Windmill palm tree

Trachycarpus fortunei, the Chinese windmill palm

Today is Palm Sunday.  The current “stay at home” order prevented us from attending Sunday service (our church met online using Zoom instead), but I have nevertheless been thinking about palm trees.  The palm fronds that give this Sunday its name were presumably cut from Phoenix dactylifera (date palm), a middle eastern species that could not survive a North Carolina winter.  If you want to grow a palm tree in your piedmont garden–to add verisimilitude to your Palm Sunday decorations, for a tropical look, or just to impress your neighbors–there’s only really one choice.

No, not dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor).  Although that native of the coastal plain is perfectly hardy in the piedmont, its trunk is entirely subterranean.  For a palm tree, with a tall trunk, you want Trachycarpus fortunei, the Chinese windmill palm. T fortunei probably has a native range extending from the Himalayan foothills of India to Japan, but its long history of cultivation makes tracking its original habitat tricky.  It is usually rated hardy to USDA Zone 7, although there seems to be some variation in hardiness among different cultivars.


I planted a single T. fortunei seedling about ten years ago, and the trunk is now about six feet (1.8 m) tall.  It is growing at the southeast corner of the house, so it is sheltered from the prevailing northwest winds in winter.  To the east and south are tall pines and deciduous trees, so the palm gets about four hours of direct sun and bright shade for the rest of the day. When it was very small, I sometimes insulated the trunk and crown with burlap and pine straw in winter, but it is now too tall for that to be practical.  Temperatures below about 8-10 F (-13 C) burn the tips of the fronds, but 5 F (-15 C) nights during two winters did not cause any permanent damage.


Last year, the tree produced its first inflorescence, and this year it has multiple inflorescences with thousands of flowers.  T. fortunei is dioecious–male and female flowers occur on different trees–and my tree appears to be male.


Six on Saturday #51 (January 25, 2020)

There still isn’t a lot going on in either the garden or the greenhouse, but by carefully hoarding interesting sights, I have managed to scrape together the first Six on Saturday of the year.  1-3 are in the greenhouse, 4-6 outside.

1. Paphiopedilum liemianum (mottled leaf form).


Although I have four or five slipper orchids in bud, this is one of only two that are currently flowering.  It’s hardly surprising that  P. liemianum, from northern Sumatra, is flowering now, because it flowers almost constantly.  It’s one of the sequential flowering species of section Cochlopetalum, and it is a great choice if you have only a small orchid collection.  The inflorescences produce one flower after another, each one opening around the time that the old one drops.  By the time an inflorescence is exhausted, a new growth has usually matured and is ready to flower.

Typically, P. liemianum has plain green leaves, but this clone has an attractive mottled pattern.  Its flower is fairly small and poorly shaped compared to some of the line-bred forms that are available, making me suspect that the parent plant was selected for breeding primarily on the basis of its unusual foliage.


The other slipper currently in bloom is Paphiopedilum villosum, which I featured in November.  Paph flowers last a looooong time.

2.  Monolena primuliflora



This unusual plant grows as an epiphyte or terrestrial in rainforest from Costa Rica to southern Peru and adjacent Brazil.  The flowers, while pretty, last less than a day, but the seed capsules are almost as attractive as the flowers and are significantly longer lived.  The thickened rhizome suggests a plant that can tolerate some drought, but looks can be deceiving.  The plants wilt and shrivel rapidly if the soil dries out.


I have lost track of how old this plant is.  Maybe ten or twelve years? In theory, I grow M. primuliflora in pure sphagnum moss kept constantly moist, but I think the sphagnum has all rotted away and new rhizome is just rooting into old decayed rhizome.

3. Lachenalia sp. (L. aloides?)


I received these unlabeled bulbs as part of a trade about seven years ago.  They have been growing in a 3-inch pot for about the last five years, blooming reliably in midwinter and going dormant by late February or early March.  I think they are the South African Lachenalia aloides var aloides (cape cowslip).

4. Lentinula edodes (shiitake)


We have harvested and eaten the first few shiitake mushrooms from the log garden that I inoculated with mycelium fourteen months ago.  No sign of the lion’s mane mushrooms yet.

5.  Phoradendron leucarpum (oak mistletoe) growing on Carya sp. (hickory)


Although it looks a lot like European mistletoe (Viscum album), our native oak mistletoe is in a completely different genus.  I’m not sure if P. leucarpum can be substituted for European mistletoe in magic potion, but it seems to work just as well at Christmas time.  The only difficulty lies in harvesting it. This mistletoe is about 40 or 50 feet up in one of our taller hickory trees.


6. Fuligo septica (dog vomit slime mold)


Fuligo septica is the most common, or at least the most conspicuous, slime mold in our garden.  Its aethelia (fruiting bodies) commonly appear on the hardwood mulch that I spread on the flowerbeds.  Often they are an extremely lurid, almost fluorescent yellow color.  This aethelium is somewhat pale but quite large–63 cm diameter.

The propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

Operculicarya decaryi

Operculicarya decaryi, the Jabily or Madagascar elephant tree.  It is semi-dormant in winter and has lost most of its leaves.

In a comment on my recent post about the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Show, I mentioned that I have a few small trees that I have been crudely attempting to shape, despite my lack of training in bonsai techniques.  This is one of them, a 21-year-old Operculicarya decaryi that I grew from seed.  I’m not fully satisfied with its current shape, particularly the crown, but I ‘m having fun with it.

Operculicarya is a genus of perhaps half a dozen species, all from Madagascar, of which O. decaryi is the most common in cultivation.  It isn’t traditional bonsai material, and from the point of view of a proper bonsai artist it has several natural flaws.  Most notably, it tends to form a swollen, barrel-shaped trunk that is narrowest at the base–the dreaded reverse taper.  Here, I have hidden the worst of the reverse taper with chunks of quartz in an attempt to recreate an arid, rocky environment.  The roots are also a problem.  They are massive, like huge brown sausages, and resist cramming into a shallow pot.  On the other hand, the leaves are small, the trunk naturally has a knobbly appearance, and the branches become gnarled and twisted.  For someone attracted to weird and unusual plants, there’s a lot to like.


O. decaryi is not frost hardy, so my tree spends summers outside and winters in the greenhouse.  New twigs are whip-like and have long internodes, but with repeated clipping they eventually thicken up and branch.  Getting a nice, fat barrel trunk is just a matter of waiting for the tree to mature.   Old trees, wider than they are tall, are sometimes available from online nurseries, but they are almost certainly collected from the wild.  It is more sustainable–and probably more fun–to start with a seedling or rooted cutting.  Even young plants have a lot of character.

The same tree at about five years old

Winter Silhouette Bonsai Show (Six on Saturday #50, December 14, 29)

Last Saturday, we drove over to the Charlotte area to a) shop at IKEA and b) visit the Winter Silhouette Bonsai Show.  The deciduous trees looked especially good because they were naked, displaying their beautiful–or sometimes grotesque–forms without a screen of leaves.

I know almost nothing about bonsai, so I can’t claim that these are the six best trees in the show.  But they are six of my favorites.  I don’t think they need much description; these trees speak for themselves.

1. Acer buergerianum (trident maple)


This maple reminds me of the sycamores that grow on the banks of the Eno river, with their roots exposed by erosion, and their trunks sometimes leaning or horizontal where floods have washed out their support.

2. Ligustrum sp. (Privet) Carpinus sp. (hornbeam)


Update: I have been informed that this is a Ligustrum exhibited by Bonsai West. That will teach me not to post when I’m not sure.

I forgot to record the name of this tree. I’m fairly sure it’s a hornbeam, but there were four or five different species on display.

3. Crataegus phaenopyrum (Washington Hawthorn)


4. Fagus grandiflora (American beech)


5. Ilex serrata (winterberry holly) growing on a rock


6. Ulmus davidiana (Japanese elm)


The propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.

Update 12/15/2019: Here is a bonsai blog with many more photos from the show.

Six on Saturday #48 (September 28, 2019)

We’re almost a week past the autumnal equinox, but it still feels like summer.  Temperatures are running about ten degrees F above normal, and we haven’t had measurable rain since August.  The soil is bone dry, and leaves are starting to dry up instead of changing color properly.  There’s a chance of a shower tonight, but the forecast for the next week is more of the same: bright sun and mid 80s-90s F until Friday at least.

1. Epiphyllum oxypetalum (queen of the night)

Bud opening at 2100.
Fully open at 2215
Collapsing at 0700 the next morning

The large, fragrant flowers of E. oxypetalum, an epiphytic cactus from southern Mexico and Guatemala, open at night and fade by the next morning.  I was pleased with this solitary bloom, but when I posted a picture on Facebook, a friend told me that his plant had more than 40 flowers!

2. Spiranthes odorata?  (ladies’ tresses)


I think this is S. odorata, but I’m really not sure how to distinguish that species from S. cernua.  Paul Martin Brown [1] says that there is considerable gene-flow between S. cernua and other Spiranthes species, so maybe a definite I.D. is impossible. Either way, I like the flowers.  These little orchids don’t seem to be very long-lived, but they seed around and sprout in the pots of various bog plants.  This one volunteered in a pot of Gentiana autumnalis.

3.  Diospyros virginiana (American persimmon)



About nine years ago, I transplanted some root suckers from a large persimmon planted by my wife’s grandparents in Pennsylvania, probably in the 1940s.  The transplants have finally given us some fruit, which is seedy but delicious.  These are the first of the harvest, and we’ll be picking more as they become soft enough to eat.  You do NOT want to sample an American persimmon that isn’t fully ripe.  They are unbelievably astringent.

4.  Hedychium coccineum ‘Applecourt’

Hedychium applecourt

I thought I had already featured this hardy ornamental ginger, but I can’t find it in any past blog posts.  The flowers lack the fragrance of H. coronarium, but I am a sucker for bright orange.  In previous years, it has given me one flush of flowers at the tail end of summer, but this year the clump has finally grown large enough to flower on and off for months.

5. Colchicum ‘Innocence’

Colchicum innocence

This is a white flowered clone of the sterile hybrid Colchicum byzantinus.  My colchicums have struggled this year, probably due to the high temperatures and lack of rain in autumn thus far, and many have not yet poked their noses above the soil.

6. Salvia elegans (pineapple sage)


S. elegans is usually grown as an annual north of zone 8, but my plants survived last winter.  Another sign that climate zones are shifting north, I suppose.  This species gives me attractive foliage on a neat shrub-like form for most of the spring and summer, and then it flowers just in time for the autumn migration of the ruby-throated hummingbird.

The propagator is the host of Six on Saturday.  Head over there to see his Six and find links to the blogs of other participants.


1. Brown, P.M. (2004).  Wild Orchids of the Southeastern United States North of Peninsular Florida.  University Press of Florida, Gainsville, Florida.