What would you say if I told you that virtually everything you know as a mimosa, isn’t? In fact, the commonly known mimosa is actually an albizzia. Albizzia julibrissin, native from Japan through to the Transcaucuses, was brought to the US back in the 1700s as an ornamental. Back in the day, it was actually thought to belong to the genus Mimosa, but this error was corrected by 1806, but as you can see, old names die hard. Although beautiful, albizzia is a prolific seeder, so is rarely planted any longer.
Interestingly, virtually no one grows any of the 25 North American native species of true Mimosa. Below is our plant of Patrick’s collection of the Southwest US native, Mimosa dysocarpa in flower now. This 3-6′ tall, highly thorny shrub, grows natively from 3,500′ – 6,500′ in the dry deserts of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. So far, it seems to be liking its new home in NC. It’s a particularly good food for bees, butterflies/moths, and birds, while the fruit is adored by quails.
Most of us plant geeks marvel at the genetic diversity of plants as we drive, and one of my passions is studying the incredible diversity our our native red cedar, Juniperus virginiana. Below is an exceptional been pole-like form, Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’, selected from a population in Taylor, Nebraska, and released in 1992 by the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum. Mature size should be around 20′ tall x 4′ wide. Our plants below are five years old.
Looking lovely in the garden this week is the amazing native small tree, Aesculus parviflora var. serotina ‘Rogers’. Despite this amazing plant being native only in Alabama, it thrives in gardens well north of Chicago. This named selection was discovered in the early 1960s in the yard of University of Illinois professor Donald Rogers, and named because of its more floriferous nature, as well as its more pendulous flower spikes.
The North American native Thuja plicata ‘4Ever’ is looking particularly stunning in the garden this summer. Of all the forms of Thuja plicata we’ve trialed, this is undoubtedly the brightest. Reportedly maturing at 12′ tall x 3.5′ tall, I’m left to wonder what they used the measure the size. Our 4 year old specimen is 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Based on the current growth rate, we’d expect 12′ tall x 12′ wide in 10 years, so if you’re looking at “forever”, I’d probably put these on 15-20′ centers.
One of favorite native trees is looking stunning in our parking lot. Acer rubrum ‘Schocking Gold’ was discovered by NC plantsman Richard Schock near his home in Boonville, NC. Richard shared his find with us in 1993, and we subsequently named the tree after him. Occasionally, when we’ve seen it offered, it’s listed incorrectly as ‘Shocking Gold’. We propagated one of these for the upcoming Southeastern Plant Symposium auction.
The lovely Aesculus pavia, native from Illinois south to Texas, and east to Florida, has been absolutely glorious over the last few weeks. This easy-to-grow small tree typically tops out between 15-20′ tall.
Just over a month remains before the 2023 Southeastern Plant Symposium kicks off in Raleigh, NC. This joint symposium between the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden will be held on June 16, 17 at Raleigh’s North Raleigh Hilton Hotel.
We’ve got thirteen of the world’s top speakers, as our 2023 symposium focuses on the coolest woody plants on the planet. You’ll find the schedule and speakers here, where you can also register. The rare plant auction now has a worldwide following, since quite a few of the plants simply aren’t commercially available anywhere, or in some cases are very new to the trade. We hope you’ll join us for a chance to hear and meet other passionate plant people and learn about trees and shrubs.
Symposium attendees will also be able to visit both Juniper Level Botanic Garden and the JC Raulston Arboretum before and after the symposium. The lovely folks at Ball Horticulture are also funding 10 college students to attend the symposium. You can apply on line here. We hope to see you there!
Despite the impending flooding late last week, Patrick, Zac, and I took off to the mountains of western South Carolina for a few days of botanizing. Despite the monsoon-like rains, we managed to visit seven amazing sites. Below is a highlight.
One stop was at a giant granitic outcrop. The rocks are covered in an array of mosses, lichens, and other associated flora, most growing in shallow pockets or organic debris that alternation from inundated to bone dry for months.
Large patches are covered with the colorful, 1″ tall, annual sedum, Diamorpha smallii, commonly known as Elf orpine.
Another site also had large granite flatrocks, but with a complete different flora. Here, two dryland ferns, Cheilanthes lanosa and Cheilanthes tomentosa formed large patches, along with the amazing Selaginella tortipila.
The more shaded slopes were filled with amazing clones of the dwarf painted buckeye, Aesculus sylvatica, which at this site, mature at only 3-5′ in height. In most other area, the same species matures at 10-20′ tall. The flower colors here ranged from peachy yellow to screaming orange red.
One of our next stops was an amazing watershed where, Shortia galacifolia grows by the acre, carpeting the mountain side. This is the world’s largest population of this amazing native. We even found it growing epiphytically on a rock, perched in the middle of a stream.
The native Micranthes micranthidifolia grew along the moist stream banks. This is the first time I’ve seen this, since I first purchased the plant back in 1995 from the former We-Du Nursery. In that case, I killed it, before getting it planted.
Another plant I’ve killed in my previous attempt was the native climbing fern, Lygodium palmatum. Here, it grew with the easy-to-grow Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides.
The difficult to grow Asarum heterophyllum was scattered throughout our several mile trek, almost all plants were the solid green leaf form.
Far easier to grow is the native Hydrangea radiata (formerly known as H. arborescens var. radiata), with its shimmering white-backed leaves.
As we walked along the towering cliffs, the red fruit adorning the carpets of partridge berry, Mitchella repens glistened in the rain.
Several patches of mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum had some of the largest foliage that I’d ever seen, measuring 1′ in width.
Not far away we saw some of the most strikingly patterned form of Pachysandra procumbens we’ve ever seen.
We almost got through the entire trip without finding a single variegated or colored foliage mutant, when not far from the parking area, we spotted a streak sport on Kalmia latifolia.
Below is our incredible, but soaking wet, botanizing team (l-r) Adam Black, Bartlett Arboretum, Zac Hill, JLBG, Patrick McMillan, JLBG.
Looking lovely in our parking lot this week is the Southeast US native, Halesia diptera var. magniflora ‘Pine Apple’. This is a seed strain we named from a 2011 collection in Wilcox County, Alabama. Hardiness is Zone 5b-9a, at least.
It’s pussy willow time in the garden, and looking great this week is the native Salix eriocephala. The species S. eriocephala (which means wooly head) has a wide distribution from Maine west to Minnesota, and south to Alabama. Interestingly, it seems to have completely skipped over the Carolinas. Our plant is from a population in North Central Georgia. The photos are of the clone Salix ‘Big Ears’ due to the huge winged stems.
We’ve grown the native loblolly bay, Gordonia lasianthus for several decades, but I’d never stumbled on one as large as the one we spotted last week while botanizing in coastal southeastern North Carolina.
The specimen we ran across has a 26″ diameter and a height of 70′, which although huge, turned out to be slightly smaller than the state champions in Currituck County, which top out at 85-90′ tall. Posing by the trunk is the landowner, Vince and his son Vinny, who moved to coastal Carolina from Brooklyn, NY.
Also, on the same site, we found a population of Chamaedaphne calyculata, a bog-loving, blueberry relative with a circumboreal distribution in mostly cold and sub-arctic regions. When we returned, Patrick told me that it was quite rare in NC, but he found a singole documented record for North Carolina on Hwy 211 in Brunswick County (Vince’s property), that we’d accidentally stumbled upon. Sadly, Hwy 211 is being widened, so this population, along with many other amazing natives are in jeopardy. Fortunately, we now have a small division now growing in our ex-situ conservation garden at JLBG.
Flowering now is one of our favorite native witch hazels, the semi-dwarf, Ozark witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis ‘Quasimodo’. This amazing gem was discovered and introduced by the late Dutch nurseryman, Pieter Zwijnenburg. I would argue that this is a far more significant introduction than his much better known Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’. Our 8-year-old specimen is now 5′ tall x 5′ wide. Not only does the compact size fit in most gardens, but the density of the deliciously fragrant flowers is unparalleled in the genus.
Here are a couple of dwarf pines in garden that are looking particularly great in mid-winter.
The first is PInus strobus ‘Mini Twists’ is a dwarf seed-grown selection of our native white pine that matures at 6′ tall x 4′ wide. This is a 2005 introduction from Vermont conifer specialist, Greg Williams. Good drainage is a key to success with white pines in our hot, humid climate. Hardiness is Zone 3a-8a.
Below is Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’, a 1987 introduction of a selected seedling of Japanese black pine from Angelica Nurseries of Maryland. In 10 years, it reportedly will reach 15′ in height x 20′ in width. Although it’s known commercially as Pinus ‘Thunderhead’, that cultivar name was actually used six years prior for a different pine, and according to International nomenclatural rules, can only be used once per genus, so the correct name would become Pinus ‘Angelica’s Thunderhead’. Hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
I was just admiring our specimen of the East Coast native, Thuja occidentalis ‘Concessarini’ today. I find this a fascinating plant in the garden, sadly never promoted by those who claim to extoll the virtues of native plants.
Our oldest specimen below is now 10 years old and measures 3′ tall x 6′ wide…quite a bit larger than it’s introducer claims it to be at 1′ tall x 2′ wide. If you dig deeper, you’ll see that the plant patent application shows they only measured a three year old plant, and have never bothered to update the mature size in their marketing or on their tags. It shows how little many plant introducers think of the end consumer, when they set them up for failure by promoting these fake mature sizes. Commercially, it is marketed under the fake trade name of Pancake arborvitae. That’s one seriously lumpy pancake.
This juvenile-foliage sport of Thuja ‘Linesville’ was discovered by nurseryman, Gabriel Cessarini. We think it’s pretty cool, just allow enough room in the garden. Winter hardiness is Zone 3a-8b.
We have been very impressed with the very narrow selection of our East Coast native arborviatae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Brobeck’s Tower’. This has been in the garden now for 4 years, and is 6′ in height and just over 1′ in width. This seedling selection was made by Sweeden’s Anders Brobeck, where the same plant takes 20 years to reach this height, due to a lack of summer heat.
Looking wonderful in the garden this week is Ilex x attenuata ‘Pack’s Weeping’. This superb, but almost unknown cultivar, is a selection of the naturally occurring North American native hybrid of Ilex cassine x Ilex opaca, and was selected by Alabama’s Pack’s Nursery. Foster’s holly is prized for being parthenocarpic (produces fruit without the need for a male pollinator).
One of our favorite palms for the garden is the US native Sabal minor var. louisiana. While it can’t outgrow the Himalayan Trachycarpus fortunei (windmill palm) for speed of developing a trunk, Louisiana palmetto is the most winter hardy of all trunking palms. One of the mysteries is that in the wild, the same population can have both above ground as well as subterranean trunks.
Our garden specimen in the photo below was planted from a 1 qt. pot in 2005. Eventually, Sabal minor var. louisiana will develop an above ground trunk, which on our specimen below is just beginning.
The background on Sabal minor var. louisiana is a botanical mystery. Some taxonomists consider it a valid species, while others consider it variety of the subterranean trunked Sabal minor. Others consider it to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor and either Sabal mexicana or Sabal palmetto. A similar hybrid, Sabal x brazoriensis from near Dallas, had its DNA analyzed several years ago, and was found to be an old hybrid of Sabal minor and a now extinct population of Sabal palmetto.
Sabal sp. ‘Tamaulipas’ from Northern Mexico is another mystery palm in need of some family history work. Thankfully, palm researcher and grad student, Ayress Grinage at Cornell has begun to look at these mystery sabal palms to figure out how they came to be. We, and others have sent material, and now await the results of the paternity test.
Gardeners typically curse fall leaf drop, but ginkgo trees often get a pass, not only because the golden fall leaves look so great on the tree, but they also look great on the ground, not displaying the disheveled look of other larger tree leaves. Here’s our ginkgo tree, planted just in front of our office, that’s been putting on quite a show for the last few weeks.
Despite what most folks think, the genus Ginkgo is indeed a North American native, but to understand that, requires a bandwidth that many native plant purists simply don’t have. Native is not a place in location, it is only a place in time. The first Ginkgos date back to the lower Jurassic period about 190 million years ago, when the genus was born in Mongolia. From there, it migrated around the world, based on dramatic climate change, with fossils found from what is now the UK to the US (Oregon to North Dakota).
Ginkgos continued to diversify through the Cretaceous period (65-145 million years ago), when they reached their maximum distribution, with 5-6 species currently recognized. By the Paleocene (56-66 million years ago), all of the species but one had gone extinct. Although that remaining species is known as Ginkgo adiantoides, it is almost identical to today’s Ginkgo biloba.
During the Oligocene (23-34 million years ago), Ginkgos moved south from their more northerly range, with the genus completely disappearing from North America around 7 million years ago. According to the fossil records, Ginkgos subsequently disappeared from Europe around 2.5 million years ago. The only vestiges of the genus that remained, holed up in three distinct refugia (botanical hideouts) in China until humans began to spread them out again and re-populate the rest of the now Ginkgo-less world. They returned to the Flora of both North America and Europe in the 1700s.
For those who want to dive deeper into the Ginkgo story, here is a link and another.
Most folks have grown butterfly bushes in the genus buddleia, yet few garden visitors recognize this fascinating species from our 1994 botanizing trip to Northern Mexico. I should add that most buddleias on the market are developed from the Asian species, and virtually none from the less colorful North American species.
Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella grows in rocky, bone-dry hillsides in the mountains of Northern Mexico near the town of Los Lirios at 7,000′ elevation. I was only able to find a single seed, but fortunately, it sprouted, and 28 years later, this amazing specimen is the result.
One of the cool things about Buddleia cordata ssp. tomentella is the insanely fragrant flowers, which start for us in early fall, and continue all winter…a trait you won’t find in any other temperate shrub of which we’re aware. As you can imagine, it is awash with an array of pollinator insects The flower color is a dusty white, so this will never be a plant that will make it to the shelves of your favorite box store. That said, it’s a plant we wouldn’t be without in our garden.
Last weekend, we were thrilled to host a bus tour from the International Maple Society, that was meeting in North Carolina. As you can imagine, it was fascinating to walk the gardens with such an amazing and diverse group from around the world. Here are a few of our visitors: Tim (l) and Matt (r) Nichols of Mr. Maple Nursery in NC. The Nichols brothers have set the woody plant world on fire with their amazing mail order nursery, based out of the Asheville area. Maples aren’t their only focus, but there hasn’t been a woody plant mail order nursery in my lifetime to do such a great job with both selection and customer service as the Nichols brothers.
Sandwiched in between them are Haruko and Talon Buchholz of Buchholz Nursery. Talon has long been one of my horticulture idols, and I’ve been blessed to have visited their nursery twice during the last 30 years. Although Talon has visited JLBG once prior, this was my first time to meet his amazing wife, Haruko. Like Mr. Maple, Buchholz Nursery in Oregon focuses on maples and conifers, but unlike Mr. Maple, Buchholz is strictly wholesale.
Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’ is a juvenile-leaved selection of our native white cedar, Chamaecyparis thyoides, discovered and introduced by Florida’s Blue River Nursery. This recent introduction looks similar to the 1960s introduction, Chamaecyparis ‘Rubicon’, except that ‘Rubicon’ dies in the garden on a bad day, and on a good day looks like death would help it. Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’, on the other hand, is a superb garden plant.
So, why is this the case? Well, there are two distinct forms of this US coastal native wetland species, Chamaecyparis thyoides. Some botanists recognize the southern ecotypes as a separate species, while other make no distinction. We agree with those who recognize the southern plants as a subspecies,.Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. henryae, which has a natural distribution centered in the Florida panhandle, and is dramatically easier to grow in the garden. Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. thyoides, which ranges from Maine to Georgia, is much more difficult to grow in most garden conditions.
Because white cedar is native to cool fresh-water wetlands, very few cultivars perform fine in average to moist garden soils, while others fail miserably. What we need are more selections of the better adaptable Chamaecyparis thyoides ssp. henryae. The only named cultivars we know to exist is Chamaecyparis ‘Webb Gold’, and the afformentioned Chamaecyparis ‘Red Velvet’.
The cultivar ‘Red Velvet’ matures at 12-15′ in height. Our four year old plants have reached 6′ in height. In winter, the foliage color changes from green to a reddish purple, hence the name. Thanks to Georgia conifer guru, Tom Cox for spreading this amazing selection around to collectors and nurseries. Estimated winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9b, and probably much colder.
Few plants I’ve ever grown enchant me like Forestiera angustifolia ‘Woodlanders Weeping’. This incredible weeping selection of the Texas native is typically known as a scraggly upright bush that grows in dry alkaline soils. This special form was discovered in Calhoun County, Texas in 1992 by our friend Bob McCartney and the late Texas plantsman, Lynn Lowrey. In 1996, Bob, Lynn, and Patrick McMillan returned to the site for cuttings. It was subsequently propagated and introduced by Woodlanders Nursery. Surprisingly, it also thrives in moist acidic soils, and seemingly has no garden conditions where it doesn’t thrive.
We actually enjoy the incredible structure of the deciduous bare stems more in the winter time without the tiny deciduous foliage. The photo above was just taken at JLBG in late September. Mature size is 6′ tall x 25′ wide, so be sure you have a large enough space. I would think this is a plant that would be embraced by every native plant nursery, unless they have one of those bizarre hang-ups that man-made state political borders matter. Winter hardiness is unknown, but at least Zone 7b-9b.
Last week, Patrick, Zac, and I spent a couple of day botanizing in the low country…i.e. Coastal South Carolina. In between swatting away the incredible troupe of mosquitos which chose to join us, we were able to capture a few images to share below.
The ancient lime sinks are fascinating. Here, old sinkholes due to subsurface limestone rock breakdown have collapsed, forming natural depressions, creating a habitat for our native pond cypress (Taxodium ascendens) and other fascinating wetland species…like alligators. Yes, we did see several, but they were too fast for our camera.
The high water marks are visible on the buttressed trunks of bald cypress.
Much of the region is, or was, a pine/grass habitat. The pines could either be longleaf (Pinus palustris) or slash pine (Pinus serotina) .The dominant grass is known as wiregrass, aka: Aristida beyrechiana.
On the dry sand ridges, we saw these piles of fresh sand adjacent to a nearby tunnel entrance. These are homes to the rare gopher tortoise, which live in the region. Patrick tells me these tortoises will use the same underground lair, which may stretch 40′ long and 10′ deep, for up to 60 years.
Gopher tortoises only emerge from their tunnels when temperatures are between 80 and 90 degree F. Sure enough, we were able to wait and get some images of these amazing creatures.
Another surprise spotting was a bright orange mutant katydid. Our entomologist Bill Reynolds tells me these are crazy rare, and worth well north of $1000 to collectors. Who knew?
Yes, we also saw some cool plants. Asclepias obovata is a little-known milkweed that’s quite rare in South Carolina, so it was great to catch it in flower.
At another site nearby, we caught some late flowering plants of Asclepias tuberosa var. rolfsii.
We visited several patches of amazing pitcher plants, one site with a tremendous variation of Sarracenia flava, which is typically solid yellow. Other sties had three species growing side by side including Sarracenia minor, Sarracenia rubra, and Sarracenia flava. It’s great that such natural area still exist, although they are always in danger from those who sadly dig plants from the wild for sale.
A plant often seen near the pitcher plants is the native orchid, Plantanthera ciliaris.
We were thrilled to find a couple of large patches of the scrub palm, Serenoa repens, from one of the coldest natural populations, which happened to be in full seed. Clonal patches like this are incredibly slow-growing. Researchers in Florida found that such clonal patches are often between 5,000 and 10,000 years old.
It was great to see large drifts of one of our finest native ferns, Thelypteris kunthii, aka: maiden fern. This superb deciduous fern thrives in both sun and shade, tolerating everything from wet to average soil conditions.
A lovely surprise was stumbling on a population of Hamamelis henryi. This coastal species is often listed as a variety of Hamamelis virginiana, but we think it’s probably deserving of species status. Several of the clones we found had lovely dusty blue foliage.
One of the most amazing shrubs was the hawthorn, Crategus munda var. pexa. These ancient specimens topped out at 4-5′ tall, and looked like ancient bonsai specimens.
I’ve long had a penchant for finding gold leaf sweet gums, and this trip added another one to the list. When many woody plants are cut to the ground, they are much more likely to produce mutations as they re-sprout. In my experience, the genus Liquidambar must be the most prone to such mutations.
The fall-flowering Georgia savory, Clinopodium georgianum was in full flower. We’ve grown and offered this for decades, but it was fascinating to see the flower color variation in the wild.
At one stop, we found five different liatris species, including the little-known Liatris elegans.
The native vining legume, Centrosema virginiana, aka: butterfly pea, was in full flower and looking lovely…first cousin to the better known genus, Clitoria.
I’m not a fan of most smilax species, but I was quite smitten by the non-running dwarf Smilax pumila, which grew in the shade like an Asarum (wild ginger). While some clones had green leaves, others had patterns every bit as good as the best Asarum.
On the ride home, we kept ourselves amused unscientifically researching the fastest speed at which leaf-footed bugs could hold onto a car window while copulating. Since our test speed topped out at 65mph, we aren’t sure what it was take to pry these loose, but perhaps someone should research how they are able to hold on so tight, as I’m sure it has numerous industrial applications.
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.
If you’re like us, you never have enough purple-foliage plants in your landscape, so we’re always on the lookout for something new. One of our finds a few years back is this purple-leaf plum from our friend Dr. Dave Creech in Texas. Prunus ‘Purple Pride’, which Dave and his staff at Stephen F. Austin State University discovered, is a seedling of the widespread native, Chickasaw plum, Prunus angustifolia, with an unknown suitor.
Many purple-leaf trees loose their color during the summer, but not Prunus ‘Purple Pride’. Our specimen at JLBG, pictured below is 4 years old. We have also not seen any sign of diseases, which often plague many domesticated prunus. This should top out around 12′ in height and 15′ in width. Supposedly, our tree will fruit eventually, and reportedly, the fruit are rather tasty. Hardiness is Zone 7a and warmer.
Betula nigra ‘Summer Cascade’ is a selection of our native river birch from our friends at Shiloh Nursery in NC, that I can’t imagine gardening without. This is our 19 year old specimen looking absolutely fabulous this week. The plant patent expired last week, so now this amazing plant can be propagated by anyone. Hardiness is Zone 4b-9b.
The genus amorpha is a woody cousin to the better know genus baptisia in the Fabaceae (pea) family. Amorpha was named a genus by Linnaeus (perhaps you’ve heard of him) because the flowers only have a single petal, compared to 5, which is the norm in the rest of the family. Virtually all amorphas have many uses, from dyes to treating an array of medical conditions. There is an amorpha native in every one of the Continental United States…how many do you grow?
Our longstanding favorite member of the genus is the Midwest native Amorpha canescens, which makes a stunning, compact deciduous shrub, adorned in late spring with amazing, pollinator friendly flower spikes.
While we had our back turned, one of our Amorpha canescens got jiggy with a nearby Amorpha fruticosa, and the baby below, discovered by our staff, has now been adopted by us, and named Amorpha x frutescens. We actually might have some of these show up in the spring Plant Delights catalog.
Another amazing Southeast US (NC to FL) native species we like is Amorpha herbacea. Although it is rarely available, we think this has exceptional garden value and will most like show up in the Plant Delights catalog in the coming years.
Our mountain camellia (aka: Stewartia ovata) is in full flower this week at JLBG. Despite its reputation as being difficult to grow, our plant has reached 12′ tall after a decade in the ground. This native deciduous small tree can be found from Virginia south to Alabama, centered on the spine of the Appalachian mountains. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.
If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you’ll remember we wrote about this amazing native shrub/small tree last summer. Well, it’s cyrilla time again in the gardens at JLBG, when every branch of this amazing semi-evergreen erupts with racemes of small white flowers, inviting all insects in the neighborhood to stop by for happy hour. This standard form of Cyrilla racemiflora pictured below, usually matures in the 10′ to 12′ range with a spread that’s double the height. Although it is found in the wild growing in moist, sandy soils, it grows equally as well on clay soils, as long as droughty periods don’t extend too long.
We think the most exciting horticultural addition to the world of cyrillas is a dwarf, witches broom discovered by Georgia botanists, Ron Determann, and the late Tom Patrick. A witches broom is a dwarf mutation with very short internodes, most often associated with conifers. Ron allowed us to introduce this amazing plant, which he named in Tom’s memory, Cyrilla racemiflora ‘Tom Patrick’. The density of branching and size is quite amazing. Since this selection is so new, we aren’t really sure of a mature size, but we’re guessing about 6′ in height.
If you get your gardening information on-line, where everything written is a fact, you’ll know for sure that acacias aren’t growable in Zone 7b, Raleigh, NC. If that includes you, don’t look at the photo below of Acacia greggii ‘Mule Mountain’ in flower at JLBG. Acacia greggii is a native from Texas west to California. Our seven year-old specimen is from Patrick McMillan’s collection in Cochise County, Arizona.
To be nomenclaturally correct, most of the US Acacias have now been moved into the genus Senegalia, so even though the American species aren’t from anywhere near Senegal, this is now known as Senegalia greggii.
Of course, it you also read the hogwash on-line about native pollinators needed and preferring plants they evolved with, then you’ll also have to ignore the masses of native bees that cause the entire plant to buzz while they’re feeding. It’s good we don’t let our plants and insects read books or the Internet.
People, especially male landscape architects love to use Italian Cypress in their garden designs. Few evergreen plants have the insanely narrow, upright, bean-pole shape, without benefit of pruning. We can now add a North American native counterpart to that short list, which will be welcomed since Cupressus sempervirens (Italian Cypress) doesn’t thrive in our climate.
The photo below is Juniperus virginiana ‘Silver Spear’, a Mark Weathington selection of our native red cedar. Our original plant pictured below is now 8 years old and has never been sheared. Winter hardiness should be Zone 4-9.
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’ve had a longstanding love affair with the genus styrax, thanks to their amazing spring display of fragrant white bell-like flowers. Of the 130 recognized species, we have so far tried 22, of which 9 remain alive.
The first featured below is Styrax japonicus ‘Evening Light’. This amazing, black-foliage form of the typical green-leaf Styrax japonicus appeared as a seedling in Holland at the nursery of Henny Kolster. When I first saw the photo, I assumed it to have been “photoshopped”, but after growing it for several years here at JLBG, the foliage is indeed jet black. This is one of the most stunning small trees in our collection.
Styrax formosanus, which hails from Taiwan (Formosa) is undoubtedly the most floriferous species we’ve encounterd. Here is our garden plant this spring. For us, this generally tops out at 15′ to 20′ tall.
Styrax americanus (Illinois south to Florida) is one of only four native US styrax species. Usually topping out around 10′ tall, this form introduced by Woodlanders Nursery has foliage with a lovely blue cast.
The lovely native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana ‘Little Prospect‘ with its variegated foliage, looks amazing even when it isn’t in flower. The leaves show no foliar burn in full sun and it is just as beautiful in part shade. Hardiness Zone: 3a to 8b.
Here are a few of the many buckeyes that are looking good at JLBG this spring.
Aesculus pavia is native from Illinois south to Texas and east to Florida. Hardiness is Zone 4-8.
The European Aesculus hippocastanum has thrived for us, despite most sources claiming we are too hot in the summer. Aesculus ‘Hampton Court Gold’ emerges with ghostly yellow foliage for an amazing spring show.
Aesculus x carnea is a hybrid of the European Aesculus hippocastanum and the American Aesculus pavia. This cross was first discovered in Europe in 1812. It is quite stunning in our garden as you can see. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.
The dwarf form of Aesculus glabra only occurs in a small region of Northern Alabama/Georgia. Mature size is 5-6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 5-9.
Aesculus sylvatica is one of our oldest buckeye specimens in the garden. This species is native from Virginia to Alabama. Hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.
Aesculus sylvatica ‘Sylvan Glow’ is Jeremy Schmidt’s discovery of an amazing seedling of Aesculus sylvatica that emerges rosy red, then changes to orange, before aging to green for the summer. When it gets a bit larger, we will try to propagate this so we can share.
A couple of our favorite native redbud selections looking exceptional after flowering today…Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’ and ‘Golden Falls’…both from the breeding work of NCSU plant breeder, Dennis Werner.
We’re just back from a quick outing to the Flower Hill Nature Preserve in Johnston County, NC…just a few miles from JLBG. This unique coastal plain site contains remnants of species more common in the NC mountains, nearly 5 hours west. The top of the bluff is a small stand of enormous Rhododendron catawbiense, while along the bottom of the hill is a bank of the deciduous Rhododendron canescens.
In the mid-slope area, we found Cypripedium acaule (pink ladyslipper orchid), just waiting to be photographed. Sadly, it’s one of the most difficult species to transplant, so just enjoy these in situ when you find them.
There were beautiful masses of the evergreen groundcover galax, growing on the eastern slope.
It was particularly great to see the Asarum vriginicum in full flower. True Asarum virginicum is rarely seen in cultivation, and the diversity of flower color was outstanding.
Flowering in our parking lot now is the beautiful Halesia diptera var. magniflora, better known as big-flowered two-wing Silverbell. Native from Georgia across to Texas, this beautiful small tree can be found in low moist woodlands. That said, it thrives in average to dry garden conditions.
The variety “magniflora’ is distinguished from the more northern Halesia diptera var. diptera in that the gulf coast form has much larger flowers. This is our collection from Wilcox County, Alabama, where the foliage is much wider than what is typically seen in this taxa. Plants mature at around 20′ in height. Hardiness is Zone 5-8.
Few people know the fascinating native shrub, Dirca palustris. It’s little wonder it gets overshadowed by showier members of its family, Thymelaeaceae, which includes the likes of Daphne and Edgeworthia. Our 6′ tall plant is flowering alongside a large edgeworthia, and rarely gets noticed by visitors.
Dirca palustris, the plant, is actually widespread across Eastern North America, with a range from Canada to Florida, where it thrives in slightly moist, acidic soils. It’s often known as leatherwood, due to its thick, but very pliable branches, which have been used by Native Americans for making rope as well as baskets.
There are three other less poorly known dirca species…if that’s possible. We grow the rare Dirca decipiens from Kansas/Arkansas, but have not yet tried D. occidentalis from California, or D. mexicana from Mexico.
The genus takes its name from the Dirce in Greek Mythology, who bit the big one while tied to the horns of a bull….a truly sordid story. The specific epithet “palustris”, lacks the fascinating story of the genus, but only means that the plant naturally lives in very wet sites. Winter hardiness is Zone 3-9.
Picea rubens (red spruce) is one of only 8 US native spruce species, and the only one whose natural ranges includes North Carolina. The entire range of red spruce starts in Nova Scotia and continues south to high elevations in the NC mountains. Genetic testing indicates that our red spruce evolved due to climate change during the Pleistocene (12,000 years to 2.5 million years ago), when it split off from Picea mariana (black spruce). Black spruce is now the only other nearby spruce, which currently resides from New Jersey north with a small population in Northern Kentucky.
Surprisingly, red spruce is virtually absent from piedmont gardens, probably due to the common wisdom that it doesn’t tolerated heat and humidity. As long as it’s given adequate amounts of Calcium (we aim for a pH of 6.5), it grows beautifully. Here is our 26 year old specimen, that didn’t get the memo that it’s shouldn’t grow here. Hardiness is Zone 3a-8a.
Red spruce wood is used to make high quality wood instruments like violins and acoustic guitars, but to avoid cutting down your lovely specimen, we recommend you stick with products that can be made from the foliage, like the infamous Red Spruce Beer.
I remember falling in love with the dwarf river birch, Betula nigra ‘Little King’, back around 1990 when it was first planted at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh, NC. This amazing compact selection originated in the late 1970s at King Nursery in Oswego, Illinois, and starting in 1991, was adopted and formally marketed through the Chicagoland Grows plant introduction program.
After 20 years, the original plant in Illinois was only 10′ tall, but the 30 year old specimen at the JC Raulston Arboretum has now reached 30′ tall x 30′ wide So, while it is much slower growing, it’s not exactly a true dwarf. Most estimates conclude that Betula ‘Little King’ will grow about 1/3 to 1/4 the speed and size of the typical species, making it a much better choice around most smaller homes. That said, we love the compact, dense habit and have recently planted this specimen around our home on the JLBG property. Hardiness is Zone 4-9.
Due to having three consecutive mild winters, with no temperatures below 20 degrees F, we’ve actually been able to get a trunk on our Washingtonia filifera palm. Typically not hardy in our climate, our plant was grown from seed collected from a wild population in Arizona that had experienced 10 degrees F. We’ll see what this winter has in store.
I can’t speak to the truth that blondes have more fun, but on behalf of gardeners who grow blondes (gold leaf plants), we certainly have more fun when they’re around. One of our horticultural holy grails has always been a gold leaf elderberry we can actually grow. The horticultural market is dominated by northern cold climate selections of colored-leaf elderberries, which refuse to survive our hot, humid summers.
I can’t tell you how excited we were a couple of years ago to learn of a Keith Mearns discovery of a wild elderberry near Columbia, SC with beautiful golden foliage, Sambucus canadensis ‘Blonde Envy’. Although it took us a while to track one down (Keith says that less than a dozen exist in the world currently), it is now performing beautifully in a prize spot at JLBG. We’ve turned our Plant Delights propagators loose in the hope we can have enough to share in the 2023 Plant Delights spring catalog.
Just prior to the pandemic, we were plant collecting in UK nurseries, and made a stop at the always amazing Cotswold Garden Flowers. Founder Bob Brown’s son, Edmund, had taken up elderberry breeding, and now held the National Sambucus collection. We were able to bring back a couple of his complex hybrid introductions to trial, and to our shock, both are thriving in our summers. Here is a photo of our 2 year-old clump of Sambucus ‘Chocolate Marzipan’ in the garden. Finally, sambucus envy will be over for southern gardeners.
Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’, a JC Raulston Arboretum release from NC State woody plant breeder, Dr. Dennis Werner, was just awarded the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Chelsea Plant of the Year for 2021. In Europe, Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ is marketed as Eternal Flame. Here is our plant at JLBG this summer. Congratulations to Denny and the Arboretum for this huge honor!
Flowering at JLBG this month is one of our favorite small trees, Cyrilla racemiflora…aka: swamp titi. Cyrilla racemiflora was a favorite tree of the late J.C. Raulston, who was constantly extolling its virtues to anyone who would listen. Swamp titi has a native range from coastal Delaware south and west to East Texas. The flowers, which have just recently started here are a favorite of the native bumblebees. Mature size is usually 10-12′ in height, and the contorted nature of the trunks usually produce a plant that is slightly wider than it is tall. Despite its southern origins in swamps, Cyrilla is well adapted to regular garden soils as far north as Zone 5. As far as the common name, we have no idea where “titi” originated. We’ve read theories that it may have been a corruption of TyTy, Georgia, or have some relation to Florida’s Titi Creek, but those are all unconfirmed.
We saw this amazingly colored buckeye (Aesculus pavia) on a recent visit to the NC Arboretum in Asheville. I’ve seen countless individuals of this species, both in the wild and in gardens and have never seen a color like this. We have encouraged them to get this grafted and introduced.
Here are two of our favorite new redbuds growing at JLBG…both from the NC State breeding program of Dr. Dennis Werner. The first is Cercis canadensis ‘Flame Thrower’, which boasts pumpkin colored leaves that emerge gold. The second is Cercis canadensis ‘Golden Falls’, a fabulous pendulous form, whose leaves remain gold all summer.