Calling all Plant Nerds

Just over a month remains before the 2022 Southeastern Plant Symposium kicks off in Raleigh at the Sheraton Hotel, downtown. This joint venture between JLBG/Plant Delights and the JC Raulston Arboretum brings together the top horticultural speakers from around the world to regale attendees with tales of their favorite new plants. Each symposium rotates a focus on either on woody plants, perennials, or geophytes. The 2022 symposium is perennials focused.

The dates are Friday, June 10 and Saturday June 11. Both the JC Raulston Arboretum and Juniper Level Botanic Garden/Plant Delights will be open for visitors on the Thursday prior and the Sunday morning after the symposium.

A few of the amazing speakers include:

Leftherios Dariotis – If you’re a sports fan, you’ve heard the nickname “Greek Freak” applied to NBA star, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Well, Leftherios (aka: Liberto Dario) is to horticulture, what Giannis is to basketball…a true superstar. Leftherios will travel from his home in Greece to dazzle you with an array of little-known plants that thrive in hot, dry climates.

Eleftherios Dariotis

Dan Hinkley, founder of Heronswood and Windcliff, plant explorer extraordinaire, and recipient of the world’s top horticultural honors, will join us to share his latest botanical adventures and plants that have potential for our hot, humid climate. Dan bring a new perspective from having experienced 117 degrees F. in his Washington garden in 2021.

Dan Hinkley

Patrick McMillan is a NC native, who spent two decades as a professor at Clemson. While there, he hosted the Emmy Award winning PBS show, Expeditions with Patrick McMillan, as well as directing the SC Botanical Garden. After a 1.5 year stint as Director of Heronswood, he has returned to his roots in NC, and joined the staff of JLBG. Patrick is widely recognized for his incredible botanical knowledge. His new book, Wildflowers of South Carolina will hit bookshelves soon.

Patrick McMillan

Peter Zale is the Associate Director of Conservation, Plant Breeding and Collections at Pennsylvannia’s Longwood Gardens. Peter specializes in a number of plant groups that include hardy orchids and phlox. You can’t help but be amazed at Peter’s conservation and breeding work as well as his extensive knowledge of the natural world.

Peter Zale

Plantsman Adam Black is known worldwide for his botanical exploits, primarily focused on the state of Texas. Adam has spent years traversing every corner of Texas, both re-discovering long lost plants and finding new ones. Adam’s horticultural background gives him a unique take on which Texas native plants will have great garden value for gardeners in the southeast. Adam has recently moved to NC to take a job as an Assistant Curator at the Bartlett Arboretum. We guarantee you’ll meet more new plants than you ever thought possible.

Adam Black (l)

Kelly Norris is a true renaissance horticulturist. Growing up in a Midwest iris nursery propelled Kelly into the public horticultural arena. After a stint beefing up the collections at the Des Moines Botanic Garden, Kelly now splits his time between landscape design, writing, and extolling the virtues of new plants on QVC. Kelly is one of the new wave of great thinkers in our industry who understands the need for the fields of botany and horticulture to collaborate.

Kelly Norris

On Saturday, the pace picks up even more, with shorter, but intensively focused talks. The list of Saturday presenters include Mark Weathington, Director of the JC Raulston Arboretum will speak on his favorite new perennials. Ian Caton, founder of Wood Thrush Natives in Virginia will speak on Underused and Little-known Appalachian Natives. Hayes Jackson, Alabama Extension Agent and Director of The Longleaf Botanical Garden in Alabama will speak on Creating a Tropical Garden Feel in a Temperate Climate.

We are pleased to welcome Richard Hawke, Manager of the Perennial Trials at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Richard’s detailed cultivar evaluations are prized by gardeners throughout the country. Shannon Currey, Marketing Manager for Hoffman’s Nursery, will share her passion for sedges, while Adrienne Roethling, Director of the Paul Ciener Botanical Garden will discuss her favorite vines. Yours’ truly, Tony Avent, will share more than you ever thought possible about the genus Baptisia.

Did I mention the symposium includes the now world-famous rare plant auction, which has garnered International attention? The auction and symposium will be available both on-line and remote.

We are pleased to welcome Proven Winners ColorChoice Flowering Shrubs as a presenting sponsor for 2022. Additionally, Ball Seed is offering 10 student scholarships to attend the symposium. You can find out more about these and apply here.

Mark and I truly hope you will join us for this incredible perennials-focused symposium, back in person for the first time in three years. The Symposium is an important fundraiser for both the JC Raulston Arboretum as well as the Juniper Level Botanic Garden Endowment. Here is the link to register for the Symposium. We’ll see you in June!

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

Rare Plant Auction/Symposium

We’re just back from a four-day plant roundup of donations (from some of the regions top plantsmen/women) to the Southeastern Plant Symposium rare plant auction this weekend. So far, we have over 350 plants, many of which aren’t available anywhere else in the world. The Symposium, which is a fundraising event for the JC Raulston Arboretum and the JLBG Endowment @ NC State, is virtual this year, and begins Saturday morning, June 12. The on-line auction has already begun, and runs through Saturday afternoon. If you’d like to check out the auction treasures, you can do so here. Plants which are 1 gallon size and smaller may be shipped, but large sizes are only available to be picked up. You do not need to sign up for the Symposium to participate in the auction, but we’d encourage you to join us for some truly amazing speakers. You can register for the talks here.