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Archive for March, 2011

Many plants become famous for things other than their flowers. The form and structure of a plant influences how it is used in a garden. The overall color and texture of a plant contributes much to a plants use. Some plants remind people of other things and their name reflects that. Euphorbia species cover all these bases and more. Euphorbia myrsintes(Myrtle Spurge) has wonderful color, texture and form as well as an element which can be somewhat sinister.

 Mrytle Spurge(Euphorbia myrsinites) sprawls across a rock earlier this year.

Myrtle Spurge(Euphorbia myrsinites) sprawls across a rock earlier this year.

Myrtle Spurge has been known from the earliest time. Theophratus (372-287 B.C.) said it looked like a kind of  ‘Tithymallos’ and called it ‘Myrtle-like’. Dioscorides described it as ‘hath leaves like to Myrsine, but greater and strong and sharp and prickly on top’. We also come to Pliny who said ‘Mytites had medicinal uses. Flower heads where harvested and dried long before they had started to swell to blossom and were used with other plants and said to heal sores in the mouth and used as an emetic. We of course do not use this plant for any type of medical or edible use today.

The chartreuse flowers of Euphorbia myrsinites contrast with the  distinctive sea green foliage to produce a unique sight in the garden.

The chartreuse flowers of Euphorbia myrsinites contrast with the distinctive sea green foliage to produce a unique sight in the garden.

With such an ‘old’ plant we are not the least surprised to find out where Euphorbia myrsinites comes from; the Mediterranean. Euphorbia myrsinites grows naturally in a wide area from the Balearic Islands near Corsica, moves across southern Italy through Croatia, Bosnia Hercegovina and Montenegro and through Greece. From Greece it is found in Turkey and Asia Minor south and east all the way to Iran. It is found in rocky and sandy areas as well as in open areas under open forests often populated by Pine. The plant grows from near sea level into mountain slopes.

The serpentine foliage of Euphorbia myrsinites becomes grayer in the drought and heat of summer here.

The serpentine foliage of Euphorbia myrsinites becomes grayer in the drought and heat of summer here.

All Euphorbia species have milky sap wich is released when the plant is damaged. The sap is a form of natural latex which is sticky and contains Diterpene esters which are often irritating to people who have sensitivities. Not all people react to this chemical in the same way I for years propagated many species of Euphorbia and had no trouble, I was always careful when doing cuttings and did my work in well ventilated areas and washed my hands throughly. If you have any concerns do not grow Euphorbias which include Poinsettia of Christmas, or grow them in area where they are out of the way.

A seedling Myrtle Spurge is seen growing in a crevice with native Sedum and Oregon Grape.

A seedling Myrtle Spurge is seen growing in a crevice with native Sedum and Oregon Grape.

Euphorbia myrsinites grows in Victoria well as long as it has good drainage. The best plantings I have seen here are at Government House in the Terrace Garden which is a steep cliff area with gardens running down its face. In this garden there are many tender and exotic plants as well as those which are drought tolerant and can live in areas with little soil. Several species of Euphorbia are featured there. There is also a rough stone staircase which has plants in the cracks including todays plant. Another interesting planting is found at Glendale Gardens where these plants are displayed in the drought tolerant garden.

The rock staircase in the Terrace Gardens at Governemnt House is a perfect place to display Euphorbia myrsinites.

The rock staircase in the Terrace Gardens at Government House is a perfect place to display Euphorbia myrsinites.

Euphorbia myrsinites is easily grown in soil which is extremely well-drained and not to nutrient rich. Full sun at all times in an absolute must. These plants ideally like to sprawl on rocks or gravel or hand slightly over edges which they dry quickly from rains.  This plant has thick leaves and a thick base which is almost a caudex which helps it withstand drought conditions for several months at a time. These plants are excellent in large rockeries, containers, slopes and out of the way crevices which are hard to maintain. Creeping Spurge grows about 15-20 cm.(6-8 in.) tall and sprawls 45-60 cm. (18- 24 in.). It is rated as growing in zones 5 though 9 or tolerates temperatures down to -29 c (-20 f.) with perfect drainage and protection from winter winds.

Here the thick caudex-like rootstock is visible where this Myrtle Spurge has been pulled out slightly.

Here the thick caudex-like rootstock is visible where this Myrtle Spurge has been pulled out slightly.

Myrtle Spurge often is not long-lived but can produce seedlings which can be moved into place. Seedlings also are easily removed if not wanted or remove the flower heads before the seed has ripened. In some areas Euphorbia myrsinites has been classified as a noxious weed for it has been able to seed and spread into unwanted areas. It can not be grown or brought into Colorado, Oregon or Washington states. It is up to us as  nursery growers and gardeners to make sure we are not causing a problem by not taking care of our plants. by removing spent flowers or disposing of seed heads we can make sure that attractive but foreign plants do not become a problem in the future.

 
Now for some interesting and informative links:

Wiki page of this plant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphorbia_myrsinites

How this plant is viewed at Poisonous Plants of North Carolina: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/hort/consumer/poison/Euphomy.htm

The Drought Tolerant Garden at Glendale Gardens: http://www.glendalegardens.ca/droughttolerantgarden.php

Expereinces of the people of Dave’s Garden, pro and con:  http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/781/

………See you very soon right back here………

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When I first started horticulture school many years ago it was autumn and the leaves where changing color.  The trees and shrubs we were leaning were all new to me and often did not impress me too much in ragged end of year state. As the season progressed into winter I learned to appreciate the form and shape of the simple things like tree structure, bark and buds and the often subtle differences between closely related species. The spring brought new hope of reawakening in the city which was my new classroom, those buds expanded and soon the earliest flowers were blooming. All around was color, especially yellow and the most vibrant of all were the Golden Bells or Common Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia).

 Forsythis x intermedia is one of the brightest shrubsto bloom at any time of the year.

Forsythis x intermedia is one of the brightest shrubsto bloom at any time of the year.


Forsythias like so many plants comes from the vast area of eastern Asia. There are 11 known species with only 1 which originates from Europe.The most important species in horticulture are Forsythia suspensa, viridissima, ovata and japonica. From this group the suspensa x  viridissima which is known as F. x intermedia is the most important and has contributed a number of well known garden plants.
 Although the flowers of Forsythia x intermedia are small, there are thoousands which coat the branches.

Although the flowers of Forsythia x intermedia are small, there are thoousands which coat the branches.


Forsythia x intermedia is a cross of 2 species(suspensa x viridissima) which originate in China. The first species seen and written about was F. suspensa (Weeping Forsythia) which was seen by Carl Peter Thunberg in Japan where he was posted in 1784. At that time he thought it was a form of Lilac (Syringa) and called it Syringa suspensa. An interesting factoid is that Lilacs and Forsythia are in the same family as Olives (Oleaceae).  This species brings a drooping habit to its branches and has rambling/suckering growth.

The 'greenstem' influence of Forsythia viridissima is seen here along with the slightly angular surface. The lenticels (bumps on barks) are typical for the species.

The 'greenstem' influence of Forsythia viridissima is seen here along with the slightly angular surface. The lenticels (bumps on bark) are typical for the species.


The other species in the cross is viridissima which is also from China and was discovered by Robert Fortune  in about 1850. Greenstem Forsythia blooms later than any of the other Forsythia species and has noticeably green, square stems. It is thought the species met in Holland and naturally crossed there but it also just as likely that there are natural crosses found in the wild where the plant species grow in the same areas close together.
The hardy Forsythia x intermedia buds are set in the fall and over-winter tightly before they burst forth into bloom usually in late February around here.

The hardy Forsythia x intermedia buds are set in the fall and over-winter tightly before they burst forth into bloom usually in late February around here.


Forsythia x intermedia are considered to be somewhat out of fashion these days because they are not really a controlled plant. I found it interesting that when I moved here to Victoria that it is hard to find these plants as they are much more common in the Vancouver area where I had been living at. Victoria is an older city  than Vancouver and Forsythia are a very ‘Victorian era’ type of plant and I just assumed in the spring they would show up in the older yards around here.
 A very old Forsythia x intermedia near Commercial Drive in Vancouver.

A very old Forsythia x intermedia near Commercial Drive in Vancouver.


Forsythia x intermedia are easy to grow and will live for many decades in the right place. They take all most any soil as long as it drains well and is not totally clay. They produce the best flowering in full sun but take light shade and give a good flower display. They often grow into dense multi-stemmed shrubs which sucker to expand that gives them a messy appearance. They typically grow up to 3.5 m. (10 ft.) by a similar width. The branches can be seen growing upright or drooping on the same plant. Branches that touch the soil and remain there often will root and produce new growth.  These plants can be severely pruned into shrubs but most of the flowers will be lost, often only seen deep in the plant or on the top.  Free form, informal hedges (less clipped) are beautiful and bright if you have the space.
 Here Forsythia x intermedia is seen with another brightly flowering shrub Pieris 'Valley Valentine'.

Here Forsythia x intermedia is seen with another brightly flowering shrub Pieris 'Valley Valentine'.


Often Forsythia x intermedia is not noticed until it bursts into color in the spring just when we need the bright colors to help us wake up from our winter slumber. It an excellent shrub for early spring color and autumn color as it often shows tinges of madder and plum in its golden foliage. Use Forsythia in mixed borders for early spring color, winter gardens, low maintainance areas, as informal or formal hedges or in heritage gardens. Another favorite use is for forcing the flowers by bringing in branches and letting them open inside.  The best thing might be that it is quite hardy and tolerates -20 c. (-4 f.) and I have seen it growing in much colder places than that with sheltering from harsh north winds. As a side note if you live in a very cold climate look out for Forsythia ‘Northern Gold’ which takes zone 3 (-40 c. or f.).

Following Forsythia:

What People are saying about their plants: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/74859/

One of the best places to look up shrubs and tree and their description: http://www.hort.uconn.edu/plants/f/forint/forint1.html

The Genus Forsythia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forsythia

For you gardeners in the north here is Forsythia ‘North Gold’ http://www.northscaping.com/InfoZone/FS-0038/FS-0038.shtml

…….Hope you follow along with me here……

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When I went to work for a large wholesale perennial grower I was surprised by the diversity of material that was sold. They wanted to extend their sales season by selling not only perennials but include other related plant material such as Heather, herbs, small shrubs and in the earliest spring small bulb which you could buy in bloom at the grocer. Within the bulbs sold there were Crocus, small Daffodils, Snowdrops and Iris. The Reticulated Iris (Iris reticulata) were a brilliant blue and always sold out quickly.

The classic Iris reticulata (Reticulated Iris) ia a welcome shot of brilliant blue in the garden.

The classic Iris reticulata (Reticulated Iris) ia a welcome shot of brilliant blue in the garden.

Reticulated Iris are in a subgenus Hermodactyloides which include other closely related species. They are all bulbous with netted tunics(coverings), which is where the latin name ‘reticulata’ comes from meaning netted or networked. All of the species originate in western Asia ranging from Turkey south through Lebanon through into Iraq and Iran, to the east into the Caucasus and Transcaucasia and into the former USSR.  They live in areas high in areas just below the snow line down into the lower mountain meadows and on to rocky hillside where the water runs off and they bake in the summer heat while they are dormant like many of famous bulbous plants of the area.

Iris "George' is a standout form ith its rich coloring.

Iris "George' is a standout form ith its rich coloring.

There are several color forms of Iris reticulata ranging from the almost  icy white ‘Natascha’ through the light blue ‘Cantab’ into the violet ‘Lovely Liza’ and into deep purple  of ‘George’ and ‘Purple Gem’. Other species are sometimes seen in collections but are harder to find at garden centers. Here in Victoria we have a thriving, large garden community as well as many people who are interested in alpine gardens, it makes it possible to see a wider range of Reticulated Iris forms.

The exotic colored Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin' has wonderfully reticulated petals.

The exotic colored Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin' has wonderfully reticulated petals.

Several species have added their coloring and petal form to new hybrids in the Reticulated Iris group. One of the more spectacular of these is Iris ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ is a cross of Iris winogradowii with its pale yellow flowers and Iris histrioides which is pale blue. Iris histrioides  and histrio, both blue play important roles in new crosses that are being made, the both have similarly narrow petals and blue coloring. The markings on these species tends to be dark blue with little yellow seen if at all.

Iris reticulata "Alida' has a distinct solid pale blue coloring with a dash of lemon in its throat.

Iris reticulata "Alida' has a distinct solid pale blue coloring with a dash of lemon in its throat.

I am fortunate that every year at this time I can go to a grocer and buy a tiny pot with several Iris reticulata bulbs blooming in it, enjoy the flowers then plant them out in the garden. We are also fortunate that these plants are undemanding and give us such joy at this time of the year. the most important thing Reticulated Iris need is well-drained soil and a situation where they can dry out during their summer dormancy, this can be created by planting them on a slope or giving them extra gritty soil. Plant the bulbs 10-12 cm. (4-5 in.) deep and about 3 cm.(1 in.) apart.  They grow  1-15 cm. (4-6 in.) tall. they are quite hardy and rate zones 5 -29 c.(-20 f.)through 9. With extra mulch it is likely that they can survive even colder locations.

Tough Reticulated Iris flowers are not effected by winter freezes or snow piled up around them.

Tough Reticulated Iris flowers are not effected by winter freezes or snow piled up around them.

These are small plants that usually produce 1 to 2 flowers per bulb. Mass planting is the best way to display these Reticulated Iris. They are most often seen in container plantings, alpine gardens or rock gardens. Although they are tiny in statue Reticulated Iris are good cut flowers and have an unusual, delicate violet-like fragrance. They can be grown from seed but this is a slow process as it takes about 5 years to produce a flowering bulb. If they are in a favorable place the bulbs can be divided to thin the bulbs out every 2 years. The new bulbs can be moved to other places or massed where they are. One problem we have here are slugs which eat the tender flowers, so remember this when choosing a site for these tiny gems.

The slug damage to this Iris danfordiae makes it all most unrecognizable.

The slug damage to this Iris danfordiae makes it all most unrecognizable.

Marticulate this:

The Pacific Bulb Society page on these plants:  http://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/ReticulataIrises

A fascinating site on reticulata with its many forms and colors: http://www.reticulatas.com/

……..Looking forward to seeing you here soon……..

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