Thursday, November 29, 2012

Damn Good plants, Berrying Viburnums - Part 2

Part 2 - Exotic Treasures

In Part 1, we took a look at some of our native berrying Viburnums and highlighted a few cultivars that stood out from the crowd.  In Part 2 of this mini series of posts, I'll delve into the non-native Viburnums that have found homes in our gardens.

I should mention at this point that some of these introduced types are considered invasive in various parts of the country.  While I'm not opposed to using non-natives, and have many in my garden, this is a highly debated issue.  Like anything that produces heavy quantities of berries, you have the chance of the seeds being broadcast over a wide area by birds that consume the fruit as part of their diets.  Though the potential for the plant to have invasive tendencies is there, the environmental conditions have to be just right for a population to explode.  This situation can vary geographically, but as gardeners, we need to be responsible with our selections to make sure that there isn't a concern over it in your area.

However, part of the attraction of gardening is that we can grow plants from many different parts of the world in our own back yard.  A trip to a well supplied garden center is like a walk around a virtual global bizarre, with many curiosities never before seen.  I personally like the fact many of my own plantings aren't what you'll see in other gardens or mainstream nurseries but this can pose some risk without proper knowledge.

Viburnum davidii

Viburnum davidii - David Viburnum


The David Viburnum was discovered in western China by Jean Pierre Armand David, during the period of 1862-1874 and named to honor the Christian missionary.  It is a popular evergreen that stays at a manageable, compact mounding size (4 ft x 4 ft).  The large leathery leaves have three distinct deep veins that run a long the length of the leaf, radiating  from  the noticeably red leaf stalk.  Small, white flowers give way to bright metallic blue berries in October, unlike anything seen before in the Viburnum group.  Confusion surrounds this species regarding the pollination to set berries.  Unfortunately, no one knows for sure and opinions are divided.  I'm of the belief that planting more than one you should get berry set.  However, many authorities believe that a male is needed to ensure berries are produced on the female.  I have yet to see male clones being offered or coming in labeled as so.  The only time to know for sure if it's male or female is to buy them at fruiting time and hope for the best.  Rather than getting stuck in the middle of the debate, check out this post from Cheryll Kinsley, Washington State University, 'viburnum revisited'.  You'll see how confusing the whole issue is.

Viburnum dilatatum - Linden Viburnum


This Asian introduced ornamental was brought into western gardens in the early 1800s, probably from the Swedish botanist, Carl Peter Thunberg. Thunberg was appointed chief surgeon to a Dutch trading post in Japan, but was stationed on a small island as movement of foreigners on the mainland was forbidden. However, he managed to trade his knowledge of European medicines with Japanese interpreters in exchange for plant materials. In 1776 he was finally allowed to accompany the director of the Dutch settlement to visit the Shogun of Edo (modern Tokyo). On route he was able to make significant collections within Japan, the first by any European. In Japan this plant is referred to Gamazumi, but common names include the Japanese Cranberry bush and Japanese Arrowwood, the same as our own Viburnum. In some ways they're all brothers from different mothers. The long straight shoots have been used to make arrow shafts while older, thicker branches are make into handles for tools. Berries are not edible but can be processed into jellies or made into a liquor. Birds don't favor the berries as much which allows them to retain fruits for longer periods. The two varieties that are commonly available in our area is 'Cardinal Candy' and 'Michael Dodge'.
Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy'


'Cardinal Candy' is another excellent from the Proven Winners line-up of plants. It was selected for its improved hardiness when compared to other V.dilatatum types for northern gardens. The bright red clusters of berries make for a stunning display in fall but in spring it is valued for its abundant white flowers that can measure 5 inches across. Its big attraction is that it doesn't require another V.dilatatum variety nearby to set fruit and will happily self pollinate. Also, it mature size of 5-6 foot, high and wide, makes it very desirable for most gardens, where it won't swallow up the whole yard.

Viburnum 'Michael Dodge'
'Michael Dodge' is another splendid introduction that originated out of Winterthur Gardens in Delaware, Maryland. Named in honor of the breeder who made the cross between two different types of Linden Viburnums, to produce a yellow berried version. Most Lindens only bear red berries so a yellow version is highly desirable. You won't find to many other plants with yellow berries! It can get large over time, up to 8-10 ft in height, and will need another Linden Viburnum to enable it to set fruit. However, its worth in the fall landscape, dripping in an abundance of glowing yellow berries, out weighs any negative points against it.

Viburnum setigerum - Tea Viburnum


The common name is a reflection of its use as a medicinal sweet tea made by Monks on Mount Omei, China. It was introduced by the great plant collector, Ernest Wilson in 1901, who I've mentioned in past posts, but who also was responsible for bringing the David Viburnum into cultivation.  The shrub matures to a multi-stemmed upright vase habit, reaching 8 to 10 ft height and spreading to a narrower 6 to 8 ft width.  However, it does lack sufficient growth to cover the bottom third of its base, so you'll need to either landscape around it with plants that can mask its bareness, or trim it to accentuate its form as a small tree.  Despite this minor negative, the fruit display makes up for its short comings with and impressive abundance of orange to red berries that can be prolific at some times.  For its berries, the Tea Viburnum is one of my top picks for its fall display, and definitely commands attention when fruits appear in the fall.  I have not come across any named varieties of the Tea Viburnum, but I do know that one exists for a orange berried form called 'Aurantiacum'.  Still, why would someone want to mess with perfection anyway.

Tea Viburnum - From Flickr.com 'althea in il'

With such a diversity within the group, its easy to find a Viburnum that fit your needs and desires.  Mostly, Viburnums are selected for their flowers but their worth in the fall landscape is equally as important. Viburnums are tough, durable and adaptable, making them an idea shrub for difficult locations.  So, next time you're in the market for a shrub with colorful fruits, take a look at one of these, you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Don't forget to read the first part of this series @ Damn good plants - Berrying Viburnums part 1

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Damn Good plants, Berrying Viburnums - Part 1

Part One - Going Native


The fall's crowning event is undoubtedly the turning of foliage. Rich golds, warming oranges and brilliant reds light up our landscape like a roaring fire. However, once the foliage is gone berries take center stage and shine on, at least until the birds strip them off. The king of all berrying plants has to be the Hollies but, Viburnums have some of the greatest range of berry colors to choose from.

Popular for their adaptability, Viburnums can be planted in a range of different conditions, from full sun to shade, dry to periodically waterlogged. Within the 150 plus species and countless cultivars, some are evergreen, some carry a divine fragrance but for this post I wanted to highlight a few of those that stand out with an exceptional show of berries. Though many produce berries to varying degrees, the ones I've selected below have out-shined others to become my top picks. Due to the large number available to us in the trade, I've broken this list down into a two part series, this first post looking solely at North American natives. The next post will delve into non-native exotic's that are just as garden worthy!

Viburnum nudum - The Smooth Witherod or Possumhaw


Viburnum nudum 'Brandywine'
Maybe it's just the time of year, with business being slower, but the common name left me puzzling over the origin. The best I could find was that a 'Withe' (from old English) is a flexible twig, used in weaving, fence building etc. Possumhaw was more a puzzle, but 'haw' is an old English term for berries though I did find references to enclosures. Possibly, a possum was once seen eating the berries around the same time it was being named. Could it be that easy? This handsome shrub can be found growing in moist areas from Maine down to Florida and as far west as Texas. Though found in wet locations, it can tolerate droughts rather successfully. The foliage is exceptionally shiny, leading you to think it was sprayed with leaf shine to get that glossy.  The two cultivars I see most on the market are 'Winterthur' and 'Brandywine'. 

'Winterthur' was introduced from the Winterthur Gardens in Delaware, as an improved compact selection over the species, growing to 6 ft. The glossy green foliage is bright and fresh through the year but comes alive in the fall with reddish purple hues before dropping. The flattened umbrella of creamy white flowers are followed with white berries that turn hot pink, to red, then maturing to dark blue. 

'Brandywine' is very similar, though I have observed a much heavier berry set. Its desirable feature is that 'Brandywine' will set fruit without the need for another cultivar nearby to cross pollinate, a valuable trait when assessing its worthiness for small gardens.

Viburnum dentatum - Arrowwood


Arrowwoods are another workhorse of the garden, tough as nails while requiring little attention, if any. It's easy to fall in love with this shrub for its glossy, lustrous foliage regardless of how scorching hot and drought stricken the summers get. The margin of the leaf have a coarsely serrated edge like the teeth of a carpenters saw, an important textural quality when designing combinations. It makes an upright, multi-stemmed shrub, maturing to 6 to 10 ft. in height.  Under optimum conditions it could get larger, but controllable with pruning. Though the flowering is not overly exciting, a word of caution would be not to plant it to close to your home. I've found the fragrance, if one can use that term, is reminiscent to an old pair of gym shoes! Thankfully, flowering isn't long lived and when the berries begin to show, you can forgive it of its sins. Native Americans reportedly used its long and straight stems as arrow shafts, hence the common name. A number of cultivars exist, but again the two most popular ones are 'Blue Muffin' and 'Chicago Luster'.

Viburnum dentatum 'Chicago Luster'
'Blue Muffin' is a shorter, compact cultivar that produces clusters of metallic blue berries. From personal observations, the berries aren't as copiously produced as in the picture cards attached to the plants would imply.  I have still yet to see one in the landscape that proves me wrong. However, with the size being more than the average shrub, I suspect most home owners whack it back, favoring size over berries. 

'Chicago Luster' was originally found growing within the grounds of the Morton Arboretum and brought into cultivation by Synnestvedt Nursery, Illinois, in 1967. It has stood the test of time as a worthy garden shrub and will produce an abundance of fruits. Both types are needed to successfully cross pollinate and set fruit, but will not do so if planted singularly. This leads to problems when dealing with small gardens unless two neighbors cooperate and include one of each into their gardens. 

Viburnum trilobum - American Cranberrybush Viburnum


I once read an article that claimed this type to be a 'horticultural sleeper', a very true description for an underused shrub. It's not one that gets a lot of attention in the gardening press and doesn't have any spectacular marketing campaigns to promote it for use in the garden. Still its a dependable shrub, relatively pest and disease free, with maple like foliage during the growing season. Though it carries the cranberry name, it is not actually a true cranberry. The fruits can be eaten, though sour, or cooked into a sauce and served with meat or game. They come in a range of sizes, depending on the varieties, but one can be found to suit any garden.  It's main use though is as a backdrop shrub, rather than a center stage jewel. However, with the on set of fall, they become a focal point and break out in a firecracker's worth of color while the clusters of pearl like fruit can remain well into winter. Care should be taken when selecting a spot to grow this type as it requires moisture to do well. In drought conditions you can expect to see the foliage scorch. Cross pollination is required for it to set fruit, so two different varieties will need to be grown.  Again, two main cultivars dominate the market, 'Alfredo' and 'Redwing', but others exist for those looking for a greater range.

Viburnum trilobum from beautifulcataya @ Flickr.com
'Alfredo' is the new variation of 'Compactum', which is said to grow denser and slightly broader than its old counterpart, to 5-6ft high and wide. Selected by Bailey's Nurseries of Minnesota, it has an upright habit in youth but like most of us, rounds out with age! Most accounts list this cultivar to be sparely fruiting, favoring instead 'Compactum', but neither have stayed at the garden center long enough to tell. 

'Redwing' was new for me this year, and no doubt will be on my orders for the following years to come. Selected for its showy red new growth that unfurls against the back drop of darker green foliage until the spring flush finishes before summer. Fall coloration is a bright red to wine red and of coarse has a heavy set of berries. This cultivar is more like the straight species, though denser, growing 8-10 ft high and wide.

With so many native Viburnums to choose, it's a hard task to narrow such a large group down to just a short list. However, many other kinds exist but with the lack of name recognition, so many never make into mainstream production. Keep a open mind when considering some of the lesser known types.  In many cases they haven't been hyped up as much in the market, but often make excellent additions in the garden.  In Part 2, we'll take a look at some of the non-native berrying Viburnums that have found a home in our gardens.

Don't forget to read more @ Damn good plants - Berrying viburnums Part 2

For more information click on this - Classic Viburnums


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Giving thanks

A few posts back I touched on the subject of exploring the world for plants through the adventures of Ernest Wilson and his hunt for the Dove tree.  The concept of roaming the world for new botanical treasure is an alluring dream that for a brief time I had a little exposure to.  My experiences were quite tame when you compare my stories to those of botanical hunters, heading to lands that had never seen a foreign footstep.  Many never came home, paying the ultimate price to introduce new plants to our gardens, and with the Thanksgiving holiday only a few weeks away, it seems only fitting to give them the attention they deserve.

That's me (young version) on the right, Tasmania
My explorations took me to the highlands of Tasmania in search of alpine plants that are found only on the mountains of the island state of Australia.  Then, into the steamy jungles to traverse to the top of a glacier capped peak of Irian Jaya.  So remote and sparsely  populated, that we were warned of wandering off the road in fear of getting lost and not making it out of the wilderness.   These adventures would have seemed like a vacation to the harden explorers of the past.  I had access to warm, dry lodging; English speaking guides, and most importantly, medicine. I once thought I had contracted Malaria after spending a week in Java, only to be diagnosed with the flu and treated accordingly.


Personally, Irian Jaya is the last frontier and has its fair share of adventure stories.  The most famous is the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in 1961 while pursuing his anthropological studies of the area.  Heir to the massive Rockefeller fortunes, he went missing  after the boat he was traveling in capsized.  Did he drown?, was he eaten by sharks or crocodiles?,  or even worse, eaten by the head hunting tribesmen of the area?  Some speculate that he gave it all up and assimilated into the tribes of the area, like Colonel Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now'.  Years later, in 1996 a scientific group from Cambridge University was abducted by an independence guerrilla force operating in central Irian Jaya, two years before I went there.  All were released unharmed but the threat to outsiders was apparent.  As a side note, the common name for Europeans in Irian Jaya is 'Long Pig', for the fact that we are as pink as a pig, and obviously longer. Some will say it's because we taste like one!  Cannibalism was a very real threat and stories exist of explorers becoming the main meal for some tribes.

The Scottish explorer, David Douglas, life ended in a manner fit for a horror film.  He was sent to the Pacific Northwest in 1824 where he sent back to Britain over 240 species.  His most notable introduction was the popular cut Christmas tree, the Douglas fir.  Others include the Sitka Spruce, Sugar Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Grand Fir, Noble Fir as well as several other conifers that transformed the landscape of Britain along with the timber industry.  In 1834, while escaping the winter of the Pacific Northwest he traveled to Hawaii and died under suspicious circumstances.  The day started with him climbing Mauna Kea, on the island of Hawaii when he apparently fell into a pit trap, set up to catch wild bulls.  Unfortunately, it contained one that gourd him to death.  However, he was last seen visiting the hut of an escaped convict and bull hunter prior to the fall.  When his body was recovered, it was found that the money Douglas was carrying was missing.  Accident or murder? We'll never know.

Wilson's Regal Lily
Ernest Wilson's fate was delayed until 1930 in what would appear as a simple traffic accident.  In 1927, he took on the role of Keeper of the Arnold Arboretum in what seemed to be a retirement from travelling overseas.  It was a life that had been hard on him following an accident in 1910 when a rock slide had broke his leg in the Min valley, China.  After a three day forced march over rough terrain  with his leg braced crudely against the tripod of his camera, medical help was finally found.  His leg eventually healed but was shorter in length, making him walk with what he referred to as a 'Lily limp', honoring the  success of collecting the Regal lily from that valley system.  He was often troubled from that injury as his leg would go numb, a condition that many felt lead to the fatal accident where the vehicle he was driving skidded off the road and plunged down a 40-foot embankment.  The accident  also claimed the life of his wife.

My former employer, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in England, was a major center for training collectors, who would be dispatched around the globe on various missions.  Many great names have been tied to this famous institution and in the glory days of exploration, a Kew trained botanist was often on board one of the sailing ships.  One story that I found intriguing was of David Nelson whose career was shorter, but more dangerous.  His first voyage was on board Captain Cooks Resolution, where he collected specimens from the Arctic to the Tropic's. This debuting trip ended suddenly when the legendary Captain was stabbed to death by locals on the Sandwich islands following a disagreement.  Unfazed, he soon signed up for his next ominous assignment,  to introduce bread fruit to the Caribbean as a food source to the then slave trade of the time.  He and another Kew trained horticulturist were sent to Polynesia to propagate and safely transport the young bread fruit on board the HMS Bounty, under the direction of Captain Bligh, second only to Cook in his seamanship.  Most people know the story of the 'Mutiny on the Bounty', but Nelson had to endure watching his precious cargo being dumped overboard,  while being cast away on a longboat.  Many don't know the rest of the story, but Captain Bligh was successful in navigating the longboat, 4000 miles over 47 days, across the Pacific, with limited supplies and no loss of life. Sadly  David Nelson died a few weeks later from a fever, even though he had survived three very potentially deadly events.

Cast away from HMS Bounty

Many explorers never gained the reputation of those who were successful, and unfortunately their names have been forgotten over time.  For others, the toll of traveling and exposure to foreign ailments shorten their lifespan, possibly cut them down in the prime of their lives.  It was a grueling job, separated from friends and family for what could be years, in pursuit of laying claim to a never before seen plant.  We take for granted that plant that grows in our back garden with very little thought about it's story.  Maybe now, after reading this post you'll look a little closer at that plant and imagine the collector running for his life, while being pursued by a mob of angry tribesmen looking for their supper.