Plants of the week- November
Our team are always on the look out for new developments in the gardens. Each week, our Living Collections Manager, Graham, will be sharing some points of interest with us.
For Halloween our appropriate Plant of the Week is Sorbus sargentiana, the much loved rowan tree which in 19th century Scotland was traditionally planted near to gates or front doors to ward off witches and avert the evil eye. Similarly rowans were planted in graveyards to prevent the dead from rising. Across Europe all manner of mythical stories of rowans are found along with their ability to predict winter weather based on the success of their fruit production.
Sargent's rowan, an Asian variation, has long and broad leaves, 20–35cm, and large corymbs carrying up to 500 flowers, corymbs being flower clusters whose lower stalks are proportionally longer giving flat headed flowers. So attractive is a rowan in summer and autumn Robert Burns was moved to write:
How fair was thou in summer time
Wi' a'thy clusters white
How rich and gay thy autumn dress,
Wi' berries red and bright!
Ours is a British champion, with the largest girth, and is located next to Laundry Brae in front of an early 20th century game larder.
Continuing our November autumnal superstars, Stewartia monadelpha, or Orangebark Stewartia, is a deciduous medium sized tree of the Theaceae family with a strong connection to Mount Stuart as it was named in 1753 by Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and “father of modern taxonomy”, to honour John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute.
It gives year-round interest with white, camellia-like flowers in June and early July, dark green foliage which in autumn becomes a rich mixture of yellow, orange and red, then once the leaves have finally fallen the lovely cinnamon-brown bark of the trunk and branches is revealed.
Currently in full autumn colour our specimen is located in the South Shrubbery, ideal for a plant which likes full light or open shade, an acidic soil and regular rainfall. Monadelphous plants are those whose stamens are united by their filaments to form one grouping. Like our plant of the week from October, Luma apiculata, Stewartia monadelpha is ideal for bonsai training and we include an image here for interest.
Ugni molinae, commonly known as Chilean guava or strawberry myrtle, is a shrub native to Chile and south-western Argentina and was described first in 1782 by Juan Ignacio Molina from whom it took its name. It’s a bushy shrub with abundant leathery leaves arranged in pairs which give a spicy scent when scrunched and in summer produces drooping small white or pale pink cup-shaped flowers.
In 1844 plant collector William Lobb introduced Ugni molinae to the UK where it became a favourite of Queen Victoria who reportedly had its fruit – cranberry sized red or purple berries – transported from Cornwall to London by train. In this autumn season the berries are highly prized for both their unique flavour when eaten raw and also for their tasty jams and preserves. However it’s another form of preservation which is favoured by Graham, our Living Collections Manager; he collects the berries throughout autumn to make the Ugni equivalent of sloe gin and has promised a taste of it after Christmas!
Metasequoia glyptostroboides is strangely both an ancient and relatively new tree as it was thought to be extinct until some specimens were found beside the Yangtze River in China in 1944. Originally dating from the the Mesozoic Era, the dinosaur age which ended 65 million years ago, today it still faces risk of extinction in the wild due to deforestation and is included as an endangered species by the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Known as the dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides is the sole living Metasequoia and was first planted out in the UK at Cambridge University’s Botanic Garden. Mount Stuart has five specimens and our featured tree was one of three planted in the mid 1960’s, immediately east of the bridge on the 45 Avenue outside the Wee Garden.
Growing to become a large tree with a neat pyramid crown the dawn redwood is one of few conifers to be deciduous with flat needle foliage which changes from bright green in summer to the fiery ochres we see today. Its bark is similarly attractive, reddish brown in colour and fluted.
Liquidambar styraciflua, or American sweetgum, is a deciduous tree from the warmer areas of eastern USA and Mexico named by Carl Linnaeus in 1753 for its aromatic gum fluid, also given the Nahuatl name Ocotzocuahuiti by the Aztecs, meaning “tree that gives pine resin”. In Mexico the resin is still used for incense, perfume and adhesives.
The species was introduced into Europe in 1681 by John Banister, a missionary collector who planted it in the palace gardens at Fulham in London. Often mistaken for Acers (maple) as their leaves are very similar, Liquidambar styraciflua is an outstanding performer in autumn with leaves of yellow, orange, red and rich purple which makes it an ideal candidate for Plant of the Week at this time of year. Our tree is the sole survivor of three plants purchased from Hillier’s Nursery in the autumn of 1964.
An important commercial hardwood, its wood is bright reddish brown which takes a beautiful polish,
and in the carpentry industry is referred to as satin walnut. It’s used by plywood manufacturers and also used to make chopsticks.