Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Seattle Gardens 1: University of Washington Botanic Gardens

How have I failed to see Camellia × williamsii 'Hiraethlyn' before? Such a beautiful simple flower.
I got back yesterday from the inside of a week in Seattle - far too short a time sandwiched between long flights. The trip was  primarily for me to attend the Mahonia Summit, of which more anon, but it gave me time to visit various gardens and to meet and make friends along the way. On the rather overcast afternoon of Wednesday 11th I went with Ross Bayton and Riz Reyes to the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, which have several sites. We started in the arboretum, generally known as the Washington Park Arboretum, which extends over 230 acres and has many fine and interesting trees and other plants. Some geographically themed areas are in development, though the maintenance of other parts is somewhat in arrears. We could only see part of it in the time available, but it gave an idea of the diversity of plants there.

Hamamelis mollis in the Witt Winter Garden, with a large clump of the ubiquitous fern of the Pacific Northwest, the handsome Polystichum munitum.

The New Zealand garden is the best developed of the geographical areas so far, presenting the typically drab shades of NZ vegetation over a generous space.

A young specimen of the rare Notholithocarpus dealbatus f. attenuato-dentatus, with strongly toothed instead of more or less entire leaves, was an interesting sight.

The bigeneric hybrid ×Sycoparrotia semidecidua was in full flower on large trees, alongside fine specimens of its parent Sycopsis sinensis, also flowering freely - but  no Parrotia persica was to be seen.

Making a change from floating hellebore flowers, a selection of passionflowers in the greenhouse. Researchers are studying them to try to understand pollination in the diverse flower forms.
After the arboretum we went over to see the greenhouses on the main university campus. Serving both the research and teaching sides of botany and horticulture at the university, they contain a wonderfully eclectic and rich collection of plants, in a rather old-fashioned jumble - or jungle. With a strong emphasis on the evolution of plants there are many real oddities there, including Amborella, the most primitive of angiosperms, which (as with many other things) I'd never seen before. Worryingly, this remarkable collection is under threat; a new greenhouse is promised, but it is to occupy the current site and it it is not at all clear how the plants are to be maintained in the interim, nor what the university will decide for its policy on maintaining the collection. It would be a great pity to lose such a resource.

Not least of the botanic marvels there is a specimen of the Miracle Berry, Synsepalum dulcificum. The small red fruits of this contain a glycoprotein called miraculin, which when swished around in the mouth binds to taste receptors, resulting in the perception of even sour things tasting sweet. I had never tried this before, so Terry Huang was sent up a ladder to find a berry, and someone else found a 'Meyer' lemon. The ritual was duly performed - and the lemon tasted so deliciously sweet that I scoffed the lot (barring one wedge that fell into a compost bucket). If offered the chance, try it!

Benches crammed with interesting plants at the University of Washington greenhouse. Heliamphora hard by Wollemia on the right.

Superbly grown Welwitschia mirabilis, in great steel pipes for pots. I've never seen it looking better. These specimens are fertile, but this year's young cones were only just emerging.

Riz Reyes examines a Nepenthes.

Terry Huang, Ross Bayton and I examine Theophrasta (pic by Riz Reyes). Supplemtyary lighting is provided, making photography rather difficult late on a dingy afternoon.

A plant I had never seen before - Theophrasta jussieui from Hispaniola, variously placed in Theophrastaceae or Primulaceae and which, according to Mabberley's Plant-book, has sapromyophilous flowers, so a new word too! (Though it describes the well-known phenomenon of dung- or carrion-scented flowers pollinated by insects.)


  1. Some interesting forms of foliage. Thanks for sharing.

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