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Archive for the ‘colorful berries’ Category

Some plants I see and fall in love with instantly and want to get one…when reality sets I know this is impossible as I have no spot to put it. I will forget about the plant and later stumble on it in other places and remember all over again how beautiful it is. Such is the case with Styrax japonius(a) (Japanese Snowbell tree), its a tree which I keep stumbling on and see how wonderful it is.

The dainty scented white bells of Styrax japonicus coat the undersides of this small tree.

The dainty scented white bells of Styrax japonicus coat the undersides of this small tree.

Styrax  is a genus of 130 species of which only a few come areas other than the tropics and several are used in garden. Styrax japonicus is the most well-known of the ornamental plants. Some tropical Styrax species are also known for giving us benzoin resin which is exuded from piercing the bark and collecting the dried substance. The resin has been used since antiquity in perfumes, incense and medicines(tincture of Benzoin).

The Japanese Snowbell is a small layered tree with elegant leaves and flowers

The Japanese Snowbell is a small layered tree with elegant leaves and flowers.

Styrax japonicus come from a fairly wide area of Asia from Korea into China and Japan. Japanese Snowbell was first described by Seibold and then re-introduced by Richard Oldham(1834-1862) in 1862 from Japan. He was employed by the Royal Botanical Gardens(Kew) and was sent to collect plants in Asia in 1861. He first collected around Nagasaki and Yokohama  (1862-3) and later in China where he died at the age of 27. He introduced no new species but his extensive herbarium collections were studied at Kew and in Leiden Germany.

Styrax japonicus 'Rosea' has the lightest pink tinge at the base of the flowers.

Styrax japonicus 'Rosea' has the lightest pink tinge at the base of the flowers.

When Japanese Snowbell was introduced the public in the 1860s it must have made an impact on gardeners and other esteemed people as it was quickly awarded a First Class Certificate (FCC) in 1885 by The Royal Horticultural Society. In  1984 it was given another award by the same group  an AGM (Award of Merit).  These awards are made from recommendation  by a committee to the RHS council and are similar to judgements made at exhibits (based on samples, branches or plants which are viewed on one day).

Styrax japonicus are very late to color up in autumn and when they do we are rewarded with buttery yellows which fade to light browns.ngyro

Styrax japonicus are very late to color up in autumn and when they do we are rewarded with buttery yellows which fade to light reds.

Japanese Snowbell are small trees which have layered branch structures. They are often nearly as wide as they are tall. When they are in bloom the flowers coat the undersides of the tree with small drooping white bells which have a pleasing light perfume. It is best to locate these trees where they are on a slight incline so it is easy to view the flowers in bloom. The fruit produces are small drupes which look like tiny nuts and are dainty.

Tiny egg-shaped drupes are the fruit produced by Styrax  japonicus.

Tiny egg-shaped drupes are the fruit produced by Styrax japonicus.

Japanese Snowbell trees grow 6-9 m 20-30 ft.) tall and nearly as wide. They grow in full sun to dappled locations and even fairly dark areas. Like many small trees in its native habitat it is often found as an understory plant growing amoungst larger trees. It likes well-drained rich soil which is slightly acidic.These trees are surprisingly hardy and are rated as zone 5 -29 c. (-20 f.).

Styrax japonicus (Japanese Snowbell) are perfect small specimen trees for urban gardens.

Styrax japonicus (Japanese Snowbell) are perfect small specimen trees for urban gardens.

Styrax japonicus can be used in a variety of ways, they are ideal for as small specimen trees, for small urban lots, patio plantings and in small groups. They are also well-known as bonsai subjects.  There are several named forms worth looking into. ‘Emerald Pagoda is a selection which is more robust with bigger flowers and leaves. ‘Pink Chimes’ has better, more pronounced color which does not fade out in heat. ‘Carillon’ is a weeping form which is said to be the same as ‘Pendula’. ‘Angryo Dwarf’ is as the name say an even shorter form. It is up to you what one you feel is the best for your situation…I have always been a sucker for pure white flowers!

A Flury  of links:

The many Styrax species:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Styrax

Other peoples experience with this tree:http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/59761/#b

Virginia Tech has a concise page on the tree:http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=322

Richard Oldham:http://www.kew.org/news/kew-blogs/library-art-archives/richard-oldham-last-botanical-collector.htm

………..Follow me on an adventure around the plant world…………

 

 

 

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When I moved to go to school I soon missed the outdoors in the way I had experienced it during my life. I was no longer able step outside and wander in the woods within a few steps of the home I had lived in. It was not until I moved to the island I am on now that I had time to find the wild again as it was much closer. Now I wander in the woods and along paths where wildflowers and nature is close to undisturbed. People here care a great deal about keeping it that way. I have had the chance to become re-aquainted to some plants which were beloved by our family here. The Maianthemum family offer up 2 of these loved plants and 1 other which is new to me. I a particularly fond of Maianthemum dilatatum( Wild Lily of the Valley)

 Maianthemum dilatatum (Wild Lily of the Valley) is now is the same  botanical family as the real Lily of the Valley(Convillaria majalis).

Maianthemum dilatatum (Wild Lily of the Valley) is now is the same botanical family as the real Lily of the Valley(Convillaria majalis).

Maianthemum family has recently gone through several changes which are important to note: first it has expanded to include the species which were once known as Smilacina.  The other more important thing is that Maianthemum species was moved from the Lilacae (Lily)family into the Ruscaceae family which includes Convillaria(Lily of the Valley) now. It shows the close relation of Maianthemum and Convillaria.  This realignment is quite interesting botanically as it changes what we used to think of as Lilies(Lileaceae).

As a child I would pick armloads of Maianthemum racemosum (Smilacina) and give them to my mother to put in vases at home.

As a child I would pick armloads of Maianthemum racemosum (Smilacina) and give them to my mother to put in vases at home.

Around here you will most like come across Maianthemum dilatatum in the moister areas of the woodlands. I first came across it along the path that ran next to the house I lived in for many years. Not far away I found it growing with horsetail under the Rhododendron plantings at Dominion Brook Park, the contrast in textures was interesting. I was delighted to find it on my first visit to Finnerty Gardens where it is used as a lush groundcover. I now see it in many places which are shady and somewhat damp throughout the year.

 This bright Rhododendron luteum is set of by the lush Maianthemum dilatatum covering the ground so completely at Finnerty Gardens.

This bright Rhododendron luteum is set of by the lush Maianthemum dilatatum covering the ground so completely at Finnerty Gardens.

The similarity of False Lily of theValley  to Convillaria is somewhat hard to find as the leaves are so broad and the flowers are not bell-shaped. Both plants are highly fragrant and all parts are poisonous to consume in any form. Mainathemum dilatatum is found in a large area running from Northern California along the coast through Alaska on to the Russian coast south into Korea and finally into Japan.  Maianthemum was named by Linnaeus most likely after M. canadense which was already known from samples collected in eastern North America.

The leaves of Wild Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) remind me very much of that of some Hosta cultivars with their overall shape and vein pattern of the leaves.

The leaves of Wild Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) remind me very much of that of some Hosta cultivars with their overall shape and vein pattern of the leaves.

There are other members of the Maianthemum family which are more refined, the already mentioned M. canadense is a charming smaller version of dilatatum. Maianthemum stellatum grows here and was originally classed as a Smilacina which is seen in its foliage. It has few flowers and is delicate, I first came across it near Playfair Park at the top of Judge Place growing along a seep area.

Maianthemum stellatum is a delicate colonizing plant found in the woodland across northern areas on North America.

Maianthemum stellatum is a delicate colonizing plant found in the woodland across northern areas on North America.

All the Maianthemum species I have mentioned here can be vigorous spreading plants and care must be taken when placing them in your garden so they do not overwhelm other weaker plants. The most agressive of these plants is M. dilatatum which creeps into gardens and provides a seemingly smothering coat of  leaves. These plants grow by creeping rhizomes(roots) which are able to branch and spread more widely. They all like rich moisture retentive soil which does not dry out completely during hot periods. These plants prefer dappled to fairly deep shade and will go prematurely dormant if they are too exposed to overly bright, dry situations.

Wild(False) Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) provides a strong and lush groundcover.

Wild(False) Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) provides a strong and lush groundcover.

 Maianthemum racemosum, stellatum  and canadense are extremely hardy plants and take zone 3-8 (-40 c and f.). Maianthemum dilatatum tolerates probably -20 c (-4 f.).  M.racemosum grows to 1-1.25 m.(4 ft.) tall and easily as wide. The other species will grow no higher than 35 cm.(15 in.) tall and an indeterminant width. M. canadense is the smallest and least vigorous growing plant and could be used in more delicate places. All these plants are highly fragrant, have good autumn coloring and make good cut flowers. All these plants fit into the woodland garden and can be used for groundcover, massing  or as accents. Maianthemum racemosum is a standout plant with attractive foliage, berries and golden autumn coloring which makes it an excellent specimen for a shady garden.

Maianthemum madness:

Pacific Bulb Society listing of species: http://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/Maianthemum

Wiki listing of all the species http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maianthemum

PNW Flowers listing of M.dilatatum: http://www.pnwflowers.com/flower/maianthemum-dilatatum

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This is the time of year which is the most exciting in the garden. After a cold winter we wait with bated breath to see what has survived and even will thrive. I note some Rhododendrons seem to have smaller flowers and the Tulips are finally beginning to show their buds. One plant I associate with spring is Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) which is bursting forth with its bright fragrant flowers.

The Oregon Grape(Mahonia aquifolium) here is a welcome addition to this spring garden of mixed bulbs and native plants.

The Oregon Grape(Mahonia aquifolium) here is a welcome addition to this spring garden of mixed bulbs and native plants.

Oregon Grape is a shrub which is from the west coast of British Columbia south into northern California west of the Cascade Mountains where this plant is generally found as an understory plant to trees such as Douglas Fir and here Garry Oaks. Mahonia was named after Bernard McMahon (1775-1816) who is said to have been the first ‘nurseryman’ in North America, he published the first plant catalogue and the book “American Gardeners’ Calender’  He was the curator of the plants of the Lewis and Clark collection of plants.  Thomas Nuttall honored his friend by using his name as “Mahonia’  for naming a plant (Mahonia nervosa) in the collection.

The bright flowers of Mahonia aquifolium contrast nicely with wine tinted evergreen foliage.

The bright flowers of Mahonia aquifolium contrast nicely with wine tinted evergreen foliage.


The leaves( and leaflets) of the Oregon Grape look similar to that of common Holly (Ilex aquifolium) but are larger, thinner and take on maroon and red tints in winter cold. This past winter was colder than normal here and the red tints are very evident on many plant here. Oregon Grape are well-known to the native people here and have in the past been used for medicinal and food uses.  The roots were used to make a tonic which was used to counteract weariness, loss of appetite  and other similar maladies. the roots contain the alkaloid berberine which is found in  ‘Goldenseal’ and has anti-inflamitory and anti bacterial properties. The fruit was as mild laxative. As a food the berries were sometimes mixed with other sweeter berries to make them more palatable. The fruit is very bitter until touched by frost and then can be used for making  jelly. Another way this plant has been used is for dying items, the roots have distinctive yellow sap and the berries provide purple coloring.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) produced copius crops of blue fruit which are eaten by birds after it has been touched by frost to sweeten it.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) produced copius crops of blue fruit which are eaten by birds after it has been touched by frost to sweeten it.


Mahonia aquifolium is much used in landscapes today and is often seen as a barrier plant in parking lots where it often is neglected and abused, there are better plants for that purpose. I like to see it used in more creative ways. One of the more interesting uses I have seen is as a background planting to Hydrangeas at Finnerty Gardens in Victoria. The garden has a collection of Hydrangeas which are dormant when our lovely Oregon Grape blooms. Oregon Grape works as winter and early spring interest and then the Hydrangea will take over for the late spring into autumn with a consistent evergreen background to show it off.
Here at Finnerty Gardens the Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) will bloom while the Hydrangea shrubs are leafing out in front.

Here at Finnerty Gardens the Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) will bloom while the Hydrangea shrubs are 'leafing' out in front.


Oregon Grape is an easy plant to grow if it is given the right conditions to grow in. Mahonia aquifolium likes part sun to full shade with the only exceptions in more northern areas where light is not as strong as in the south. For better flower and fruit production give it better light.  It grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soil which is more acidic than alkaline. It does poorly on thin, compacted and clay soils which stay wet and are poorly drained. Here it grows under the light shade of deciduous trees and mixed with other shrubs. It is best to place these plants where they will avoid the drying winds of winter which can do much damage to broad-leaved evergreens here. Most of the Oregon Grape I have seen here overwintered well with little damage, the added bonus was richer maroon tints to the foliage from the winter cold.
The maroon tints of the foliage of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) were quite spectacular this spring.

The maroon tints of the foliage of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) were quite spectacular this spring.


Mahonia aquifolium is a slow-growing multi-stemmed shrub which over time can grow to be well over 2 m. (6 ft.) tall. With the branches generally being very ascending , this shrub tends to have a narrow profile. The plant can easily be managed by removing branches from the base. Use this shrub in your native garden or in wilder places which might be a little out of the way. The leaves are prickly so keep it away from narrow paths or tight areas where you might brush up against it. Mahonia aquifolium is well used in mass planting or a specimen. It attracts bees by providing an early source of honey when there might be little available (the flowers are honey scented as well).  It is known to hybridise with other Mahonia species and these crosses can give varied results in height and sprawling habit.
I find the variation in the flower panicles  of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) interesting, some are stumpy like this one while others are loose and open like the 2nd picture in this article.

I find the variation in the flower panicles of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) interesting, some are stumpy like this one while others are loose and open like the 2nd picture in this article.

Mahonia is a much loved plant and has been adopted as the state plant of Oregon which is found between California and Washington. It has many appealing atributes to make a good garden plant which should be seen more ofte. There are 12 Mahonia species in North America and some of these have been listed as noxious weeds, I think that there might be some confusion in listing this species there.

 

Links a’plenty for you:

Washington State Native Plant Society page on the plant: http://www.wnps.org/landscaping/herbarium/pages/mahonia-aquifolium.html

The ‘Wiki’ page is interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon-grape

Bernard McMahon and his contribution to gardening in early America: http://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/bernard-mcmahon

……….Hope to see you here again very soon………

 

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Another grey week and another plant hunt for something special. Usually I have a list of plants in mind but right now it is hard because some of the plants I wanted to do were damaged by an unusually hard freeze which came in early November last year. At that time many of the plants were not hardened off for the winter with the damage especially seen by broad-leaved evergreens which have much browned and dead foliage now. In my wandering last week I stumbled upon two plants of the same family which are stars at this time of the year. They are the Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularis) and the Stinking or Gladwyn Iris (Iris foetidissima). They are the stars for different reasons as you will see!

 Winter or Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularis) is sometimes incorrectly labeled by its old name of Iris stylosa.

Winter or Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularis) is sometimes incorrectly labeled by its old name of Iris stylosa.


The first stop we make is with the Algerian or Winter Iris with its lovely large violet blooms. It was first described by Botanist/clergyman  Jean Louis Marie Pioret (1755-1834) in his journal ‘Voyage et Barbarie’ in 1789.  He had been sent to Algeria by Louis XVI between 1785-6 to study the flora. The lovely Iris is more widespread and found in area from Algeria and Tunisia across north Africa into Turkey, Greece Crete and Malta. In the vast area it is known to live int there is some variation in color and form.
The type of Iris unguicularis I have found in Victoria seems to be the 'Algerian' form which has the largest flowers of the species.

The type of Iris unguicularis I have found in Victoria seems to be the 'Algerian' form which has the largest flowers of the species.


Algerian Iris produce new leaves in late spring and through the summer. Often you can clip the old leave edges back when they get looking tattered. Iris unguicularis likes the sunniest, driest spot in the garden with the grittiest soil. At Government House in Victoria the plants are perfectly place in the terrace garden which is on a southern exposed rock-face.  The warmer and drier the summer the more blossoms will be produced.  One thing about these plants is they hate to be moved or have their roots disturbed in any way.
 A just opened Algerian Iris in the late afternoon sun has delicate coloring and scent.

A just opened Algerian Iris in the late afternoon sun has delicate coloring and scent.


The Gladwyn Iris is from more northern areas from southern England, Ireland through Portugal, Spain Canary Island on to Italy and finally the island of Malta.
The Gladwyn Iris (Iris foetidissma) is more famous for its brightly colored seeds which are seen during the winter months here.

The Gladwyn Iris (Iris foetidissma) is more famous for its brightly colored seeds which are seen during the winter months here.


The ‘Stinking Iris has gained an unfair reputation from its name. One has to crush the leaves and the flower to obtain even a faintly unpleasant scent. Iris foetidissima is a plant which has long been with us. It blooms in the traditional Iris time of late May and June, but, the flowers are small and often hidden in the foliage. The colors range from a creamy ochre into plummy shades.
The flowers of Iris foetidissima are often hidden in the plants foliage.

The flowers of Iris foetidissima are often hidden in the plants foliage.


The Gladwyn Iris is a plant of the woodlands, hedgerows, scrubs and cliff edges and other rocky sites. It is a plant which likes chalky and limestone  heavy locations. Gladwyn Iris can grow in the sun or dappled shade and like average soil. They like sufficient water when they are growing in the spring and then dry conditions the rest of the year.After blooming it produces larger than average seed pods which ripen through the summer and into early winter when they burst. Inside the pods are usually bright orange seeds which remain colorful throughout the winter. The other day I noticed pods recently opened and others still green and waiting to split. Just like the flowers there are other known seed colors which are sought after and they range from golden yellows to creams and white. Probably the most want of the Gladwyn Iris is Iris foetidissima ‘Variegata’ with beautifully uniform cream stripes running up the leaves.
The variegated Gladwyn Iris(Iris foetidissma 'Variegata') is most sought after, as you see it is stunning in dappled location at Glendale Garden.

The Variegated Gladwyn Iris (Iris foetidissma 'Variegata') is most sought after, as you see they are stunning in dappled location at Glendale Garden.

Algerian and Gladwyn Iris are about the same height 45-60cm.(12-18 in.) and width They also share the same temperature tolerance to 15 c. (5 f.) or zones 7 through 9. Both plants are drought tolerant when they have been established. They are rabbit and deer resistant but can be damaged by slugs and snails. They make excellent specimens, accents s, mass evergreen plantings and work well in containers. Both of these species are not easy to find in plant centres or garden shops, the best bet would be to find them at garden sales or from specialty Iris growers.

Gladwyn Iris on the upper left and Algerian Iris on the lower right.

Gladwyn Iris on the upper left and Algerian Iris on the lower right.


This Odd Couple of the Irises:

Pacific Bulb Society has interesting note on both plants on this page, look down the page to find the species you are interested in: http://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/BeardlessIrises

Algerian Iris:

How to grow: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/4208463/How-to-Grow-Iris-unguicularis.html

Gladwyn Iris:

Wild in Malta: http://maltawildplants.com/IRID/Iris_foetidissima.php

……See you soon when we travel the path of plants again…..

 

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My father grew up mainly in the interior where the winters are long and cold and the warm summer months are short and much longed for. I am sure that and his father who loved gardening and nature influenced the way he experienced the world. My father always loved the scent of flowers and would check every new type he came into contact. I often wanted to show him new plant for him to experience and comment on. One plant I was especially happy for him to meet and smell its wonderful scent is Japanese Skimmia(Skimmia japonica).

Here in this group of Japanese Skimmia you can see the berried female plants in the front and the males in the back covered with flower buds waiting for the spring.

Here in this group of Japanese Skimmia you can see the berried female plants in the front and the males in the back covered with flower buds waiting for the spring.

There are 4 species of Skimmia and all are found in Asia; all of the species having attractive berries, aromatic foliage and fragrant flowers.  Skimmia japonica was first originally described by Carl Thunberg in ‘Flora Japonica'( published 1784), his record of plants which he collected in Japan in 1775-1776.  At that time it was thought the plant was a type of Holly(Ilex).  Holly like this Skimmia species has separate male and female plants.  Robert Fortune introduce a plant from China which was is a hermaphrodite(male and female parts on the same plant), this plant was later determined to be an important subspecies now known as Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana. What is now known is that Skimmia japonica is quite variable and is found in a wide range of areas ranging from Taiwan through the Japanese islands into Korea and Sakhalin. With the variability of the species, many new forms have been introduced.

 This appears to be a female Skimmia japonica plant as there does not appear to be any stamens with pollen present.

This appears to be a female Skimmia japonica plant as there does not appear to be any stamens with pollen present.

When Robert Fortune’s plant was introduced to the public by Sunniingdale Nursery in 1849 it was an instant hit and from that time Japanese Skimmia has been valued as a first-rate plant with many desirable qualities. In Japan it has long been used in gardens. The Japanese name for Skimmia japonica is ‘Miyama shikimi’ and Shikimi refers to a completely different species (Illicium anisatum) which is also a highly aromatic plant. The name Skimmia refers to the  latinized Japanese ‘Shikimi’. All of this has also confused people in the past as Illicum or Star Anise is well known spice and is a more tender plant.

This male Skimmia japonica clone has distinctly pink tinged blooms.

This male Skimmia japonica clone has distinctly pink tinged blooms.

The Skimmia species is a member of the Rutaceae family which we know better for giving us citrus fruit such as oranges, lemons, limes and Grapefruit.  Other members are as diverse as the bitter herb Rue(Ruta) and Zanthozylum which gives us Sichuan Pepper and Prickly Ash.  Many members of the family are edible and provide us with important fruit, spices and medicinal components.   Skimmia is probably is the most important  of the strictly ornamental plants.

 The berries of Skimia japonica are a bright shiny red and are very festive looking at this time of the year.

The berries of Skimia japonica are a bright shiny red and are very festive looking at this time of the year.

Japanese Skimmias are all around us and we often are not aware of them because their broadleaved evergreen foliage blend in so well with other plants. Skimmia japonica is very popular with better landscape designers and gardeners because the plant is versatile. One often sees them used in shady locations tucked under deciduous trees which will attract our attention most of the year. I see this in Beacon Hill Park  under the magnificent Japanese Maples between Goodacre and Fountain Lakes. When the Skimmia blooms the scent flows in the breeze along the path and across the near bridge to delight the many people strolling in the area.

 

 Skimmia japonica located under the Japanese Maples near Goodacre Lake.

Skimmia japonica located under the Japanese Maples near Goodacre Lake.

 

Skimmia japonica and all its forms are easy plants to grow. They like fertile rich soil which is slightly acidic but tolerate clay soils quite well. They like a site which is well-drained but is well watered during the hot summers as they do not like drought conditions. They prefer a site which is dappled or is more on the shady side or their leaves will yellow even in a strong winter sun. As they are evergreen they will do best being in a location which is protected from drying winds especially in the winter season.

 

 This recently planted Japanese Skimmia has a good mulch of leaves to help it survive the freezing weather and snow.

This recently planted Japanese Skimmia has a good mulch of leaves to help it survive the freezing weather and snow.

 

Japanese Skimmias are very slow-growing and dense but over a long time get to be quite large. I have seen plants which are 1.2m(4ft) tall and wide  in gardens and it is said that they can grow an astonishing(to me at least) 7m(22 ft) tall. Often now we seen many of the smaller forms such as sbsp. reevesiana which is small enough to fit well into any garden. Skimmias are rated as hardy to zone 7 or -12 to-18c (0-10f). Skimmias are easily propagated by seed or softwood cuttings although they are slow to root.

 

 The smaller forms of Japanese Skimmia make excellent container plants which can be moved easily.

The smaller forms of Japanese Skimmia make excellent container plants which can be moved easily.

Use Skimmia japonica as an accent, in a winter garden, for fragrance in the spring, along paths where you brush the aromatic foliage. Their colorful berries are bright winter interest and the foliage is not popular with deer or slugs which may visit you. They work well as foundation plants especially when placed near entrances or windows. Skimmias are also popular in a woodland setting or in borders as they are very low maintainance and will need little care over their long life.

 

Stirring up the Skimmia:

Rainyside’s page on Skimmia japonica: http://www.rainyside.com/features/plant_gallery/shrubs/SkimmiaJaponica.html

Kwantlen University webpage on sbsp. reevsiana: https://appserver1.kwantlen.ca/apps/plantid/plantid.nsf/lookup/78AAF594F71CCF2988256F0200610584?OpenDocument

The mystery of the name:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=SvcWAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA520&dq=skimmia+japonica&hl=en&ei=UaHyTMDyLZC-sQOBoaTSCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CFoQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=skimmia%20japonica&f=false

…Until we meet again soon…I hope….

 

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There are some plants that are just plain strange! Even the family(genera) they are associated can be weird. Many of these peculiar plants have unusual flowers or growing habits because they might live in unusual situations or bloom out of season when there are few bees to spread the pollen. One family with strange flowers is the members of the Araceae family. The namesake of this family is the species Arum and the most common type seen in gardens is Arum Italicum (Cuckoo Pint).

This Arum italicum with its freshly unfurled leaves and bright seeds is a showy addition to the late autumn garden.

This Arum italicum with its freshly unfurled leaves and bright seeds is a showy addition to the late autumn garden.


The Cuckoo Pint is one of the best known members of the Araceae family which all have several characteristics in common.  All members of the family have spathe/spadix flowers which make them stand out from other plants.  The spathe is a specialized leaf which protects the spike(spadix) of tiny flowers. The spathe is generally much larger than the complete spadix and is often showy and can be colorful. In the case of Arum italicum the tiny flowers’ are usually on very short stems and the spathe is a greenish color. The flowers structures are usually hidden underneath the much larger leaves. Another thing common to Aracae members is they all have calcium oxalate found in all parts of the plants. Calcium oxalate is a chemical compound that is a well-known irritant and anything which has it must be handled with care.
All parts of the Cuckoo Pint has calcium oxalate in it.

All parts of the Cuckoo Pint has calcium oxalate in it.


Arum Italicum is a fairly widespread plant and grows wild in southern England most of southern Europe, Northern Africa and into Asia Minor. It is an ancient plant and representations are seen painted on the walls of the Temple of Amun at Karnak in the ancient capital of Thebes in Egypt, the plants are not native to that area. During the 16th century the roots of Arums where boiled and powdered to produce a white starch which was used to stiffen collars and ruffles of the elaborate clothing of the times. Later the same powder was added to cosmetics called Cyprus powder which was used for the skin in Paris. The thick gummy sap of the plants was at the time was collected and refined for use as a substitute for soap for laundry. It’s hard to believe  we used this plant for these things as processing it would have been a long slow process and in some cases taking many weeks.
 The seedheads of Arum italicum on elongated stems beginning to ripen in the early June.

The seed heads of Arum italicum on elongated stems beginning to ripen in the early June.


Arum italicum has a life cycle which backwards compared to most plants we are familiar with. Here the leaves are produced every autumn and winter over into the spring, they area undamaged by frosts.  In spring Cuckoo Pint flowers are produced and the foliage later withers leaving the elongating floral stems with the seed developing on it.  As the seed is almost is ripe new leaves unfurl in late autumn and a new cycle begins again. The seed ripens and is sown in the winter as it has a short viability and does not tolerate drying out at all therefore the time of ripening guarantees the best chance of germination.
 The same Cuckoo Pint in late August with the seeds starting to color up but no leaves in sight yet.

The same Cuckoo Pint in late August with the seeds starting to color up but no leaves in sight yet.


Arum italicun is an attractive plant for the garden and can be used in number of ways. It is very tolerant of shade and even deep shade and can be planted in areas where many other plants will struggle. It is quite a show at this dark time of the year and provides late autumn and winter interest. The bright color of the seeds are noticeable deep in a border or it can be used in a container for a winter show. Cuckoo Pints can be placed as accents or specimens and work as a groundcover if they are in a spot where they can naturally produce seedlings.
 The variation of leave coloring and varigation is typical of seedling Arum italicum, no two plants are identical.

The variation of leave coloring and varigation is typical of seedling Arum italicum, no two plants are identical.


Growing the Cuckoo Pint is easy, you need a site with rich slightly acidic moisture retentive soil and full sun to shade. If you like more leaves plant them in more shade and for more seedheads a bit more light. Arum italicum die down during the summer heat and you might need to mark the site so you do not over plant on them. You should consider wearing gloves when handling any part of these plants do to the calcium oxalate found in the plant might irritate your skin. Wash your hands after touching any part of the plant. If you are worried about pets and children eating any part of this plant you might choose to put it deep in a border where they will be less noticeable (except to you). One good thing about this plant is that slugs and wild life generally does not touch it.  Propagation is by seed or division of clumps during May and june when the plant becomes more dormant.
Here at Finnerty Gardens the Arum italicum has found a happy home and has spread under this Davidia tree.

Here at Finnerty Gardens the Arum italicum has found a happy home and has spread under this Davidia tree.

Cuckoo Pints are hardy to -25 c.(-13 f.) or zone 5 through 9.  An average plant grows about 30cm(1ft.) tall and wide.  Spacing is 45cm (16 in.) apart of you want more of a mass planting. Breeders have become interested in this plant and there are now have selected leaf types which are more marbled and showy, these should become more common in time. Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ for a long time was considered to be separate form has now been demoted to plain Arum italicum.
Looking for the elusive Cuckoo Pint:

Some species of Arums to compare: http://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/Arum

Growing Arum is easy, check here: http://www.perennials.com/seeplant.html?item=1.077.120

Calcium oxalate and what it is: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcium_oxalate

The Araceae family: http://zipcodezoo.com/Key/Plantae/Araceae_Family.asp

…………Hope you come back here soon……….

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It was a dark and stormy night and the wind was blowing through the trees in the cemetery as I trudged past. I shivered and pulled my coat collar up to protect me from the chill. As I walked along, the shadows moved and I shuddered as I passed the dark eerie Common Yew (Taxus baccata) trees because I knew that these trees were always sacred to the Druids. It was one of the five great trees that stood in their sacred sites.

 A Taxus baccata as you might find it in the wild which is found at St Ann's Academy.

A Taxus baccata as you might find it in the wild which is found at St Ann's Academy.

Taxus baccata is native to Ireland, England , through Europe down into the northern tip of Africa and over to West Asia. It is in northern Europe where Common Yew has been a significant tree associated with various early religions and cults. In Norse mythology we meet the Yggdrasil ‘the world tree’. Yggdrasill means Yew (support)pillar leading some theorists to believe this tree is a Yew instead of the traditional Ash(Fraxinus species) Yew are also connected with the ‘Fairy races’ of Ireland and Wales. Many tales connect these trees to fairy rings, mysterious appearances and disappearances.

 Yew trees in ancient times were placed in sacred sites which later often became cemetaries and church yards.

Yew trees in ancient times were placed in sacred sites which later often became cemeteries and church yards.

 

We are most familiar with Common Yews being associated with Druid culture found in Ireland and Wales, during the Iron Age Celtic period. During that time the wood was turned into many symbolic and spiritual articles such as wands, and staffs. The wood was also used for divination purposes and at festivals. In the 19th century a cup made of Yew wood was found near a village in North Wales, this item was likely used in Druidic ceremonies.

The wood of Taxus baccata is very flexible and was traditionally used for making the deadly longbow of Medieval  times.

The wood of Taxus baccata is very flexible and was traditionally used for making the deadly longbow of Medieval times.

 

Other places were the Druidic religion likely touches the Common Yew is in their prominent placement in some of the oldest churchyards in Great Britain, Often churches were placed in known sacred places of Druid and other non Cristian groups to help suppress them and usurp the site and ideas related to it. One of the oldest known Taxus baccata is found in a churchyard in North Wales, it is over 4000 years old.

Taxus baccata with it's dark color and fine needles is often clipped when seen in a garden setting.

Taxus baccata with its dark color and fine needles is often clipped when seen in a garden setting.

 

Throughout history the wood of Common Yew has been associated with deadly things. The needles and the flesh of the seeds(arils) is highly poisonous and many people and livestock have died from it. The wood was much used before the use of iron became widespread. It is very hard and resists the effects of water very well. Yew is a tree of death, used for making longbows, coffins, weapon handles and arrow shafts and disturbingly bleeds red sap. The worlds oldest implement, a spearhead is thought to be 50,000 years old and made out of Taxus baccata wood,The famous longbows of the Welsh were made out of Yew and were first recorded in use in 633. More recently it is used for furniture, tool handles and veneer. The wood is golden smooth with a wavy grain.

All Taxus species contain deadly alkaloids in all their parts except in the brightly colored arils which cover the seeds.

All Taxus species contain deadly alkaloids in all their parts except in the brightly colored arils which cover the seeds.

 

Taxus baccata has a long association with gardens, official and unofficial because they are easily grown and adaptable to many situations. At many large government buildings this tree is used in one of the most traditional ways, as a clipped hedge in the form of Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ or Irish Yew. Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’  is the form which we come across most often in Victoria as it is narrower in form.

 Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' is used at the corners of the Hardy Fuchsia Garden at Glendale Gardens.

Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' is used at the corners of the Hardy Fuchsia Garden at Glendale Gardens.

If you want to grow some Common Yew trees, there are somethings to keep in mind. Plants are male or female, with the females having the red berries. Yews can grow in almost complete shade to full sun but seem to be best with more light than less. They are slower growing than most shrubs and are more expensive because of this. Over many years they can attain heights in excess of 20m(65ft) and can live several thousand years. They like a good soil which nutrient rich, stay away from clay if possible.

 A golden Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aueromarginata' is seen above a common Yew here at one of the entrances to Hampton Park.

A golden Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata Aueromarginata' is seen above a common Yew here at one of the entrances to Hampton Park.

 

Taxus baccata are fairly drought tolerant and withstand air pollution making them an ideal city plant. They are rated as zone 6 meaning they can withstand -20c(-10f) although they might get some wind burn damage on their foliage.If making a hedge space them 40-45cm apart and pinch them back at the time of planting to make them bushy. Remember that this will be a slow-growing hedge. You may want to use one of the narrower forms.

 The Yew hedge seen here is carefully clipped to maintain its shape and condition.

The Yew hedge seen here is carefully clipped to maintain its shape and condition.

There are several hundred named varieties which have to propagated by cuttings. Most forms are female and may produce seeds. Look for especially narrow forms such as the dark green ‘Fastigiata’ or golden ‘Fastigiata Aueromarginata’ or the female golden form ‘Standishii’ .Taxus baccata ‘Repandens’ has low spreading branches and ‘Cavendishii’ has wide-spreading branches that droop at the tips.

 This Taxus baccata tree grows in almost complete shade during most of the year yet is very healthy.

This Taxus baccata tree grows in almost complete shade during most of the year yet is very healthy.

Yearning for Yews:

Wiki page on the Common Yew: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taxus_baccata

The Ancient Yew site:  http://www.ancient-yew.org/home.shtml

Google timeline of Taxus baccata: http://www.google.ca/search?q=taxus+baccata+history&hl=en&rls=com.microsoft:*:IE-SearchBox&rlz=1I7GGIE&tbs=tl:1&tbo=u&ei=PL_NTO2zEJS8sAOi9_1w&sa=X&oi=timeline_result&ct=title&resnum=11&ved=0CEgQ5wIwCg

….Hoping to see you here soon…..



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