Monday, December 1, 2008

Idesia polycarpa...that's a lot of red berries!

Driving through the Arboretum in the winter some of the most striking sights are deciduous plants with red berries. The vast majority are selections of Ilex verticillata and hybrids between that holly and its Asian counterpart Ilex serrata. These shrubs rarely exceed 12 feet in height, The tree pictured, Idesia polycarpa is easily 75 feet tall and could qualify as the world's largest holiday decoration.

When I first came to work at the Arboretum in the early 90's I met Idesia in the Japanese Woodland section of the Asian collections. I was quite taken by it but was put off both by its size and the fact that it is dioecious so you need a male and a female. That takes a good deal of space. And they're not common in commerce. I did find unsexed plants at Forestfarm, but that meant I would have had to buy three and hope I didn't get unlucky and get three males or three females. Even so, I would have had to plant them blind without knowing who was going to have berries and who was just going to supply pollen. By the time they were mature enough to fruit, their size would make them difficult or impossible to move. Plus I didn't hae the sort of space. And anyway I can go visit this plant below the Crape Myrtle field across Valley Road from Beech Spring Pond. It'll look good for at least another few weeks.

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