Up until a couple of years ago, we could find no literature detailing any hybrids in the cast iron plant genus, Aspidistra. With our extensive in-ground collection, we had begun noticing seedlings that were obvious hybrids, so we began first by confirming that both the flowers and foliage showed signs of being intermediate between both parents.
The next step was to pot up the seedlings and then select which would go in the garden for further trials. Below are some of our earliest hybrids between Aspidistra elatior and Aspidistra sichuanensis. Aspidistra elatior has very upright leaves, while Aspidistra sichuanensis has foliage that is heavily arching. As you can see in the photos below, the traits of the hybrid range from arching to upright, and everything in between.
We should be able to make some final selections for uniqueness and vigor within three years, then send them along for propagation.
Athyrium shearei is a fascinating fern, given to us many years ago by fern guru, Dr. John Mickel. We’ve yet to offer it because we’re not sure if anyone would purchase it since some folks may think the dark central veining may look like something is wrong with the plant…which it is not. This deciduous fern native to China, Korea, and Japan makes a slowly spreading patch, and is hardy from Zone 5-8. Mature height is 15-18″ tall. What do you think?
Looking great in the garden in late summer is the little known love lily, Amorphophallus kachinensis. This southeast Asian species has now reached 7′ tall in the garden. Our earlier collections from Thailand were not winter hardy here, but this Peter Zale collection from Myanmar has thrived.
Our 8 year-old clump of Amorphophallus bulbifer ‘Old Warty’ is looking lovely in the garden this week. We love the palm-like form in the summer garden, but selected this clone because it produces more leaf bulbils than any other clone we’ve ever seen. The bulbils, which resemble giant warts, form in late summer in the leaf axils on the top of the leaf. A typical clone of Amorphophallus bulbifer may have from 3-8 bulbils, while A. ‘Old Warty’ usually produces dozens per leaf.
Each bulbil, which is a clone of the original, can be planted after it detaches from the leaf, and will begin growing the following spring. We had so many bulbils one fall, that we gave them out to trick-or-treaters one Halloween, but strangely, those recipients never again returned for more treats- obviously, they weren’t horticulturally inclined. We did tell them not so consume them…honest.
The spring pink flowers have no discernable fragrance, unlike many of the other species of amorphophallus. These have been winter hardy here in Zone 7b for at least three decades, where they thrive in well-drained woodland soils. We will have these available again next year.
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.
I wrote a short note about my friend Pam Harper, who passed away last week, but wanted to share a little more. Below are a couple of her amazing selections of Arum italicum, that she shared through the years. The top is Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’, was one of her seedlings that former NY nurserywoman, Ellen Hornig, named in her honor.
The one below is a selection that Pam named, Arum italicum ‘Ringlets’. It’s hard to show how amazing it is in a photograph, but this is my feeble attempt. We have yet to divide our original clump, but that will probably happen soon.
Pam’s son, Nick also shared a couple of videos, so those of you who didn’t know Pam or have the chance to visit her garden can get a better of picture of this amazing woman. The first is a YouTube of her garden, and the second is her appearance on the former television show, Gardener’s Diary.
Remember that Nick is looking for a gardener to purchase her amazing home and garden. He can be reached at email@example.com We hope you’ll help us spread the word about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
For baseball fans, you know the Say Hey Kid as the great Willy Mays, but in horticutlure, we have a Say Hey Kid also, Arisaema sahyadricum (say-hey-dricum). This little grown, Jack-in-the-Pulpit hails from India, where it was just discovered in 1993. Compared to most jacks that flower in the spring, this is a summer flowering species. Our plant has thrived in open, dry shade since 2014.
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 asH. 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.
This winter is the first time in many years that we were successful at overwintering Pleione orchids in the ground. Up till now, we’ve killed our 9 other attempts. This time, our success was with the cultivar, Pleione ‘Alishan’, a hybrid of Pleione formosana and Pleione limprichtiii.
We’ve done a deep dive to see how much potential there is for these to grow outdoors in our region. Of the 24 Pleione species, native from India into Asia, it seems that 11 of them should be fine in our climate. That list includes P. aurita, bulbicoides, chunii, formosana, forrestii, grandiflora, hookeriana, humilis, limprichtii, pleinoides, and yunnanensis.
The other Pleione species either grow in elevations that are too low or too high. There seems to be more factors at work in determining how well they grow, other than low temperatures, since most Pleiones prefer to grow in duff, as opposed to heavy soil.
Over the next several years, we hope to trial more of both the species and the nearly 450 cultivars, which have parentage that predict their growability in our climate.
Polygonatum infundiflorum ‘Lemon Seoul’ is looking and smelling particularly fabulous in the woodland garden. This amazing Korean native smells like sweet lemons when flowering in spring. This forms a large 6′ wide clump, and in our trials, thrives in both sun and shade. Hardiness is Zone 5a-9b.
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.
In our spare time, we’ve been playing around with Solomon’s Seal hybrids. This cross of Polygonatum martinii x falcatum is one of the few we’ve found worthy of a name. Polygonatum ‘Winsome Wonder’, flowering now, has long arching stems that reach 6-7′ in length. One day, we’ll have enough of this amazing selection to share.
Below is our 16 year old clump of the ladyslipper, Cypripedium ‘Rascal’, this week. This amazing Carson Whitlow hybrid is a cross of two North American species, Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum x Cypripedium kentuckiense. As you can see, it thrives despite our summer heat and humidity.
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.
Flowering now in the garden is the stately Japanese jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema serratum var. mayebarae. This is one of many regional ecotypes of the large Arisaema serratum complex, which some authors designate at the species level. This 3′ tall specimen is always an eye-catcher. Hardiness is Zone 5b-8b.
We love the miniature Coptis japonica var. dissecta in full seed now. This dwarf, evergreen, woodland-growing member of the Ranunculus family (Clematis, Helleborus), has small white flowers in the winter, but we adore the seriously cute seeds heads that are adorned in March and April. Not only is this Japanese endemic a cool garden plant, but it’s highly prized as a medicinal plant, thanks to chemicals harvested from its roots, which are used to treat an array of ailments, from infections to pain, dysentery, fevers, and much more. Hardiness Zone 5a-8b.
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.
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.
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.
Flowering now in the garden is the delicate toadshade, Trillium delicatum. This diminutive trillium, published in 2019, hails from Central Georgia, where it naturally grows in floodplains. Despite a damp habitat, it has performed beautifully for us, even in average to dry garden soils. This species is quite rare, and is suffering significant damage from feral hogs, making ex-situ conservation even more important. Our clumps are getting large enough for us to hopefully make divisions available within the 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.
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 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.
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.
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 – Dryopterissection 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.
Those old enough to remember the incessant Volkswagen commercials of the 1990s probably still can’t get the word Fahrvergnügen out of their brain. We’ve commandeered the term, which means “The Joy of Driving” to Farfugnügen…the joy of growing Farfugium.
We think more people should be growing this amazing genus of plants in the aster family. While most named selection are made for foliage only, with a less than stunning floral show, here is one of our favorite flowering selections, Farfugium ‘Jagged Edge’, that we’ll make available for the first time next year through Plant Delights. These fall-bloomers put on quite a show, which in most climates, ends with the first hard freeze. Hardiness zone 7b to 10b.
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.
Begonia U-521 is a species we got from a customer in Alabama, which has sailed through our winters at JLBG since 2017. Flowering begins for us in early fall, with clusters of large pure white flowers, which hide just below the leaves. For those unfamiliar with Begonia U-numbers, these are assigned by he American Begonia Society for plants new to cultivation that represent potential new species.
This amazing begonia was purchased by begoniaphiles Charles Jaros and Maxine Zinman from the Bangkok Market in Thailand. For those who haven’t visited this amazing marketplace, it’s a massive venue where local vendors (nurserymen and collectors) sell their wares.
It turns out that this species came from the wild via a collector who lives on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, where no plants should be winter hardy here in Zone 7b. We’re not aware of anyone currently working on naming new begonias from that region, so to offer it, we’ll need to assign a cultivar name, which will remain connected to the plant, once it becomes a published species.
Nurses and plant taxonomists are among the few fields in which you would run into the term, anastomosing veins. Having been in the plant world all my life, I had never even run into the term until trying to key our some bamboo ferns in the genus, Coniogramme, almost a decade ago. It turns out that to distinguish between species, you need to determine if the spore patterns on the back of the leaf have an anastomosing or parallel vein pattern. Anastomosing veins are those which diverge and reconnect forming a pattern like a snake skin. We’ve grown quite a few ferns, but none have the amazing vein patterns of coniogramme. Below are the leaf backs of Coniogramme japonica in fall.
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.
Flowering today at JLBG is one of the tiniest of the geophyte aroids, Ambrosina bassii. This tiny gem, which matures at a whopping 1-2″ in height, is native to the Mediterranean region from Southern Italy to Northern Africa, where it grows on woodland slopes over alkaline rocks. There is only a single species in this little-known genus.
We love the various shades of green displayed by the fascinating Fatsia japonica ‘Murakumo Nishiki’. This amazing Japanese selection of tree ivy is looking rather stunning in the garden this month. This is a slow-growing shrub, which should mature at 4′ tall x 6′ wide. There is a shortage of these in commerce currently, because of a problem with tissue culture lab production. Winter 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.
We love the genus Hydrangea, but are really fascinated by those at the far end of the family tree. While most hydrangeas flower in late spring, we actually have a couple flowering now we’d like to share.
The first is Hydrangea involucrata, a native to both Japan and Taiwan. The word “involucrata” indicates it has some serious involucres (the bracts surrounding the inflorescence). The first image shows the plant in bud, the second in full flower, and the third image is after the flower color has faded. All three stages are on display at once in the garden this week. They typically reach 6′ in height and width. Winter hardiness is Zone 6a-8b.
Hydrangea amamiohshimensis (below), from Japan’s southern Ryuku Islands, was once considered a hydrangea cousin, until a 23andMe test confirmed it was actually a true hydrangea. Prior to the test, it belonged to the genus Cardiandra, which was effectively a perennial hydrangea, dying back to the ground each fall like most perennials. It too is in full flower in the woodland garden this week. Perhaps now that it has a recognizable name, more folks will be willing to grow it. This is the only one of the four former cardiandra species that has survived in our climate.
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.
Plant nerds use the term BIO plant, short for Botanical Interest Only, for plants which have little, if any ornamental value, but are highly prized by crazed plant collectors. Spathicarpa hastifolia is such a plant. This odd aroid from Southern Brazil has actually thrived in our woodland garden since 2019. The coldest winter temperatures we’ve experienced in that period is 16 degrees F.
The small woodland plants mature at 1′ tall x 1′ wide, with oddly interesting flowers, which you can see in our image…if you squint. If this continues to perform well, and we can get it propagated, perhaps we’ll have some to share in the future. To quote our friend Bob McCartney, “We have the market cornered on plants for which there is no market.”
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.
While most arisaemas flower in early spring, several members of the Franchetiana section of the genus are summer bloomers. There are five species in this section, but the only one that flowers in spring is Arisaema fargesii. Flowering recently are those pictured below, A. candidissumum, Arisaema franchetianum, and Arisaema purpureogaleatum. The debate still rages on whether Arisaema purpureogaleatum is merely a form of Arisaema franchetianum, but regardless, it has a distinct appearance when in flower. Of these three, Arisaema candidissimum is the least tolerant of our summer heat.
Flowering this week is one of our favorite hippeastrum…what lay people call amaryllis. We think Hippeastrum ‘Germa’ is one of the finest yellow-flowered hybrids ever created for southern gardens. Sadly, this 1995 Len Doran hybrid (Hippeastrum parodii x aglaiae x evansiae) is rarely available any longer. We’ve had our garden specimen growing since 2000. Unlike many cultivars, Hippeastrum ‘Germa’ is a woodland plant.
One of our favorite ferns is the Lady fern hybrid, Athyrium ‘Ocean’s Fury’. Created in Pittsboro, NC by plantsman Thurman Maness, this patented gem was offered for years through wholesale channels, but sales were not strong enough, so the sole producer discontinued it. So often, great patented plants suddenly become unavailable if sales don’t warrant.
In Europe, any grower can petition the PVR office to request permission to propagate such protected plants, but no such program exists in the US. Fortunately, Thurman has generously granted us permission to propagate his amazing introduction and make it available. That said, division is a very slow way to make ferns available, but since this hybrid between Athyrium filix-femina and Athyrium nipponicum is sterile, it’s our only option.
We’ll certainly remember 2022 for many reasons, but a highlight is the first flowering of our Davidia involucrata ‘Sonoma’. This incredible tree was named for French missionary and naturalist, Armand “Pere” David (1826-1900), who first discovered the tree in its native China.
Like dogwoods, what we think of as flowers are actually bracts, the effect is that of the tree in flower is like a dogwood on steroids. Interesting, davidia is in the black gum family, Nyssaceae, and although this tree is not common, it has acquired the common name of dove tree.
We’ve learned a bit about what davidia likes, having killed five plants since first trying it in 2002. Full sun is not ideal, as is deep shade. Our original plant, which as been in the ground since 2002 has yet to flower. The plant of Davidia ‘Sonoma’, which flowered this year, was planted in 2014, and is thriving in light shade/part sun.
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.
Tromping through the woods near the nursery last week and ran across this beautiful example of devil’s urn fungus (Urnula craterium). The original type specimen from which it was named in 1822 was from North Carolina.
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 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.
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.
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.
Here are a few buttery-colored plants flowering today in garden, starting with Arum creticum ‘Golden Torch’. This started as a small field division of a particularly large flowered selection from our 2010 expedition to Crete.
Paeonia mlokosewitschii is known for being un-pronouncable, so most folks refer to it as Molly the Witch peony. This is a particularly lovely butter yellow form from Ellen Hornig of the former Seneca Hill Perennials.
Trillium sp. nov. freemanii is a still unpublished new trillium species (hopefully soon), that we discovered in 1998. Normally red flowered, this is a rare yellow-flowered form.
Flowering at JLBG since early March is the little-known Jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema ilanense. This collection hails from Ilan (Yilan), in northeastern Taiwan, and for us is the very first arisaema to flower each winter, even when temperatures are still quite cold. The mature size is only 4-6″ in height, so this is one for a very special site in the rock garden. There are very few plants of this species in ex-situ conservation collections, so thanks to JCRA Director, Mark Weathington for sharing. Our specimen has been in the garden since 2016. Hardiness is unknown, but we’re guessing Zone 7b-9b.
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.
It was great during our recent winter open house to see so many folks noticing the aucubas in the garden. Of course, they are hard to miss with our collection of over 140 different taxa. There are few evergreen plants better for year-round interest in dry shade than aucuba. Here is one of the most fascinating ones that’s in flower now in early March, Aucuba himalaica var. dolichophylla. This little-known, narrow-leaf species hails from 3,000′ elevation in several southern Chinese provinces. Winter hardiness Zone 7a-9b, and perhaps a bit colder.
Podocarpus macrophyllus ‘Okina’ is looking lovely this winter. This Japanese selection has resided at the base of a large pine tree at JLBG since 2001. We love the white speckled foilage, which really shines in the winter months. Podocarpus macrophyllus is one of a short list of conifers that thrives in the shade of a woodland garden. Our 20 year old plant is now 6′ tall. Hardiness is Zone 7b-10b.
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.
Flowering now in the woodland garden is this rad little windflower, Anemone raddeana. This Asian native (China, Japan, Korea, and Russia) is a plant you’ll almost never see for sale. First, it flowers in the middle of winter when few people are thinking about gardening. Secondly, it’s ridiculously small, producing only a single white flower per stalk, which rises only a couple of inches from a slowly creeping rhizome. Third, it’s a spring ephemeral, meaning it will be dormant by the first of May. Finally, most people move through life too fast to even notice little gems like this. That said, if you like things like this, this is exactly the kind of thing you’ll really like. We certainly do!
Few people know the fascinating native shrub, Dirca palustris. It’s little wonder it gets overshadowed by showier members of its family, Thymelaeaceae, which includes the likes of Daphne and Edgeworthia. Our 6′ tall plant is flowering alongside a large edgeworthia, and rarely gets noticed by visitors.
Dirca palustris, the plant, is actually widespread across Eastern North America, with a range from Canada to Florida, where it thrives in slightly moist, acidic soils. It’s often known as leatherwood, due to its thick, but very pliable branches, which have been used by Native Americans for making rope as well as baskets.
There are three other less poorly known dirca species…if that’s possible. We grow the rare Dirca decipiens from Kansas/Arkansas, but have not yet tried D. occidentalis from California, or D. mexicana from Mexico.
The genus takes its name from the Dirce in Greek Mythology, who bit the big one while tied to the horns of a bull….a truly sordid story. The specific epithet “palustris”, lacks the fascinating story of the genus, but only means that the plant naturally lives in very wet sites. Winter hardiness is Zone 3-9.
When people think of trilliums, they usually think of the cold north, but states like Florida are also home to four species of trilliums which all thrive throughout the southeastern states. Here are two of the earliest species to flower in our garden.
The first is Trillium maculatum ‘Kanapaha Giant’ from Alachua County. This is consistently the earliest trillium to emerge and flower for us. This is followed close behind by Trillium underwoodii. Both of these are usually in flower by early February.
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.
We love busting horticultural myths, and here’s our latest. Borinda fungosa is another of the wonderful clumping bamboos from China, which, according to bamboo authorities, will not tolerate either our winter temperatures or our summer heat and humidity. Well, darn!
Excuse us for sharing this photo from late January, but here is our 2010 planting of a seed grown plant, and of course, it’s easy to see how poorly it’s growing. That said, we know that it will die to the ground at single digits F, and then re-sprout the following spring. The lesson…don’t believe everything you hear or read.
Here’s an image taken this month of the wonderful Aucuba japonica ‘Limbata’. While most aucubas have yellow leaf specks, this old cultivar, first mentioned in historical literature in 1864, is sadly still quite unknown in gardens. That’s not too surprising, however, due to its slow production time as a commercial nursery crop. For dry shade in Zone 7a-9, this wonderful broadleaf evergreen is hard to beat.