Looking great in the summer garden is the stunning cast iron plant, Aspidistra elatior ‘Asahi’. This amazing woodland evergreen is a plant we can’t imagine gardening without. The leaf patterning is brightest as the new leaves emerge in June/July. Grown as a house plant, it needs to get some size before you will see the leaf patterns in containers. The Japanese name, ‘Asahi’ translates to “morning light”. Hardiness is Zone 7a-10b.
Looking great in the garden despite our high temperatures is the Siberian native, Microbiota decussata. While the species typically struggles in our climate, the cultivar ‘Prides’ has been outstanding. Microbiota is essentially a groundcover juniper replacement for shade. For us, it matures with a 4′ wide spread, after 10 years. We have found that it does best in areas that stay slightly on the dry side, and in soils that are well-drained. There really isn’t another evergreen shrub that gives you the same texture in the woodland garden.
We have long admired the clumping Japanese hakone grass, Hakonechloa macra, but struggled to make them happy in our heat and humidity. We could get them to barely survive, but never look as lovely as they do in cooler climates.
Unfortunately, there are very few plants with the texture, form, and shade tolerance of hakone grass, so choosing a good substitute isn’t really an option. We continued to try each newly introduced cultivar, but none thrived, until the arrival of Hakonechloa macra ‘SunFlare’. We first acquired this selection in 2017, and have been over the moon thrilled with its performance since that time. The photo below was taken this spring of our oldest six-year-old clump. Hardiness is Zone 5a-7b.
This spring, we flowered the highly confused NC native wild ginger, mistakenly known as Asarum memmingeri in the garden. In reality, it’s never been given a proper name, so we refer to it as Asarum sp. nov. Allegheny Wild Ginger. Below, Patrick explains how this ginger was dropped into a botanical abyss, and what needs to be done to return it to proper recognition, and to correct a cascade of past taxonomic errors. -ta
When I was a boy the tiny-flowered evergreen wild gingers that grew all over our land in Alleghany County, North Carolina seemed like they must be a common species, and should have a name. As a boy of 12, however, I had a hard time placing a name on them since they didn’t seem to fit the photographs in popular wildflower books or match the plants that my grandmother’s flora called Hexastylis virgnica (now Asarum virginicum).
I became obsessed with heartleafs as a child and the curiosity remains strong. When I entered college I was lucky enough to take Dr. Peet’s Ecological Plant Geography class at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Our class, which was all graduate students and me (as a sophomore), was expected to do a project detailing and explaining the range of a particular genus or family of plants. I chose the smooth-leaved evergreen Asarum, then known then as Hexastylis.
I spent the spring semester travelling to every corner of the American South seeking species I didn’t know and trying to fill in the vacant counties in the range maps of those species that I did know. I took countless measurements of calyces and made copious notes on habitat. I was shocked when I travelled to southeastern Virginia to visit the area where Asarum virginicum was likely first collected. These true Asarum virginicum plants were nothing like the “A. virginicum” I was so used to seeing in my boyhood home.
A quick trip to the Earl Core Herbarium at West Virginia University, and later to the Smithsonian, brought to light a serious problem with what botanical taxonomists currently refer to as Asarum virginicum and an even larger problem with what we call Asarum (Hexastylis) rhombiformis and Asarum (Hexastylis) memmingeri.
It seemed as if the Alleghany County plants I had called Asarum virginicum as a child had been mistakenly identified by WVU taxonomist Earl Core as Asarum memmingeri. Complicating this further was that the probable original type specimen for A. memmingeri would later be published under a new name, H. rhombiformis!
To make sense of the cascade of errors, we need to go back further in time. This story begins in 1897 with W.W. Ashe’s publication of The glabrous-leaved species of Asarum of the southern United States in the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society. Here, Ashe describes for the first time Memminger’s Heartleaf (A. memmingeri). From the description it is obvious that he is describing a plant with a very small flower with a very narrow opening (7 mm wide or less).
Error #1 occurred when Ashe described the original type locality as Mitchell County, based on a collection by E.R. Memminger. When I was looking for a type specimen, the best option I could find was a specimen collected (in duplicate) by E.R. Memminger himself that he says in his own handwriting represents the type location. During Ashe’s time, it was not required to designate a type specimen, but the problem was that Ashe’s citation of Memminger’s specimen was actually from Henderson County (“Tranquility”, Flat Rock, NC), not Mitchell County.
Type specimen of Asarum memmingeri collected by E.R. Memminger
Error #2 occurred as we fast-forward to 1987, ninety years after Ashe published his work, when L.L. Gaddy described a new species of Hexastylis that occurs in Southwestern NC and Northwestern SC as H. rhombiformis (Asarum rhombiformis (combination not yet made). In this description he cites E.R. Memminger’s specimen from Henderson County, which, is actually the type specimen of Asarum memmingeri as representing his new species H. rhombiformis. Consequently, the name H. rhombiformis is invalid and this plant should be known as A. memmingeri.
Error #3 occurred when J.K. Small of the New York Botanical Garden, Earl Core of West Virginia University and others annotated (attributed) numerous Asarum collections from West Virginia, Virginia, and NC, of an un-named species that they mistakenly identified as A. memmingeri. Blomquist and all modern authors have since combined these tiny-flowered plants with small openings to the calyx tube within a “catch-all” concept of A. virginicum. Other taxonomists since have followed their mistaken identification of A. memmingeri or A. virginicum for these plants that are known to range from WV south to NC.
We know that these plants that J.K. Small, Earl Core, and others called A. memmingeri actually represent the heartleaf from my Alleghany County childhood homestead and surrounding regions that still has no accepted name.
It is time to clear up the confusion and formally describe these plants along with a new, correct scientific name. For our purposes we will refer to them here as Allegheny heartleaf for a common name (in reference to the mountains, which have a different spelling than the NC county, rather than Alleghany County, NC).
In vegetative form, the Allegheny heartleaf is similar to most of its relatives including A. virginicum, minus, heterophylla, and naniflora. They are tightly clumping with leaves that tend to be as wide or wider than long with a broad cordate base. Though I have found populations with some mottling on the leaves, they tend to lack any variegation altogether.
The flowers on the undescribed Alleghany County heartleaf are much smaller in all dimensions and also differ in the tube constriction from both A. virginicum and true A. memmingeri.
The Allegheny heartleaf is found in typical heartleaf habitat: highly acidic, organic duff beneath oaks and pines and often in association with Rhododendron and Kalmia. They are found along the margins of Southern Appalachian fens and small stream swamps as well as along stream banks and on steep rocky slopes and bluffs that are most often north or east-facing.
The natural range of the species seems to be from Watauga/Avery counties North Carolina, north through West Virginia at low to moderate elevations. In North Carolina nearly all populations are located along the New River drainage, though there are outliers along the Yadkin River drainage downstream to Donaha Bluffs in Forsyth County. This taxa is tightly tied to the Appalachian range with outliers into the piedmont in areas with cool microclimates along rivers that originate in the mountains. Between the mountain populations of Allegheny Heartleaf and the coastal Virginia Heartleaf (Asarum virginicum) occurs A. minus, which largely replaces Allegheny Heartleaf in most of the piedmont of North Carolina.
Allegheny Heartleaf was very difficult for me to grow, even in seemingly hospitable microclimates in Clemson, South Carolina. It seemed to survive but only for a short time, gradually declining and producing dwarfed leaves by the 2nd season and then disappearing by the 3rd. I am extremely pleased to have this species growing strong, flowering and producing normal sized leaves for its second season here at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens.
What needs to happen is for Hexastylis rhombiformis to have a name correction to Asarum memmingeri, and for the plant widely known as Asarum memmingeri to finally be named for the first time, hopefully with a specific epithet named for the Allegheny Mountains, which incorporate the heart of its range.
Looking lovely now is the new NC selection of the native (Pennsylvannia to Tennessee) woodland groundcover, Meehania cordata ‘Roby Rose’. This lovely light pink selection of the typically purple-flowered species was discovered by our friend, NC plantsman Mark Rose, who allowed us to introduce this to commerce.
Looking great for the last few weeks in the woodland garden is Iris cristata ‘Eco Orchid Giant’. This native gem matures at only 6″ tall, but puts on a splendid early spring show in the garden. Hardiness zones 3a to 8b.
The last several weeks have been a floriferous blur in our epimedium collection house. These amazing woodland perennials flower for 4-8 weeks, depending on the variety. Below is a small fraction of the exceptional clones we grow.
Epimedium ‘Rise and Shine’ is a 2020 PDN/JLBG introduction of a hybrid of Epimedium ‘Domino’. The leaves are extremely glossy, and in early spring have a magenta border, along with a great floral show.
Epimedium ‘Songbirds’ is our 2014 introduction of an extremely floriferous selection.
Epimedium ‘Pumpkin Pie’ is a potential future introduction with long sprays of large peachy flowers. This is a hybrid of Epimedium wushanense.
Epimedium ‘Picture Frame’ is one of our later flowering introductions that hit the market in 2014. This has probably the best edged foliage of any fairy wing we’ve grown.
Epimedium ‘Totnes Turbo’ has been really impressive in our trials. This hybrid from the former UK’s Desirable Plants Nursery, is a cross of Epimedium latisepalum x pinnatum ssp. colchicum.
One of the finest epimediums we grow is Epimedium x versicolor ‘Cupreum’. Although this selection has been around since 1854, it’s still near the top of our list of favorites.
Looking absolutely marvelous in the garden now is the amazing Calanthe ‘Takane’. This Japanese seed strain is a group of hybrids between Calanthe sieboldii and Calanthe discolor. Below is a clonal strain we named Calanthe ‘Golden Treasure’. These thrive in the woodland garden with average soil moisture. The photo below is our 18 year old clump, started from a single 4″ pot, growing under a black walnut tree. Hardiness Zone 7a-9a.
The skirt of leaves of the European Geranium phaeum (mourning widow) are always a favorite in the early spring garden. We truly love this clump-forming hardy geranium, that behaves superbly in the woodland garden.
In the wild, the amount of black pattern on the foliage varies, but Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’, is an exceptional clone, originally discovered in the wilds of Croatia. The foliage is topped in early spring, with short stalks of small purple flowers, but it’s the foliage that makes this a standout. Hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
Many gardeners tend to ignore the narrow leaf Trillium lancifolium in favor of the larger, more impressive species, but we think this smaller toadshade is quite garden worthy. Below are two clones we’ve named and introduced in the past. One is in full flower here at JLBG, and the other is right behind in mid-March. Hardiness is Zone 6a-9b.
Those of us who have studied trilliums extensively in the wild, feel that all Trillium lancifolium are not created equal. In other words, what is currently known as Trillium lancifolium is most likely 2-3 different species. These are botanically known as cryptic species, since they are hiding in plain site. Advances in DNA now allows researchers to confirm field observations, so don’t be surprised if you see more new trillium species being named from this complex.
The first image below is Trillium lancifolium ‘Lancelot’, a selection from North Florida that forms dense clumps, compared all of the other plants from this population, which grew as solitary stems. The flowers are also butterscotch instead of the typical purple.
Trillium ‘Black Panther’ is a JLBG selection from a cross of genetics from a Florida population with a Tennessee collection. It also forms dense clumps.
We love the amazing winter flowering toothworts of the former genus, Dentaria. The latest taxonomic work moves these into the genus Cardamine, which means quite a few tag changes here at the gardens. It’s fascinating that more native plant nurseries don’t have a better offering of these amazing plants.
Flowering below this week are two of our collections from a botanizing expedition to Arkansas a few years earlier. The first is a very nice, compact form of the native Dentaria laciniata from Yell County. Below that is a new, un-named species that we discovered in Montgomery County, Arkansas.
Looking absolutely fabulous in the garden now is the superb new fairy wing introduction, Epimedium ‘Lyrical Lemonade’, from the handiwork of plantsman, Hans Hansen. It’s hard to imagine where you’d fit any more flowers. Hardy in zones 5a to 8b.
One of our favorite borage family members, Trachystemon orientalis is flowering this week in the woodland garden. Native to Bulgaria and Turkey, this late winter-flowering groundcover is quite tough. The foliage dies away in fall, but not long before the emergence of flowers and a new round of foliage. Hardiness Zone 6a-8b.
Dentaria (Cardamine) diphylla ‘Burnsville Beauty’ is our 2008 collection of the native woodland groundcover, Dentaria (Cardamine) diphylla from a collection in Burnsville, NC. This selection stood out in the wild with much narrower and more pointed leaflets that any other clones we’ve seen. Since 2008, our division has grown into a 4′ wide patch. The foliage emerges in fall, flowers in March, and then goes summer dormant. We hope to release this selection for the first time next year.
We love the Eastern US native, false rue anemone, flowering now in the woodland garden at JLBG. This is one of the great winter flowering perennials, which we feel should be a part of every shade garden. The plant below has been thriving for decades under a grove of giant black walnut trees. Depending on where within its native range from Minnesota south to Florida, the genetics originated, it starts flowering from late January to early March.
Isopyrum biternatum is the midst of a bitter custody battle with the genus Enemion, but there hasn’t been any new DNA work since the early days of the field, when the sole use of chloroplast DNA gave us a number of incorrect name changes that were later retracted. Until we see some nuclear DNA results, we’re leaving it in the genus isopyrum.
The Dryopteris kinkiensis is still looking fabulous in the garden as we inch closer to spring. This little-known Chinese native fern was first brought into the country as spore by plantsman Hans Hansen in 2005. It is also native to Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. The name was originally published for the material in Japan, named after the Kinki region. The foliage is a very glossy dark green with a nearly plastic texture. We estimate hardiness to be zone 7a-9b, but we could be greatly underestimating its potential in that regard.
We can’t imagine there are many people who grow cast iron plants from seed, but we have found the results quite fascinating. Below are a couple of our seedling which we found good enough to name. Neither has been divided yet, and are still under evaluation, but we think they have good potential.
Aspidistra ‘Bright Lights’ is a 2015 seedling from Aspidistra ‘Okame’ and has a similar variegation pattern, although it has more white banding than its parent.
Aspidistra ‘Illumination’ is a 2016 seedling of Aspidistra ‘Sekko Kan’, and inherited the white tips from its mama, but has also pickup up more streaking that wasn’t present in the preceding generation, so perhaps it outcrossed to a nearby streaked parent. If you’re interested in trying this yourself, the seed are found in a 1-2″ wide green ball at the base of the plant now. The seed should be mature in the next 4-6 weeks.
In 2014, Plant Delights introduced this amazing, wild collected mondo grass, which we think is one of the coolest ophiopgons we’ve ever grown. This Darrell Probst collection from China has formed a 20″ tall x 4′ wide mound of foliage. This image was taken in the garden this week after our 11 degree F freeze, and is looking absolutely fabulous. Although it keys out to Ophiopogon japonicus, it doesn’t phenotypically (what it looks like) that species. We’re pretty sure it represents a new undescribed species.
We love the texture, both in the woodland garden and in half day full sun. Although it’s winter hardy throughout Zone 6, it was one of the worst selling plants we ever offered. Sometimes we just want to throw our hands up trying to figure out why people don’t purchase some of these amazing plants.
The typical holly fern, Cyrtomium falcatum, is considered fairly reliable in Zone 7b, but no further north. The oddball is the coastal form, which grows on the coast of both Japan and Korea. We received the plant shown below in 2005, as Cyrtomium falcatum var. maritimum, which our taxonomy staff tells me, isn’t a valid name. According to Patrick and Zac, the Japanese coastal material is correctly called Cyrtomium falcatum var. littorale, but there is no mention in the literature they’ve reviewed of the same coastal form occurring off Korea.
Other than the dwarf size, which is often seen in plants that grow in harsh coastal conditions, these weather-battered denizens adapt by developing thicker leaves and a denser habit. Additionally, this form is significantly more winter hardy than the typical material of Cyrtomium falcatum seen in the trade. We’ve always listed this dwarf form as a Zone 7a plant, but we wouldn’t be surprised at all if it’s also hardy in Zone 6. If you’ve been adventurous enough to try it, we’d love to hear from you. Our mature clumps below, photographed over Christmas, are now 8″ tall x 18″ wide.
During the holidays, house plants often get relegated to dark, unattended corners, but some house plants make great holiday decorations without any special seasonal input. One of those is the Taiwan native cast iron plant, Aspidistra attenuata. Here are 3 clones in our collection, all photographed this year on Christmas day. In order, they are Aspidistra attenuata ‘Alishan Broad’, ‘Dungpu Dazzler’, and ‘Taiwan Treasure’. These are but a few of the amazing cast iron plant species and cultivars that are sadly ignored commercially. We think they’re pretty cool.
This is a very good year for the annual winter fruit show on Rohdea japonica (sacred lily). The attractive berries remain until early March, when they begin to drop. Although seed from these cultivars do not come true, you’ll always end up with an interesting variety of offspring.
A first cousin to the better known aroid, arisaema is the lesser known aroid, arisarum. While arisaema has a distribution that is primarily North American and Asian, arisarum is primarily European. We planted our first arisarums back in 1994, and since then have tried quite a few and killed quite a few. The best species for our climate is Arisarum vulgare, a Mediterranean native, found naturally in the countries of Albania, Algeria, Baleares, Corsica, Crete, Cyprus, East Aegean Islands, France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon-Syria, Morocco, Palestine, Sardinia, Sicily, Sinai, Spain, Transcaucasus, Turkey, and the former Yugoslavia.
With such a wide range of occurrence, some forms are naturally going to be more adaptable to our Zone 7b climate than others. The star in our trials has been a 2010 Crete collection of Arisarum vulgare from near the town of Lakki. From a tiny rhizome piece, it has spread to a 3′ wide patch. Like its’ other cousin, arum, arisarum goes summer dormant, re-emerging in fall. All of the previous forms of Arisarum vulgare we’ve grown have flowered only in early spring, but this amazing form flowers quite well every fall, in addition to being incredibly vigorous. We’ve just dug some of our patch today, and will work on propagating them for a future PDN catalog under the name Arisarum vulgare ‘Lady Lakki’. Hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
The cold and raw weather of late autumn and winter provide the perfect opportunity to sit down with the dissecting scope and put our ferns through the identification mill. Often gardens and nurseries receive a plant into their collections from an exporter or collector who has put their best guess on the identification. After many years in cultivation, we realize what we thought was the right species name for our specimens is incorrect. Today’s nasty weather provided the opportunity to examine, in detail, one of our favorite evergreen fern groups – Dryopteris section Variae.
These firm-leaved evergreens produce thick-textured, durable, medium-sized fronds of varying shape but all display a noticeably longer basioscopic pinnule (that’s fancy talk for the lowest, innermost segments of the divided leaves). All members of the section that we have grown have proven to be very adaptable to our hot, humid summers and unpredictable winters if grown in shade or partial shade in moist woodland garden conditions. The fronds tend to burn if they receive too much light. They are late risers in the spring often not producing a new flush of leaves until late spring or even early summer.
At the beginning of the day, we started with 8 accessions of Dryopteris varia, 2 accessions of Dryopteris bissetiana, 6 accessions of Dryopteris formosana, one accession of Dryopteris saxifraga and a couple of unknowns. From these numbers you would expect that the one plant we would know best would be Dryopteris varia.
Well…it turns out all the plants we had received or had identified as D. varia were actually representative of other taxa. If you’ve never tried keying ferns using The Flora of China or The Ferns and Fern Allies of Taiwan, you would have no idea just how difficult a process this is. The floras of these areas are notoriously difficult to use and often contradictory or difficult to assess using illustrations or pictures (yes even plant taxonomists google names to find images). Very quickly we became intimately familiar with the nature of the stipe and rachis scales, frond outlines, and disposition of the vestiture (yeah you think that sounds easy, right?).
We found most of our collection was actually composed of Dryopteris bissetiana, which are mostly from collectors who sent us tentatively identified wild-collected material. The majority of these were from Sichuan in China, however one very beautiful, deep green and glossy selection that is only half the size or less of the others was Tony’s collection in Korea, and has tentatively been identified as Dryopteris saxifraga. All of these are remarkable garden plants, but we are very excited to some day offer the choice dwarf from Korea which we have named ‘Cheju Dwarf.’
It was a pleasant surprise to find that our collections of Dryopteris formosana were correctly labelled, but we weren’t prepared for there to be two distinctly different looking plants represented in our garden that are the same species.
One of these is the plant that has been shared among fern enthusiasts for some time that is the typical sexually reproducing diploid. The other is an apogamous triploid that looks like a completely different species. In a diploid (like you and I) the pairs of chromosomes uncouple and one copy of each goes into making the male and female gametes.
Thus, each gamete has only one set of each chromosome (haploid) and when combined with those from the complementing sperm or egg results in another diploid. Plants sometimes have a mistake in their cells that lead to the production of gametes with twice as many chromosomes as they would normally have and when such tetraploid plants breed with a diploid the result is a gamete with 2 copies of each chromosome combining with a gamete with only one—thus triploid. In your average plant this triploid is a dead end for reproduction by seed or spore because they have an uneven base number 3—which can’t be divided into an equal number of chromosomes, so it is sterile.
This triploid avoids the curse of having an uneven number of chromosome pairs by avoiding sexual reproduction and producing spores that will result in new plants without the traditional interplay of sperm and egg on a germinated gametophyte (yes apogamy in ferns is still legal in all states and countries). We were puzzled when two very different looking ferns keyed to the same species. Everything that was in the key matched. The bullate hairs, the shape, the color, the basioscopic pinnae and the overall shape.
Our taxonomist, Zac Hill, very quickly uncovered a recent paper by Kiyotaka Hori, et al (2017) which explained and beautifully illustrated our conundrum. The triploid produces a wider, far more pentagonal frond with a less erect nature in the way the blade is held, and a deeper green, highly pleasing color—now that’s pretty darn cool! This new discovery we have named ‘Yushan 2 X 4.’ A new plant for us all to grow in the years to come and now you know why we chose the name diploid (2) X tetraploid (4).
Now that we realize we grow seven different forms of Dryopteris bisettiana, each collection will be given a cultivar name, which will refer back to their specific origin and uniqueness.
Every day brings discovery when you manage a collection of 30,000 taxa but one thing we know for sure, these are amazing, well-behaved, slow growing woodland plants that are the essence of what makes Juniper Level Botanic Garden so amazing.
Patrick McMillan, director of horticulture and gardens
Hori, Kiyotaka, L. Kuo, W. Chiou, A. Ebihara and N. Murakami. 2017. Geographical distribution of sexual and apogamous types of Dryopteris formosana and Dryopteris varia (Dryopteridaceae) in Taiwan. Acta Phytotax. Geobot. 68 (1): 23-32.
I’ve been very blessed on several UK visits to spend time at the amazing Ashwood Nursery of plantsman John Massey. One of the real treats of each visit is a chance to spend time in John’s private hepatica greenhouse. To say John is a bit obsessive about the genus is a grand understatement, so it should be no surprise that he has channeled all that knowledge into a new Hepatica book, that’s hot off the press.
We first learned of John’s obsession with the genus, when he joined us on a 2000 expedition through NC, SC, Alabama, and Tennessee to study the hepatica in the wild…along with our main goal of studying trillium. Below is an image from that expedition. Hepatica are also native to Asia.
Our copy of My World of Hepaticas arrived recently, and John’s book is a massive 296-page compendium of pretty much anything you’d want to know about hepaticas, compiled from John’s decades of work with the genus. John’s writing style is easily readable, coming across as if you’re having a relaxed conversation over dinner, and the incredible photos are an equal match to the text. Right now, you can only obtain a copy by ordering it from the Ashwood website.
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.
One of our most amazing dwarf ferns is our 2008 Taiwanese spore collection of Microsorum brachylepis ‘Datun’. Our garden patch pictured below, which is looking great this month, was planted outdoors in 2017, and is now 4″ tall x 3′ wide. We offered this personal favorite a few years through Plant Delights, but the sales were rather miserable…what a shame. This delightful evergreen makes a superb, dense groundcover. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
Looking good in the garden now is Begonia taiwaniana ‘Alishan Angel’, which is our 2008 collection from 6,500′ elevation in Taiwan’s Yushan Province. This specimen has now been in the ground since 2010, and is thriving in a fairly dry woodland location. We introduced this selection in 2020 and will be offering it again in 2023. Hardiness is Zone 7b-9b at least.
One of our favorite hardy garden ferns are the amazing cat’s claw ferns of the genus Onychium. The genus comprises between 9 and 23 species, depending on your choice of taxonomist.
The most common species in cultivation is the Japanese Cat’s claw fern, Onychium japonicum, which we’ve had the pleasure of offering many times through the year. Now, we’re working on getting another species into production, Onychium contiguum. Compared to Onychium japonicum, Onychium contiguum is much smaller and slower-growing with even finer cutleaf foliage. We picked up this Elizabeth Strangman wild collection during a 1994 trip to England’s former Washfield Nursery. Below is our original clump in the garden this week.
Raise your hand if you grow the woodland perennial, Collinsonia? These mostly fall-flowering, clumping perennials in the mint family (Lamiaceae) are wonderful elements for the woodland garden at a time when little else is flowering. Named by Linnaeus to honor English botanist Peter Collinson (1694–1768), the genus Collinsonia contains 11 species of which 4 are native to North America. Five species are native to China, 1 to Taiwan, and 1 to Japan. Pictured below in flower this week is Collinsonia punctata, which hails from South Carolina west to Louisiana. Winter hardiness is unknown, but we guess Zone 7a-9b, at least.
Looking particularly lovely in the garden is the elegant fern, Dryopteris affinis ssp. affinis. The semi-evergreen golden-scaled male fern from Europe is among the easiest and most beautiful ferns we grow, yet when we offer it through the nursery, it’s always one of the worst sellers. We struggle to figure out mysteries like this when you have a fern that grows equally as well in acid or alkaline soils, and grows the same in the Pacific Northwest as it does the hot, humid Southeast US. Winter hardiness is Zone 4a-8b.
I’m always amazed that so many people don’t realize that turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an amazing garden perennial. We’ve had our plants in the garden for nearly 30 years. This week, the flowers of this delightful ginger lily from Southern India emerge, looking like fancy pink pine cones. Curcuma longa is very easy to grow, as long as the soil is reasonably well-drained. Just mark the planting spot, since it usually doesn’t break ground before June. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10.
We recently ran across this clump of the summer-flowering native (Canada south to Florida) orchid, Goodyera pubescens growing in a site near JLBG. Like a century plant, the flowering rosette dies after flowering, but new side shoots are produced for future generations. Work is being done to produce this in tissue culture so it can be made more widely available from nursery propagated stock. Sadly, most plants sold today are wild collected.
Of the 100 species of Goodyera orchid, only 4 are US natives.
Solomon’s Seals comprise several genera of woody perennials, but the common name is most commonly associated with the genus, Polygonatum in the Asparagus family. It seems hard to imagine, but the Asparagus family now includes many popular garden plants including its namesake Asaparagus, but also hosta, agave, liriope, ruscus, and yucca.
The genus Polygonatum is native through much of the world, although the center of distribution is in Asia. We’ve been collecting these amazing woodland perennials for years, and now have a collection of over 380 different taxa. Here are a few from this week in the garden.
Polygonatum mengtzense is a dwarf, rarely cultivated species from North Vietnam.
The dwarf, glossy-leaf Chinese Polygonatum nodosum just oozes elegance.
When you run out of species to grow, you start creating hybrids. This is our new selection of a cross of the giant Polygonatum martinii and the more compact, Polygonatum falcatum. We’ve named this clone Polygonatum x marcatum ‘Winsome Wonder’
Polygonatum odoratum ‘Chanticleer’ is a superb, large-leaf form of the Asian Polygonatum odoratum that I spied at Chanticleer Gardens, and they kindly shared in 2006. Hopefully, we’ll finally have enough to share next year.
Polygonatum odoratum ‘Angel Wings’ (aka: ‘Carlisle) is a superb form of Polygonatum odoratum from Massachusetts plantsman, Roy Herold. This gem grows in both half day sun as well as shade.
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.
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.
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.
False lily-of-the-valley (Speirantha gardenii) is one of our favorite early spring-flowering evergreen groundcovers for shade, but one that just hasn’t caught on with customers. Every time we put this back in production at Plant Delights, we wind up throwing out most of the crop. Perhaps one day, folks will realize what a gem this is. Hardiness is Zone 5b-8b.
We are just starting with the first wave of Cypripedium (ladyslipper orchids) in the garden this week. One of the earliest selections to put on a show is Cypripedium ‘Rascal’, an outstanding cross of Cypripedium kentuckiense and Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum…all US natives.
Here is a clump of Calanthe ‘Takane’ in our garden in early April. This amazing and easy-to-grow terrestrial ground orchid forms a dazzling clump with age. This mass started as a single division in a 4″ pot, 17 years ago. Not only do they thrive in the ground, but in Japan, they are prized as container plants.
Calanthe ‘Takane’ is a group of hybrids between Calanthe sieboldii and Calanthes discolor, so each seedling is slightly different in flower color. The foliage remains evergreen during most winters for us, but when temperatures drop near 0 degrees F, the foliage will die back completely. Calanthes thrive best in light shade. Winter hardiness is Zone 7a-9a.
Here’s a fun combination this from the garden this week, where we combined two three-leafed plants together…a silver leaf Trillium cuneatum with the hardy purple-leaf shamrock, Oxalis triangularis. You can have all kind of fun making these little vignette combinations in your garden, using your school colors, or any other design scheme that suits your tastes.
If you’re a nursery, and you’d like to offer ferns, the plants at your disposal are somewhat limited. A large majority of ferns sold in America are still sadly dug from the wild. When you see a catalog listing primarily these ferns together…usually an very inexpensive prices, you can be pretty much assured they were dug from the wild: Osmunda regalis (royal fern), Osmunda cinnamomea (Cinnamon Fern), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern), Matteuccia Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern), Adiantum pedatum (Maidenhair fern), Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern), and Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive Fern). These ferns are often sold bareroot, to save the nursery the expense of having to pot the collected plants, many of which are so large, they won’t fit in small containers.
The other majority of ferns in the market are produced by tissue culture, either by a couple of labs in Florida, one in Texas, and one in Holland. Without the amazing work of these labs, the fern selections available to homeowners would be limited to the wild collections. Even with their amazing work, these labs must focus on well-known ferns that sell in very large numbers.
While we make use of the lab offerings, we also made a commitment over 30 years ago to grow many of our own ferns from spores. Outside of a few small fern specialists, there are few nurseries who grow their own ferns from spores, since this is the most costly and time consuming option. The reason we do this is so that we can offer fern species and selected forms that are otherwise unavailable.
Below is a quick summary of how the process works. Fern spores (fern equivalents of seed) are collected through the summer, and are dried in paper envelopes until they separate from the foliage. They are then sown in pots with potting soil that is sterilized here, and then sealed in ziploc bags. The spore takes from 1 month to 6 months to germinate. Once the spores germinate, they are ready to have sex…a process that is reversed from more modern evolved flowering plants.
To assist the ferns have sex, we gently add water to the newly germinated sporelings, since ferns (other than desert ferns) only have sex while they are swimming. The water is swirled around to mimic the feel of a whirlpool, then the bags are then resealed, and put in the dark where they are subjected to a near constant montage of Barry White music.
Within a few weeks, tiny fern fronds begin to emerge. At this point, the ziploc bags are opened to allow the humidity to equalize with the ambient air. After another couple of weeks the pots are removed from the ziploc bags. If the spore were viable and cleaned well without contamination, and if germination was good, there will be up to several hundred plants per pot.
After a few weeks, the sporelings are transplanted into a cell pack flat. Here they grow out for another few months until they are ready to be planted into our 1 qt. pots, in which they will be sold. In all, it’s about an 18 month process, and a good bit of labor. We’re really quite passionate about our fern collection at JLBG, which the visiting British Fern Society declared one of the largest/most diverse in the world. We hope you find the results worthwhile.
Carex conica ‘Hime’ has been in horticultural commerce for many decades, and remains a superb woodland garden sedge. The evergreen species Carex conica is native throughout Japan, where it occurs in woodland conditions. This variegated selection that goes by an array of names such as ‘Snowline’ and ‘Marginata’, but Carex conica ‘Hime’, which translates to “princess” seems to the the correct cultivar name. The tight 10″ tall x 20″ wide clumps of narrow white-edged leaves are topped with this fascinating floral show for us in early March. In 35 years of growing this, we have yet to see a single garden seedling.
One of the fun reasons to grow plants from seed is that each seedling is different…unless you’re growing highly bred annuals. Most non-hybrid seedlings will be under the bell curve, meaning they all look and behave relatively similar. As plant collectors, we get excited when one appears that falls outside the bell curve. An example is our wild ginger selection, Asarum maximum ‘Floragasma’, which has both far more flowers than we typically see with the species, but it also flowers 2-3 weeks before our other clones. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b-9b.
We treasure any plant that makes a great woodland groundcover, and are particularly smitten with the ophiopgon (mondo grass) and liriope (monkey grass) selections. We currently grow over 120 different ophiopogon accesions including quite a number of wild collections, at JLBG…see what a touch of OCD does for you. We’ve grown Ophiopogon ‘Comet’ since 1997, and love it for its white striped foliage and well-behaved growth habit. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
We’ll never be accused of being galanthophiles (folks who are hopelessly addicted to collecting galanthus cultivars), but we do love the genus, and are fascinated with these mostly winter-flowering bulbs. Here are a couple in full flower now at JLBG. These have a preference for slightly moist-to-average woodland conditions.
The first plant looks for all the world like a fine textured carex, but in fact, it’s an iris. Iris dabashanensis is a little-known species from China, that thrives for us in light shade, but will also take a few hours of early morning sun. Our plant is a Darrell Probst collection from Sichuan, China. Winter hardiness is Zone 5a -8a.
Below is the same plant flowering in early April.
The other plant growing nearby in our gardens that fools even the keenest plantsmen is this liriope look-alike. In fact, this is a cast iron plant, Aspidistra linearifolia. This demonstrates why those pesky taxonomic traits matter. In 2008 we introduced a selection with a lighter central stripe down the center of each leaf called A. linearifolia ‘Skinny Dippin’ which we will be offering again in 2023. Winter hardiness is Zone 7b and warmer.
Most gardeners know the genus aspidistra (cast iron plant) from one or two species, and if that’s the case, you probably only know those which hold their leaves vertically upright. There are equally as many species with pendant leaves, which provide a completely different form in the woodland garden. Here are two of those pendant-leaf species from the garden this week.
The first is Aspidistra sichuanensis, which is one of the larger growing species. A single clump can easily spread to 6′ in width in a couple of decades. This clump has topped out at 3.5′ in height.
Below that is Aspidistra ebianensis ‘Flowing Fountains’. With narrower, wavier foliage, it makes a large clump, albeit slightly smaller than Aspidistra sichuanensis. Both plants are winter hardy from Zone 7b and south.
We love the evergreen ruscus in garden, but realize they are a plant that will never be found at most mainstream garden centers. A genus of only 6 currently recognized species, native from Europe into Eurasia, these horticultural oddities are so odd that they once qualified to have their own plant family, Ruscaceae.
Now, with improved DNA testing, they were found to actually be members of the Asparagus family. Exactly where within the Asparagus family is still an ongoing debate. Within the last decade, they were grouped with Nolina and Dasylirion, which to those of us who work with live plants, made no sense. Most likely, they will wind up in their own section, but as distant cousins to better know genera like Rohdea and Liriope.
Ruscus are great evergreen plants for dry shade, in regions where they are winter hardy, which is usually Zone 7b and south. Ruscus are unique in that they don’t produce leaves, but instead have leaf like structures known as cladodes, from which the tiny flowers emerge. All ruscus species have both separate male and female plants, although there are four hermaphroditic (bi-sexual) cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus in commerce, which produce the lovely red fruit without a mate.
The most common ruscus species in cultivation is Ruscus aculeatus, which has a wide range from Western Europe through the Caucuses. A handful of named cultivars of Ruscus aculeatus can be found in the gardens. Below is a photo this month of Ruscus ‘Sparkler’ a self-fruiting form, whose 2′ tall height is mid-way between Ruscus ‘Elizabeth Lawrence’ and Ruscus ‘Wheeler’.
Ruscus hypophyllum is a species, which ranges from Spain to Northern Africa, that’s rarely cultivated in the US. Other than the very tender Ruscus streptophyllus, this has proven to the be the next most tender species. Prior to trying these new forms of Ruscus hypophyllum, which were planted in early 2020, we had only grown a single clone, which had consistently died in our Zone 7b winters. These new plants are seedlings, grown from an Alan Galloway seed collection in Majorca, Spain.
Ruscus hypoglossum, which hails from Italy to Turkey, is a similar sounding species that we were fortunate to study in the wilds of Slovenia a few years ago, where it grew in mountainous open forests.
Ruscus x microglossum (below) is a natural hybrid between Ruscus hypophyllum and Ruscus hypoglossum…quite a tongue-full.
Ruscus colchicus is a species we fell in love with during a trip to Hillier’s Arboretum in 2005. Hailing from NW Turkey to the Western Caucuses, Ruscus colchicus is possibly the most elegant garden species. We are fortunate to have three different clones growing at JLBG, which we hope to one day have enough to share.
Voted least likely to be found in an ex-situ plant collection is Ruscus hyrcanus, a species, whose native range is from the Crimea into Iran. In appearance it somewhat resembles a dwarf, horizontal-growing version of Ruscus aculeatus. We are thrilled to have been able to offer this little-cultivated species in the past through Plant Delights.
We hope you’ll take notice of these great evergreens during your next visit to JLBG.
Another of the mid-winter flowering species of wild ginger is the Chinese Asarum ichangense. Here is a green leaf form of this easy-to-grow wild ginger in late January from the top. If you push aside the leaves, you’ll see the amazing floral show, hidden beneath. Winter hardiness in Zone 6b-8b, and possibly colder.
Rohdea japonica ‘Shishi’ is looking lovely in the woodland garden. Rohdea ‘Shishi’ is a dwarf Japanese selection of the evergreen sacred lily with leaves that curl downward creating an unusual bird nest like appearance. Winter hardiness is Zone 6b-8b.
We recently had someone inquire if we grew tractor seat plant, a common name I had not heard prior. After a brief pause, I figured few plants, other than our 2000 introduction, could possibly fit that name. Sure enough, a quick web search confirmed that Farfugium japoncium var. giganetum ‘Marco’ is indeed their target. While wandering through the garden this weekend, I found one clump still in flower, that somehow avoided damage from several nights at 27 degrees F.
To our knowledge, this giant form of Farfgium japonicum, native Japan’s southernmost Ryukyu Islands, was first brought to the US by plantsman Marco Stufano, who rationed out one plant per year for a NY Rare Plant Auction. When Marco was ready to retire from Wave Hill, he finally shared a piece with us, so we could get it mass propagated, hence we named the clone in his honor. To our knowledge, all tractor seat plants sold in the US came from Marco’s original plant.
This is the best fruit set we’ve ever seen on the Chinese Disporum longistylum ‘Green Giant’. We love this semi-evergreen Solomon’s Seal, that was collected and introduced years earlier by our friend, plant explorer Dan Hinkley. On the West Coast, this reaches 7′ tall, but here in the hot, humid southeast, we’ve never had ours exceed 3′ tall. Nevertheless, we’ll enjoy our great crop of cobalt blue fruit this winter.
One of several rare wild gingers we grow is Asarum lewisii, which has a small native range limited to central NC and adjacent Virginia. In the wild, the evergreen Asarum lewisii is quite unique in only producing a single leaf every few inches to over 1′ apart when growing in leaf duff. In the garden, however, leaves are much more dense as you can see in the photo from the JLBG gardens this week. It’s ashamed it doesn’t sell better when we offer it through Plant Delights.
We love the tardily deciduous Ctenitis subglandulosa ‘Hoshizaki’, which remains looking great in the garden as we pass the winter solstice. This truly elegant fern came to us from fern guru, Judith Jones, who got it from California fern guru, Barbara Jo Hoshizaki. The airy texture and ease of growth make this a fern we wouldn’t garden without. Sadly, we offered this Asian native (Bhutan through China) once through Plant Delights and very few people purchased one, so we had to discard the remaining crop…ouch! So very sorry you missed a true gem. Hardiness is Zone 7a-8b (guessing).
The cast iron plant, Aspidistra tonkinensis ‘Hanoi Honey’ has been looking quite stunning recently during its December flowering period. Unlike many cast iron plant that have reddish cinnamon flowers, this dazzler has large bright white flowers that are impossible to miss. Where it isn’t winter hardy, cast iron plants make fabulous, easy-to-grow house plants.
Most gardeners in mild winter climates are familiar with Liriope (monkey grass), and Ophiopogon (mondo grass), but almost no one is familiar with the third cousin, reineckea (false lilyturf). Like both better known cousins, reineckea is an evergreen groundcover, but unlike the others, here is our clump of Reineckea ‘Little Giant’ in full flower for Thanksgiving. Depending on your taxonomist, there is between 1-3 species in the genus. We’re certain of three and think there may be more. We have assembled a collection of nearly 30 wild collections and will be working with other researchers to sort out the taxonomy of this group.
One of our favorite fall woodland plants is a member of the Aster family, belonging to the genus farfugium. Farfugiums have long had a bit of an identity crisis, as they were originally named in 1767 by Linnaeus as Tussilago japonicum. In 1768, the same plant was also published as Arnica tussilaginea. Then, in 1784, it was moved to the genus, senecio, and became Senecio japonicus.
Later in 1891, it was renamed again, this time as Senecio tussilagineus. It remained in the genus senecio until 1904, when it moved to the genus Ligularia, and became Ligularia tussilaginea. Here it remained until 1939, when it became Farfugium tussilagineum, but corrected the same year to match Linnaeus’s original epithet, resulting in Farfugium japonicum, which it remains today.
Below is our plant of the typical species, Farfugium japonicum in flower at JLBG this week. Through the decades, we have been collecting an array of other forms. Light open shade or a tiny bit of morning sun and average to slightly moist soils produce the best results.
Farfugium ‘Roundabout Fall’ is our selection of a hybrid with our Taiwanese collection Farfugium japonicum var. formosanum and the typical form. We like the smaller, thick, rounded leaf shape.
Farfugium ‘Jagged Edge’ is another upcoming JLBG/PDN introduction, scheduled for a 2023 release. It forms one of the larger clumps of any farfugium cultivars we’ve grown.
Farfugium ‘Bashi Ogi’ is the only cultivar we know of Farfugium japoncium var. luchuense. This rare variety hails from Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands of Okinawa and Kagoshima. It differs in appearance by being a much smaller plant with leaves which are wider than tall. Here is our plant flowering now here at JLBG.
For 2022, Plant Delights will introduce JLBG’s first selection of Farfugium japonicum var. luchuense, that we’ve named Farfugium ‘Sweet Spot’. It’s a miniature seed selection from the above Farfugium ‘Bashi Ogi’, that only gets a few inches tall, so will make a great house plant, where it isn’t winter hardy.
Another genus of ferns that we just adore are the bamboo ferns of the genus coniogramme. We’ve grown these amazing gems for two decades, and after all that time are still in love. Although these woodland ferns are deciduous, they are tardily so, so they still look quite fresh into mid-November. Here are a couple of favorites, photographed this week.
At the top is the texturally fascinating Coniogramme intermedia ‘Shishi’ from Japan, and below this is our 2006 introduction of the Chinense native Coniogramme emeiensis ‘Golden Zebra’. We rate both of these as winter hardy from Zone 7b and warmer.
Flowering this week at JLBG is the little-known, but marvelous Liriope longipedicellata ‘Grape Fizz’, thanks to the exploits of plantsman Darrell Probst. We find this tightly clumping species much more interesting than the more formal Liriope muscari or the weedy, spreading Liriope spicata, and will tolerate full sun to shade. By the way, pedicles are stalk-like structures connecting one plant part to another….in this case the flower stalk to the flowers, hence the specific epithet longipedicellata (long pedicles).
Although some may have unpleasant memories of Wuhan after a year of pandemic conditions, let’s not forget that many incredible joys come from the same town. We are delighted to share the floral show of Iris japonica ‘Wuhan Angel’ this week…a plant originally shared by gardening friend Hayes Jackson, from his trip to Wuhan, China years earlier. This makes a superb, vigorous woodland groundcover in Zone 7b and warmer.