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What's Growing On

Plant Exploration, Citizen Science and More at the JCRA This Winter

Calling all armchair travelers, citizen scientists, and plant lovers! The JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University has some fantastic winter events lined up to help chase the winter blahs away with a phenomenal cast of speakers, interactive events, and an opportunity to visit the home and garden of one of the premiere plantsman in the world.

Coming up on the last day of January is one of our first Citizen Scientist programs at the JCRA. Project BudBurst is a network of people across the United States who monitor plants as the seasons change. We are a national field campaign designed to engage the public in the collection of important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants (plant phenophases). Project BudBurst participants make careful observations of these plant phenophases. The data are being collected in a consistent manner across the country so that scientists can use the data to learn more about the responsiveness of individual plant species to changes in climate locally, regionally, and nationally.

Project Budburst is a national citizen scientist program tracking plants as they go through seasonal changes.

Project BudBurst is a great way for your family to become involved in a Citizen Science project in a great family-friendly environment. Join us on Saturday, January 31 at 10:30 for a free information session on how you can get involved in vital research. For more information go here and here.

Our theme for 2015 invites you to “Stop and Smell the Roses” and we are kicking off the year with a phenomenal line-up for our Winter Symposium. Join us on Saturday, February 21 for an informative and fun-filled morning. This program is not just for the rosarians, but for all plant lovers! As an added bonus, Plant Delights Nursery will be open especially for symposium attendees on Friday February 20. This will be your chance to visit the garden and shop for plants before the crowds descend for the regularly scheduled open house the following weekend!

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Dr. John Dole, one of the premiere researchers on cut flowers (he literally wrote the book on it), will take us on a tour of the secret life of cut roses. While most folks don’t think twice about where their Valentine’s Day roses come from, their history and modern production is fascinating. Bryce Lane, one of the country’s best-known teachers and speakers will bring his always informative and entertaining style to bear on encouraging us to slow down and enjoy the gardens we create by appreciating the power of plants to change lives. Our keynote speaker, Bill McNamara, has been collecting plants in Asia for over 2 decades for Quarryhill Botanical Garden where nearly half of the 200 wild rose species can be found. He has been collecting these roses and other plants for display, research, and conservation at one of the most unusual gardens in the world. His wit, wisdom, and passion are the hallmarks of his always fascinating talks. Go here for details. Space is limited and this event will sell out fast.

Bill McNamara has spent 26 years studying and collecting plants in Asia.

Rounding out our big winter programs is a fun-filled “Evening with the Explorers: Triumphs and Tribulations of the Plant Hunters” on Friday evening, March 6. This date night event will kick off with heavy hors d’oeuvres and a selection of local beer and wine. Fast paced and entertaining talks by Scott McMahan of McMahan’s Nursery and myself will be followed by plantsman extraordinaire Dan Hinkley – always one of the hottest tickets in the horticultural world – will highlight the highs and lows of collecting plants in the wild from the jungles of Ecuador to the peaks of China. We’ll cap the program with a panel discussion and Q&A for our speakers and a few other plant collectors including Greg Paige, Andrew Bunting, and Ozzie Johnson. Information can be found here.

Dark of night is no match for a dedicated plant lover.  Dan Hinkley has been a long-time JCRA friend.  Photo by J.C. Raulston on a 1994 trek to Heronswood.

This plant explorers evening is a joint fund-raiser to support the JCRA’s plant collecting initiatives and the expeditions of the Scott, Ozzie, Dan, and Andrew (SODA?) cabal. A selection of rare, choice, and highly lust-worthy plants will be offered in both a live and silent auction but the highlight of the auction will be a 2 night stay for 2 at Dan Hinkley’s personal home, Windcliff, overlooking Puget Sound, including a gourmet dinner and private tours of both Windcliff and Heronswood plus other Seattle area gardens. Bids start at $3000 and can be made prior to the event or by proxy.   This is truly a once in a lifetime experience and worth twice the starting bid at least.

A photo from my 2010 pilgrimage to Windcliff.  A chance to spend 2 nights with Dan and Robert at their amazing home and garden is a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity available in our silent auction.

Special thanks to event sponsor Bartlett Tree Experts and speaker sponsor Spring Meadow Nursery.

Visit us at for all of the many happenings at the JC Raulston Arboretum!


Raulston Blooms! Plant Sale

Part of the 2013 plant sale area. Raulston Blooms! is back and bigger than ever.  The annual JC Raulston Arboretum plant sale, garden festival, and birdhouse competition will be in full swing on Saturday April 5 (and that's no April Fool's joke).  This year we've moved the sale area to the center of the garden where we'll be joined by art vendors, kid's activities, and some of the best food trucks in Raleigh.

The sale kicks off at 9am and goes until 5pm with some great how-to lectures on everything from container gardening to creating compost, building vertical gardens and making wattle fencing.  Cost is $5 per person or $10 for a family but free of course to members of the Arboretum.

For information on the event and a partial plant list go to:

For JCRA member's ONLY there will be a preview sale from 4pm to 7pm on Friday April 4.  New folks are welcome to join on Friday to receive all the benefits of membership including the 10% discount on plant purchases and reduced rates on lectures and workshops throughout the year.ARB-LogoBFin

Magnolia Propagation Research

Not all great plants make their way to garden centers for a variety of reasons.  One significant reason that prevents some beautiful specimens from entering the mainstream is difficulty in propagating and producing them in enough numbers. There are many evergreen magnolias from Asia that have proven very difficult to produce in any way other than seed.  Seed production for trees can be impractical in most cases for many nurseries for a variety of reasons.  At the JC Raulston Arboretum, we've been growing one species which we think is quite outstanding - Magnolia yuyuanensis or Chinese wood-lotus.  It bears pure white cupped flowers with deep red stamens in spring followed by pinkish-red seed pods and all backed by narrow, glossy, evergreen foliage.  Our plants have survived temperatures as low as -19C (-3F) for short periods and have had no issues with temperatures in the low teens.CTG18608

The propagator at Atlanta Botanical Garden, Ethan Guthrie, has been using very high rates of rooting hormone (50,000ppm KIBA or potassium salt of indolebutyric acid).  Typical commercial concentrates of KIBA top out at 10,000ppm KIBA so Ethan's rates are through the roof but you can't argue with his success.

An NC State Horticultural Science graduate student, Dominic Gillooly, is now working with Dr. Tom Ranney to get a handle on propagating M. yuyuanensis and other evergreen species.  He'll be trying rooting hormone rates of between 10,000ppm to 50,000ppm with a control of 0ppm on these magnolias to try to develop a commercially feasible propagation regime for these outstanding plants.

Graduate student Dominic Gillooly collecting a couple hundred cuttings of Magnolia yuyuanensis for a research project.

Knowing how difficult producing this plant from cuttings has proven to be we planted a hedge of them years ago with plans to coppice or cut them back regularly to produce good cutting wood for research on the best propagation methods.  We love it when our plans and our faculty and student's needs coincide.  If Dominic and Tom can produce some good results, we'll be sure to get these great magnolias and the knowledge of how to produce them into the hands of NC nurserymen fulfilling J.C.'s exhortation to "Plan - and Plant for a Better World."

Follow me at @jcramark because life is too short for boring plants.

Check out all the happenings, see more images, and learn more at the JC Raulston Arboretum where we are Planting a Better World.