Viscum album

Viscum album

Viscum album subsp. platyspermum on limes trees at Hampton Court Palace, London

Mistletoe has fascinated humans for millennium, many plants have superstitions attached to them but mistletoe seems to have attracted more than most. It’s not hard to understand that a clump of evergreen leaves growing out of dormant tree in midwinter would grab the imagination. The druids are said to particularly venerate mistletoe growing on an oak tree, something it rarely does, harvesting it with a golden scythe on the 6th day after a new moon. Consisting that the plant is woody and gold is an extremely soft metal I not sure how true that is and as they left no written records of themselves this could just be dramatic invention. It still plays an important part in culture with the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas but the plant is poisonous with a few berries bring on stomach ache though serious poisoning is rare.

Viscum album is wide spread across Europe and it has over the centuries been seen as a cure of a vast range of ailments right up to the present time. Diokorides (the 1st century AD Greek physician) reported that Hippocrates (in the 4th to 5th century BC) believed mistletoe could be used in the treatment of complaints the spleen and menstruation. Over the following centuries it has been recommended as a treatment for swellings, tumours, epilepsy, infertility and ulcers. In more recent times people have tried to use is to treat hypertension and cancer.

Viscum album

Viscum album (Mistletoe)

The genus Viscum L. contains about 100 spices but only V. album L. is native the UK and then mainly in the south and midlands. In naming Viscum album L.. Linnaeus took the Latin for mistletoe as the genus and album, no doubt referring to the distinct white berries, for the species name and listed it in volume 2 of his Species Plantarum. The genus Viscum L. is presently in the family Santalaceae along with 6 other genera. The common name Mistletoe comes from the old English mistel and many semi-parasitic plants around the world have the same common name. It is also known as including All-heal and Masslin in England and has many other names across Europe, Germany having a particularly large collection of names for it.

Mistletoe is notoriously difficult to establish and the species is now divided into 3 sub-species depending on the host plant it lives on.

Viscum album subsp. abietis (Wiesb.) Abrom. which grows on Abies species.

Viscum album subsp. austriacum (Wiesb.) Vollm. which grows on pine trees and very rarely on spruce.

Viscum album subsp. platyspermum Kell. (subsp. album) which grows on hard wood trees.

This goes in part towards explaining why it is so difficult to establish mistletoe as the sub-species are very specific to their chosen host but there also appears to be genetic factors as not all potential host can be infected with equal ease. For example, oak is rarely infected but even then there is a wide range of how readily a plant will be infected with a particular oak species. Therefore, where a plant has only a few mistletoe plants on it not become host to a lot and only specimens with a lot of mistletoes will host a lot.

Mistletoe is evergreen with tiny flowers that are insect pollinated and would never be noticed; the insects are attracted by the sweet smell . The male and female flowers are on separate plants with about 4 times as many female plants as male ones. The plants flower between the end of February and April  and the fruits (or berries) appear from October to May with Mid-March to mid-May being the best time to sow the seed, making sure to brake the outer coating and allowing the sticky contents to help the seed adhere to the bark of the host tree.

Mistletoe is a parasite, all be it a partial one, taking water and minerals from the host tree and this weakens the tree. Infected apples trees will yield between 7% and 56% less depending on how vigorous the rootstock is, with the plants growing on the more vigorous rootstocks affected the least. Once established the Mistletoe shoot doesn’t divide for the first 3 or 4 years then each year the shoot divides in two, ultimately reaching about 1 metre across, so giving a very rough and ready guide to its age.

 

Mark McNee liked this post

Prunus laurocerasus

Prunus laurocerasus foliage

Prunus laurocerasus foliage

The cherry laurel is one of the most widely planted screening plants in gardens having reached western Europe by the end of the 16th century and is recorded in cultivation in Britain in the 17th century. It has been cultivated that extensively its geographical origins seem to be a little hazy but would appear to stretch from the east coast of the Adriatic sea eastwards along the south coast of the Black seas as far as the Caspian sea.

It is hard now to appreciate the effect that this plants arrival would have had in western gardens at the time of its arrival. Gardens at the time would have had very few evergreen bushes and along comes this large vigorous bush with its mass of large smooth shiny evergreen leaves. Added to this is the masses of white flower spikes in late spring and the small black fruits in autumn. Few plants offer such a range of attractive features. Sadly now it has been relegated to being a plant of little garden value.

Prunus laurocerasus flowers

Prunus laurocerasus flowers

This is in part because we have so many more plants to choose from now but also it has been a victim of its own success. It has been over planted in the past because of its appeal as a fast growing evergreen leading it to being used where a fast evergreen hedge is wanted’ a role it isn’t really suited to. Its large leaves look tatty and unattractive when it is cut with shears or a hedge cutter and it should really be cut back with secateurs. If you must have an inappropriately fast growing hedge you are better with × Cupressocyparis leylandii. On the rare occasions it is allowed to grow unmolested it makes a fine large flowering shrub in a large garden. Unfortunately it most often ends up crammed into far too small a space with its hacked leaves blacked at the cut edges. I have seen examples of people trying to grow it as a 600 mm high by 300mm wide hedge, something such a large and large leaved plant will never do successfully and which there are far more appropriate plants for.

Prunus laurocerasus 'Castlewellan'

Prunus laurocerasus ‘Castlewellan’

In most cases the form Prunus laurocerasus ‘Rotundifolia’ is grown in place of Prunus laurocerasus having leaves half as broad as long and a yellower green than the species. Other cultivars of note are Prunus laurocerasus ‘Castlewellan’ (syn. P. ‘Marble White’) a less vigorous plant with white marbled leaves, Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ )a low shrub with upward pointing leaves and stems and Prunus laurocerasus ‘Zabeliana’ a low horizontally branching shrub which makes excellent ground cover even under the dripping shade of trees.

Prunus laurocerasus fruit

Prunus laurocerasus fruit

Along the way it acquired a variety of names until Linneaus set it as Prunus laurocerasus L. in the 1753 in the first volume of Species Plantarum. Prunus is the Latin for a plum tree which is in the genus and laurocerasus comes from laurel, the Latin for laurel, and cerasus, the Latin for cherry. This and the common name reflect the small round black fruits which resemble cherries. These cherry like fruits or their common name of cherry laurel should not lead you to believe the plant is in any way edible. All of the plant is poisonous and the reason you do not hear of people being poisoned by it is because you will be very ill before you have chance to eat sufficient to poison yourself. These poisonous chemicals are also the ones which produce the almond smell from the crushed leaves. That said this has not stopped people from trying to use it as a quack medicine. Laurel water was used for various treatments but is basically a solution of hydrogen cyanide of varying concentration and so extremely dangerous.

Liz McNee, Mark McNee liked this post

Garden Myths: Number 9

Evergreens don’t lose their leaves.

It is an old misconception, older enough for me to be for warned by my amenity horticulture lecturer, that people think by choosing evergreen you will not have to clean up fallen leaves. The logic is easy to see; if the plant is evergreen it has leaves all the time so they don’t fall off. The error of this will quickly become painfully apparent the first time they weed under a holly bush! While evergreen don’t shed all their leaves on one go: they do still shed them, as can be seen if you look under any established evergreen tree or bush and what is more they tend to take longer to rot down than leaves of deciduous plants.

Taxus baccata

Yew hedge at Warwick

Yew hedge at Warwick

The Yew tree is an easily recognisable plant of gardens and the countryside, being one of the few native British plants to be widely grown as an ornamental plant. It is a very adaptable plant growing in most situations with the exception of water logged ground and it responds very well to cutting. This, with its dense evergreen foliage has made a very popular material for hedging and topiary. It is also said it is slow growth is an advantage as it reduces the amount of cutting needed but it is not nearly as slow as is sometimes made out. Young plants can make 20 to 30 cm of growth a year; only slowing with age, as we all do!

Taxus baccata foliage

Taxus baccata foliage

Many selections have been made of Yew including fastigiated and variegated ones but it is still at its most impressive as a green hedge where it does an excellent job of defining spaces and providing a foil to the more colourful occupants of the garden. If planting it as a hedge make sure to prepare the site well, necessary with any hedge, and make sure the soil drains freely; even if this means installing drainage. Its dense evergreen foliage forms a very long lived hedge even in the shade and it has been said a yew hedge has a longer working life than a brick wall. The other advantage over a brick wall is its adaptability; creating a new opening in a wall is difficult and will always show up while with a yew hedge a saw and hedge clippers is all that is needed. Once the new opening is made the plants will soon break away as it happily forms new shoots from the old wood and so heal the wound made.

Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata'

Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’

It is remarkably good at growing away from old wood, I’ve seen yew trees cut down to ground level and shoot away from the stump. Hawthorn is the only other plant I know with such a strong regenerative ability. This is a very un-conifer like characteristic, but yews are not very conifer like though there appears know doubt that it should be classed as one.

Though now the yews are seen mainly as garden plants; it has been an important plant to humans for a long time. The Yew combines great long levity with a valuable wood which was prized was making bows, the most valuable weapon for most of human history. The ancient Greeks called the yew τόξο (or toxo) and the Romans called the yew taxus. As with any plant with such an important and long history with humanity a lot of superstitions have grown up around it, and this can be seen in its importance to druids and its presence in church yards. The Fortingall Yew at over 2000 years old is believed to be the oldest tree in Britian and grows in the churchyard of the village Fortingall in Perthshire.

Taxus baccata 'Elegantissima'

Taxus baccata ‘Elegantissima’

In 1753 Linnaeus named the Yew Taxus baccata L. in the second volume of “Species plantarum” the Taxus from the Latin for yew and the baccata from the Latin for berry after the distinctive red fleshy arils which enclose the black seed and look like berries.  It is only this red fleshy fruit-like part of the yew which is not poisonous as all other parts of the plants can kill humans if sufficient is eaten. Yew exists as separate male and female plants and so these colourful arils are only found on the female plants. The species Taxus baccata can be found as both male and female plants its cultivars will be only one sex and this should be considered when choosing one.

Fatsia japonica

Fatsia japonica

Fatsia japonica

One of the classic garden plants for shade Fatsia japonica is much admired for its large, glossy, evergreen leaves and easy temperament. It grows happily in any reasonable garden soil and does particularly well in shade, though not so well in dry shade. It is also tolerant of a maritime garden though its large leaves will need some shelter from strong winds. The large fleshy leaves evoke the image of lush tropical rain forests but the plant is reliably hardy, though the result of crossing it with ivy produces the less hardy x Fatshedera lizei. Quickly forming a medium sized shrub with flowers borne on the end of the shoots. The flower buds and white flowers look a lot like a scaled up version of Ivy flowers, appearing in autumn. This late flowering means though the buds are reliably formed in the UK the flowers are often damaged by frost.

Fatsia japonica leaf

Fatsia japonica leaf

Known by a variety of common names including Japanese aralia, castor oil plant, fatsi, fig-leaf palm and glossy-leaved paper plant; F. japonica was originally described by Carl Peter Thunberg in 1780. This followed his trip to Japan where it grows wild and he named it Aralia japonica. It was re-named in 1854 by Joseph Decaisne and Jules Émile Planchon, two botanists working in France. They took it out of they genus Aralia and created the new genus Fatsia for it; so the name is now Fatsia japonica (Thunb.) Decne. & Planch.

In the wild Fatsia japonica is found from central Japan south along the Japanese islands almost to Taiwan and in South Korea. It is sometimes described as a monotypic genus, meaning that there is only one species init, but in fact there is at least two other species of Fatsia, Fatsia oligocarpella Koidz. and Fatsia polycarpa Hayata.

Fatsia japonica 'Variegata'

Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’

It was introduced to western horticulture in 1838 and though the plain green Fatsia japonicais the one most often seen in gardens others are available and the variegated form Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’ which has splashes of white on the leaves is worth looking out for.

 

Eucryphia × nymansensis ‘Nymansay’

Eucryphia x nymansensis 'Nymansay'

Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’

This may not be a very popular plant; I fear the name may put off some, but it should be far better known. Not only is it an evergreen with attractive foliage all year round but every late summer it disappears under a mass of white flowers.

Though not spectacular individually they are borne in such numbers as to make this one of the best flowering trees.

This with its habit as a small to medium sized tree of quite narrow shape it makes an excellent choice for a small garden. Unfortunately it tends to only be sold as a bush up to about 1m tall so it tends to be over looked as a choice for garden trees.

Eucryphia x nymansensis 'Nymansay' flower

Eucryphia x nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ flower

E. x nymansensis is a very variable hybrid which results from crossing Eucryphia cordifolia and E. glutinosa, two excellent South American species. Eucryphia × nymansensis ‘Nymansay’ itself is a selection of one of these hybrids by James Comber who was head gardener at Nymans (hence the name) just after the First World War.

 Eucryphia cordaifoliais found in central Chile and northern Argentina where it forms an evergreen tree growing up to 40m; though in the UK it is more usually a large bush or sometimes small tree. There it is known as Ulmo and the flowers are highly valued by beekeepers that produce Ulmo honey. Its heavy and hard timber is used in construction and the production of good quality charcoal.

Eucryphia glutinosa flowers

Eucryphia glutinosa flowers

Eucryphia glutinosa is also found in central Chile, where it is known as Holy Cherry, and it forms a small deciduous tree. Its name glutinosa comes from its sticky buds and like E. cordifoliaits flowers a prized as a source of nectar for Ulmo honey.

Eucryphia glutinosa foliage

Eucryphia glutinosa foliage

Olearia x macrodonta

Olearia macrodonta bush

Olearia macrodonta

The “New Zealand Holly” rightly earns is common name; its pointy edged leaves make look a lot like a grey holly leaf. They can be a little tender but are sufficiently tolerant of salt laden winds that that do well near the coast. This makes them a valuable plant in seaside gardens where their tolerance of salt and the relative absence of hard frosts makes them well suited. In all but the most exposed gardens they can be grown; coming through all but the worst winters with little or no damage. They are very wide spread in North West Scotland, to the point of almost being naturalised.

Olearia macrodonta bark

Olearia macrodonta bark

While evergreen like holly; the leaves are not as hard and vicious as holly (as anyone who has hand weeded around a holly bush will testify too). It also differs from Holly in that it grows quickly; forming a medium sized bush, and given time a small tree. Holly on the other hand is rather slow growing.

In summer the New Zealand Holly is covered by mounds of white flowers and older specimens develop a peeling, almost shaggy, bark which new growths breaks away freely.

Close up of Picture of an Olearia macrodonta shoot

Olearia macrodonta shoot

As the common name suggests it is a plant native to New Zealand and was first described by Joseph Dalton Hooker who in 1864 named it Eurybia dentata var. oblongifolia. This turned out to be incorrect and in 1884 John Gilbert Baker, working at Kew under Hooker, renamed it Olearia macrodonata. Though this is the name it is normally grown under in the UK; the New Zealand government’s own data base lists it as Olearia ×macrodonta Baker a hybrid between two species: O. ilicifolia and O. arborescens.

Though Olearia ×macrodonta is widely grow in the UK, the dwarf form Olearia macrodonta ‘Minor’ would be well worth seeking out for a court yard garden or rockery. This plant looks like a miniature version of the original, being smaller in all its parts, and it is listed in the RHS Plant Finder.

Olearia macrodonta 'Minor'

Olearia macrodonta ‘Minor’