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Blue Sterling's Newsletter

F or Collectors Only (part 1)

This installment of For Collectors Only includes some brief stories on the following 4 cultivars. Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon', Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Whorl', Cedrus libani subspecies stenocoma and Taxodium distichum 'Secrest'.

The Autumn Moon Maple. Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon' is the most desirable Japanese maple in cultivation. The late J.D. Vertrees discovered it as a chance seedling in 1978. If this maple's only attribute were fall color, it would still be at the top of collectors' lists. The autumn foliage is stunning. You will see peach, pink, and flame orange colors; often on the same leaf. Spring and summer color is equally dramatic. A warm pumpkin color overlays each green leaf. When seen from a distance, the tree resembles a shining autumn moon. This small tree undergoes a second growth spurt in summer. During this flush, the leaves develop a pink halo. Colors are intense in lightly filtered sun and subdued in shady areas. 'Autumn Moon' matures as a densely branched 12' tall tree. This maple grows well in loamy garden soil beneath light shade. Its slow growth makes it an ideal container or patio tree. 'Autumn Moon' is difficult to propagate and is destined to remain scarce.

Plant collectors would make terrible spies. We can't keep secrets! So, we are surprised nobody knows where this unusual hinoki cultivar originated. Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Golden Whorl' is the most unusual hinoki falsecypress you'll find. It fooled us-we thought it was a Chamaecyparis pisifera cultivar when we first saw it! 'Golden Whorl' has bright gold rope-like foliage that twists and turns. This distorted foliage is stiff and shiny; it seems almost artificial in bright sunlight. Many branchlets have fasciated (abnormally flattened) ends. 'Golden Whorl' is densely branched with a shaggy, pyramidal habit.

This rare plant may have three different names. 'Golden Whorl' may be identical to 'Sanotome' and 'Tsatsumi Gold'. A plant in the U.S. National Arboretum labeled 'Tsatsumi Gold' had parenthetical notes describing foliage as being a "golden whorl". This may be the origin of 'Golden Whorl'.

Cedrus libani subspecies stenocoma. Imagine the frustration of Charles Sargent, the late Director of the famous Arnold Arboretum. This noted horticulturist traveled Asia and Japan discovering and cataloging new plants. He was particularly charmed by the majestic Lebanon cedar and repeatedly tried growing it at the Arnold. To his dismay, the trees could not survive the harsh Boston winter. Then, Sargent learned about a population of Cedrus libani growing high in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey. He recognized that trees surviving in this harsh climate had a good chance of thriving in the Arboretum. Sargent commissioned a botanist to collect seeds from these cedars. Trees raised from these seeds proved distinctly hardier than those that originated in warmer climates. The one shown below was 25 years old when this photo was taken at the Harper Collection in Tipton Michigan and you know how cold it can get in Michigan.

Cedrus libani ssp stenocoma

This is the hardy cedar of Lebanon. Cedrus libani ssp. stenocoma becomes a stately tree. Young trees are narrow and stiff before maturing to the broad, flat topped cedar you see in botanical gardens, arboreta and large gardens. Cedrus libani ssp. stenocoma is reliably hardy in Zone 5. Although it has been cultivated since the 1920's, few people grow or know the hardy cedar of Lebanon. A cursory internet search for "Cedrus libani" produced about 3,000 hits, a search for "Cedrus libani stenocoma" returned about 80! Don't fret, we know one conifer specialty nursery in New Jersey that grows this hardy cedar.

The deciduous bald cypress is often associated with mysterious swamps in the Deep South. Depending on your imagination, the massive buttressed trunks and unusual knees evoke images of bass fishermen in their flat bottom boats or dangerous smugglers and bootleggers! You may be surprised to learn that Taxodium distichum (below) is hardy in Zone 4.

Taxodium distichum knees

Taxodium has strong wood that does not break up in snow or ice. It grows fast when moisture is ample, but is amazingly drought tolerant. The only drawback to bald cypress has been its' size. This pyramidal conifer becomes too large for all but the largest gardens.

Fortunately, there is a bald cypress perfect for small gardens. Taxodium distichum 'Secrest' is a slow growing cultivar with a low, spreading habit and a flat top. It originated as a witches' broom mutation on an otherwise normal tree at Secrest Arboretum which has an excellent conifer collection. In our climate, 'Secrest' grows at a miniature rate, under three inches a year. The new growth on this gem resembles curled eyelashes. 'Secrest' is environmentally friendly and adaptable. It is content pond side or in an infertile scree. The original broom at Secrest was destroyed, condemning this superb miniature tree to scarcity.

Taxodium distichum 'Secrest'

Rare plant collecting is a healthy habit, and one that all of us at the nursery have developed. These collector's plants are only a small sample of the spectacular cultivars Blue Sterling Nursery grows. Please check more of our web site for more new cutting edge plants.