Wednesday, January 5, 2011
January 2011 Newsletter
Volume II, Number 1.
A Four Season Plant, a Four Season Town, and the Death of an Alleged Fungus Thief
"O wind, If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" Such was the question posed rhetorically by the poet Shelley. Our wind has been west/northwest lately, with an occasional south wind blowing in a reminder of spring right here in the middle of winter. Don't blink, however, because shortly our winter will be gone and March Madness will be underway again--and I am not referring to the NCAA basketball tournament.
A Plant for All Seasons--Oakleaf Hydrangea
William Bartram of Philadelphia, the son of King George III's royal botanist and a famed plant explorer in his own right, was traveling from Augusta to Mobile in 1775 when he camped along a creek near the Flint River in central Georgia. There he found "a very singular and beautiful shrub, which I suppose is a species of Hydrangea." Unfortunately Bartram did not see the plant in bloom, as he recorded the flower color being "of a dark rose or crimson color at first." However, there is no doubt as to the true identity of the plant after he noted that the stems "are covered with several barks or rinds" and that the leaves were "very much resembling the leaves of some of our Oaks." And thus Bartram became the first American of European extraction to describe almost everybody's favorite native shrub, Hydrangea quercifolia, known commonly to this day as Oakleaf Hydrangea (O.L.H. for short).
The four season long good looks, or the combination of blooms, bark, leaves, and seed heads have made O.L.H. the favorite of gardeners and garden writers alike, with at least one writer calling the plant the numero uno shrub for American gardens. Such popularity, unfortunately, has lead to the plant suffering from what I call "cultivaritis." Every nursery/propagator now has their own creatively named variety of O.L.H., each of which possesses it's own peculiar magical properties, be it small stature, large stature, big blooms, small blooms, etc, und so weiter. If the O.L.H. "Old Granddad" you bought ends up looking nothing as promised after being planted in the landscape--blame it on the photographer. That such cultural practices also limit genetic diversity and create a monotonous landscape is just another reason to avoid such hyperbole, as well as such advertising practices.
One day I may lose my last marble and start selling O.L.H. "Maximus Minimus" and its companion "Minimus Maximus." Until then we sell only wild stock Hydrangea quercifolia, propagated from plants right here in the middle of the peculiarly small native range, which is mostly just Alabama. If anyone doubts the adaptability of native plants see the Hydrangea photos on our website page (http://mulberrywoodsnursery.com/?page_id=380). The two O.L.H. pictured growing in the sandstone ledge are in a west facing location that gets roasted by the summer sun. I have a plant in our nursery that is growing atop a sandstone boulder in about two inches of soil. Our Alabama plant inspector thinks it is a trick. And he's right--I water it at least once a month every summer.
The laws of nature may never in fact align with the rules of advertising. If that is true, so be it. We can at least guarantee one thing about our O.L.H.: they will look a lot like that "very singular and beautiful shrub" that William Bartram wandered upon in 1775. It will be exceptional through at least four seasons every year--maybe more. Except, wait, our plants will not have any dark rose or crimson flowers--just white ones that turn pinkish when pollinated. Where did that whole color thing come from? Maybe there really is an O.L.H. "Bartram's Rose" out there somewhere? Let me get out my rose colored glasses.
A Four Season Kind of Town
Some people travel to Gatlinburg when they want their fix of the high Southern Appalachians. My spouse Melanie and I usually head for Damascus, VA (AKA "Trail Town USA"), or better yet, Richwood, WV. Richwood is in Mountain State parlance a four season town, which means that at least some do it yourself outdoor activities are available year round, even when the whole area is buried under a couple or more feet of snow. And while downtown Richwood looks like a giant Georgia-Pacific lumber yard--the local beauty queen is called "Miss Lumberjack"--the options for the naturalist or just plain nature lover are unmatched by any place I know. And did I mention that wild native Appalachian brook trout can be caught inside the city limits? Probably not.
Botanically the region around Richwood is one of the most biodiverse in the world. The usual Southern mountain flora of Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) and deciduous Magnolia line every lower elevation stream. At high elevation in spring red spruce trees form a dark canopy over colonies of painted trillium (Trillium undulatum). More unusual, however, are the "glades" found at the headwaters of the local trout streams, the Cranberry and the Cherry. The largest of these, "Cranberry Glades," is a giant sphagnum peat bog that represents the southernmost extension of Canadian zone flora into the East/Southeast. Growing in the glades are cranberries, giant ferns, wild orchids, and a favorite plant of the local black bear population, the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus). We once had a bear cub jump onto the path through the glades no more than six feet in front of us, but it was looking for mother bear and more skunk cabbage, instead of trouble.
Rising above the glades is Black Mountain, named for a wildfire that happened close to a century ago. Red spruce slash left by the aforementioned lumberjacks ignited and burned at such a high temperature that even the centuries old mountain top soil was consumed by the blaze. The summit of Black Mountain has since been re-colonized by dwarfed rhododendron, mountain laurel, and native azaleas, which now put on a indescribable show in summer. It was also on the High Rocks trail atop Black Mountain that I had my one William Bartram moment, when I wandered up on a single plant of white flowering Turk's Cap Lily (Lilium superbum), a variety previously unknown and unrecorded, blooming alone among a sea of the common orange lilies. A plant unknown to science! A potential cultivar! Alas, the white lily is still unknown and unrecorded save by me, for when I returned later to collect some seed, the entire colony of lilies had been mowed off down to the ground by deer.
If you have seeds that need cold treatment, plant them now! If you don't know if your seeds need to be chilled, just search the internet--lots of good information is available for free now that formerly required access to a research library and an advanced degree. I have three doubly-dormant native lily species in the works, michauxii, philadelphicum, and superbum. Some michauxii will germinate this spring, but I am not so sure about the others. And then there is the multiple year wait until they bloom. But if just one should turn out to be white. . .
An Incredibly Strange But Disturbingly True Farming Story
The Disturbingly True Gardening Story is back from vacation in the Bahamas, which you may recall lead to its replacement last month by a Disturbingly True Hunting Story. However, exhaustion due to prolonged vacation has led the Gardening Story to yield once more to another close cousin, the Disturbingly True Farming Story. And Mon Dieu!, what a harrowing French tale of woe and intrigue it is!
When times get hard, even good country French folk will turn to larceny. And then again, there are those people who are just good for nothing crooks to begin with. At any rate, this verdict is going all the way to the jury. I don't want to give away too much, but the story involves a young farmer, a known thief, a fungus worth $500 a pound, and a firearm. Here are the details: (http://news.scotsman.com/world/France-Truffle-farmer-is-held.6669315.jp).
The Fine Print
All newsletters will also be posted and archived on our blog for those who wish to add a public comment. Anyone irritated, annoyed, or in any way flummoxed by this newsletter should email me, Jeff Cupp, through the website http://mulberrywoodsnursery.com and be forever removed from this mailing list.
Posted by MulberryWoods at 9:56 AM