Home > Just for Geeks

Welcome! You have entered the Plant Nerd Zone where once a week (or so), we will do a posting of a plant from the Far Reaches collection that most likely is not yet available and in some cases, will never be. Our intention is not to tease or frustrate but to share with you some of the Plantae Obscura which makes strolling through the green maelstrom of our stock houses such a joy for all of us here at the nursery.

Geek of the Week

We have to step back in time just a bit to get the back story on Australia’s Berberidopsis beckleri. This vining small 6’-9’ liana is a relictual plant from the supercontinent Gondwana rainforests. All was hunky-dory until around the Cenozoic when Gondwana split apart and various parts went on walkabout. South America took along some ancestral Berberidopsis which evolved into Argentina and Chile’s Berberidopsis corallina with 1-3 red flowers on long pedicels emanating from the leaf axils near the tip of the vine which itself terminates in a many-flowered inflorescence. The Berberidopsis remaining in the splendid isolation of what is now Australia, evolved to have single pink-red flowers on long pedicels which arise from the leaf axils and with leaves more ivy-like in appearance in juvenile plants becoming ovate in maturity. Both species are the sole members of the genus and reside in the Berberidopsidaceae family. Berberidopsis beckleri now calls Queensland and New South Wales home and is not at all common in cultivation, found usually in milder gardens of serious plant nerds and botanic gardens. Anecdotal comments suggest this may be hardier than presupposed and this small evergreen vine would be a classic wall plant where it would benefit from the added heat retention and protection. Pictured are our happy youngsters coming along and will with further propagation, become a necessary acquisition for the Geek Garden.

Previous Geek of the Week

Primula sapaensis in flower now in the greenhouse. A newly introduced species from northwestern Vietnam and named for the Sapa township in the Hoàng Liên Son Mountains where it was found. Flowering as the old leaves from last year are spent and withered and the new leave just starting, this can get fairly large with the leaves being quite broad. It has taken 2-3 years to settle in and we are hoping this will be a good year for it and of course particularly hoping it sets seed. We really need some extras of this to trial outside in the garden for winter hardiness and of course to share around.

Polygonatum mengtzense FMWJ 13066 is a very cool evergreen Solomon Seal species from Vietnam where it can often be found growing epiphytically. This was collected on Mt Fansipan in northern Vietnam and all the plants from this collection as well as collections from higher up on the mountain, have red fruit. Except this one plant with orange fruit. Yeah, baby! This is one of the best things about growing from seed - the surprises. As a further aside, the fruit on this lower collection are held up among the leaf axils being very visible looking down upon the arching stems while the fruit from the higher altitude collection are all completely pendulous and hang below the leaves.

Syneilesis australis H2MD 136 is to our knowledge not in cultivation. This is one of two species in mainland China and is restricted to Anhui and Zhejiang provinces. This differs from the other species which is in cultivation, Syneilesis aconitifolia, in various subtle features but the ornamental distinctions are that the leaves are larger with broader segments and the whole plant is larger pushing 40" tall. This resides in the Asteraceae and the flowers of the various species we grow, while interesting, take a backseat to the dramatic foliage. Some of the seedlings are showing some minor variations such as this one with a bit of plum tinting which will no doubt turn to green as the leaf expands but no matter - we revel in transient details!


This is a very cute and petite Disporum species from Guangxi which we had hoped might be Heteropolygonatum roseolum which is endemic to this specific area but when it flowered, we could see that it was a Disporum. Given the beauty and our general giddiness over all things Disporum, our disappointment was fleeting. We then thought this to be Disporum leucanthum but Flora of China has recently expunged this from the species list. Briefly, we hoped it to be the newly described Disporum sinovietnamicum but the flowers are widely open in that species. We dream about having university-level access to online botanical journals or being able to justify the expense of such. We can only go so far in our botanical sleuthing with what is available for us to access.

Primula ovalifolia is a rarity in cultivation and calls wooded slopes in Guizhou, Chongqing, Sichuan and Hubei home. We saw this in late October in Chongqing and were not even sure it was a Primula. The broad bullate leaves were obviously evergreen and lay flat to the earth while in the center was a prominent big reddish resting bud. Even out of flower, this was very intriguing! Steve Hootman keyed it to Primula ovalifolia simultaneously with Pam Everleigh confirming that this was indeed this rare species and to her knowledge, was only represented in cultivation at David and Stella Rankins nursery, Kevock Garden in Scotland. Our first flowering of this species with foliage not typical of how splendid it really is when well-grown as we heat stressed it a bit last summer. We have two plants flowering and are cross-pollinating the pin type flowers in hopes of getting seed.


As is usual with our featured geek plants, this is not available as it is represented by a single plant in our collection. Arisaema rhizomatum var. yaoshanense is an intriguing variant on the species and is differentiated by its rugose and expanded spadix. We have had the opportunity to see this in the wild growing in mixed open forest on the lower slopes of Shengtengshan in the Dayaoshan range in Guizhou and the colony of plants jumped out at us for one particular salient feature – fresh foliage. We were there in the fall and most of the Arisaema we had been seeing were noticeable only by browning leaves and stems or the ripe red seed heads. This Arisaema was very different with shiny, almost succulent leaves that were obviously new indicating that emergent growth occurred in late summer or early fall and that this species would be best suited to frost-free conditions which would be consistent with where it was growing. We never saw this growing as a single plant but in groups of 5 to 15 plants close together but not crowded suggesting underground vegetative increase. We always hate to see an end to Arisaema season and this species allows us some bonus months to enjoy the genus.


Just blooming now is a trip down the rabbit hole of esoteric Roscoea breeding. Roscoea are fantastic hardy yet exotic members of the Zingiberaceae or true Ginger family. Various species come into flower from June into September and have a somewhat orchid-like appearance with flowers that can be white, cream, yellow, pink purple, red or nearly black and while typically have green leaves and stems, some can have red or purple flushed leaves and stems. We have been working with Roscoea hybridizing and having a touch of ADD coupled to missing the for-profit gene, we deviated from the goal of future sales to pure experimentation. Roscoea cangshanensis was first described in 2007 from the Cangshan mountains in China and departs from the rest of its kin by having a strongly rhizomatous nature and our term of endearment is the “Quackgrass of Roscoea”. The flowers are modest and we thought “Let’s try crossing this with Robin White’s exceptional ‘Royal Purple Hybrid’ and see what happens”. While the goal is mostly whimsy, the thought was that if we can turn down the quackgrass rate of increase from cangshanensis and incorporate the excellent leaf-flower color and stature of Royal Purple then perhaps we can get a good plant that will increase faster vegetatively than typical but not so fast as to be a nuisance. The jury is still out and will be for a few years but this first flowering of the seedlings has some promise and we will have to see how they go about filling their pots. With everything being tissue cultured nowadays, this is an old-school goal but one that a lot of small nurseries and gardens would like to see.



Hydrangea kwangsiensis FMWJ 13187 from a Floden-Mitchell-Wynn-Jones seed collection at Lao Cai, Phansi Pu Valley, Vietnam at 2100 meters. This is found across the border in China in Guizhou, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hunan typically at elevations lower than this Vietnam collection. This is a smallish shrub for a Hydrangea getting anywhere from 3’-9’ tall and always with a delicate fine textured demeanor. The leaves are ovate-lanceolate and the lacecap flowers are quite enchanting. The sterile florets usually have 4 white sepals but can have 3 or 5 less commonly. The one that is pictured is the only one of the bunch to exhibit this distinct blue cross in the center. The tiny fertile flowers in the center vary among the seedlings from lavender-pink to light blue to this delicious almost cobalt blue which isn’t captured here in its real intensity. A good plant for light shade and certainly not commonly encountered in cultivation. We will be propagating these as individuals by cuttings due to the distinct color differences but as with these geek plants, it is not yet available .


Allium scorzonerifolium is a surprisingly showy yellow-flowered species from the hot and dry regions of Spain, Portugal and Morocco. The narrow leaf blades have tastefully withered away by the time flowering is at its peak so there is little to distract from the sunbursts on the 12"-16" sticks. This was originally described as var. xericense but has been merged into the species. Quite the rarity that was brought to the US by bulb expert Jane McGary who acquired it - likely as seed - from Monocot Nursery in England more than some years back. This is our first flowering and much better than expected! We have kept it in a pot in a cool greenhouse and can only speculate as to hardiness. Certainly ideal in a bulb frame or alpine house and likely good against a sunny wall in our area. Here's hoping it sets copious seed - fingers crossed!


Rhododendron liliiflorum in flower in the greenhouse from the CGG collection on the ridge trail on Fanjingshan in Guizhou, China. This is a surprisingly hardy member of the Maddenia subsection and sports large white fragrant flowers and branches clad in mahogany exfoliating bark which is not atypical for this group. This was found in a fairly exposed location among rock outcrops high on the mountain yet protected from direct wind by larger plants adjacent to narrow edge of the ridgeline. We expect this to be hardy in sheltered sites down to +10F which is damned good for a Maddenia!


This is one of the best forms of the typically solid purple Olsynium douglasii we have seen. The former Sisyrinchium or Grass Widow, is harbinger of spring in the drier prairies of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and northern California where February and March are the peak times to enjoy this spring ephemeral. Here in Port Townsend, we have a population in the small bit of preserved and conserved remnant native prairie at the golf course. The epicenter for this species has to be the Columbia Gorge where one can walk all day among literally millions of these charming flowers where they mingle with Fritillaria pudica, various Lomatium, Dodecatheon (now Primula), Lithophragma and others.

These are well-adapted to winter-spring wet conditions of the intensely summer-dry areas which they call home by starting growth in late winter, flowering early and quickly setting seed before going dormant in late spring. These are surprisingly amenable to normal garden conditions and can tolerate summer water but is one of our finest drought tolerant natives. To our eyes and especially given the time of year of flowering, these appear impossibly exotic. The variations in flower shape and dimensions are endless and the colors can range from ruby-purple through predominantly purple to lavender to pink to white and then there are the stripes and bicolors. Once the mania for Galanthus runs its course, Olsynium can offer the same if not more variants for collecting and this in a flower with pigment!