Thursday, December 15, 2011

FREE 400-page ginkgo book

I’ve blogged a couple of times this month about ginkgo trees (1, 2) and the more I learn, the more intrigued I become. Judging from how many different cultivars of Ginkgo biloba are out there, I dare say I’m not alone in my fascination with this living fossil.

Today I came across an impressive resource: a two-volume e-book available as a free download from Scribd. Entitled Ginkgo biloba: Nature’s Miracle, it was written Branko M Begović Bego, a Croatian gingko expert and collector, and translated from the Croatian by Blanka Capic.


I’ve downloaded free e-books before and more often than not was disappointed by the lack of substance. Expecting something similar, I was pleasantly surprised—very much so. This is not a skimpy brochure, it’s an almost encyclopedic treatment of the genus Ginkgo, of which only one species, Ginkgo biloba, has survived.

Volumes 1 and 2 are combined in one downloadable PDF with a total of 400 pages. Volume 1 (268 pages) is entitled “Ginkgo in general—Let’s get to know gingko” and covers taxonomy, history, morphology, cultivation and propagation. Volume 2 (142 pages) is entitled “Cultivars & bonsai forms;” it lists 220 (!) different cultivars, many with photos, and also describes the use of ginkgo in the art of bonsai.


I don’t know how many photos and illustrations are in the book, but there must be well over 1,000. In addition, there are meticulous references substantiating the facts presented by the author. Writing this book was clearly a labor of love, and it must have taken years. There is so much information that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But if you’re like me, you’ll simply skip the stuff that doesn’t interest you. It’s easy to do in a PDF.

Many photos I’ve never seen anywhere else

The translation from the Croatian wasn’t done by a native English speaker, which manifests itself in somewhat clumsy sentences such as this example:

When the plant germinates it is preferable not to touch her until next year, but if the seeding was conducted individually in separate containers then plants can be grafted into larger containers throughout the year.

In addition, the byline “Will ginkgo be the saviour of the human kind?” will probably produce more of a groan than anything else.

However, I won’t belittle the monumental effort of translating a 90,000 word book, especially one that gets quite technical at times. In spite of the less-than-idiomatic English, it’s easy enough to understand what the author is trying to say.

Detailed cultivar information

Volumes 1 and 2 are available now for download. Volumes 3 (“Medicine and food—unrivalled”) and 4 (“Ginkgo as inspiration—through out the history and today”) are still being written.

Since the download doesn’t cost anything, I highly recommend you get this book even if you have just a passing interesting in ginkgos. The photos alone, compiled from many online sources, are worth it.¹

¹ I was pleased to see that proper credit is given for each photo included in the book.

Numerous photos of Ginkgo biloba cultivars

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ginkgo ‘Majestic Butterflies’

Ginkgos have been among my favorite trees for as long as I can remember. However, since our lot is only 8,100 square feet, we simply don’t have the room for one, let alone several. In spite of that, I decided a few weeks ago to do a bit of research in order to see what wonderful ginkgo cultivars are out there. When I came across ‘Majestic Butterflies,’ I knew I had to have it.

Photo © Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery
Photo © Whitman Farms

‘Majestic Butterflies’ is a variegated mutation that Oregon nurseryman Crispin Silva of Creations Nursery found among a batch of ‘Jade Butterflies,’ a non-variegated dwarf cultivar originally from New Zealand. Unlike other variegated ginkgos discovered in the past, the variegation on ‘Majestic Butterflies’ is very stable and allegedly doesn’t fade in the summer. That is a huge plus for me because I don’t like it when a plant with beautiful variegation turns all green as the growing season progresses.

In addition, this cultivar is even slower growing than regular ginkgos, which makes it ideal for container cultivation, at least for a number of years. Its ultimate size is as yet unknown, but its parent ‘Jade Butterflies’ is supposed to grow to only 6 ft. in ten years. I believe the variegation will slow ‘Majestic Butterflies’ down even more.

The availability of ‘Majestic Butterflies’ is very limited, making it quite difficult to find. Through PlantScout on Dave’s Garden I was able to find a source: Whitman Farms in Salem, Oregon. Run by veteran nurserywoman Lucile Whitman, Whitman Farms specializes in rare and unusual trees and shrubs.

My ‘Majestic Butterflies’ arrived in record time, packaged very safely in an oversized box. I really appreciated the care and attention that went into this packaging; many mail-order operations are sorely lacking in that department. The tree itself is a small thing, about 10 inches tall in its 1-gallon container, but I’m not sure anybody sells larger specimens at the moment, seeing how recent an introduction this is.

My puny ‘Majestic Butterflies’

I was surprised to find what I think are leaf buds. I imagine that the tree will remain dormant through the winter, though, instead of starting to push new leaves now.

New leaf buds

Initially I was simply going to leave my ‘Majestic Butterflies’ in its 1-gallon nursery container until next year. Then, as I was exploring Whitman Farm’s web site in more detail, I discovered that Lucile Whitman grows most of her trees in the ground in root control bags. If you’re not familiar with the concept, check out the video below.

Years ago, when I was trying to grow hostas in our not-very-hosta-friendly climate, I had come across reports that claimed that growing hostas in root control bags turned inside out (so the side coated with root-repelling copper hydroxide covering is on the outside, halting the approach of the roots of trees or other plants that might be in competition for water and nutrition) would work miracles. I tried the bags on a few hostas and they ended up dying anyway, so I never used the remaining bags. (Selecting hosta cultivars bred from species native to warmer climates proved to be much more effective in ensuring survival.)

I therefore happened to have a few Tex-R Agroliner tree production bags on hand and I decided to put my ‘Majestic Butterflies’ in the ground for the winter and possibly for several years to speed it along a little. The bag will ensure that I will be able to easily lift the tree from the ground when it’s ready to be moved to a large container (or possibly even planted in the ground if I find a spot for it).

Tex-R Agroliner tree production bag. The non-woven fabric is laminated on the inside with a copper hydroxide covering which repels roots that come into contact with it. This stimulates the formation of a healthy fibrous root system inside the bag without roots circling around the perimeter of the root ball as they would in a container.

I dug a whole in a sunny corner of one of our raised vegetable beds and put the bag in the ground.


I filled the bag half-way with soil, added the ‘Majestic Butterflies’ (its root ball was very small, not even filling the 1-gallon pot), and added more soil until it was flush with the rest of the bed.


Finally I mulched with leaves (I didn’t have anything else on hand) to give the tree some protection from the elements. Considering that ginkgos are hardy to zone 3 that probably wasn’t necessary, but this small plant looked so forlorn, I decided to pamper it a little.

Now get growing, little one!!


For more information about Tex-R Agroliner tree production bags and the technology behind them, visit:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bamboo sightings around town

On Saturday morning I took advantage of the crisp but sunny weather to walk around the residential area adjoining the campus of UC Davis. I had recently spotted some bamboos from the car and wanted to take a closer look. Bamboo still isn’t used as much for landscaping as it should be; that’s why I get excited when I come across a planting.

The first stand I found was on a property that is clearly a student rental. I wasn’t able to positively identify it, but it’s definitely a Phyllostachys, a running bamboo that can get out of hand if not properly cared for. (The culms looked like black bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra, starting to darken in its second season, but I couldn’t find any all-black culms.)


While the bamboo was growing on both sides of the fence, I didn’t seen any runaway culms so somebody must be maintaining it at least occasionally.


The house in the next photo is just around the block from the first one. It’s on a corner lot and the bamboo is visible from a block away. I love how it completely encloses the front yard with a lush screen of green.


This is a Phyllostachys as well; in fact, it looks like it’s the same species as the one on the first property—black bamboo that doesn’t quite go black. However, the leaves look a little too large for Phyllostachys nigra.


No matter what species of bamboo it is, the overall effect is elegant and beautiful.


The next bamboo sighting was at Delta of Venus Café, a popular eatery and music venue in downtown. One end of their outside seating area is flanked by a row of half barrels filled with golden bamboo (Phyllostachs aurea).


The other end is screened in by arrow bamboo (Pseudosasa japonica) planted in the ground against a fence. Arrow bamboo is a running bamboo but it is clear that somebody is keeping it confined to this narrow space.


For a very casual café with a beachy look, I think bamboo is perfect. It gives privacy and creates a relaxed tropical ambience.


The last set of photos were taken at the playground of the Center for Child and Family Studies (CCFS), a nursery and preschool on the edge of campus that serves as a model early childhood program and research lab for UC Davis faculty and students. Our older daughter went there as a preschooler, and I fondly remember their gigantic outdoor playground. I don’t remember the bamboo, however; it is possible they planted it when they remodeled the facility.

Unlike the running bamboos found at the locations above, CCFS planted only clumping bamboos. The variety with golden culms on the left is Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr,’ and the variety on the right is giant clumping timber bamboo, Bambusa oldhamii.


This row of bamboos screens off the busy street on the other side of the fence and creates an almost jungle-like atmosphere that I’m sure the nursery and pre-school children love.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Poinsettia in a can

I made an exciting discovery today at our local Dollar Tree store where nothing costs more than—you guessed it—one dollar. A poinsettia in a can!

Just what it says

First I thought it was a type of jack-in-the-box that jumps in your face when you open the can. Typically those are clowns, snakes, ghouls or other ghastly figures, but hey, it’s the holidays, so why not a euphorbia to startle you! But I was wrong, it is a miniature poinsettia growing station.

Instructions and ingredients
Instructions and ingredients on can
Seed packet in the bottom lid
Just like a soda can!

Needless to say I was itching to get going. First I pull the tab on the bottom, which basically just creates a hole for the water to drain from. Then I pull the tab on the top which removes the entire lid. The “soil” inside the can looks to be 100% vermiculite. The instructions say to add 3-4 ounces of water…

The growing medium seems to be pure vermiculite

…place the seeds on top…

Exactly one dozen seeds

…and cover them loosely with “soil.”

Sown and lightly covered with “soil”

The instructions state that sunlight is not required for germination so I put the can in a dark corner of my home office. Germination is supposed to take 14 days, so instead of a “blooming” poinsettia I will have seedlings for Christmas.

What’s next, you might ask? The instructions are vague on this point. “If desired, transplant into another pot,” is all they say (italics are mine). That means that I do not have to transplant my seedlings, that I can use this very stylish aluminum can as the flower pot. Now if that isn’t the best thing about the entire product!

Just three of the many exciting places you can decorate with your poinsettia in a can!

Apparently I’m not the first to have discovered “poinsettia in a can.” Here is a humorous Tumblr post from a blogger named Garden Science; I’m still laughing from reading it. Be sure to start at the bottom.

CULTURAL NOTE: In North America, no other plant is as closely associated with Christmas as the poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). In its native Mexico, it is a shrub or even a small tree up to 16 ft. in height. In the U.S., we mostly see poinsettias as potted plants that are disposed of after Christmas. The poinsettia business is a quarter billion dollar industry, and the “recipes” for the most popular colors are protected like state secrets. Check out this interesting article from the Sacramento Bee.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Botanical illustration: a forgotten art

As I was doing research for yesterday’s post on the South African sand lily (Veltheimia capensis), I came across this botanical drawing by Belgian painter Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840):

Sand lily (Veltheimia capensis)

I couldn’t help but marvel at the remarkable representation of both the leaves and the flower. It looks just like the real thing, and it actually depicts the plant much more clearly than many photographs.

Nowadays we look at old botanical illustrations mainly as works of art. It’s easy to forget that their original purpose was a scientific one: to help botanists (and later gardeners and the public at large) identify plants. The esthetic appeal was not the primary motivation; not every botanical illustration from centuries past is pretty by any definition.

I won’t go into the history or techniques of botanical illustration because I know much too little about it (here is a good place to start). What I do want to do is show you some other pieces by Pierre-Joseph Redouté, regarded by many as the most talented botanical artist of all time. He illustrated numerous botanical volumes; his paintings of lilies and roses are considered to be his masterpieces.

As you look at the illustrations below (be sure to click on each one to see a larger version), pay attention to the amazing details in both the flowers and leaves. Redouté’s illustrations reflect the very essence of each plant and would be a very effective plant identification tool even today. In fact, I’m not sure that the high-resolution color photographs we’re so used to are better—and that’s coming from a passionate photographer!

Turk's cap lily (Lilium superbum)
St. Christopher Lily (Crinum giganteum)
Rosa eglanteria
redoute_Rosa Indica Cruenta
Rosa indica cruenta
redoute_Rosa Collina Fastigiata
Rosa collina fastigiata
redoute_Heliconia psittacorum
Parrot heliconia (Heliconia psittacorum)
redoute_Fritillaire Imperiale
Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)
redoute_Tulipa Gesneriana
Didier’s tulip (Tulipa gesneriana)
Opium poppy (Papaver somniferum)
Wallflower (Cheiranthus flavus)
redoute_Ananas cultive
Pineapple (Ananas comosus)
redoute_Musa paradisiaca Cultivated Banana
Banana (Musa × paradisiaca)
Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Orange (Citrus × ​sinensis)
Strawberry (Fragaria × ananassa)