Plant Introductions

Horticultural introductions are the result of selection of particularly lovely or interesting forms of plant species, or of hybridization of related species to create something entirely new. The process is the same with native plant species as it is with the better-known selections and hybrids of iris and daylilies.

The following is a list of selections and hybrids that have been introduced to the horticultural trade through the North Carolina Botanical Garden. These plants are especially well suited to southeastern gardens so look for them in your local nursery or at the Botanical Garden's daily plant sale.

Baptisia 'Carolina Moonlight' (2002)

Baptisia: Carolina Moonlight

What's new in native plants? Try Baptisia x 'Carolina Moonlight,' a new and exciting hybrid wild indigo selected at the North Carolina Botanical Garden by Curator of Native Plants Rob Gardner (deceased), who earlier selected and introduced the very popular Baptisia x "Purple Smoke."

Carolina Moonlight is a cross between two of our native Baptisias; white wild indigo (Baptisia alba), and the yellow wild indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa). The resulting offspring is a beautiful blend of the best qualities of each of its parents and exhibits great hybrid vigor. Clear yellow lupine-like flowers rise well above grayish-green trifoliate foliage on erect flower spikes in April and May.

Flowering begins as the foliage is developing and continues for the better part of a month. When in bloom, flower spikes exhibiting a strong vertical form can number 40 to 50 spikes. The foliage is insect and disease resistant.

Carolina Moonlight exhibits the same durability of more familiar Baptisias once it is well established. It prefers a sunny location with moderately well-drained soil. Carolina Moonlight is hardy from USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4-9. It is an early-flowering and vigorous hybrid that is a true show-stopper in the spring garden.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' (1996)

Baptisia: Purple Smoke

One day in late spring several years ago, Janie Bryan (NCBG Seed Technician at the time) and I climbed into the Garden's rusty but trusty Ranger truck and headed for Mason Farm to check out our field-grown crop of blue wild indigo (Baptisia australis) that we had planted several years earlier for seed production. The brilliant morning was fragrant, and some of the birds inhabiting that richly diverse piece of land chirped and hopped about, enjoying the bounty of the place. With satisfaction, we took in the beauty of that long row of stately Baptisias with their blue-purple spikes of flowers: we were assured of an excellent crop of seeds for the Garden's native plant sale.

Then, as we walked the row slowly, one unusual plant among the dozens of typical blue wild Baptisias caught my eye. Its rich smoky violet flowers had purple eyes and rose 1 1/2 feet above the foliage, which had the characteristic charcoal stems and gray-green color of white wild indigo (Baptisia alba). I knew right away that we had found an outstanding plant and felt that we, too, enjoyed a gift of nature's diversity through the bounty of Mason Farm.

I took cuttings of the plant and grew and observed them for 3 or 4 years to see how they performed. Then I shared my excitement with Kim Hawks of Niche Gardens, a mail order and retail garden center in Chapel Hill. Kim and the other folks at Niche caught the excitement and helped us get ready to introduce the new cultivar. We settled on the cultivar name 'Purple Smoke' because it is so descriptive of this fabulous plant. Its introduction to the public this spring is being followed with great interest in the horticultural world, with magazines such as Garden Design, Organic Gardening, and American Nurseryman running features on it.

This plant is drought-tolerant; long-lived; thrives in average, well-drained soil in full sun; and is hardy in zones 4-9. Its excellent flower form, unique smoky violet flower color, attractive foliage and strong, vertical, upright form make it a strong presence in any garden. Mature plants of 3 to 4 years can bear as many as 50 blooming stalks in late spring. The many flowers open first at the base of the stalk and ascend upwards, topping out at 4 1/2 feet.

Solidago rugosa 'Fireworks' (1993)

During the mid-1970s, a plant rescue took place adjacent to a motor repair shop out in the countryside near Wilson, NC. The plants were saved from a boggy, pocosin-type habitat that was being cleared and filled to make way for more storage of vehicles. A number of pitcher plants and associated woody pocosin species were rescued for planting in the Garden's coastal plain habitat display. During the next several years, an unusual goldenrod made itself visible within the planting zone of the rescued collection. It was unusual in being a most ungoldenrod-like goldenrod. The long, gracefully arching flowering stems of this most unusual native goldenrod caught the attention of Ken Moore.

Taxonomically it keyed out to the Solidago rugosa complex (the leathery dark green, deeply rugose leaf is a real give-away) and most closely resembles var. celtidifolia, as described in Gray's Manual of Botany. The original single clump became more vigorous during several growing seasons, and other staff soon shared Ken's enthusiasm for the goldenrod. From its chance occurrence in the Coastal Plain Habitat Garden, Rob Gardner and Janie Bryan extracted, divided, and grew the plant in several of the more open wildflower borders. Over the next several years, the goldenrod became even more vigorous and began attracting the attention of garden visitors from its more cultivated situation.

Experiments over the years at the Garden determined that this special form did not come true from seed and thus all the multiples of the plant were produced by division and cuttings. Wanting not to race to add to the abundance of named cultivars in the perennials world, Ken was not at first keen to give it a special name. However, after a number of years of observing goldenrods throughout the state and never finding one in the wild that resembled our rescued form, Rob and Janie's enthusiasm along with Kim Hawks of Niche Gardens convinced Ken that it was indeed worthy of special status. They all got their heads together and after much consideration finally settled on 'Fireworks,' which Kim Hawks's Niche Gardens introduced with the Botanical Garden in 1993.

The rest is history. 'Fireworks' has apparently become a regular feature in many perennial gardens throughout the country and you can certainly anticipate seeing it at several locations around the Totten Center at the Botanical Garden. It is truly a prize for an extended season. Its upright, almost dome shaped arching form is evident for many weeks before its flowering period and continues throughout the fall and winter seasons until snow and ice — or the very neat gardener — cut the arching stems to the ground to emphasize the almost evergreen basal foliage.

Sarracenia Hybrids

pitcher plant

The following Sarracenia (pitcher plant) introductions were made as part of a collaborative effort of North Carolina Botanical Garden curator Rob Gardner (deceased) and UNC-Charlotte biology professor Larry Mellichamp.

  • Dixie Lace
  • Doodlebug
  • Flies Demise
  • Junebug
  • Ladies in Waiting
  • Ladybug
  • Lovebug
  • Mardi Gras
  • Redbug (patent granted on December 24, 2004)
  • Ritchie Bell

Published on December 15, 2011 at 02:05:10 am.


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