Blue Ribbon Winner

One of many exciting new introductions for 2022 is Phlox divaricata ‘Blue Ribbons’ PPAF. This variegated version of our wonderful native woodland phlox was discovered here as a single sport in our garden by our plant taxonomist, Zac Hill. Instead of being all green, each leaf is edged with a wide creamy border and flushed with pink during the colder months. In early spring, the entire clumps are topped with sweetly fragrant blue flowers. We think Phlox ‘Blue Ribbons’ is an incredible design addition for the woodland garden. Hardiness is Zone 3-8. The new catalog, with this and many other amazing gems, goes on-line in 2 weeks!

The Purple Passion Mystery

Last year, we saw a listing for a new Mangave, M. ‘Purple Passion’ on the availability of a West Coast liner producer, so we ordered some to try. It was immediately evident when we unpacked the shipment, that the plants didn’t look anything like a mangave, nor did what we received match the image that the supplier had on their website.

As we dug deeper, we found that the supplier had misappropriated a mangave image from another wholesaler and was using it for the plant we purchased, desptie the two looking nothing alike. Once the image issue was remedied, we set out trying to track down the origin of this strange plant, which looked more like a steamrolled eucomis than a mangave.

The supplier sent us to their supposed source, who had never heard of the plant in question. For six months, we have chased down one lead after another, contacting all of the well-known plant breeders of these type of plants on the West Coast. All dead ends.

Examining the plant in our garden this summer, it occurred to us that the unusual leaf netting must have come from a beschorneria. Comparing the foliage netting of ‘Purple Passion’ to beschornerias in our garden yielded a perfect match, except for the leaf color. The only plant which could have been crossed with a beschorneria to give such leaf color is a manfreda. Hence, our conclusion that our plant is in fact a new bi-generic hybrid, x Beschfreda ‘Purple Passion’ (beschorneria x manfreda).

Since we don’t know which species of beschorneria was used, we are uncertain about potential winter hardiness, but with plants in the ground now, all we need to do is wait for cold weather. Below is a photo of the plant in the garden this week. If you happen to know more of the backstory of this fascinating plant, please let us know.

Similar Spider Fern

We’ve been growing the Chinese Arachnioides simulans, the similar spider fern, for over a decade, in which time, it’s proven a superb performer. Here’s a photo from the gardens this week. Finally, this spring, we got around to sowing spore, in the hope we can make this available soon though Plant Delights Nursery…fingers crossed for next year.

My Summer Vacation trip to Lambou Field, Florida

Back in the early 2000s, I printed out every exchange from the International Bulb Society email list that discussed the bulb genus, hymenocallis (spider lilies). Most conversations originated with Victor Lambou, who was obviously an authority on the genus. It’s now been years since the Bulb Society went defunct and I had lost track of Vic and his work. I, and others assumed that Victor had passed away and his plant collection had vanished, as is usually the case with keen specialty plant collectors, whose families don’t share the same passion or have an appreciation of the importance of their collections.

I was on the road visiting nurseries in late March, when I received a phone call that could best be described as horticulturally shocking. A friend from the American Iris Society was calling to share that they had been contacted to gauge their interest in the iris collection of a Florida plantsman, Victor Lambou, who was in declining health. “Had I ever heard of Vic”, they asked. That call set in motion a series of events that would culminate in a massive plant rescue this September.

Victor Lambou, 92, of Tallahassee, Florida (no relation to Curly Lambeau of the better-known Lambeau Field) is a well-known, retired Environmental Aquatic Biologist, who had a career with the EPA as a fish specialist. In his latter years, Victor became interested in native aquatic plants, primarily in the genus Iris and Hymenocallis. His career travels through swamps and bogs allowed him to locate and rescue several rare and significant plant species, as well as numerous variants within those species. His work in cultivating and later breeding these plants resulted in a botanically significant world class collection that is quite worthy of preservation.

Due to his advanced age, Victor had been unable to maintain his collection since 2017, and is now living in an assisted living facility. In August, after five months of working through the court system, the Florida Court system, with the approval of the trustee and Victor, granted us ownership of his entire plant collection.

The next step was a one-day scouting trip in late August to access what actually remained, the condition of the plants, and if a rescue was feasible. Not only were the plants still in great shape, but the project was much larger than I could possibly have imagined. The highlight, of course, was a chance to finally meet Victor in person and chat about his collection.

Victor’s plant collection consisted of approximately 2000 tubs of plants. Our visual rough estimate put the plant count to be between 30-40,000. Because of the aquatic nature of Victor’s plant collection, all plants were all grown in sealed-bottom tubs of mud, each weighing 60-100 lbs. Plants were meticulously arranged by block, row, and then position within the row. Victor’s last plant inventory in 2017, showed 617 unique plant taxa (taxa = genetically distinct individual). Were it not for Victor’s containerized system of growing plants aquatically, it’s doubtful that anything would have survived four years of neglect.

Lambou field plant collection
Lambou Field Plant Collections
Tubs of hymenocallis

Victor’s list included 407 taxa of hymenocallis, 138 taxa of iris, and 44 taxa of crinum, and a few assorted other plant genera.  To put Victor’s hymenocallis collection in perspective, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), which maintains the world’s only global database of living plant collections in botanic gardens, only lists 118 hymenocallis taxa preserved in collections worldwide.  In other words, Victor had almost 3.4 times the worlds entire collection of hymenocallis is his backyard.

The Rescue

My initial assessment was followed by a full-fledged rescue in early September. JLBG staff members Amanda Wilkins (garden curator), and Zac Hill (plant records/taxonomist), and JC Raulston Arboretum director, Mark Weathington joined me for the 9 hour drive to Tallahassee, stopping briefly to pick up a 15′ U-Haul once we arrived in Florida.

We also extended invitations to 25 gardens/plant collectors. Of that group, 10 were able to participate. The botanical gardens/staff who participated and will be housing plants from Victor’s collections include:

Hayes Jackson   Longleaf Botanical Garden, AL

Pat Lynch              Bok Tower Gardens, FL

Mark Weathington          JC Raulston Arboretum, NC

Andy Cabe           Riverbanks Botanical Garden, SC

Todd Lasseigne Bellingrath Gardens, AL

Once we began the site rescue, we discovered that approximately 10% of the collections were no longer alive, leaving approximately 555 living taxa. Our rescue efforts were not focused on named cultivars of plant species that were already established in commerce (approximately 93 taxa), or un-identified taxa (approximately 24 taxa), or open pollinated seedlings (approximately 10 taxa). Consequently, rescue efforts were aimed at the 428 most important taxa.

Lambou field growing area

None of the tubs were labeled, but thankfully Victor had extensive bed maps, which the trustee made available. Without these, the plant collection would be botanically worthless. Two full days were spent extracting plants from the muddy tubs. We tried an array of extraction methods, but finally found it best to employ the back-breaking task of upturning each container and sift through the muck to extract the plants.

Small quantities of some varieties were labeled and stored in Ziploc bags, while larger quantities were stored in community pots.

Not only were the plants interesting, but Victor also had one of the larger collections of Lubber grasshoppers that I’ve ever encountered. These voracious critters seem to love the plants as much as we did. Of course, these protein filled insects reduced the need for frequent snack breaks. I’d always heard the slogan that Virginia is For Lovers, but little did I know that Florida is for Lubbers.

Eastern Lubber grasshopper.

Lambou field, plant extraction area

The rescue became slower and more challenging, when unbeknownst to us, Tropical Storm Mindy had formed virtually on top of us, during our second day of rescue. Consequently, there wasn’t a dry eye…or anything else in the place when we finished and loaded the U-Haul for the return trip.

Remaining tubs after extraction
Just pure muck.
Rescued plants ready to load for the return trip
A drenched Mark Weathington loading the last few items on the U-Haul.

Rescue team/plant relocations

The next phase of the rescue operation is scheduled for Sept 20, 2021. This will involve the Louisiana Iris Society Historical Preservation Group. This subgroup of the American Iris Society has species conservation stewards who will each house a replicated collection of Victor’s iris.  Of the 138 Iris taxa in Victor’s collection, there are 24 different taxa of the southeast native Iris hexagona. Currently, the Iris Preservation Network only has 6 taxa, so these are extremely valuable for conservation purposes. Juniper Level Botanic Garden also has a duplicate collection of Victor’s iris.

Summary

When the final phase of the rescue is complete, Victor’s plants will have been distributed to 9 botanical gardens and 5 private collectors gardens.  We have instructed these gardens to share with other gardens in appropriate climatic zones, so we feel confident that Victor’s collections will continue to be shared and conserved even more widely.

JLBG spent 392 labor hours on the rescue, including 76 hours on site at Victor’s garden. Our team from Juniper Level Botanic Garden was able to rescue 291 taxa. Taxa that were too tender to live outdoors in our Zone 7b, were sent to gardens in warmer climates. The total number of plants rescued and now housed at JLBG is 5000 plants. This does not include the additional collections which are housed at our sister institution, the JC Raulston Arboretum.

We were able to rescue 19 hymenocallis that Victor has selected and named, along with 3 of his named/selected Iris. Victor’s collection consisted of over 123 of his hymenocallis hybrids which are still in need of evaluation. These were rescued and have been planted in our research area here at JLBG. Any of these that prove to be distinct and exceptional will be propagated and introduced to the horticultural world, via our nursery division, Plant Delights Nursery.

Hymenocallis palmeri x rotata hybrid (V. Lambou)

Before the Lambou rescue, JLBG already grew 42 taxa of hymenocallis, which number has now swelled to 263, making it almost certainly the most extensive collection of hymenocallis taxa in the world.

We hope that this will be a model for the future for Botanical Gardens to collaborate to preserve these vitally important ex-situ private plant collections.

Lambou plant collection at JLBG

It’s a grass, don’t panic…umm

Late summer and fall are a great time to enjoy the plumes of our US native ornamental grass, Panicum virgatum. Here are two photos from the garden this week. The first is one of my favorites, the giant Panicum ‘Cloud 9’…an introduction from Maryland’s defunct Bluemount Nursery. Below this is a new dwarf, blue-foliage introduction for 2022, from Walters Gardens, Panicum ‘Niagara Falls’. It has proven exceptional in our trials and will appear in the January Plant Delights Nursery catalog.

Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud 9’
Panicum virgatum ‘Niagara Falls’

Six Shooter

We have long enjoyed the winter-flowering, evergreen Clematis armandii, but had no idea the variability that existed until we acquired this new form from China in 2012. Unlike the more commonly known Clematis armandii var. armandii, which has 4 petals per flower, the subspecies hefengensis from Southwest Hubei Province in China has six petals. We have given this exceptional clone the cultivar name Clematis ‘Six Shooter’. We haven’t started propagating this yet, but are thinking about doing so. Would anyone be interested?

Clematis armandii var. hefengensis ‘Six Shooter’

Snowshoe Lake is very white today

Epimedium sempervirens ‘Snowshoe Lake’ is looking particularly lovely today. We haven’t offered this before, so, do you like it enough that we should propagate a few from the garden?

Epimedium sempervirens ‘Snowshoe Lake’

Asarum – Wild Gingers

Plants in the genus asarum are small but exquisite, deer-resistant woodland perennials that thrive in moist but well-drained conditions with light shade. Many asarum species are evergreen and make a great ground cover in the woodland garden. Here are some images of asarum in the garden this morning.

Asarum are one of our specialty collections at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, with 86 species and 529 unique clones. Join Tony in the gardens during this Gardening Unplugged video garden chat about wild gingers.

The flower color of asarums are usually burgundy or purple, but we are always on the look out for variants. Towards the end of the video Tony shows a yellow flowered form, Asarum ichangense ‘Ichang Lemon’, which we hope to have available for 2021. We do have another yellow flowered form we are offering for the first time this year, Asarum ‘Tama Rasya’.

Asarum ‘Tama Rasya’

Plantcestry.org

For 2020, we’ve added over 90+ new plants in the catalog, with more than 50 being Plant Delights Nursery exclusives, thanks to the incredible work of our staff who scour the world, in addition to our own selecting and breeding, to bring you these amazing new plants. View the digital version here!

As we allude to on the cover, keeping up with the plant name change carousel is a feat itself. Continual advances in DNA are revealing relationships we never dreamed possible. When a name change is supported by good research and conclusions, we include both names for several years, since the purpose of nomenclature is about facilitating communications. We apologize for what often seems like confusing name changing, but really, we have more nomenclatural clarity now than ever.

Join the flocks and bedazzled.

Here are a couple of favorites from our trials that will be included in our new catalog to be launched January 1. These are the Bedazzled series of Phlox, created by plantsman Hans Hansen, using our native Phlox bifida. Last year, these started flowering for us in late January and continued into April. In the ground, our clumps are only 4″ tall and 2′ wide. These are much more dense that typical Phlox bifida, and much more compact than Phlox subulata. Even before flowering, the evergreen foliage is pristine all winter. The first is ‘Bedazzled Lavender’ and the second is ‘Bedazzled Pink’.