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!


Dr. Peter Raven at the JC Raulston Arboretum

"Plant Conservation in the 21st Century"Peter Raven, Ph.D., President Emeritus, Missouri Botanical Garden

  • Thursday, December 4, 2014 – 7:30 pm9:00 pm

About Peter Raven

Peter H. Raven is one of the world's leading botanists and advocates of conservation and biodiversity.

For four decades, he headed the Missouri Botanical Garden, an institution he nurtured into a world-class center for botanical research and education, and horticultural display. He retired as president in 2010 and assumed the role of president emeritus and consultant through 2014.

Described by Time magazine as a "Hero for the Planet," Peter champions research around the world to preserve endangered plants and is a leading advocate for conservation and a sustainable environment.

In recognition of his work in science and conservation, he's the recipient of numerous prizes and awards, including the prestigious International Prize for Biology from the government of Japan and the U.S. National Medal of Science, the country's highest award for scientific accomplishment. He has held Guggenheim and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowships.

Peter Raven was a member of President Bill Clinton's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. He also served for 12 years as home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and is a member of the academies of science in Argentina, Brazil, China, Denmark, India, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Sweden, the U.K., and several other countries.

The author of numerous books and reports, both popular and scientific, Peter co-wrote Biology of Plants, an internationally best-selling textbook, now in its sixth edition. He also co-authored Environment, a leading textbook on the environment.

From Missouri Botanical Garden's Web site.

Free for Friends of the JC Raulston Arboretum members, NC State University students (with ID), and Department of Horticultural Science faculty and staff, all others $5.00.
Advance registration is not available.
Ruby C. McSwain Education Center, JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University, 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Need directions? Click here.
Free parking is available at the JC Raulston Arboretum and along Beryl Road.
Please call (919) 513-7005 for more information about this lecture.

Plant of the Day - Purple Jade Vine - Mucuna cyclocarpa

Plant of the Day - Purple Jade Vine - Mucuna cyclocarpa


Purple jade vine's huge flower clusters resemble a cluster of grapes. I love growing vines in the landscape whether they are climbing an arbor, covering a fence, or scrambling through a tree or sturdy shrub.  They add a touch of wildness in many cases but also add interest when other plants have finished their show or haven't started yet.  It seems many gardeners are a bit afraid of vines, especially vigorous ones.  I often find myself reminding folks that it is OK for their plants to touch and a vine in a tree is only a problem when it grows out of scale.

A vine that is getting me pretty excited recently is Mucuna cyclocarpa, also known as purple jade vine or in China as min you ma teng.  As with so many other plants, I first encountered it at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens at Plant Delights Nursery where it was decorating a fence surrounding a staff vegetable garden.  It is a vigorous growing woody vine from relatively low elevations in southeast China which originally gave me little hope for its winter hardiness.  The foliage makes it easy for gardeners to place it in the bean (Fabaceae) family as the three-part leaves look much like common garden beans but are typically larger and the terminal leaflet has a cordate or heart-shaped base.

Mucuna is a fairly large genus with about 100 species of vines and shrubs found in the tropics.  As a general rule, the leaves are composed of 3 leaflets, the flowers are in panicles and are generally showy purple, red, orange, or green.  The bean pods often have wings along their margins which may help them to float in water as a dispersal mechanism.  Some species are used in medicines, especially M. pruriens which contains serotonin, L-dopa, and some hallucinogenic compounds.  Many species have hairs on their seed pods or stems which can cause an itching reaction.

Mucuna bennettii, a tropical vine, growing over shrubs and an arbor in Hawai'i.

While the foliage of M. cyclocarpa makes a lovely backdrop, the flowers of purple jade vine are what really excites.  Huge clusters the size of a grapefruit dangle from the stems.  The Flora of China says it flowers on old wood, but my experience says otherwise.  The flower clusters are composed of dozens of deep, dusky purple blossoms with a texture like thick plastic.  The flowers can be somewhat obscured by the foliage but when grown on a horizontal structure like the top of an arbor, the clusters will dangle like grape bunches.  Bean pods are formed after the flowers if they are pollinated, so far we have not had much seed set.  Pods are bumpy with roundish seeds and are initially covered with a sparse layer of reddish hairs.

The flower clusters of purple jade vine are quite large with thick-textured blossoms.

While purple jade vine grows as a large woody vine in sub-tropical climates, it will usually die to the ground in a colder area but spring back in summer with a vengeance.  In fact, our plant went in the ground in late summer of 2012 and by mid-summer of 2014 has grown to cover one side of a shade structure easily 12' wide by 10' tall and looks likely to double that size if left un-pruned.  It doesn't seem to have any problem climbing on its own but may need some help if it is to be grown up a single post.  Full sun to light shade.  Ours is growing in a very rich, light soil, we have not experimented with it on heavier clay soils.

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.

Bold foliage makes a great backdrop to Mucuna cyclocarpa.

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.

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

The odd bat wing-like foliage of 'Usugumo'

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