Archive for November, 2009

One of the most noticeable things about southern Vancouver Island is how dry it is for long periods of the year. We often have little or no rain from late May through until the end of September. This is a very tough situation for most plants to endure if they are not adapted to it. I have seen many shrubs and trees scorch from the heat combined with lack of sufficient water. Luckily for us many native plants here are unusually attractive and grow well in the stony ground on the island. One tree which is endemic here is the Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) which stands out at this time of the year. it is also known as the Oregon Oak or Oregon White Oak.

Garry Oaks is  Quercus garryana

Garry Oaks at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria.

There are 3 varieties of Garry Oaks which live in Western North America. Quercus garryana var. garryana is found here and lives in the largest area which ranges from Southern California, along the coastal mountain ranges up to southern Vancouver Island and the gulf Islands. The variety var. breweri is found in the Siskiyou mountains in Oregon  with the final variety var. semota found in the Sierra Nevada area. This Oak was named by David Douglas to honor Nicholas Garry who helped him in his collection of plant samples in the Oregon area. Nicholas Garry(1782?-1856) was employed by Hudson’s Bay Company and later rose up to be the Deputy Governor of the company. Garrya elliptica is also named after him.

Garry Oaks found at Holy Trinity Church in North Saanich.

There are some majestic Garry Oaks found at Holy Trinity Church in North Saanich.

Garry Oaks are the only Oaks found in Western Canada and they are part of an endangered ecosystem which is in a very small area of southern British Columbia. Garry Oaks are very representative of the 116 species of plants, animals and insects which are found here and no where else in the world. This delicate ecosystem is under attack  mainly from expansion of human settlement and introduction of invasive and destructive species  from other places. large areas have been altered and changed and it is just recently that we have started to protect some of these remaining sites.

Sea Blush, Common Camas and Shooting Stars are but a few of the species growing amongst the Garry Oaks.

Garry Oaks have never really been important to the survival of native groups here.  They made combs and digging utensils with the wood or used it for fueling fires. The acorns were eaten but were not considered a choice food, but could be roasted or steamed and eaten.  Garry oak was known to be used medicinally for a treatment for tuberculosis and used as a drink for women before child birth.

The thick ridged bark protects the tree from fires which were used in creating Camas fields that native peoples farmed.

Quercus garryana generally have broad spreading rounded crowns which are made up of thick ascending crooked branches. These trees grow to 40-90ft (12-28m) tall  and nearly as wide. In areas where there are other competing plants these trees will often grow tall and gawky but in an open meadow their true form is seen. Young trees to around 25 years of age often look scrubby and will often be seen growing in groups.

These Garry Oak are found in Playfair Park and in the spring a sheet of blue Camas bloom underneath them.

Garry Oak are slow growing trees which will grow 8-12(20-30cm) in a year. They develop long tap roots and are amost impossible to transplant after they have been in the ground a few years. They need a sunny open site with very well drained soil. They do not make good lawn trees as they resent being watered during the summer and it can also cause them to become diseased. They do have natural insect pests which are often seen on the undersides of the leaves. These can become disfiguring  to the leaves some years but in others are hardy present at all. If you have the right site and would like a tree which needs little attention during the year, you might want to look into to this species or one of the other Oaks. Garry Oak grow in zones 6 through 10 (-10 f or  and higher temperature).

Male flowers are separate from the females on the same Garry Oak tree.

Learn more about Garry Oaks:

Garry Oak Ecosystem: http://www.goert.ca/

Where is Holy Trinity Church: http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM65KB_Holy_Trinity_Church__North_Saanich_BC_Canada

wiki on Garry Oaks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercus_garryana

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When I was little my mother would talk about how beautiful certain trees and shrubs looked in the snow.  She would speak of how beautiful the Birch looked with their stark black twiggy branches would show up so well against the white background. She also talked about the golden Willow branches which poked through the snow banks. Probably the most showy shrub which grew at the bottom of the lane near our house was the Red Twig Dogwood with it’s wine colored stems. Cornus (sericea)stolonifera is one of 3 similar species grow here and through the northern areas right around the globe.

Red Osier Dogwood growing along roadsides is a common sight here.

There are several species of Red Twig Dogwoods which are so similar that you can’t really tell them apart at a glance. They all grow in shrub form, have almost identical flowers and reddish colored stems. Cornus stolonifera(sericea) which is the most vigorous grower extends from Alaska south to northern California and across North America through to Virginia. it has creamy berries with a bluish tinge.  In Europe Cornus sanguinea is found which has black berries. Moving farther east we come to the final type; Cornus alba which is found from Siberia through Manchuria into to Korea and also has the creamy berries.

Cornus stolonifera 'Flavirimea'

Cornus stolonifera 'Flavirimea' is one of the brightest bark forms of shrubby Dogwoods.

These three Red Twig Dogwood have some of the most attractive barks in the plant world. Many colors ranging from golden through peach and scarlet and then into maroons to almost black are represented in forms which can be found in nurseries. the deeply veined leaves have smooth edges and can be variegated in shades of cream, gold and even flashes of peach. Fall brings another show of color ranging from deep maroons through to peach and gold.

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'

The fall and winter color of Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' in all it's glory.

All three species  of Red Twig Dogwood have flat cymes made up of tiny cream colored flowers, this flower structure is also seen in other Cornus species. In the right location the flowers will turn into bountiful crops of attractive berries which the birds like to eat later in the winter.

The many tiny Cornus stolonifera flowers have a slightly soapy scent.

The berries that follow the bloom can be copious and attractive. Birds like to eat them, but we would find them too bitter. Cornus alba has black berries which I have never seen. Here the local cornus stolonifera produces good crops year after year. The seeds of these plants are amazingly hardy. Tests have been done on them taking them to -320 f  in a lab, and then these same seeds have been germinated!

The attractive berries of Cornus stolonifera each contain a large flat seed.

Red Twig Dogwood are easy to grow and adaptable to many conditions. they need require a site in full sun with plenty of water. They like rich soil but are tolerant of poorer soils. Often these plants grow in wet area and can be found along lake sides and in ditches.  To produce the best stem color it is necessary to prune every 2 to 3 years and remove the older stems. Although these plants can grow to heights of 12ft(3m) and width of similar proportions you rarely see this unless it is in a wilder area. Normally these plants are easily controlled by pruning to 3 or 4ft (1-1.5m) heights.

Cornus stolonifera 'Arctic Fire'

Cornus stolonifera 'Arctic Fire' has some of the best red stem color.

As mentioned these are extremely hardy plant which grow in zones 3(-40c or f) through 8(-1c or 10 f). Because of there hardieness this is a good shrub to use in colder areas where choice is limited. It can be used in many ways such as mass planting, formal or informal hedges, foundation planting or as an accent. Various color forms make an excellent winter color feature when this plant will really stand out. Cut branches make a beautiful addition by giving bright color and height to bouquets and winter arrangements. The red branches are great for festive decoration.

To learn more about colorful Red Twig Dogwoods:

Great website with beautiful pictures: http://www.gardenseeker.com/cornus_pruning.htm

Another good read about Red Twig Dogwood: http://davesgarden.com/guides/articles/view/1060/

Until we meet again….

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This is an article I wrote for ‘The Society of Friends of  St Ann’s Academy‘.  St Ann’s Academy is where  most of the pictures for this article were taken.

One job I have done at St. Ann’s Academy is checking the plants(trees and shrubs) listed as growing here in 1986 was correct. For the most part the list was correct, some had trees had been removed due to damage or illness. Many new plants had to be added to the list by 2004 when I started doing this work. This was because of the reworking of many areas including the formal driveway, parking lot, courtyard and most especially the Novitiate Garden which had not existed before. Many of the new plants are common such as Box and Yew which are suitable for the style of building and it’s age, others are more decorative. One plant special plant is hidden in the corner of the Novitiate Garden To see it you have to climb the stairs at the back of the church to be able to view it. This plant is the wonderful Mahonia x (media) ‘Charity’ a formidable cousin of our well-known Oregon Grape.

This Mahonia x 'Charity found at St Ann's Academy will bloom for months.

This Mahonia x 'Charity found at St Ann's Academy will bloom for months.

Mahonia x ‘Charity’ is one of several named seedlings of a cross of two species which are native to Asia; M. Japonica and M. Lomarifolia. This crossing was done at the famous Slieve Donard Nursery in Northern Ireland in about 1950. From the seedlings which prospered several were selected for their special qualities and named. They were named by the famous plantsman Christopher Brickwell ‘Faith’, ‘Hope’ and ‘Charity’ Of these three ‘Charity has become the most famous and easily obtainable, why this is I am not sure. I can say every time I see this plant; no matter where it has been or the season, I am impressed.

Mahonia x Charity spring growth.

The wonderful color of the new growth contrasts nicely with the exterior or Government House in Victoria.

Mahonia x ‘Charity’ is one of those gems which blooms in the winter season and then produces a great flush of wine tinted foliage followed by a great show of berries in the spring. The many small flowers are a buttery yellow and held upright on long racemes which are at the top of the plant. The flowers bloom from the base of the racemes up and continue to open for several weeks and not damaged by frosts. The golden spikes are quite a show being 2 ft(1.5m) tall and wide as well as being fragrant.

Mahonia x 'Charity' spring foliage and berries coloring up.

Mahonia x Charity has wonderful spring foliage color and a large crop of berries begining to color up, all feaures worthy of a star plant.

The leaves are typical Mahonia like, but, in giant proportions. Each leaf is made up of an average 17 leaflets. ‘Mahonia x Charity’ leaves are a typical thick leathery medium green with spines along the edges and tip.They can get a reddish tinge in the cooler months that is attractive. The leaves also have a subtle glossiness which looks good all year-round.

Mahonia x Charity leaves and flowers.

The leaves and flower raceme of Mahonia x 'Charity are huge compared to others of the species.

With such large leaves and big flower spikes you would expect big stems and you are right, although they look elegant because this is a multi-stemmed beast. The stems light brown color nicely contrasts with the green leaves.The whole plant can grow to be dense with closely held foliage if it is placed in the right location. Mahonia x ‘Charity’ like to placed where they are in dappled sun during the bright summer months, then with full sun during their flowering season which is anywhere from late October into March depending on where you are. Here it blooms every year during October and November(which is why I am writing about it now).

Mahonia x Charity

This Mahonia x Charity is found at Glendale Gardens and shows off it stems which are quite attractive.

Mahonia x ‘Charity’ prefers rich moisture retentive soil. It is best to place it in a spot where it gets some shade as it will be more yellowed otherwise.You have to be patient with this plant as it is slow to establish and may take several years before it blooms for you. It needs a good-sized space 8 ft(2.5m) by 6 to 8 ft(2-2.5m) wide to be comfortable. It is a very versatile shrub which looks good all year especially now. It is commonly used as a specimen, for winter interest, in large borders which can be mixed shrubs and or with perennials. If you have the space you won’t be disappointed in this Deer resistant shrub.

Buttery yellow Mahonia x Charity flowers.

Each flower spike is made up of many tiny, highly fragrant, buttery yellow blossoms.

More on Mahonia x Charity:
Gardeners’ World page on this plant: http://www.gardenersworld.com/plant-detail/PL00080263/11042/lily-of-the-valley-bush

Bellevue Botanical Garden page on the plant: http://www.bellevuebotanical.org/plantmonth/fmplantmonthindex.html

Until We Meet Again Later…..

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Were I come from the climate is cold and some types of plants are not well represented in the wild or are do not grow there at all. An example is broad leaf evergreen plants. The only types which have survived the extreme cold are those which have adapted themselves to be short enough to be coved by snow during the long winter. Another plant which has adapted itself in a most usual way is the Licorice Fern(Polypodium glycyrrhiza) which grow here on the mild wet coast.

Polypodium glycyrrhiza or Licorice Fern

Polypodium glycyrrhiza or Licorice Fern growing on top of a rocky ledge amoungst the moss.

I first saw Licorice Ferns in a park in Surrey, near Vancouver. They are not nearly as noticeable as they are here and that may be due to there being more rocky outcrops for them to hang off of and be more exposed. At this time of the year these plants stand out because the fronds are fresh and green, newly grown during the late fall. The adaption Polypodium glycyrrhiza uses is to be deciduous during the dry season summers here. As we approach late spring Licorice Ferns drop their leaves and go dormant over the dry hot summer. In early fall with the first rains of the approaching wet season the ferns wake up and start to grow a new crop of leaves.

Remnants of other years growth are seen at the base of this clump of Licorice Fern.

Remnants of other years growth are seen at the base of this clump of Licorice Fern.

Licorice Fern is a member of the Polypodium family of which there are up to 100 members.  They are spread throughout the world with the largest contingent found in tropical areas. All members of the family spread by rhizomes which are specialized stems that creep along the ground. The name Polypodium comes from ancient Greek and means: ‘poly’- many, and ‘podium(ion)’- little foot.  Glycyrrhiza is also from Greek and refers glykys(glycyr- sweet) and ‘rhiza’-root, this refers to the sweet licorice flavor of the root. The sweet flavor comes from ostadin which is a steroidal compound that is 3000 times sweeter than sucrose.

Several different clumps of Polypodium glycyrrhiza growing along Landsend Road in North Saanich.

Several different clumps of Polypodium glycyrrhiza growing along Landsend Road in North Saanich.

The Licorice Fern grows along a narrow strip which extends from central California through Oregon, Washington all the way up to Aleutin Islands. The area extends to the western slopes of the Coastal and Cascade Mountains and goes all the way to the ocean and then hops over the the major islands along the Pacific Ocean of North America. Polypodium glycyrrhiza grows in dappled to fully shaded sites which are often along road edges and rocky outcrops.  These ferns are also happy creeping up the bases of Big Leaf Maples(Acer macrophyllum), larger Alders and Garry Oaks. They are epiphytes which do no damage to the trees which they grow on. The fern roots have been used by native groups for healing sore throats and colds. The sweet rhizomes where sometimes chewed for the flavor. Licorice is one of only a few ferns which have been know to be eaten in various forms. The rhizomes were  eaten dried, steamed, raw or scorched.

You will find Licorice Ferns scattered through the gardens at Government House.

You will find Licorice Ferns scattered through the gardens at Government House.

Licorice Ferns grow in areas which often have very little soil. Often these sites have a layer of moss which spores of the ferns are able to grow in and develop into sheets of slowly creeping clumps of fronds. If you are lucky you will have a clump of these plants which will need little attention through the year. Many years ago I collected a piece of Polypodium glycyrrhiza which I have grown in a pot for many years. I bring it out to be on my steps during the winter for some seasonal color and later tuck into a less noticeable corner when it becomes dormant. I have divided it several times and given parts away to other gardeners.

My Licorice Fern growing in a colorful bucket on a step near my door.

My Licorice Fern growing in a colorful bucket on a step near my door.

In their native habitat Licorice Ferns can be seen growing along side wild Sedums, Tellima, Tiarellas and Heucheras. These ferns are charming to see in the winter and add a touch of bright green in areas which might be dingy and dark in the many conifers found here. I find Licorice Ferns facinating in where they choose to live and how they seem to miraculously appear on what look like barren rocks after the first rains of autumn every year. I always look forward to their appearance.

In the right place Licorice Ferns are a luxuriant carpet.

In the right place Licorice Ferns are a luxuriant carpet.

Growing Licorice Ferns are as easy as taking a piece and planting it where you want. It needs water during the winter when it is growing, now that is not hard at all here.  they are listed as growing in zones 5(-10 to -20f) through 8(10-20f). If they like their spot they will slowly increase the number of fronds which come up. they grow to 2ft tall, but rarely ever give that impression as they are usually bent over.

Polypodium glycyrrhiza in Playfair Park.

A great spot to view Polypodium glycyrrhiza is the top area of Playfair Park in Saanich.

More about Polypodium glycyrrhiza:

Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licorice_fern

Efloras page about Licorice Ferns: http://efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=233500977

Northwest Native of the Month: http://www.portlandnursery.com/plants/nativePicks/natives_polypodium.shtml

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When I was in Horticulture school way back in the dark ages we learned about 300 trees and shrubs, the hardest for me were getting the conifers correct in my mind. These are the needle trees and shrubs such as Junipers of which there are many species, hybrids and cultivars. Of the group of conifers we were introduced to and studied several lost their needles every autumn.  These species which lose their needles are not that common around here except for the curious case of  the Metasequoia glyptostroboides (Dawn Redwood) and what an interesting story it has!

Fantastic fall coloring of the Metasequioa glyptostroboides, A..K.A. Dawn Redwood.

Fantastic fall coloring of the Metasequioa glyptostroboides, A..K.A. Dawn Redwood.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides is a very old and yet new plant. It described in 1941 by Shigeru Miki, a Japanese Paleobotanist. The genus was already known from fossil samples which where in collections in various places. This may be why this tree was called a ‘living fossil’ when it was found. In 1943 C. Wang(Zhen Wang) from the National Bureau of Forest Research was visiting Wan Xian Agricultural School and heard about a huge unknown tree which was found in Modaoxi which was nearby. Wang then decided at that time to take his team and go and investigate this tree, they followed the directions they were given and travelled through high mountains to get to Wan Xian,Sichuan (now in Hubei province). They arrived in late July and collected branch and cone samples from the huge tree which was found there. In 1946 more specimens were collected from the same tree.

The cones of Dawn Redwood trees are small valved capsules.

The cones of Dawn Redwood trees are small valved capsules.

The tree specimens form the herbarium collections Wang had sent  back were at first mis-identified by him as a new species Glyptostobus pensilis. More study were done at the Department of Forestry at the National Central University(Chongqing) by W. C.Cheng who was a professor of Dendrology and Dean of the Department there. Cheng decided Wang was wrong.  Cheng and Wang published “Metasequoia glyptostroboides Hu et Cheng” jointly in 1948.

Dawn Redwood Shed branchlets which are made up of needles in the fall.

Dawn Redwood Shed branchlets which are made up of needles in the fall.

Fossil samples show there were as many as 20 species and subspecies of Metasequoia at  one time which covered a wide area in the Northern Hemisphere. Samples have been collected as far north as Axel Heiberg Island(Canada) which parallels Greenland.  The ‘Bandlands’ of Western North America are full of fossilized stumps and other tree remnants. These fossils are from late Cretaceous to Miocene strata which they are well represented in.

One of several of the Dawn Redwood found at Beaconhill Park.

One of several of the Dawn Redwood found at Beacon Hill Park.

Most of the older Meatasequoia glyptostroboides are from the original seed sample material that was sent to Arnold Arboretum in 1948 and then germinated for distribution. The  new seedlings were sent to universities, other arboretum and  important parks for further study of the tree’s growth habits.  Most trees we have come from this original collection and this has created problems with in-breeding depression. To solve this problem in 1991 extensive seed collecting took place from the wild forests along the Sichuan-Hubei border in China. This will increase genetic diversity in the cultivated species. Plants which have come onto the market since this time are considered much stronger.

The delicate branches of the Dawn Redwood give this tree a delicate whimsical look.

The delicate branches of the Dawn Redwood give this tree a delicate whimsical look.

Dawn Redwoods are a fast growing tree which are normally are low limbed, making them great trees for climbing.  They need a large area, growing 75-100ft(23-30.5m) tall and 15-25ft(4.5-7.7m) wide. They like full sun and a well-drained moist site for the best growth.they do not like alkaline soils.  it is best to avoid planting these trees in frost pockets where the delicate emerging foliage can be damaged by late frosts. This tree is generally pest and disease if well taken care of.  They grow best in zones 4 through 8.

Older Dawn Redwood trees which retain their lower limbs can develope butresses bases which are much loved by children.

Older Dawn Redwood trees which retain their lower limbs can develope buttresses bases which are much-loved by children.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides is a true Sequoia and is related to the two other species (Sequoia sempervirens and Sequoiadendron giganteum) which are found on the west coast of North America. All tree species are listed in the subfamily Sequoioideae. The cones, and bark are similar,but the shedding of the foliage is different and highly unusual for any conifer.

More on Metasequoia:

A great source of information on all important conifer trees: http://www.conifers.org/cu/me/index.htm

Metasquoia has it’s own tree website: http://www.metasequoia.org/

A great source of information is alway found on this site: http://www.hort.uconn.edu/Plants/m/metgly/metgly1.html

Until we meet again……….


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