Aroid Passion – Purple Dragon

Sometimes you see a plant, or a photo of a plant, that raises your horticultural lust to somewhat unhealthy levels. At this point in life, that happens far less than it used to, but one plant that remained on my lust list for over a decade was the aroid, Pinellia ‘Purple Dragon’.

For those who aren’t familiar with pinellia, they are an Asian genus of only 9 species of hardy woodland aroids, related to Arisaema (Jack-in-the-Pulpit). I will admit to have eliminated most pinellias from the garden because they grow too well, and spread too prolifically.

The only Pinellia species we retained in the garden are the non-weedy Pinellia cordata and Pinellia peltata, which don’t move outside of a small area. Pinellia hybrids have also always intrigued us. The first hybrid to be named was from the former We-Du Nursery, Pinellia ‘Polly Spout’ (P. pedatisecta x tripartita), and is sterile unless it is grown near one of it’s weedy parent species. We have grown this in the garden since 2004, and it remains a solitary clump, producing no seed.

When we heard of a second hybrid (P. cordata x tripartita), the search was on. Pinellia x cortita ‘Purple Dragon’ showed up at NY’s Glover Perennials, which unfortunately doesn’t ship. We finally tracked down a plant in 2019, and have subsequently fast-tracked it in the production process, so we could share this amazing gem that excited us so much. As we expected, none of our plants have ever produced a single seed.

The purple undersides of the foliage are visible, along with the green hooded flower.
Pinellia x cortita ‘Purple Dragon’

The only problem with the plant is the cultivar name Purple Dragon, which has been used for years as the common name for the purple-spathed form of the weedy Pinellia tripartita, which sadly many folks will probably confuse with this new sterile hybrid.

Pinellia ‘Purple Dragon’ is effectively an everblooming arisaema, with flowers being produced non-stop from spring into fall. The new foliage emerges dark purple and opens olive green on the top and purple underneath. This has proven to be an exceptional plant in our garden. Our trial plant in half day sun has thrived as well as our specimens in more shade. If you like Jack-in-the-Pulpits, we hope you enjoy this new treasure as much as we do.

Pinellia x cortita 'Purple Dragon' in the woodland garden
Pinellia x cortita ‘Purple Dragon’

Up and at ’em in Winter

Several plants emerge in the fall/winter season…some native, and others from far away Mediterranean climates. One of the most unusual plants we grow is the pig’s butt arum, Helicodiceros muscivorus. Depending on the location of the original population on one of the Mediterranean islands, it can emerge in our climate as late as February or as early as December. Here is a photo of our plant of an Alan Galloway collection from Majorca, which is the earliest to emerge in our garden. Let’s hope it’s ready for our upcoming cold snap. Even if this never flowered, we marvel at the glaucous, three-dimensional Escher-esque foliage.

Virginia is for Plant Lovers

I’m just back from a recent plant trip to coastal Virginia and wanted to share some trip highlights and photos. Mark Weathington of the JC Raulston Arboretum and I headed north for a quick 2 day jaunt to the Norfolk area of Virginia.

Our first stop was the garden of long time garden friend, Pam Harper. For decades, Pam was probably the most prolific and knowledgeable garden writer in the country, in addition to having what was once the largest horticultural slide library.

At 92, and despite suffering from debilitating eyesight issues, Pam still gardens, including planting and pushing carts of mulch around the garden. It was such a joy to once again walk her amazing garden, listening to the both the historical details and performance of each plant we passed.

Pam was donating the remainder (20,000) of her slide collection, which previously numbered over 100,000 images, to the JC Raulston Arboretum. There, they will be digitized for public availability.

Pam Harper, prolific garden writer
Pam Harper in her home office

Her 45 year-old Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ was the largest either of us had ever seen.

A 45 year-old specimen of Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide' in the home garden of garden writer, Pam Harper.
Camellia ‘Yuletide’

We both also fell in love with Camellia x vernalis ‘Meiko Tanaka’…a plant we’d never encountered in flower, but seems to have good commercial availability.

Camellia x vernalis 'Meiko Tanaka' in flower
Camellia x vernalis ‘Meiko Tanaka’

The gold barked Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’ was also showing off its stunning winter color.

Acer palmatum 'Bihou' showing off its winter color.
Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’

Pam’s garden has always yielded some of the most amazing Arum italicum seedlings I’ve ever seen. We are already growing two of her selections in hopes of future introduction, but we found a few more that we couldn’t resist.

Arum italicum seedlings
Arum italicum seedling

Our next stop was the Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum at the Hampton Roads Experiment Station. It had been many years since either of us had visited.

Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum
Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum

What we found was an amazing plant collection that has been mostly abandoned, except for some minimal mowing maintenance. In most cases the labeling was somewhat intact, although some required Easter egg-like hunts, and others were simply nowhere to be found.

A mostly abandoned plant collection at Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum

The late Virginia Tech researcher, Bonnie Appleton had worked to get homeowners to plant shorter maturing trees under power lines. To make her demonstration more authentic, she had faux power lines installed, which you can make out among the branches. It was interesting to see that virtually all of the plants she promoted as dwarf, had all grown well into the power lines. Mark recalled conversations with her decades earlier explaining that her choices weren’t really very sound.

Dwarf is a relative term...
Tree – Power line demonstration at Virginia Tech Tidewater Arboretum

There were a number of amazing older specimens including one of the largest Quercus polymorpha (Mexican Oak) that we’d ever seen in cultivation. This 75′ tall specimen dated to 1989, was originally gifted to them by the late JC Raulston, from a Yucca Do Nursery wild collection.

A large specimen of Quercus polymorpha (Mexican Oak)
Quercus polymorpha

The old specimens of Ilex buergeri were absolutely stunning. This is a beautifully-textured, spineless broadleaf evergreen that’s virtually unknown in the commercial trade.

Ilex buergeri
Ilex buergeri

Another spineless holly, Ilex pedunculosa (long-stalk holly), is known for being difficult to grow in our hot, humid climate. Their specimen, however, looked absolutely superb.

A superb example of Ilex pedunculosa
Ilex pedunculosa
Red berries of Ilex pedunculosa
Ilex pedunculosa

We caught Fatsia japonica in full flower…always a great nectar source for honeybees in the winter months.

Fatsia japonica, a great source of nectar for bees
Fatsia japonica

A highlight for me was catching the amazing stinkhorn fungus, Clathrus columnatus in full splendor…both visually and odoriferously.

Clathrus columnatus, the stinkhorn fungus
Clathrus columnatus

Leaving the Hampton Roads station, we headed to the Norfolk Botanical Garden, where Mark worked before he came to the JCRA. Much of their efforts in the fall and winter are put toward their massive winter lights festival.

Christmas Lights at Norfolk Botanical Garden
Christmas Lights at Norfolk Botanical Garden

Norfolk Botanical Garden is home to an extensive and renown camellia collection, so we spent a good bit of time roaming the woodland garden where they grow. We were particularly interested in their Camellia species collection, several of which had questionable labeling. Here is one that was correct, Camellia gaudichaudii.

Camellia gaudichaudii in bloom
Camellia gaudichaudii

We spent a good bit of time studying a holly, labeled Ilex purpurea (syn. chinensis). The plant was amazing, but looks nothing like that species. Hopefully, a holly expert will be able to help us identify it from our photos.

 Ilex purpurea, not really
Ilex purpurea – not
These are berries but not from Ilex purpurea
Ilex purpurea – not

This was my first time seeing the self-fertile idesia, Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’. I can’t imagine why this amazing, easy-to-grow plant isn’t more widely planted. I can think of few trees with more winter interest.

Idesia polycarpa 'Kentucky Fry'
Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’
Idesia polycarpa 'Kentucky Fry'
Idesia polycarpa ‘Kentucky Fry’

The shrub/small tree that blew us away from several hundred feet was a specimen of Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’. We’ve grown Arbutus unedo ‘Compacta’ for decades at JLBG, but have never seen anything as stunning as this clone.

Arbutus unedo 'Oktoberfest'
Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’
Arbutus unedo 'Oktoberfest'
Arbutus unedo ‘Oktoberfest’

While we’re talking about plants with red fruit, I was fascinated with their specimen of Cotoneaster lacteus. I had mistakenly assumed that most cotoneasters fail in our hot, humid summers, but obviously, I’ve never tried this species, which is typically rated as hardy only to Zone 8a. I think we need to trial this at JLBG.

Cotoneaster lacteus
Cotoneaster lacteus

Finally, I was particularly fascinated with a Quercus nigra (water oak), that formerly had a planter built around it’s base. As you can imagine, the tree roots made short work of the planter, but once the planter boards were removed, the resulting tree root sculpture is simply exquisite.

Quercus nigra (water oak) roots where planter was removed.
Quercus nigra former planter

I hope you’ve enjoyed the highlights of our recent trip.

Arum match.com

We are always interested in checking out the offspring, when plants in the garden have unexpected romantic rendezvous with their distant cousins…often when we least expect it. We have found arums tend to be quite promiscuous in the garden. While most offspring go to the great compost pile in the sky, a few are worthy of adoption and naming.

Below is our selection of a cross of Arum dioscorides x Arum italicum that we named Arum ‘Love Child’. While the foliage resembles typical Arum italicum, the spring-borne flowers show great influence of Arum dioscorides with the purple spotting inside the spathe. It’s our hope that Plant Delights will have a first crop of this new hybrid to share in the 2023 catalog.

Arum x diotalicum 'Love Child'
Arum x diotalicum ‘Love Child’
Arum x diotalicum 'Love Child'
Arum x diotalicum ‘Love Child’

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’

Picking up Shattered Glass

We’ve long been fascinated by Amorphophallus konjac ‘Shattered Glass’, an unstable variegated cultivar, developed by plantsman Michael Marcotrigiano. Some years, the foliage emerges solid green, other years with a small bit of sectoral variegation, and this year with a fully variegated leaf.

Image of Amorphophallus konjac 'Shattered Glass'
Amorphophallus konjac ‘Shattered Glass’

Pinto – A Subcompact Love Lily

One of our favorite love lilies in our 2003 introduction, Amorphophallus konjac ‘Pinto’. This amazing dwarf never has foliage that exceeds 16″ in height. Unfortunately, the ridiculously slow growth rate has kept us from offering it again since, but perhaps one day. Here is our parent plant in the garden this week. Even if you don’t have a home garden, this form is superb in a container. We had a large crop of dwarfs from seed two years ago, and are looking for more unique new compact selections.

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’

African Gold and Picasso

Below are two variations on a theme…calla lilies in the garden. Here is Zone 7b, both are reliably winter hardy in the ground.

The striped-leaf selection of the winter-blooming South African native, Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘African Gold’ has looked fabulous all spring, where we have it planted in a seep, which gets full sun for 3-4 hours in the morning.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’ is a hybrid, created using several of the summer-flowering South African native calla lily species. Here it is in our garden in mid-June, where it gets 4-6 hours of sun daily, and the soil stays reasonably moist.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’

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

Arum world

Arum are a fascinating genus of hardy aroids, known by most gardeners from a single southern European species, Arum italicum. The most popular cultivar of Arum italicum is Arum ‘Marmoratum’. The key to enjoying arums is to not let the seed drop everywhere, since you can get easily get over-arumed. Flowering season is now, followed by seed season. Each seedling has a different pattern from the original, so it’s a personal preference whether to remove seed or not.

Arum italicum ‘Marmoratum’

Arum apulum is a little-know species that is rarely seen in cultivation, native only to a small region of Southern Italy. Our flowering plants in the garden now are from a wild collection made by a plant explorer friend.

Arum apulum

Below is an interesting hybrid between Arum italicum (central to southern continental Europe) and Arum dioscorides (Mediterranean). Arum italicum has patterned leaves, but solid green flowers. Arum dioscoridis has solid green leaves and spotted flowers. The hybrid, Arum ‘Chui’ is an introduction from UK plantsman John Grimshaw. We added the notospecific (hybrid) name Arum x diotalicum. These hybrids have both spotted/speckled leaves and flowers.

Arum x diotalicum