I was beginning to wonder if winter would arrive three weeks ago as my wife, Laura, and I drove through Colorado on dry roads in 60-degree temperatures along Interstate 70.
There was some snow in Denver, but the weather was warm most days. We enjoyed Colorado plants as well as some familiar to us here, such as the abundant Bur Oaks (Quercus macrocarpus = large fruits) with their wonderful large frilly acorns, the hackberry and the Kentucky coffee tree with their large bluish-brown pods.
While we were in Denver, northeast Ohio had a foot of snow and extreme cold, although we again had clear roads on the way back.
Earlier this week, before the latest blast at Ohio State University’s Arboretum Secrest in Wooster, I enjoyed the purple remnants of beautyberry fruit clusters, the thorns and orb-ish fruits of hardy-orange plants (Poncirus trifoliata), and the gentle sweep of remnants of recent snow, soon to be subsumed by new powder and ice.
As promised, it’s Lichen’s New Year. These wondrous mutualistic symbioses of cup and club fungi (adhering to bark and stone) and cyanobacteria and photosynthetic algae are still present on earth (more in later notes), including the fabulous State Park of Mushroom Rock in Kansas on the way to Colorado and the marker stone at the Jack and Deb Miller Pavilion at Secrest Arboretum.
For that plant lover’s almanac mission, check out a new book “Urban Lichens” by Jessica L. Allen and James C. Lendemer and the classic “Lichens of North America,” a glorious nearly 800-page tome with images breathtaking. And check out the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association (ohiomosslichen.org). I go.
One of my favorite plants to grow when I ran a greenhouse in Denver 45 years ago was the florist’s cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum).
This houseplant for Ohio is a challenge, as it prefers cool, sunny conditions, somewhat hard to find in modern detached homes, but it’s a challenge well worth solving. Cyclamen plants grow from tubers. The foliage is marbled with cream and white in a dark green matrix, with long-stemmed flowers in pink, red or white.
The flowers are twisted and spiky except for the ‘Stargazer’ cultivar. On our windowsill we have cyclamen purchased from Graf Growers over two decades ago – which still bloom periodically throughout the year.
Genre Cyclamen was named by the Swedish botanist Linnaeus in 1753 and is made up of 23 species of European, Middle Eastern and Somali origin. Although the florist’s cyclamen is not hardy here, there are cyclamen, such as Cyclamen hederifoliumwhich are winter hardy.
We saw them in Scotland several years ago, and nurseryman Tim Brotzman of Lake County, Ohio has a carefully tended outdoor cyclamen garden. This week I stopped at Buckwalter Greenhouse in Wooster with the welcome sign to come in and get warm – indoor plants – and bought a white flowering cyclamen for my office.
Speaking of these hackberries, they’re common in Denver and Ohio.
One of their special features, in addition to their corky bark, is the unusual witches’ broom on the twigs, a cluster of shoots thought to be an interaction of a mite and a fungus.
Hackberry trees are tough and are becoming increasingly popular as street trees.
The veil of secrecy
Let’s take another look at Secrest Arboretum curator Jason Veil, “Proven Performers of Secrest Arboretum.”
This time it’s Calycanth, also known as Carolina allspice or sweet shrub. They are medium to large shrubs, up to 12 feet tall. There are three species, two native: Calycanthus floridus (eastern US) and C. occidentalis (western United States), and an Asian, C. chinensis.
The big leap in shrub popularity came with hybridization, with Asian species providing larger flowers (some almost the size of a bodice) and American species providing dark red to burgundy flower color and spicy scents.
Hybrids between these species grow rapidly, which is a factor in hybrid vigor, according to Jason. A hybrid between C. floridus and C. chinensis is noted as C. x raulstonii, named after famous horticulturist JC Raulston of North Carolina State University.
One such popular hybrid cultivar is ‘Hartlage Wine’, named after student Richard Hartlage, who noticed and developed the hybrid. Another popular shrub is “Aphrodite”, a hybrid of C. chinensis and C. occidentalis. Plant these shrubs for their understated beauty, although these larger-flowered cultivars have spectacular blooms. Plants have also been used for essential oils and medicinal plants.
Take advantage and discover them at Secrest.
The promise of a seed
As in “Mighty Oaks Grow from Little Acorns,” many plants start from seed. So the arrival of the seed catalogs also warms up the icy beast in us during the February frosts. In the same line, discover a marvelous new book: “Seeing Seeds” with luminous photography by William Llewellyn and an accompanying text by Teri Dunn Chase. This is the third in a series of my favorite books: “Seeing Trees”, “Seeing Flowers” and now “Seeing Trees”.
These books are wonderful composites that bring the incredible detail and wonder of plant botanical characteristics to life on the pages of a book.
Seeing is believing, so check it out at your nearest bookstore, online or through interlibrary loan. These details are what I find perhaps the most rewarding aspect, and often the gateway drug, to habitual plant watching.
Artists know it: two quotes from the book “Hockney/Van Gogh The Joy of Nature” express it:
But this blade of grass leads [a man] draw all the plants — then the seasons, the main features of the landscapes” — Vincent Van Gogh. And: “I’ve always found the world quite beautiful looking at it. Just watch. And that’s an important thing that I share with Vincent van Gogh: we both really, really like looking at the world. —David Hockney.
A short informal discussion of these books will be my contribution to the ArboReadUm program at Secrest Arboretum on November 16. Others will focus on the books “Bewilderment” by Richard Powers and “Lives of Weeds: Opportunism, Resistance, Folly” by John Cardina. , and of you… Let me know.
Jim Chatfield is a horticulture educator and professor emeritus at Ohio State University Extension. If you have any questions about maintaining your garden, email [email protected] or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if writing.