Friday, December 15, 2017

Cryptic Conifer

Cryptomeria japonica

The Cryptomeria genus name was coined by Scottish botanist David Don (1799-1841) and it is derived from Greek krypto meaning “to hide” and meros meaning “a part” in reference to the seed hidden within the cone. It is a genus of two species, one (japonica) native to Japan and the other (fortunei) to southern China. I have a collection of about 50 cultivars, and to my knowledge they are all from the japonica species. It (sugi) is the National Tree of Japan for better or worse: for better because it is fast-growing and beautiful and because the wood is most useful; for worse because many Japanese people suffer from hay-fever from its pollen. The ailment can be so bad that many Nihonjin schedule vacations in the spring to areas with few or no sugi trees.

Tianmu Mountain in China

Cryptomeria avenue in Nikko, Japan

Some argue that the Chinese Cryptomeria do not present a separate species as they are not significantly different from the Japanese, and perhaps they were introduced anyway. A stand on Tianmu Mountain contains trees nearly 1,000 years old, and it is supposed that that population originates from an introduction. The “Heavenly Eyes Mountain” is so-named for two ponds near the top at about 4,800', and the mountain is located in Zhejiang Province in Eastern China near the sea. I've not been to this Chinese population but I have seen the “Avenue of Sugi” in Nikko, Japan, where the trees are quite old. The story goes that a feudal lord was too poor to donate a stone lantern at the funeral of the Shogun, but requested instead to be allowed to plant an avenue of sugi to protect future visitors from the heat of the sun. The offer was accepted, and though I only walked a mile on it, it is said to run over 65 km (40 miles) long.
Cryptomeria japonica

I planted a 4-year-old sapling of a Cryptomeria japonica at my parent's property in Forest Grove, Oregon, in about 1972. There it still thrives, and I suppose it to be the largest sugi in town. That's not saying much, I know, but I challenge a local to point me to one older. There exists a myriad of Cryptomeria cultivars, but come to think of it, they too are not very plentiful in American landscapes, or at least in Oregon anyway. They are hardy to USDA zone 6 at least, and some to zone 5, but their paucity is due frankly to the fact that they are not all that exciting. That's not my opinion, for I grow and sell them, but I'm forced to accept that gardeners simply do not dash to the garden centers in droves to buy Cryptomeria.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Sekkan'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Barabit's Gold'

An exception to that statement might be with the medium-size 'Sekkan',* for at a young age it is most colorful. For years it was known in the trade as 'Sekkan sugi', but the sugi suffix is redundant redundant. It basically says Cryptomeria Sekkan Cryptomeria if you see what I mean. So none of the Cryptomeria cultivars need to have sugi attached to their name, yet Hillier (for one) in Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) lists 'Jindai-sugi', 'Tenzan-sugi', 'Sekkan-sugi' etc. I have found Hillier to be dash-happy when it comes to Japanese names, especially with Japanese maple cultivars, and I wonder what led to that practice. In any case, note that I say 'Sekkan' is colorful at a young age, and that is most evident in spring and summer when in active growth. In winter the cultivar fades some, and with old age it fades terribly so. My first 'Sekkan' was planted in the Display Garden at five years of age. Thirty years later I cut it down because it was no longer colorful – in fact it looked sickly, like a green tree that was about to die. From Europe we acquired 'Barabit's Gold' and it was supposed to be an improvement over 'Sekkan'. Eighteen years later I conclude that it is virtually indistinguishable from 'Sekkan', and certainly no “improvement.”

*In Japanese Sekkan means “snow crown.”

Cryptomeria japonica 'Little Champion'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Little Champion'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Little Diamond'

From Holland comes 'Little Champion', a compact sphere with fresh green foliage that does not bronze very much in winter. It was discovered by Wout Huizer in Boskoop, The Netherlands, as a witch's broom on 'Gracilis' in 1985, and it was subsequently introduced in 1992 where it won the “Floriade” Gold Medal. I'm always nervous that my crew doesn't mix up 'Little Champion' with 'Little Diamond' which is quite similar. Both are “little,” and sometimes the employee brain goes no further, and if mixed up once you'll never be able to separate them out. The 'Little Diamond' is also a Dutch selection, from the Konijn Nursery, and it was also selected in the 1990's. I've even wondered if they are the same plant, with two squabbling Dutchmen vying for the marketing edge.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Caespitosa'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Globosa'
The photo above of 'Caespitosa' was taken at Hillier Nursery about 15 years ago, but strangely the cultivar is not listed in their 2014 Manual of Trees & Shrubs. As you can see it forms a compact pillar, and the Latin term caespitose refers to “growing in clusters or tufts.” I pulled some old conifer books off my shelf to see if I could find out a little more about 'Caespitosa' but came up blank. To produce a Flora Wonder Blog is often an exercise in futility, and I spend a lot of time in empty cul-de-sacs. On the other hand, I sometimes encounter a factoid of interest that I was not seeking. For example, from Krussmann in Manual of Cultivated Conifers I learn that “C. j. 'Globosa' stays lower than 'Globosa Nana'!” [Exclamation by Krussmann]. My one (old) 'Globosa' in the Long Road section is a space-hogging blob 14' tall with a 16' base, so I know I'll never want to mess with a 'Globosa Nana'.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Cristata Variegated'

I thought 'Cristata' was fascinating the first time I saw one, but at the time I didn't know much about the cristate phenomena among plants. The cockscombs are liberally produced on my large tree and one can occasionally discover one with cream-white variegation. The variegation has never proven stable with me however. I once heard that if you rooted 'Cristata's' fasciations – and indeed, pieces will root – that the offspring will produce more fasciations than if you root from normal wood. I found this to not be the case, as straight (normal) growth tends to sprout form all rooted fasciations...and then later you'll have a normal-looking 'Cristata' after all. Krussmann relates that the fasciations “become brown and die off” after a few years, implying that all do so. I know that some die off, but I haven't observed my tree close enough to say that they all do and by what age. One of my hobbies is to question and test what plant experts say, to see if I also find it true, and you should all be doing the same about me.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans Aurea Nana'

I collected the cultivar photographed above as 'Elegans Aurea Nana' about 35 years ago, but I can only find 'Elegans Aurea' in the literature, and as you can see my specimen is not so “nana” anyway. This is not to be confused with 'Elegans Viridis', which both Hillier and Krussmann list, and which I used to grow years ago until they all died in an Arctic cold snap. Supposedly my 'Elegans Aurea Nana' originated in New Zealand, but the name could only be valid if it was introduced before the 1950's in accordance with the International Code of Nomenclature. Many visitors admire my specimen, especially in winter, but it is no longer in production. A number of overturned buckets and concrete blocks lie scattered beneath it, for it is a preferred lunch spot for the male crew in summer.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Dense Jade'

I grow and sell 'Dense Jade' when I know full well that the rest of horticulture names it 'Rein's Dense Jade', after Rein Vanderwolf who used to manage Vermulen Nursery in New Jersey. I've decided that 'Dense Jade' is sufficient, and in any case it was discovered in the 1970's and propagated from a witch's broom on C. j. 'Lobii'. It is a vigorous and very useful conifer, but it grows so fast at Buchholz Nursery that sometimes it can receive damage from a wet, heavy snow. We don't have much success with rooting it, so instead we root (easily) the cultivar 'Yoshino' and then graft 'Dense Jade' onto that.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Yoshino'

Cryptomeria japonica 'Yoshino'

Yoshinoyama in Japan, Wikipedia

It is appropriate, then, to now discuss 'Yoshino', probably the most widely grown of any Cryptomeria cultivar. Surprisingly, neither Hillier nor Krussmann lists it. I got my start from Mitsch Nursery about 25 years ago but we no longer sell it as a cultivar – because too many others do – and we only use it as a rootstock, as when grafting 'Dense Jade' or some of the dwarves on a standard. 'Yoshino' is considered the most hardy, or one of the most hardy cultivars of Japanese cedar, surviving to -20 degrees, USDA zone 5. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden website, “In comparison to the species, 'Yoshino' grows faster....” That's not the case at Buchholz Nursery, nor do I believe that 'Yoshino' will grow as large as the type. Yoshino is a popular name in Japan – as in Yoshino cherry, Yoshino River, Yoshino Town and Yoshino Mountain (Yoshinoyama) – and the latter is considered the dwelling place of all powerful spirit gods. Yoshino cherries were first planted along the slopes of the mountain more than 1,300 years ago, and today it is said to contain about 30,000 trees of many different varieties. Naturally it is a tourist destination.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Golden Promise'

One cultivar that we top-graft onto a 'Yoshino' trunk is the dwarf 'Golden Promise'. It forms a slow-growing dense globe with yellow foliage that is surprisingly sun-tolerant. If grown in the shade the foliage will be greenish and the plant will not be as tight. It is a fairly new cultivar, having been introduced by the Don Hatch Nursery, United Kingdom in 1998.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Ryoku gyoku'

One of my favorite of the dwarf Cryptomerias is 'Ryoku gyoku' which means “green ball” in Japanese. At least that's the translation from the late Edsal Wood who introduced the plant, although I've read elsewhere it means “green jewel dragon.” Mr. Wood of Oregon apparently found it as a witch's broom on C. j. 'Tansu' and he gave me my first plant. He was famous for numerous seedling discoveries, particularly with hemlocks, and was even more famous for his geniality and generosity. He gave me the original seedling of what was to be later named Acer japonicum 'Ao jutan' as well as a Pinus mugo miniature that I named 'Mr. Wood'. Plants don't live forever and neither do people, but I'll remember forever the twinkle in old Edsal's eyes when he shared with me one of his plant finds.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Rasen'

Soaring above the miniature 'Ryoku gyoku' is the speedy tall-growing cultivar 'Rasen'. In the stead of the 'Sekkan' which I mentioned that I cut down for looking sickly, I planted a 'Rasen', hoping that it would always be green and look healthy. It seems like only a few years ago that I put it into the ground, but it is now nearly 30' tall! 'Rasen's' main feature is that the leaves – or needles – spiral around the stem, and indeed the Japanese name translates as “barber pole.”

Cryptomeria japonica 'Spiralis'

J.G. Veitch
'Spiralis' is another cultivar with needles spiraling around the stems, and though vigorous and not at all dwarf, it is far more restrained in growth compared to 'Rasen'. My oldest 'Spiralis' is about 30' tall at 30 years age. It is commonly known in the trade as “grannie's ringlets” due to the curved needles, and I would say that I prefer it to the more rambunctious 'Rasen'. Hillier relates that 'Spiralis' was introduced from Japan in 1860, and if so it was probably acquired by J.G. Veitch who was laboring in the country then. What I find interesting is the concept that certain selections were being grown in Japan at that time, or did Veitch or some other westerner just happen to stumble upon the one abnormal plant? Veitch was also competing with Robert Fortune, and some of their booty even arrived in England on the same ship. For example, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Aurea' was introduced by Fortune in 1860. Philipp von Siebold was also in on the act, for he introduced Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Filicoides' around 1860. I know that certain maple cultivars were grown prior to 1860, and it appears that so were conifers. I wonder if anyone has a list of cultivars encountered?

I alluded earlier that the Cryptomeria aren't the most exciting of plants, but they do play their plebian part in the landscape and are most noticeable in winter. As an exercise for this blog I drove slowly through an average residential area of nearby Forest Grove for about 15 minutes and I didn't encounter a single Cryptomeria. I don't know – I've produced thousands of them in my career – so I wonder where they all go.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Chamaecyparis Five

Chamaecyparis obtusa

The garden visitor appreciates the conifers especially in winter, for even in the rain and gloom they preside as cheerful denizens in the landscape. I find myself focusing on the Chamaecyparis* genus, and by coincidence we are in the middle of propagating them. They are commonly known as the "false cypresses," although the scientific name is derived from the Greek chamai for "dwarf" or "low to the ground" and kyparissos for "cypress tree."

*The name was coined by the French botanist Edouard Spach (1801-1879). He was the son of a merchant in Strasbourg, but he spent his career at the French National Museum of Natural History. Spach's name in Middle High German means "dry" or "bone dry" or "a stick," a nickname for a thin person.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana

Chamaecyparis consists of just five species, since now we can skip nootkatensis which has been assigned to a new genus, Xanthocyparis with the recent discovery of a close relative in Vietnam (x. vietnamensis). There was nothing "low to the ground" about nootkatensis anyway, and neither is there for C. lawsoniana*, the "Lawson cypress" from western North America. C. lawsoniana was introduced into Britain in 1854 when seed was sent to P. Lawson & Son's Nursery in Edinburgh, hence the common name. The scientific epithet lawsoniana was coined by the Scottish botanist Andrew Dickson Murray, which seems rather arrogant to name an American native species after a Scot soil grubber. Murray apparently felt qualified because of the foundation of the Oregon Exploration Society when he became its first secretary.

*The champion tree rises to 239'.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana

The Hiller Manual of Trees and Shrubs (2014) describes lawsoniana as "A most useful and ornamental tree..." It is one of my least favorite conifer species, as older specimens can look dirty when the blue-green foliage is cluttered with male and female flowers. The trunks can be impressive, though, somewhat resembling those of "Western Red Cedar," Thuja plicata. C. lawsoniana's native range is in the western portion of southern Oregon and northern California, and to me they seem to have been misplaced among the spruces and pines, like nature tried to cram one-too-many conifer into the area. I have never seen a pure stand of C. lawsoniana however, if one indeed exists, but there is nothing majestic about them in the areas I have observed. Anyway it's my blog and that's how I feel.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Blue Surprise'

Many C. lawsoniana cultivars are worth growing, though, and we produce a few at Buchholz Nursery. In every case they are grafted onto C. lawsoniana 'D.R.' (Disease Resistant rootstock) due to the high susceptibility of plants on their own roots to the Phytophthora lateralis disease. One of my favorites is 'Blue Surprise', an upright columnar evergreen with dazzling blue foliage. It prefers full sun in well-drained soil and will grow to about 6' tall by 2' wide in 10 years. The largest specimen that I have ever seen was grown by me, and I cut it down because it began to grow too broad and it fell apart in a wet snow, so I don't consider 'Blue Surprise' to be a long-time resident in my landscape. I first saw the cultivar in England where the above photo was taken about 25 years ago. It originated as a seedling selected by Anthony de Beer of The Netherlands and was introduced to the trade about 1976.

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Pygmaea Argentea'

The photo of C.l. 'Pygmaea Argentea' was also taken in England, at the Bedgebury Pinetum about ten years ago. I was told that it was about 100 years old, but maybe that was a joke. The selection was made by the James Backhouse and Son Nursery of York before 1891 and it received an Award of Merit in 1900, so maybe the "100 years" is accurate. The blue-green foliage rises up, and as Humphrey Welch says in Manual of Dwarf Conifers, "When the plant is growing strongly the foliage is almost white in early summer and the whole bush then has the appearance of having been turned upside down when wet into a barrel of flour." In Oregon it can burn in summer if not protected from afternoon sun, but Hillier in England describes it as, "Suitable for a rock garden. Perhaps the best dwarf, white variegated conifer."

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'

Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Imbricata Pendula'

Though I grow many other worthy Lawsons, I'll just mention one other – 'Imbricata Pendula' – and despite its cumbersome name it is one of the most elegant of all conifers. It is adorned with slender green (whipcord) foliage and a softly weeping habit. It is fast-growing and my largest 18' specimen is only 12 years old; fortunately it resides in the Upper Garden at Flora Farm where it has plenty of room. According to Hillier, "Raised from seed by R.E. Harrison in New Zealand about 1930 but not introduced until much later by D. Teese, Australia, as propagation is difficult." Nonsense to that, at least if scions are grafted (again onto Disease Resistant rootstock), and no one should be rooting it anyway. We list one and two-year grafts on our Liners Ready Now availability, and you really should order some if you are a grower.

Chamaecyparis formosensis - from Wikipedia

I used to grow Chamaecyparis formosensis, the "Taiwan cypress," but my trees perished in an Arctic blast when we reached 0 degrees F, and besides it wasn't hardy for 95% of my customers. It is a beautiful species, though, with flattened green sprays and a drooping habit. It wasn't particularly fun to propagate (though easy), and Hillier nails it when he says the foliage smells of seaweed when bruised. The wood doesn't smell bad, however, and it is valued in Taiwanese buildings like in temples and shrines. I could easily acquire C. formosensis again, but I resist since I don't need another fast-growing indoor conifer on my ark.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gitte'
Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Baldwin's Variegated'

Chamaecyparis obtusa cultivars are a staple of the nursery, and I have amassed a collection of over 100, a few of which – for better or worse – are my own introductions. The obtusa species is hardy to about -20 degrees F, or USDA zone 5, but some of the cultivars are considerably more winter-tough than others. Cultivars arise as seedling selections or as mutant branch sports, so one can garden with all sizes, shapes and colors. You could call C. obtusa cultivars the "rainbow of conifers."

Rather than rehashing descriptions of obtusa cultivars, I'll refer you back to my April 13th, 2012 Flora Wonder Blog, Heavens to Hinoki, and if nothing else you will learn the origin of the Japanese common name hinoki.

Chamaecyparis pisifera

Chamaecyparis pisifera is another non-low-growing (up to 165') species which was introduced from Japan in 1861 by Robert Fortune, the Chinese tea thief. The species name is from Latin pissum for "pea" and ferre meaning "to bear," referring to the small rounded cones. In botanical literature you will see that it was first described by Siebold & Zucc., and the latter is not short for zucchini but rather for Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini (1797-1848). He was a German botanist who worked closely with Phillip von Siebold in describing plants from Japan, and collaborated closely on Siebold's Flora Japonica published in 1835. In Japan C. pisifera is known as "Sawara cypress" and it grows on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu. It is closely related to the aforementioned C. formosensis and also to an extinct species, Chamaecyparis eureka, known from fossils found on Axel Heiberg Island in Canada's Arctic Ocean.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera'

While the C. pisifera species can grow to a large size, many cultivars are dwarf and stay relatively low-to-the-ground. The pisifera species was introduced (1861) by Fortune, as I said before, and so was the cultivar (or form) 'Filifera'. To some degree it appears like the whipcord-looking C.l. 'Imbricata Pendula', except for being more compact and slow-growing. 'Filifera' often grows as broad as tall with a weeping form, and despite being quite attractive, one seldom encounters it in American landscapes. For some reason, far more common are the golden whipcords which are grown by the thousands.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Lemon Thread' 

John Mitsch
One such is C.p. 'Lemon Thread', a glowing golden conifer that originated as a branch sport on C.p. 'Lutescens' at Mitsch Nursery in Aurora, Oregon in the mid 1980's. That's where I got my start, and the photo (above) is of one of my original trees that I grew in our Short Road section of the nursery, just fifty steps from the office. It was growing in full sun and the foliage burned when we reached 106 degrees F one summer. I grew impatient and we dug the specimen the following winter; I gave it one year in a wooden box to recover and then it was sold. We went from rooting about 2,000-3,000 each year to zero because sales had begun to wane, although there was no sound reason to discontinue it altogether. The fact is that anyone can root a C. pisifera and so we found ourselves competing with large nurseries that grew them by the thousands. Now I don't even have one 'Lemon Thread' on the place, but it was a worthy cultivar and I regret not keeping it here. A nurseryman can easily harbour bittersweet memories, but, as with past girlfriends, one must release, soldier on and find pleasure with what you currently grow.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Harvard Gold'

Old John, from the same Mitsch Nursery as 'Lemon Thread', gave me another golden C. pisifera cultivar, one that was unnamed that came to him from someone at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts. I grew it in a dry field in full sun and it burned like hell, so I dug it back up and grew it in a shaded greenhouse. There it thrived and customers/visitors kept asking about it, and if it was for sale. We began to propagate and soon after I sold the offspring as C.p. 'Mitsch Gold' and it proved to be popular. A few years later I relayed that fact to John – that it was well-received – but I wondered if he would bestow an official name instead of me. Ever humble, he bypassed 'Mitsch Gold' and suggested 'Harvard Gold'. Ok...but crap – I had to change all of my labels. Now I apologize to anyone still growing it as 'Mitsch Gold', and sorry for the confusion. Under the new name we sell tons of them now, and though it still burns in Oregon's summer sun it does well in the more humid mid and east coast of America. I don't have an old specimen here because it is a cultivar that I merely root, prune and sell in small sizes...and I wonder how much longer the 'Harvard Gold' party will continue.

Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Baby Blue Ice'

Another pisifera of note is 'Baby Blue Ice'. It forms a squat pyramid in the garden and prefers full sun, and it is also used effectively as a container plant. It is easy to grow if given well-drained soil and is winter hardy to -40 degrees, USDA zone 3. It originated as a sport on C.p. 'Baby Blue' at Stanley and Sons Nursery in about 1998, and in fact Larry Stanley gave me my start of the plant. We propagate all of the pisiferas by rooted cuttings and it works equally well no matter if in summer (under mist) or in winter (under less mist).

I have a number of pisifera cultivars in the gardens, often old specimens that we no longer propagate. They had their day when I began the nursery 37 years ago, but I guess they just don't excite the modern gardener.

Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Variegata'
Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Quiana'

The same could be said for the fifth and final species, Chamaecyparis thyoides. It is the smallest of the Chamaecyparis, yet the nation's champion tree soars to 88' tall in New Jersey. The few cultivars we grew never sold well and frankly it is my least favorite of the Chamaecyparis species as a garden ornamental. The so-called "White Cedar" is also known as the "Swamp cypress," and I remember passing native stands as we sped along a toll road in New Jersey 20 years ago. They serviced as adequate greenery for trailer parks and I spotted a sketchy raccoon in the canopy next to a grocery-gas station enterprise. And really, how depressing to relate that it is the State Tree of New Jersey where it can grow in large pure colonies.

My last C. thyoides cultivar ('Red Star') was removed from the collection last year because I was in a cleansing period of my life where I decided to get rid of any tree if it wasn't healthy or didn't look good. I still have a ways to go because a number of so-so trees still remain. It's a subjective task, kind of like dealing with people; some days you see them for their positive traits and some days you can't stand them at all. A tour of the nursery and arboretum reveals that I'm most partial to the C. obtusa species, and like my wife it is my jewel from Japan.