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Posts Tagged ‘winter berries’

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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This week is my One year anniversary of this blog. I have endeavored to bring you the best plants which I can find each week which look their best. Each season has brought its challenges in doing this, the weeks of cloudy weather or rain, the color drought during the middle of summer and weather which is too icy and snowy that I can not go out to take pictures or find new specimens to write about.  I thought I would start of this year with a splash of unusual color not only for this season but for in the garden. This is a plant which I was introduced to at Park & Tilford Garden while i was still in school and am alway on the lookout for it. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ (Beautyberry) brings a jaw dropping display of color to the garden.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion'

The strong magenta color of Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' is indeed a 'Beautyberry' of the first rank.

There are many species of Beautyberry with most of them growing in tropical and subtropical areas. Most of them are in the form of shrubs or small trees. Several species come from more temperate areas. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii is found in central and western China. It was collected by French Missonary Emile Marie Bodinier (1842-1901) who was a known botanist and was stationed in Peking for some time.  He collected more that 3000 herbarium samples during his lifetime of which about 200 are named, Beautyberry is the most important of these.

Beautyberry.

This Beautyberry is found in the Winter Garden at Government House.

Callicarpa are from the Verbena family (Verbenaceae) and has aromatic leaves, this makes it less attractive for Deer to browse upon. In China and Japan it has been used medicinally.  The fruit of this particular species is not considered edible do to it’s poor flavor.  The American form of this plant (C. americana) or French Mulberry in the past has been used to make delicious and popular jellies and jams.

Beautyberry contrasts nicely against the trunk of this Douglas Fir in the winter sun.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ was selected for its more compact growth and better crop of berries. It was awarded an AGM(Awrd of Garden Merit) in 1984. Emerging spring foliage has bronzy tints and later in the fall the leaves turn shades of madder and pink before they are shed. Leaves are elliptical with a sharp point and are 2-5in. (5-12cm) long and half as wide. Flowers are small with a faded mauve color and are not really that showy when in bloom. Bloom period is from June to October depending on where you are, here it is fairly early.

This Beautyberry glows in the winter sun at Glendale Gardens.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ is a undemanding plant and you get several seasons of interest from it. They prefer light well drained soil which is on the acidic side. They tolerate some clay or even heavy soils as long as it is not too limey which will cause yellowing of the leaves.  To produce the best berry crops Beautyberry needs full sun, but will do very well in part shade.  A spot in the winter that shows it off will be fantastic. These plants are often planted in grows of 3 or 4 as this produces the best show of berries. Beautyberry plants are are used in shrub borders, mass planting, in winter gardens or a specimens.

beautyberries

The bright mauve berries are small but are produced in masses to make a showy display.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ is surprising hardy and takes -20c (-4f) easily and is rated at zones 6 through 8. Berries are not damaged by freezing. They do not do well in warm climates. Can you imagine going outside after a snowfall and seeing this bush loaded with berries… beautiful. These shrubs grow 1.8-2m (6-8ft) tall and have a slightly arching habit. They can be pruned to promote more branching and better berry crops.

Calicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii Profusion

Calicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii Profusion is one of the brightest plants in the garden right now.

More on Beautyberry:

Paghat’s page on this plant: http://www.paghat.com/beautyberry.html

RHS page for the plant: http://www.rhs.org.uk/Gardens/Wisley/About-Wisley/Plant-of-the-month/October/Callicarpa-bodinieri-var–giraldii-Profusion

Until we meet again later…

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