Flame Thrower

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!

Casting About

Over the last few years, we’ve been growing more and more aspidistra (cast iron plants) from seed in the garden. Here are a few of our more interesting seedlings. The first is from our search for a narrow-leaf selection of the common Aspidistra elatior, which has been christened A. ‘Thin Man’. The second is a streaked and spotted form that we named A. ‘Zodiac’. The third is a yet un-named seedling from Aspidistra ‘Snow Cap’. Surprisingly, the white leaf tip trait comes consistently true from seed.

Aspidistra elatior ‘Thin Man;
Aspidistra elatior ‘Zodiac’
Aspidistra elatior JLBG-035

Sibling rivalry

As a plant breeder, one of the cool things we get to do is observe the diversity that arises from a single cross. In some cases, the diversity shows up in the first generation (F1), while in other cases, the first set of offspring need to have sex with each other for the diversity in the offspring to reveal itself (Mendelian genetics). Fortunately, with agaves, we can see quite a bit of diversity in the F1 populations.

Below is a cross we call Agave x amourifolia, which is our cross of Agave ovatifolia, pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox of Hort.), and lophantha. Here are three of our selected seedlings from that cross.

Plant #1 below is showing the large size of Agave x pseudoferox and the color of Agave ovatifolia (blue), with little visible influence of the narrow leaf, yellow-centered Agave lophantha.

Agave x amourifolia

Plant #2 below show more color influence from Agave x pseudoferox, but with the compact form influence of Agave ovatifolia.

Agave x amourifolia

Plant #3 below shows equal parts Agave x pseudoferox and ovatifolia, but also, what appears some leaf narrowing we would expect from Agave lophantha.

Agave x amourifolia

Below is Agave x flexiferox, created from a cross of the small Agave flexispina x the giant pseudoferox (salmiana var. ferox (Hort.). Plant #1 shows the small size of Agave flexispina, with the greenish coloration of Agave x pseudoferox.

Agave x flexiferox

Below, Agave x flexiferox ‘Megalodon’ shows the larger size and overall coloration from Agave x pseudoferox, with some added blue tones from Agave flexispina.

Agave x flexiferox ‘Megalodon’

Below is Agave x victoferox, a cross of Agave victoriae-reginae x pseudoferox. Plant #1 below shows the form and size of Agave victoriae-reginae with the color of Agave x psedoferox.

Agave x victorferox

Hybrid #2 below shows the teeth from Agave x psedoferox (victoriae-reginae has no teeth), and a size intermediate between the two parents.

Agave x victorferox 2

Hybrid #3 below shows a larger size and more teeth due to more genes from Agave x pseudoferox. The teeth are much smaller because of the Agave victoriae-reginae genes. The splendid compact form also comes from the Agave x victoriae-reginae parent. This cross almost resembles the Northern Mexican Agave montana.

Agave x victorferox 3

We hope this gives you a small peek into the world of plant breeding and the subsequent evaluation and selection process.

America Held Hosta

There’s a reason hostas are the #1 perennial in the US. The incredible diversity of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors are one, combined with the array of climates in which they thrive. It’s long been rumored that hostas don’t grow well here in Zone 7b, but that simply isn’t the case if you prepare your soil properly (lots of compost) and allow for plenty of summer moisture.

Below are a few hosta cultivars that are looking particularly nice this week at JLBG. Of course, the proverbial deer-in-the-room is that hosta make quite the tasty buffet for both humans and wood rats. Deer fences and organic sprays all work, but the breakthrough will come when CRISPR technology is used to implant the Capsaicin (pepper) gene in hostas, rendering them too hot for most deer.

Here are a few of our favorites this week. Hosta ‘California Gold Rush’ has shown incredible vigor.

Hosta ‘California Gold Rush’

Love the over-the-top waviness of Hosta ‘Wheee!’

Hosta ‘Wheee!’

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’ has it all…vigor, size, ruffles, a nice flower show, and great leaf coloration. Did I mentioned that it’s also very sun tolerant if the soil is moist?

Hosta ‘One Last Dance’

Hosta ‘Coast to Coast’ is also very sun tolerant with amazingly corrugated leaves and great vigor on a fairly large clump.


Hosta ‘Coast to Coast’

Hosta ‘Do Wap’ is one of our yet to be introduced hybrids from our work to create blue hostas that hold the color well into the summer.

Hosta ‘Do Wap’

Hosta ‘Pie ala Mode’ didn’t get a lot of fanfare when it was introduced, but this has been exceptional in our gardens at JLBG. Hope these entice you to explore this amazing genus.

Hosta ‘Pie ala Mode’

When is a May Apple no longer a May Apple?

Back in 2009, the since deceased Delaware Valley plantsman, Jim McClements, shared a may apple hybrid he’d created by crossing the US native Podophyllum peltatum with the Chinese native Podophyllum pleianthum. The offspring was named Podophyllum x inexpectum ‘Ruby Ruth’ (after his second wife). Our plant spent years in a much too dry a garden location until we relocated it to a bog setting alongside pitcher plants. Finally this year, we got our first flowers…a lovely bright red. Now the dilemma is that some Chinese researchers consider their may apple not to be a podophllum at all, but instead a sister genus, Dysosma. If we buy into that theory, then our plant becomes a bigeneric hybrid that will need a new nothogeneric name, either x Dysophyllum or x Podososma. After growing most of the growable species, I’m having a hard time supporting the idea of two separate genera, but we’ll see.

Redneck Lupines on Parade

Our baptisia introductions are looking absolutely fabulous this week. Here are a few in case you missed the first weekend of our open house. Baptisia ‘Aspriing’ (top) with its long spikes of lavender blue flowers, followed by the incredibly dense flowering Baptisia ‘Blonde Bombshell’. Next is our Baptisia ‘Cherry Pie’, which brings a new color to the genus, and ending with Baptisia minor ‘Blue Bonnet’ with it’s enormous blue flowers. Baptisia are a North American genus of long-lived perennials that can grow equally as well with cactus or as a marginal aquatic…as long as they have full sun.

Baptisia ‘Aspiring’
Baptisia ‘Blonde Bombshell’
Baptisia ‘Cherry Pie’
Baptisia minor ‘Blue Bonnet’

Catch the Flame

Cercis ‘Flame Thrower’ – from the breeding work of Dennis Werner

You don’t want to miss the first annual Southeastern Plant Symposium, Friday, June 7 and Saturday, June 8.

Hosted by the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden, this symposium caters to plant nerds from across the region and beyond. We are bringing in some of the best of the best to talk about cutting edge horticulture. We have plant explorers, plant breeders, nurserymen, and other experts for a two-day, plantaholic binge. This will also be a great opportunity to get your hands on some really rare, new, and very choice plants.