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Plant of the Day - Acer pictum, The Painted Maple

ARB-LogoBFin There are a handful of maples that garner most of the gardening world's attention - Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), red & sugar (A. rubrumA. saccharum), Norway (A. platanoides) and a smattering of others.  While these are all excellent garden plants and you would be hard-pressed to find many maples that aren't beautiful, it seems that the painted maple (Acer pictum) often is over-looked.

A very old specimen at the Arnold Arboretum.

Painted maple ranges across a wide swath of eastern temperate Asia from Siberia through Mongolia and Korea into China and along much of the Japanese archipelago.  It was first described in western literature by the Swedish botanist Karl von Thunberg in 1784 but was widely known as Acer mono after it was introduced to the west in the 1880's.  It's name continues to cause confusion with some authorities using A. pictum to cover the entire species while other botanists break it down into several subspecies including A. pictum subsp. mono.

The broad leaves and buttery fall color make a bold statement in autumn.

By any name, it makes a wonderful small to medium-sized tree to about 40' tall, ideal for suburban landscapes looking for a shade tree in scale with today's smaller lot sizes.  Since it ranges over such a wide area, there is considerable variation in foliage but the typical forms found in cultivation have 5-7 lobes which usually have entire or smooth margins.  The lobes are not deeply incised and often form broad triangles.  Fall color is usually a rich, buttery yellow and the smooth bark found on most varieties is quite attractive.

The drool-worthy speckled foliage of Acer pictum 'Naguri Nishiki'.

The Japanese have selected several variegated forms which can be exquisite additions to the garden.  My favorite, 'Naguri Nishiki' is heavily speckled with a dusting of white spots to the point where it is more white than green.  Another unusual form, sometimes known as the bat wing maple but more correctly as 'Usugumo', is also stippled with white but what sets it apart from other maples is the tissue between the veins.  It looks almost like umbrella fabric stretched between ribs of the umbrella (or like a bat wing I suppose).  It always elicits comment and discussion.  A third variegated form, 'Tokiwa Nishiki' has broad sections of its leaves sectored and splashed with white often with entire leaves lacking any green coloration.  I imagine it requires some selective pruning of reversions but it is widely used in Japanese landscapes.

'Tokiwa Nishiki' makes a striking statement in the garden - definitely not for the faint of heart.

Painted maples are easy in the landscape requiring a loose, well-drained soil.  Variegated forms may need some afternoon shade in hot climates and plants will appreciate supplemental water in dry spots especially while establishing.  In Japan I have seen various selections kept small through regular root and branch pruning in order to fit in smaller landscapes or large containers.

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The odd bat wing-like foliage of 'Usugumo'

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Variegated Elaeagnus at the JC Raulston Arboretum

Elaeagnus is a shrub many folks love to hate.  A few of the species can be pretty weedy, especially E. angustifolia and E. umbellata, and even the non-weedy species can be a bit unruly if allowed to grow unchecked, sending long branches with spines out searching for tree branches to climb.  But there's no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water, many plants in this group make outstanding garden specimens.  The most widely grown types are very tough broadleaved evergreens with sweetly scented spring flowers.  I'll never forget being stuck in traffic on a hot April day heading to Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport when my air conditioner died.  On opening my window instead of being choked on exhaust fumes, I was greeted with the intoxicating fragrance drifting over from a hedge of Elaeagnus pungens. Elaeagnus pungens showing the coppery scales covering stems and leaves.

Elaeagnus are often known as oleaster or silver berry for the iridescent silver or coppery scales which cover most of the younger parts of the plant - leaves, stems, and fruits.  There are both evergreen and deciduous species and some species are grown for their edible fruit.  Some of the species have lovely blue-green or silver foliage and can be quite lovely but during winter I always return to the evergreen, variegated selections.


Elaeagnus pungens 'Hosoba Fukurin' - hosoba denotes a narrow leaf and fukurin means margined in Japanese plant names, certainly an apt name for this narrow-leafed, yellow-margined evergreen shrub.  This form is one of the smallest we grow.

Elaeagnus pungens 'Chirifu' has a very regular and heavy speckling of gold over the narrow, green leaves.  It appears to be a relatively compact plant.  The Japanese word chirifu often denotes speckled or mottled variegation.

Elaeagnus ×ebbingei 'Gilt Edge' is a hybrid between E. macrophylla and E. pungens with a regular, narrow yellow margin to each leaf.

The yellow center on this selection often covers almost 80% of the leaf.

Elaeagnus ×ebbingei 'Limelight' has a narrower gold central blotch and the foliage is closer to E. pungens.

Elaeagnus ×ebbingei 'Lannou' (Gold Splash™) has a creamy yellow central blotch often approaching white on mature foliage.

Elaeagnus can easily be maintained by pruning out long shoots after flowering or occasional hard, rejuvenation pruning.  Elaeagnus, especially E. pungens, sends out long mostly leafless shoots with vicious spines.  When the spiny shoots find their way into a tree or other structure, they become like hooks or anchors making the shoots difficult to remove.  Propagation for the evergreen species is typically by semi-hardwood leafy cuttings or hardwood cuttings rooted with fairly high rates of KIBA (7500ppm - 10,000ppm) and bottom heat.


Plant of the Day - Illicium anisatum 'Murasaki no Sato'

New foliage emerges dark purple before fading to deep green around a chartreuse central variegation. Few evergreen shrubs are as rock solid performers for us at the JC Raulston Arboretum as star anise - Illicium anisatum. Over the years we've grown quite a few selections of this species and of other Illiciums including our native I. floridanum and I. parviflorum. Our collection now includes 39 taxa or different forms of anise from 11 different species. Few of these plants can compare to I. anisatum 'Murasaki no Sato' though. We originally received this plant under the name 'Koshuan' but apparently it came from Mr. Yamaguchi of Yamaguchi Rare Plants in Japan who named it (it translates to "purple village"). It has been sold in the US incorrectly as 'Kumson' and with the trademark Purple Glaze. Ultimately we expect it to form a large evergreen shrub. In early spring white 3/4 inch flowers with streaks of pink are carried in clusters of 3-7. New growth emerges glossy, black-purple and slowly fades to dark, forest green surrounding a small pale chartreuse center. The variegation on older leaves is very faint. New flushes are quite showy throughout the season. We have found star anise to be quite cold tolerant, surviving throughout North Carolina with little problem. Plant in sun or shade.

A young plant in our Japanese garden with a mid-summer flush of growth.

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White flowers with pink stripes are quite interesting in spring.

Few temperate plants can match the dark color of the emerging foliage of 'Murasaki no Sato'


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Plant of the Day - Corylopsis spicata 'Golden Spring'

The summer foliage fades from gold to a soft chartreuse. As I talk to plant lovers about some of their favorite underused woody plants time and again Corylopsis or winterhazel comes up.  This Asian genus is related to witchhazel and forms medium to large shrubs typically with blue-green foliage and primrose yellow flowers in very early spring.  The group has long been one of my favorites as well and I grow every selection I can get my hands on.  One that has really become a cherished plant both here at the JC Raulston Arboretum and in my own home garden is Corylopsis spicata 'Golden Spring'.  It makes a mid-sized shrub with lovely pale yellow flowers in short racemes in late winter to early spring before the foliage emerges.  New leaves are bright yellow and become more of a soft chartreuse as the season progresses.  'Golden Spring' is best in light shade or morning sun where it will get enough light for good color but not so much that the foliage will burn.  It can tolerate more sunlight if kept well hydrated though.  This species hails from Japan and forms an important part of the woodland understory in some areas where the early flowers and butter yellow fall color punctuate both ends of the season.

The yellow color in early summer blends well with the greens in a lightly shaded garden.

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

Pale yellow flowers are very showy in early March.

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