infected plant should be fine, albeit smaller next year. The susceptibility of Arisaema triphyllum to jack-in-the-pulpit rust varies with genetics. Of the tens of thousands of plants I observed at the site, less than 10% were infected with the rust.

Arisaema triphyllum with rust induced pattern
Arisaema triphyllum rust induced pattern on leaf back

Tiger by the Tongue

What a lovely color echo we caught this week at JLBG when the tiger swallowtails were visiting Mertensia virginiana (Virginia Bluebells). Remember that botanical diversity results in more pollinators in the garden.

Raisin’ Cain

I had a great visit recently with David Cain and Denny Werner. Most of you know Dr. Werner from his work at NC State, first as a peach breeder and later as the creator of a parade of amazing redbud hybrids.

David and Denny were both grad students together back at Michigan State. Dr. Cain went on to become a fruit breeder, and is the papa of the incredibly famous Cotton Candy grape. On the off chance you haven’t tried it, be sure to search for it at your local grocery store. David worked in academia and later the USDA, before embarking on his own venture, where he made several incredible fruit breeding breakthroughs.

I didn’t realize David is a long-time plant nerd and Plant Delights customer, and has recently moved from California to the East Coast for his next plant breeding adventure. We had a blast talking plant breeding and looking at a few of our crazy breeding projects at JLBG.

An Exciting New Expedition

Please join me in welcoming our newest JLBG team member, Dr. Patrick McMillan. I’ve known Patrick for 30 years, going back to his days as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill, and long before he became a legend in the plant world.

We’ve followed his amazing journey, most recently as Director of Heronswood Gardens in Washington. Prior to that, he was Director of the SC Botanical Garden and Professor of Environmental Sustainability at Clemson since 2000. Patrick was the Emmy Award winning host of the renown PBS series, Expeditions with Patrick McMillan. Patrick is a highly-respected botanist/naturalist, who has won far too many awards to mention, but we’ll let Patrick tell you a bit more about himself and why he decided to partner with JLBG.

My first experience with Juniper Level and Tony was sitting at the kitchen table in 1991, the inaugural year of Plant Delights Nursery, talking about Asarum and star-struck by Tony’s knowledge and passion that has continued to grow into one of the world’s premier gardens and nurseries. In those days I dreamed of the opportunity to work alongside such talented horticulturalists and intrepid explorers.

My love of plants and all things slithering, creeping, crawling, and flying came at a very early age. I can’t remember a time when my life wasn’t centered on them. Fast forward 31 years and I found myself sitting at the same table reminiscing about the past, marveling at how far JLBG has grown, and stirring excitement for the future. I am so enthusiastic about joining the staff at JLBG, learning from the lifetimes of incredible knowledge and skill that is assembled among the employees and sharing my own experience, passion, and knowledge to bolster the mission and the horticultural and conservation accomplishments of this magical place.

I’m probably best described as a plant nerd. I have never met a plant I didn’t love. Every plant has a story and each is connected to our lives and the lives of the biodiversity upon which we all depend. Much of my horticultural experience and focus in South Carolina and at Heronswood Garden in Kingston, Washington has been focused on generating and supporting insect, bird and other wildlife diversity in the home landscape.

My philosophy of natural community gardening and the generation of life is a fairly simple one based on filling every space with life – diversity generates diversity. My exploration of the plant world has taken me from pole to pole and over every continent except Australia. I was trained as a sedge taxonomist but my interests include anything with cells. I’ve described new species ranging from ragweeds to sedges and begonia.

I also believe strongly that our greatest gift is sharing knowledge and I have worked as a lifelong educator. You may also have seen me on your local PBS station, where for 15 years I wrote, hosted, and produced the series “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan” – distributed by American Public Television. Conservation, preservation and generation of life is at the core of my life’s mission and I can imagine no better place to be nested within than JLBG. I hope to meet you soon and share some hearty plant nerd conversation.

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

Seeds of Change

At Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Garden we grow a number of our plants from seed. While many plants will come pretty true to type from seed, there is always the element of genetics and genetic diversity, just as in humans. We are always on the look out for these genetic variations and the next great garden worth plant.

Below is a planting of 3 Alyssum argenteum that were grown from seed received from Jelitto Perennial Seed. All planted at the same time and same conditions, side by side, you can see the plant to the far left is already in flower, the middle plant is just starting to bud, and the far right is denser and more compact in its growth habit.

Alyssum argenteum – Jelitto form

Below is another seed grown crop of Alyssum saxatile ‘Sulphureum’ and you can see the variation of flower color from a creamy, buttery yellow to a bright golden yellow. So we are always excited about growing crops from seed and discovering the variations nature has in store.

Alyssum saxatile ‘Sulphureum’ – Jelitto form