Epimedium grandiflorum arrived in Europe, in Antwerp, with Philipp Franz von Siebold’s plant collection from Japan, in 1830 according to some reports. Actually, during his 8 years in Japan, Siebold sent three shipments with an unknown number of herbarium specimens to Leiden, Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp. The important thing is that among them there were 2 plants of Epimedium grandiflorum, one with white flowers, and one with pale-violet flowers. They were planted at the Ghent Botanical Garden. Unsurprisingly, the large spurred flowers received a lot of attention because the only species of Epimedium known at that time was E. alpinum, which has small flowers. The Japanese name of E. grandiflorum – ikariso, comes from: ‘ikari’ – anchor and ‘so’- plant, the four long curved spurs of the flowers suggesting the four-claw anchor used by Japanese fishermen.
Epimedium grandiflorum spread rapidly into cultivation. Currently, there are countless varieties of this species, and it has also contributed as a parent of some important hybrid groups such as E. x rubrum, E. x versicolor and E. x youngianum. It has three recognised forms today: f. grandiflorum, f. flavescens and f. violaceum.
Epimedium sempervirens, resembles very much E. grandiflorum with the exception of the evergreen leaves and of a more elongated rhizome. It is endemic to the western side of S. Honshu. E. sempervirens has crossed with E. diphyllum in the wild to produce the white flowered E. setosum. I already featured the sweet E. sempervirens ‘Candy Hearts’ in ‘Plant Valentines’, and now the answer, if someone was asking – yes, there is a variegated Epimedium, see illustrated E. sempervirens ‘Variegatum’.
Epimedium diphyllum is actually the first Epimedium that arrived in Europe from Japan, sent by Franz von Siebold to Leiden. From there it spread to other botanical gardens and nurseries in England. A small and dainty species, today is known more in cultivation through the garden hybrids that belong to E. x youngianum. The name E. x youngianum is used to include all the garden hybrids between E. diphyllum and E. grandiflorum. The numerous varieties that exist in cultivation exhibit usually intermediate characteristics between the parents. In the wild, the same combination of parents lead to a new species: E. trifoliatobinatum.
Besides these, there are many Japanese hybrids of unknown parentage. They can vary greatly in their flower shape, size and colour. I’ll start featuring a few varieties soon, until then please browse the Japanese Epimedium species and hybrids gallery. Japanese Epimediums have the same requirements for cultivation as the Chinese ones, with the only difference that they prefer a slightly acidic substrate. Using a fertilizer for acid-loving plants would probably give better results, especially if the irrigation water is alkaline.
If you didn’t get ‘hooked’ yet on the Chinese Epimediums I’m sure now is the moment.
Non-plants related: David Mitchell’s book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, recreates with authenticity the atmosphere of the nineteenth century Japan, and the life on Dejima, an artificial island close to Nagasaki Harbor. Siebold also lived there during his stay in Japan, around the same time period.
I mentioned the name of Darrell Probst in relation to the introduction into cultivation of a few Chinese Epimedium species and hybrids. Among the most representative is Epimedium brachyrrhizum collected from China in 1997 and identified by Prof. W. Stearn as a new species that resembles E. leptorrhizum but differing in its thicker rhizomes. E. brachyrrhizum ‘Elfin Magic’, a variety with pink, long-pointed sepals and spurred petals, is illustrated in the Chinese Epimediums gallery. In an interview that was published in Fine Gardening Magazine, he recounts the first trip to China and speaks about the logistics of a plant hunting expedition, the hardships and joy of being able to see the plants in their wild habitat, and also about his vision and goals as a nurseryman. You can read this very interesting article here.
Many other valuable hybrids were released from his small nursery, Garden Vision, located in Massachusetts (and not only of Epimediums). To complete the ‘picture’, I will feature Epimedium ‘Domino’. I watched it closely throughout the growing season, and it’s a truly outstanding variety as a whole.
It forms a wide clump of evergreen, long pointed leaves, up to 2’ tall, with flowering spikes bearing an abundance of large milky-white flowers with long spurs and rosy-brown tinted cups (some describe them as maroon). Floriferous, would be an understatement! It even produced a few flowers again towards the end of the summer.
In the image below – showing the heavily blotched, dark burgundy foliage towards the end of June. The ‘parents’ were not declared, but considering the heavy mottling of the leaves, I bet it has some Chinese ‘blood’ in it. This display of mottled foliage can be seen in another great D. Probst hybrid – E. ‘Pink Champagne’ (see image in Plant Valentines post). I am sure both of them will become more popular in the coming years, as more nursery stock becomes available.
“Lady White, a half-serpent, half-female, was running an apothecary, known as the Temple of Preserved Harmony. When an epidemic broke in Zhenjiang, she proclaimed that herbs were the answer, and then set out to gather them on the Mountain of a Hundred Plants. The afflicted population miraculously recovered after drinking her herbal remedies”, at least that’s what the legend says…
It is believed that for over 5,000 years, the Chinese have been compiling medical treatises. The first recognizable description of a Chinese Epimedium, the ying yang herb (E. sagittatum), was given in the earliest Chinese pharmacopoeia: Shen pen ts’ao ching (Han dynasty) and later in the famous Pen Ts’ao Kang Mu (Ming dynasty). Considered the most comprehensive Herbal Encyclopaedia, with 8,160 different prescriptions, it was written by Li Shih-Chen over a period of 27 years. In it he expanded and classified most of the known herbal remedies and introduced new ones. Li Shih-Chen, believed to be the greatest naturalist in the Chinese history, is commemorated in the name of Epimedium lishihchenii (that explains the difficult spelling we have to endure!).
The bridge between the Epimediums used as medicinal and Epimediums used in horticultural purposes, like in many other cases, is short and easy to be crossed. Maybe they all come from the Mountain of a Hundred Plants, or maybe not, they are wonderful anyway. From the evergreen leaves, often with red or mahogany mottling to the big spidery, campanulate or small but numerous flowers, in a wide array of colours, everything speaks in their favor. Many species have been discovered only in the last decades and even more are eagerly awaiting for their ‘collector’. Japanese botanist and horticulturist Mikinori Ogisu had been a major contributor to the knowledge of the genus Epimedium in China. He discovered and introduced new species in cultivation, collecting and photographing hundreds of plants. Illustrated here are two wild collected clones, from a hybrid ‘swarm’ between E. acuminatum and E. fangii, discovered on Mount Omei, released as E. x omeiense ‘Akame’ and ‘Stormcloud’.
Next time about a modern plant hunter: Darrell Probst, who also contributed to the discovery and introduction in cultivation of quite a few Epimedium species along with his own selection of varieties and hybrids. Until then you can see more Chinese Epimediums from Lost Horizons Nursery collection on the Epimedium Place page.
Note on the cultivation: these Chinese natives grow in the temperate forest of mountainous regions, in part shade, requiring moisture and a rich, organic substrate with good drainage. So, forget about the myth about Epimediums as plants for dry shade.
Imagine a thick, lush forest where green, shiny moss blankets rotting stumps and rocks, water trickling gently nearby, dragons flying…..(or go with the regular companionship for Hosta, Polygonatum, Disporum, ferns…).
Perhaps I should have started a series called “Plants from China” because here’s another one, Saruma henryi. It is a relative of Asarum (wild ginger; good that a botanist played around and anagrammed the name otherwise it would be hard to guess the affinity) endemic to China where it grows in “dense forests, valleys, and stream banks, at 600-1000 m” (Flora of China, vol. 5). A must for the woodland garden, it was named after Augustine Henry, an Irish physician, who collected intensively in China for the RBG Kew. It grows up to 2 feet, and about the same width, with heart-shaped woolly or rather felty leaves and bright yellow flowers in April-May. It tends to spread somewhat if it likes the place. Very hardy and not bothered by any pests, it looks soft and happy all the time.
I shall take more pictures this spring, until then you can see how it looks in the garden on google. Try a layered look with: Asarum europaeum, Anemone nemorosa ‘Blue Bonnet’ or a blue Corydalis (‘Wilside Blue’), Athyrium niponicum ‘Regal Red’, and AT LEAST ONE Aconitum fisheri. For a ‘grassy’ feel: Carex elata ‘Golden Bowles’ or Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’. On the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, is listed as Endangered – so, support ‘conservation through cultivation’! Just in case someone wonders what’s Corydalis ‘Wildside Blue’, this is a picture taken in July last year. Nothing beats ‘wild’ AND ‘blue’!
Podophyllum pleianthum is one of the most astonishing plants to witness flowering. Invariably almost everyone seeing the big, mature clump close to the propagation house at Lost Horizons, is asking: What is this?. After providing the botanical name, we add the common one: Chinese Mayapple, and relief follows, we all heard about Mayapples, haven’t we?
But this Chinese mayapple is a special one. It was included in the Section Dysosma, along with other Podophyllum species by J.M.H. Shaw (1999), on the account of the multi-flowered inflorescence with typically dark purple-red flowers and other characters. Its native habitat extends from Taiwan and eastern China through to Yunnan. The story behind its introduction in cultivation is this: it was first collected in 1881 from Tamsui, by T. Watters, the British Consul in Taiwan at that time. Then Consul H.C. Hance, an amateur botanist as well, published its first description in 1883. Specimens were sent from Hong Kong botanic garden to Kew Botanical Garden, where it flowered first in 1889. Material in cultivation today represents the clones from Taiwan and mainland China, also seedlings grown by different nurseries. Plants in cultivation can present variations in habit and in the length of the foliar marginal teeth.
As one can see from the above image, a mature plant can have 1-3 huge leaves, up to 40-50 cm in diameter with about 8 lobes. Juvenile plants present usually, triangular, hexagonal or almost circular leaves. Sometimes people look in disbelief at a 2-3 years old plant because of the different leaf shape. As in many cases, we can say that it goes better with the age, although I would grow it even if at a permanent juvenile stage – all Podophyllum baby plants are amongst the cutest possible! Inflorescence is usually located in the axilla of the petioles. Flowers are dark-reddish purple, attracting attention and smelling somewhat unpleasantly being pollinated by flies. Fruits are fleshy berries, yellowish-green when ripe. It is considered a self-incompatible, obligate outcrosser, so you would need a few flowering plants growing close by to have viable seeds, or if other flowering compatible Podophyllum species around you may end up with some hybrids! The seeds have to be cleaned from the fleshy fruits and sown immediately for best results. It is a woodlander, growing well in shade to part-shade, in a humus rich soil, with good drainage; if happy will even start to self propagate through the underground rhizomes. One of its features distinguishing it from other Podophyllums is that it doesn’t go dormant in the summer. Although not too early to show up in the spring, the huge, leathery, glossy leaves will grace the garden until November. Over the winter would benefit from a layer of mulch, especially at a young age.
Note: In the nursery trade there is a significant confusion regarding the identity of this species, understandable, because according with J.M.H. Shaw, there is actually a “Podophyllum pleianthum- versipelle complex which comprises a group of closely related species, which tend to intergrade, probably as a result of hybridisation”. Many nurseries are still listing a ‘Dysosma versipelle’, which is anyone’s guess since this name was misapplied in the past to anything belonging to this complex. Other species from this group that resemble P. pleianthum are: P. versipelle (with several subspecies and varieties), P. hemsleyi, P. mairei and P. glaucescens.
I also mentioned the name of Ernest Henry Wilson in connection to Deinanthe caerulea, which opened the fascinating subject of botanical explorers. Many of the plants they discovered bear in recognition their name in the specific epithet. When being associated with a real person, Latin names become suddenly more familiar, which makes remembering them easier. Specific epithets like: menziesii, wilsonii, hookeri, fortunei, farreri, douglasii, van houttei and so on are bringing back the memory of A. Menzies, E.H.Wilson, J.D.Hooker, Robert Fortune, C.P Thunberg, Reginald Farreri, David Douglas, L. van Houtte and all the others. Considered by some as ‘crazy’ people, they often risked their lives collecting plants in remote countries, often for very little financial reward. Wilson first started collecting plants on behalf of Veitch & Son Nursery in 1899 and then he worked as a collector for Arnold Arboretum. From his many expeditions in China, Japan, Korea, he collected a huge number of species, the list of his introductions runs into the thousands! His first mission in China was very specific: to find and collect seeds of Davidia involucrata, the Dove Tree, known only from a herbarium specimen sent back to France by French missionary Father Armand David.
To make a long story short, he found a new grove of trees and collected lots of seeds, along with many other plant species, but still the credit for introducing the tree went to Father Paul Guillame Farges, because from a package with seeds he had sent to a friend (supposedly exactly 37 of them!), one germinated exactly in the same year Wilson had begun his trip! The tree was named in honor of the first collector Father A. David. The main feature of this medium size tree, which stimulated the frenzy of collecting it, ii is the great number of white flower bracts that look like petals. Like in other members of Fam. Cornaceae, flowers are small but associated with a pair of up to 25 cm, pure- white bracts. When it flowers in May-June, thousands of white bracts flutter with each breeze resembling white doves or handkerchiefs. Wilson compared them with “huge butterflies hovering amongst the trees”. Unfortunately, it is a tree mostly seen only in Botanical Gardens in Canada and the USA – why?!. Another of Wilson’s introduction – Acer griseum, the Paperbark Maple, wasn’t ignored as bad by the horticultural tradesmen but still it is underutilized considering its many qualities. You can see a very nice specimen in the Display Gardens and also buy it at Lost Horizons Nursery. Now I cannot stop and have to mention another rare, exquisite small tree that we owe to Wilson: Heptacodium miconioides, maybe the object of a new plant portrait soon.
In his town of origin, Chipping Campden in UK, as a memorial to mark the centenary of his birth, a garden was created, including many of the plants he discovered and collected – Wilson Memorial Garden.
Lots of books are available for some more winter reading on the subject of Botanical Exploration.For those not really into books, there is always Google; here’s a link where you can read a bit about other Plant Explorers.
I really wanted to have my first post in the first day of the New Year (call me superstitious if you want), but it was hard to decide which plant should be the first to write about. After some ‘deep’ thinking I had to choose the hauntingly beautiful Deinanthe caerulea. Most often you hear the term associated with a piece of music that lingers in your consciousness; the same goes for this plant. Once you see it in flower, you’ll never forget it. It has a name that suits it very well: from Greek – deinos=extraordinary and anthos=flower, indeed ‘the extraordinary flower‘. A perennial plant with a shrub-like appearance, originally from China where it grows in “moist forests in valleys: at 700-1600m” (Flora of China, vol.8), Deinanthe caerulea was discovered and introduced by the renown plant explorer Ernest Henry Wilson – known as ‘Chinese’ Wilson. A relative of the Hydrangeas, it belongs to the Fam. Saxifragaceae, having typical textured leaves with forked tips and blue-lavender nodding flowers, the fertile ones with a central boss of violet anthers. Like a jewellery of the shade garden when in flower in June-July, the whole plant has a bold, rough look the rest of the time, however demanding your attention even then. Most often people stop and ask – what’s this plant? – long before the flowering starts.
A typical woodland plant for humid, shady sites rich in humus soil, it can be propagated by division or cuttings, as far as my personal experience. Probably with perseverance by seeds would be a viable method too, as I’ve seen some that managed to ‘get away’ by themselves in the nearby pots. One important question would be where to find to buy it? Easy for me to answer because I happen to work at the only place where one can find to buy it in Ontario, Lost Horizons Nursery, where many other woodland gems await to be discovered. There is even a variety with a deeper bluish color called ‘Blue Wonder’, which is always in limited supply. Another nursery that I know would have it is Fraser Thimble Farms in BC and besides these, you can only try mail-order nurseries from the States and UK.