Category: Fall Horticulture Highlight

Oregon Grape

October 30, 2020

The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its cultivation.  – Thomas Jefferson

Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium is a good example of Jefferson’s (1743-1826) oft-stated opening quote. This plant of contemporary usage was introduced as part of our country’s early botanical exploration.

Today we may add Oregon Grape to a list of more well-known evergreen shrubs such as rhododendron, mountain laurel, yew and pieris. Averaging 3 to 6-feet high and wide, its distinct alternate compound leaves are composed of 5 to 9 shiny, stiff, leaflets, each 1 ½-to-3 ½-inches long with spines on the tip and margin. Bright yellow, slightly fragrant flowers occur in mid-to-late April, about the same time as some of our flowering magnolias and cherries. Later in August-September these flowers may produce dark-blue berries, looking somewhat akin to grapes, hence the common name. Fruits may be used for jellies, wines and were historically part of traditional diets of indigenous Pacific Northwest peoples.

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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

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

Pseudolarix amabilis – Golden larch

October 30, 2018

…From yellow leaves a blue jay calls
From yellow leaves a blue jay calls
And chipmunks run the old stone walls

When fall comes to New England

-Cheryl Wheeler


Autumn within Mount Auburn presents an arboreal cornucopia of multiple colors. A sampling includes the reds of dogwood, maple, tupelo, Virginia sweetspire, oakleaf hydrangea, interplanted with the yellow of hickory, ginkgo, Korean mountain ash and larch among many others. One lesser known golden-yellow, which sometimes exhibit bright orange-bronze instead, is provided by the Golden larch, Pseudolarix amabilis. This native to China which grows 30-50 (100)-feet in height is one of four deciduous conifers that grow here, the others are bald cypress, dawn redwood and European larch.

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