This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Trees of U-M's original botanical garden

From 1913 until 1960, the University of Michigan's botanical gardens were located one block east of the corner of E Stadium and S Industrial, on property that is now Woodbury Gardens apartments. At the time of the move to Dixboro Rd, many of the important specimen trees were moved, but there remain a handful of unusual large trees worth visiting.

Entering Woodbury Dr you'll pass a row of white poplars to the left and a grove of siberian elms to the right. The first street on the left is unmarked but shows on maps as being Wisteria Dr. At the point where Wisteria takes a sharp right turn, several large healthy persimmon trees can be found to the left. I can't figure why this species is so uncommon in cultivation -- perhaps it is the 'mess' created by the small edible fruit. However, it's a dioecious species and one can select non-fruiting male specimens. The tree has a very attractive form and a stunning bark pattern. No fruit on these trees on Wisteria -- they are either male, or it was an unproductive year. Diospyros virginiana is native to the southern states.

Back to Woodbury Dr: the two pecan trees on the east side of the street just beyond Wisteria are just stunning.  Pecan (Carya illinoiensis) is in the same genus as the hickories, but the leaves more closely resemble those of walnut. I know of only one Ann Arborite who has a pecan in her yard. She says the flowers make a mess in the spring, the squirrels go ga-ga over the fruit, and maybe she mentioned it stains her deck. I could live with those things. It's definitely a beautiful nut tree.

The odd hickory growing between the pecans is curious-looking but admittedly not very beautiful. Rumor has it that it is Carya laciniosa, shellbark hickory, a species recognizable in part by its exceptionally large nuts and large winter buds. reports that it grows on river banks and in rich floodplain forests in the counties to the south, east and west of us, but not in Washtenaw County itself.

Seven-sons Flower

"Seven-sons flower" is a worthy odd-ball woody ornamental that is now in full flower in the Ann Arbor area.  I may have mentioned this specimen on Amherst near Longshore before, but now is a good time to visit it and experience its nice floral display and strong honeysuckle-like fragrance. (And while you are at it, consider putting in a bid for this gorgeous property that was lovingly landscaped by a plant-loving friend of mine.)

The scientific name is Heptacodium micinioides, which is one of my favorite combinations of syllables. It has an odd leaf, with veins that run parallel to the leaf-margins. The shreddy bark is honeysuckle to the second power, verging on melaleuca.  Kudos to those people who are willing to try new plants in their landscapes!

The rare and difficult Franklinia, in flower, here in Ann Arbor, this week

Franklinia altamaha is a plant of legendary stature. A member of the tea family, it was first observed (among those of European descent) by William Bartram, who discovered it along the Altamaha River in Georgia in 1765. On later visits he collected seed. Good thing! By 1803 or thereabouts it had vanished from the wild, and all specimens currently in existence derive from his original collections.

It's a difficult plant to grow and flower. This is Tony Reznicek's fourth attempt in his garden in Ann Arbor's north side. He writes, "I think I may have it. My tries have included two supposedly hardier forms (of which this is one), so it is evidently a fussy plant. But is is such a legendary species that I'm glad to fuss!"

Monday, September 19, 2011

It's been a horrible summer and I, for one, am really glad fall is arriving

This summer was the pits. Couldn't go outside because of the mosquitoes, couldn't even open the windows because of the humidity. In Ann Arbor proper things weren't nearly as bad, but residents was driven to distraction by the mosquitoes in parts of Burns Park and elsewhere. Really, what purpose do mosquitoes serve? Are they an essential part of any ecosystem? Perhaps they have assisted in mammalian and bird evolution via their role in transferring genetic material between organisms. Thank you, I'd rather not participate in that grand game of chance.

With the recent cool weather I was able to shake off the 'I hate nature' blues and get back into the garden, take a few pictures, and pull up a few tons of Acalypa. I found that I have at least three color forms of the late-summer-flowering Anemone hupehensis, a big, easy, vigorous and spreading plant. Don't underestimate this species -- it likes to grow.

What else?  Hmm. I finally got some nice flowers out of my turtlehead (Chelone obliqua). I moved it from a spot that was just a bit too dry for it and into a brand new-terraced bed of heavy moist soil. We're all happy now. The turtlehead species are native to North America, and I was surprised to learn from that the genus was recently moved out of the figwort family, Scrophulariaceae, and into the Plantaginaceae, where it resides with the common weedy plantains. Weird to me! Perhaps meaningless to you. Wikipedia lays out the arcane details at

But check out the fruit on my devil's walking stick, Aralia something-or-other. I've never keyed it out. I dug up a piece near St Joes hospital prior to it being bulldozed. It took readily and now I've got a small forest of prickly sticks topped by umbrellas of giant compound leaves. I'm sure I'll regret planting this some day, but so far nobody has been badly mutilated by the thorns. There is one woody spiny species of Aralia native to the eastern U.S.; two others come from Asia.

Only a fool would pass up a chance to grow the fall flowering Clematis terniflora. It will put on rampant growth in sun or shade. It will crawl, it will climb, it will smother weeds, and it will flower so prolifically that it will hide the foliage. Missouri Botanical Gardens writes that it can self-seed and become a pest, but I've not seen that happen in Michigan.

My umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is now sporting lots of these brilliant red lanterns. I can hardly say enough about how fond I am of the large-leaved southern magnolias. The foliage is bold and tropical, and the plants seem to be completely drought-tolerant. I also grow M. macrophylla, which has ridiculous white foot-wide flowers -- it's easily the most impressive tree on my property.

This is a good time of year to prove to people that the maple with the plain unlobed leaves is truly a maple (note the fruit). This is Acer carpinifolium. It's just a novelty in my garden.  Might make a nice specimen tree if given a chance.

I think I originally introduced bluestem goldenrod (Solidago caesia) into my garden by digging up a piece out of the woods. I learned to appreciate its gentle beauty in my exploring around Pickerel Lake. It spreads underground and has made appearances in my lawn. It's a small chore to keep it under control.

I have mixed feelings about Colchicum. Am I crazy, or do the flowers collapse if they are not given enough sun? My neighbor Borek has a patch in his sunny rock garden that really stands out, but mine often look quite sad. Ah, if only I had more time, I'd move them around and find the best places for them; but as it is, they'll have to manage where they are. These things have huge underground bulbs that can be broken apart and distributed to wherever the spirit moves you.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Historic trees of Paris' Jardin des Plantes

Some of the specimen trees at the beautiful and expansive Jardin des Plantes (a short walk from the central Ile de la Cite) were planted round about the time of the founding of Les Etats-Unis.  I'll write about some of these, then move onto some rarities that, while probably not perfectly hardy in Michigan, may be worth a try after Greenland's ice shelves melt.

Platanus orientalis, the oriental planetree, is one of the trio of trees that is used to line most of the streets of Paris (the others being the linden and the horsechestnut). According to the documentation, the specimen to the left was planted in 1785. There were others of a similar vintage.

(And speaking of relying on a small number of species . . in the gardens at Versailles were thousands and thousands of mature lindens planted in perfect rows extending literally for miles.  What will happen when the emerald linden beetle or Dutch linden disease finds its way to that country . . ?)

A European species of hackberry (Celtis australis) grew to enormous heights in the park, and some of these were several hundred years old. I wouldn't know about a young specimen, but the old ones had smooth beech-like bark, unlike the species we know and love on this side of the Atlantic.

It was a pleasant surprise to come upon a 130-year-old "Chene a gros fruits," which is the French translation of Quercus macrocarpa, the bur oak. I also saw an enormous specimen of an unfamiliar (to me) exotic oak species Quercus castaneifolia from Asia (see photo). And scattered here and there was another oak species with tiny evergreen leaves.

Why is the fabulous Parrotia persica ('Persian ironwood') still such a rarity in the United States? The big specimen in the park was 110 years old. It's not like it is new to cultivation or anything. The branches of this tree trailed to the ground so I stuck my head between them to get a view of the lovely ornamental bark. I was then tapped on the shoulder by park security who wondered what perverse activity I was engaged in. Untangling my camera from the branches, I withdrew my head and cheerfully answered in my best French 'Parrotia persica!'  Nutty tourist.

The most famous trees in the Jardin des Plantes are undoubtedly the cedars-of-Lebanon (Cedrus libani). Which territory did the French occupy 250 years ago to give them access to this species? I did not have the equipment to properly photograph the biggest specimen, but its top was completely flat. Typical of an old specimen? I don't know.

The extensive and historic herbaceous display gardens in the park were grouped by plant family.  I counted 17 species of Carex and of course a million members of the mint family. Ive never seen Plantago lanceolata or Rhamus frangula (labeled there as Frangula dodonei, but now listed as Frangula alnus in Michigan Flora -- woo!) tended so lovingly. You can read more by clicking the link immediately below!