Plants

January

There is no better time to come and enjoy our impressive evergreens. Mount Auburn’s conifer collection is noted for its size and diversity. With more than 80 different taxa and more than 1,500 plants, it is comparable to the conifer collections at … Continue reading

February

Now is a great time for a second look at many of our deciduous trees and shrubs. Even without their more showy foliage and flowers, many of our plants have something to contribute to the winter landscape. From the the impressive size and shape of some trees … Continue reading

March

Early signs of spring appear throughout the landscape in March.  The cheerful yellow blossoms of witchhazel that appear early in the month and the beautiful carpets of scilla  that emerge by month’s end remind us that warmer days are soon on their way. … Continue reading

April

Mount Auburn is painted in shades of yellow, pink, white and lilac thanks to the daffodils, forsythia, magnolias, and redbuds now blooming.  For many, though, it is the April flowering of Mount Auburn’s 20+ varieites of ornamental cherries that truly signal spring’s arrival. … Continue reading

May

It is no wonder that Mount Auburn welcomes so many visitors each May.  Flowering dogwoods, crabapples, lilacs, and azaleas are just some of what is on display.  If you’ve never been to the Cemetery, now is the time to make … Continue reading

June

Though May might be the peak of spring bloom, there is still plenty of interest in June.  Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurel, and Kousa Dogwoods add plenty of late-spring color to the landscape. The annual and perennial plants planted in flower beds throughout … Continue reading

July

In July, make your way out to Willow Pond for a glimpse of our butterfly garden at its peak. As you walk at to the pond, you’ll notice a number of summer-blooming trees and shrubs adding seasonal interest to the … Continue reading

August

Late summer blooming ornamentals provide plenty of reasons to visit Mount Auburn, though perhaps the best reason to visit the Cemetery in August is to seek shade beheath the Cemetery’s dense canopy of shade trees.  Maples and oaks are among our shade … Continue reading

September

As the last of our summer-blooming plants make a showing in September, other plants begin showing the tell-tale signs of autumn’s approach.  Our wildflower meadow, located at  Washington Tower, is now at its peak as we bid farewell to one … Continue reading

October

By mid-October Mount Auburn’s landscape is awash in color.  As our many deciduous trees and shrubs begin to transform their foliage into jewel-tone shades of red, orange, yellow, and purple, other plants set out their fall fruits and nuts. Here are some … Continue reading

November

The diversity in Mount Auburn’s collection of trees ensures an prolonged foliage season each fall.  Even in November, there is still plenty of color in the landscape. From our noble oaks displaying autumn color to the fall-blooming witchhzel, there is plenty to see at the Cemetery.  Here are … Continue reading

December

As our deciduous plants drop their last leaves we welcome the winter season. Now is the time to explore Mount Auburn’s many plants displaying four season interest.  The diversity in our horticultural collections ensure that a visit to Mount Auburn at … Continue reading

JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC

Horticulture Highlight: Nikko Fir, Abies homolepis

December 3, 2019

And houseless there the snow-bird flits

Beneath the fir-trees’ crape

            -Herman Melville

Beginning in December and throughout our winter we may take notice, often heretofore overlooked, of remarkable conifers throughout our landscape. Herein we grow many specimens of eastern white pine, Douglas fir, Norway spruce, Alaska yellow-cedar, Cedar of Lebanon, Japanese cryptomeria, along with a few young, diminutive giant sequoias. Remembering that not all conifers are evergreen, we even appreciate the framework bare branches of the deciduous bald cypress, larch, golden larch and dawn redwood

Another choice conifer is the Nikko Fir, Abies homolepis, native to the mountains of central and southern Honshu and Shikoku, Japan. In native-forest maturity this may reach 80 to 100-feet, but in landscape use often will achieve heights less than that. As with all the four-dozen species of Abies, the leaves are born singly and persist for five or more years. Its needles are 1 ¼-inch-long, dark green above, with two white stomatal bands on their undersides.

…Within a sparkling, emerald mountain chain

Where day and night fir-needles sift like rain

            -Ella Higginson

As with most conifers there are separate male and female flowers oneach Nikko Fir tree. The ½-inch, yellowish-green, male pollen producing flowers (strobili) are easier to see than the even smaller female flowers. But it is the fertilized female flowers which will produce the fir cones, containing seeds for the succeeding generation. Initially a purple-blue color, these in maturity become brown, 4-inch-long, and sit distinctly upright on the branches. Eventually all these fir cones disintegrate, releasing their seeds to the wind while still attached to the tree. It is rare to find an intact fir cone on the ground beneath these trees.

And fir cone standing stiff up in the heat

            -Edward Thomas

People have been entwined with plants for millennia, compiling untold numbers of compatible stories. Accordingly, our Nikko Fir, Abies homolepis may be woven as a distant tangent to our newly created Asa Gray Garden. Allowing for a bit of literary license, an initial connection is through Phillip von Siebold (1796-1866), German-born, physician-botanist. This surgeon with the Dutch East Indies Army was credited with performing the first cataract operation in Japan, while stationed there from 1823-1830. He additionally introduced Nikko Fir along with many other at the time unknown plants to Europe. In collaboration with Joseph Gerhard Zuccarini (1787-1848), a German professor of botany, they published a large format, illustrated Flora Japonica, first appearing in 1835.

Asa Gray (1810-1888), preeminent nineteenth-century botanist, wrote a review in 1840 of this two-volume flora that included hand colored illustrations of Japanese plants. Gray’s review of this Flora Japonica began his astute botanical observations of the striking morphological similarities between several Asian and Eastern North American genera. Building on this early biogeography with later obtained Japanese herbarium specimens helped Gray research/present a theory of disjunct temperate species having evolved from a common ancestor. This helped advance botany as a scholarly scientific discipline in the United States. This was as well a key tenant in Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) 1859 theory of evolution through natural selection. Our expanded, replanted Asa Gray Garden includes numerous pairs of Eastern Asia-Eastern North America plant pairings to help honor Gray’s legacy.

Now however circling back to Nikko Fir, Abies homolepis, our best specimens are found on Pilgrim Path, at Spruce Avenue and on Sycamore Avenue at Gerardia Path, two of our extensive winter arboreal nobility.

And thou, with all thy instruments in tune,

Thine orchestra

Of heaving fields and heavy swinging fir,

Strikest a lay

That doth rehearse

Her ancient freedom to the universe

            -Michael Field

Horticulture Highlight: Symphoricarpos, Snowberry or Coralberry

November 5, 2019

How interesting will our times become? How much more interesting can they become?

            -Mark Jarman

A retired medical school dean would appropriately interject into conversations that hearing any one’s doctor mention, “isn’t that interesting,” should not always be the preface of what one wanted to hear next. “Isn’t that interesting,” is also heard from visitors walking our landscape, during this time of year, when coming upon any of our Symphoricarpos, Snowberry or Coralberry.

It is completely unimportant. That is why it is so interesting.

            -Agatha Christie

These modest-sized, twiggy, deciduous shrubs within the CAPRIFOLIACEAE, the honeysuckle family, are innocuous most of the year. Inconspicuous small opposite leaves, lacking any fall color and easy to miss small clusters of pinkish, 1/8-to-1/4-inch, bell-shaped flowers do not cause these to capture much attention. However, as we come into November, it is the distinctive and persisting, white and magenta fleshy fruits that serve as the most conspicuous ornamental features of these primarily native shrubs.

Of the 15 Symphoricarpos species, only one is indigenous to Asia, the rest are native to North and/or Central America. The etymology of the genus alludes to ancient Greek for fruit (karpos) bearing together (sumphorein). These ½-inch diameter, fleshy, berry-like drupes containing two seeds matured back in September. While offering food for various birds and small animals, the lengthy time these fruits ornamentally persist, for our enjoyment, suggest many birds do not have them on their top ten, or perhaps even top-twenty, bulking-up-list pre-migration.

Interesting,”

someone remarks between bites.

“to be right here in the moment

yet also out there watching

some once-in-a-lifetime sublimity

unfold, as if living as if already

dead.” …

            -William Hathaway

Nonetheless we can mention appropriate, bi-centennial historical notoriety. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) in presidential retirement was adding these plants at Monticello. This enthusiastic botanist often shared his new plant finds with many others and we know he sent cuttings of snowberry to Madame de Tesse (1741-1814), in France, his friend and correspondent of three decades.

There is not a sprig of grass

that shoots uninteresting to me.

-T. Jefferson, Dec. 1790

The greatest service which can be

rendered any country is to add

an useful plant to its culture…

            T. Jefferson, In Memoir

At Mount Auburn we recently added more cultivars of coral berry, some tried (‘Candy Sensation’) and some new for us (‘Proudberry’) which may be found on Spruce Avenue, along with snowberry found elsewhere.

What really dissatisfies in American civilization is the want of the interesting, …

-Mathew Arnold

November sun that latens with our age,

Filching the zest from our young pilgrimage,

Writing old wisdom on our virgin page.

Not the hot ardour of the Summer’s height,

Not the sharp-minted coinage of the Spring

When all was but a delicate delight

And all took wing and all the bells did ring;

Not the spare Winter, clothed in black and white,

Forcing us into fancy’s eremite,

But gliding Time that slid us into gold

Richer and deeper as we grew more old

And saw some meaning in this dying day;

Travelers of the year, who faintly say

How could such beauty walk the common way?

            -Vita Sackville-West

Blooms at Mount Auburn

November 5, 2019
Mount Auburn’s landscape is composed of a diverse array of plants and trees that come into bloom at different times and in different seasons.

What’s in Bloom: Week of November 4, 2019

Japanese anemone, Anemone hupehensis, several locations

Aster, Aster tartaricus, Asa Gray garden

Aster, Symphyotrichum ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, Asa Gray garden

Mountain fleece, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Asa Gray garden

Leopard plant, Ligularia sp., Asa Gray garden

Panicle hydrangea, Hydrangea paniculata, several locations

Rose, Rosa sp., several locations

‘The Fairy’ rose, Rosa ‘The Fairy’, @ Sphinx

Witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, Oak Ave., Hazel Path

Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum sp., many locations

Ladies tresses, Spiranthes sp., Beech Ave.

‘Endless Summer’ Hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Bailmer’, Spelman Rd.

‘Knockout’ rose, Rosa ’Radrazz’, Spelman Rd.

‘Rose Creek’ Abelia, Abelia xgrandiflora ‘Rose Creek’, Field Rd.

Geranium, Geranium ‘Rozanne’, Admin. Bldg.

Catmint, Nepetaa ‘Blue Wonder’, Azalea Path

Cosmos, Cosmos bipinnatus, Greenhouse garden

Zinnia, Zinnia sp., Greenhouse garden

Cock’s comb, Celosia sp., Greenhouse garden

Globe amaranth, Gomphrena sp., Greenhouse garden

German statice, Limonium sp., Greenhouse garden

Horticultural Highlight: Amsonia hubrichtii, Thread-leaf blue star

October 1, 2019

Yellow, yellow, yellow

it eats into the leaves,

smears with saffron

            -William Carlos Williams

Autumn at Mount Auburn is full with an impressionistic cornucopia of changing landscape colors. During this weeks-long period, different plants pass the mantle of being the “plant of the day.” One plant providing outstanding yellow is Amsonia hubrichtii, thread-leaf blue star.

The genus Amsonia includes about 20 species of clump-forming, herbaceous perennials, primarily native to North America, with one species each also native to eastern Asia and Europe. The name commemorates John Amson (1698-1765), English physician and botanist, who was the one-time mayor (ca.1750) of Williamsburg in Colonial Virginia.

Amsonia hubrichtii, thread-leaf blue star in May displays pale blue flowers atop of three-foot-high stems. Its leaves are uniquely narrow, finely textured, adding contrast next to any companion plants. In breezes, there are kinetic, delightful sways of this billowy foliage. October provides further grandeur as these leaves slowly morph into a butter-yellow or vibrant gold color that will persist for 2-3 weeks. This was the Perennial Plant Association’s “Plant of the Year” in 2011.

We also grow Amsonia tabernaemontana var. salicifolia, blue star that likewise produces blue springtime flowers and outstanding yellow fall foliage. The lanceolate, willow-like leaves are wider than thread-leaf. These two stars are problem free, three-season, reliable perennials. On your next visit to Mount Auburn look for these on Central Avenue, Narcissus Path, at the flagpole and in Asa Gray garden among other locations.

Yellow as a goat’s wise and wicked eyes,

yellow as a hill of daffodils,

yellow as dandelions by the highway,

yellow as butter and egg yolks,

yellow as a school bus stopping you,

yellow as a slicker in a downpour

            -Marge Piercy