Thursday, March 19, 2009

Magnolia denudata: this is as subtle as two 50' trees covered with 1,000's of 6" flowers can be (Asian Collection USNA)

Magnolias and Cherries everywhere, and drifts of daffodils, and masses of Forsythia; spring is no time for the blushing violet! As much as I enjoy gaudy over-the-top display, I feel sorry for the subtle effects that get passed by in the rush of spring. I drive home every day on the Baltimore Washington Parkway and the flowers of Acer rubrum, the Red Maple are brilliant in the median and alongside the road. The swelling buds on the Weeping Katsura in the Asian Collections glow an orangey red even on a cloudy day, so colorful they seem lit from inside. In Fern Valley the buds on the Spicebushes begin to open with hints of gold to come. Swelling catkins of various Corylus luminesce a bright greenish yellow. All wonderful, but all pale before the onslaught of Cherries, Magnolias, Flowering Apricots, Crabapples, Rhododendrons, and Azaleas.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Veronica persica: this is a pretty weed

This is not a native, but it is a nice weed. Curiously, this same site will be drifted with thousands of Field Violets, Viola arvensis, within the next few weeks. Two more instances of a lot of little flowers producing a big effect.

Early cherries creep into the picture behind the solar panel that will power this irrigation field

The Research Unit has been breeding cherries for quite some time. When you initiate a breeding program you accumulate as much useful or potentially useful germplasm as you can. We have a ridiculously wide ranging collection of cherries. The Yoshinos at the Tidal Basin may be 3 weeks away, but many of the less common species and cultivars are opening up in the Cherry Fields. We have a self-guided tour displaying many of these more obscure but still beautiful taxa. This weekend will be good but so will next weekend.

The solar panel in front of the cherries will provide electric power to run the satellite control for irrigation in this research unit nursery. The story, as I remember it, is that it would have cost 30,000 dollars to install an electric line to the field; we would then, of course, have had to pay for the electricity. The Panel and the batteries cost 28,000 dollars. Good deal huh? Apparently a cooperative arrangement was brokered during the opening show for the "Power Plants" exhibit last year. Alfred State College, a member of SUNY, designed and coordinated the installation. I have some doubts about the siting of the panel; there's nothing else visible in the entire center of the Arboretum that isn't "natural", still it's a very good thing we have done and its conspicuousness will make it an educational tool.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Helleborus x orientalis: it is beautiful

They have been flowering for a while but I just don't care the way I used to. The flowers are beautiful, they plants are nice if you prune off last year's leaves. They are definitely cool; it's just that there are so many of them around. There are new cultivars, some with variegated leaves, others with red petioles (these are Helleborus foetidus selections), others with double flowers, and every color in the rainbow so long as it's white to pink to darkest red. One thing I do like about them a lot is the amount of variation in a seedling population. If you plant two or three non-sterile plants and wait 10 years you will have all those colors and speckles and shaded bicolors. Probably no doubles, but they're not especially attractive anyway.

The plants you buy as Helleborus orientalis, are convoluted multiple hybrids involving any number of species. The H. lividus crosses produce plants with intriguingly streaked leaves but they are a bit tender. Pine Knot Farms, in Clarksville, Virginia imports, breeds, and sells wonderful Hellebores. They are a good, but doable, ride from Washington. Maybe next year.