On your Powell Gardens visit to see Guy Darrough’s dinosaurs on display now, don’t forget to take a look at the ancient species of plants labeled with signs. Many plants found in fossils during the dinosaur’s reign still survive in today’s world. If only they could speak, what a story they could tell!
Daisies are familiar to almost everyone, gardener or not, but daisies and their relatives in the Aster family are a recent branch on the plant family tree. The daisies shown are the new cultivar ‘Amelia’ Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x maximum) in full bloom between the pools on the Island Garden. If you like daisies, this is a great one to plant because it tolerates our hot humid summers and doesn’t “flop” like many other varieties.
Magnolias are one of Earth’s most ancient of flowering plant families. The Southern Magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora) can be identified in fossils nearly 20 million years old! Here the cultivar ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ shows a day old flower — the fragrance of these flowers is classic. There is hardly a finer plant to have near an outdoor seating area to enjoy on our warm summer nights.
The Southern Magnolias planted around the Visitor Center have reached 25 feet and up; growing faster than I ever expected. Be sure and select hardy varieties and plant them in a sheltered place as we are at the northern edge of their adaptability to our cold winters. The cultivar ’24 Below’ is left, ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’ right and Variegated Giant Reed (Arundo donax) is the bright variegated grass in this image.
Yes we have a Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Hazel Smith’), which is both an ancient species of plant and also the largest plant known on earth. Native to isolated stands in the California Sierras, this tree can live over 3,000 years and grow nearly 300 feet tall. The cultivar Hazel Smith is probably the hardiest cultivar; a good choice for our zone.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is probably the most ancient of trees alive today. There are fossils that date back 200 million years! Ginkgo trees can grow very large too and are actually conifers. The trees are mainly male or female and female trees produce seeds coated in a very nasty smelling flesh. Most trees sold in nurseries are clones of male plants so that no (or rarely a few) seeds are produced. As Powell Gardens is a young garden we just have small examples of this magnificent tree, planted the first year we displayed Jurassic Garden. There are 1,000 plus year old ginkgos in Oriental temple gardens.
The leaves of Ginkgo are like no other; fan-shaped, often with a cleft in the middle to make them lobed (hence the botanical name “bi” (two) “loba” (lobes). This is the rare cultivar ‘Majestic Butterfly’ which has yellow banding to the foliage in spring (you can still see that a bit here).
Virtually all needle-leaved trees are conifers which are an ancient group of plants. This image is right before the bridge to the Island Garden and sows the needles of two closely related deciduous conifers: Pondcypress (Taxodium ascendens) fine and thread-like left and Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) more feathery on the right.
This is a more full shot of the Pondcypress growing next to the larger Baldcypress. Baldcypress is interpreted as a Jurassic Garden plant near the Hypsibema (Missouri State Dinosaur) and yes, the fossils of Hypsibema found in Missouri have shown that it actually lived with and fed on Baldcypress. Baldcypress trees can be found growing wild in Southeastern Missouri but grow well in gardens throughout Missouri.
The magnificent, fragrant trumpet of Northern Carillon Lily(Lilium hybrid) adorn 6 foot stems! Lilies and grasses and palms are in another section of the plant family tree known as Monocots. Look for these magnificent flowers in the secret sunken garden of the Island Garden.
The vivacious, vivid orange flowers of Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) are hard to photograph in our mid-day intense near summer solstice sun. Their flower structure is most interesting to be pollinated by the feet of wasps and other insects. Look for these blooming on our native prairie remnants along the nature trail, on the Island Garden and near the gatehouse entrance to Powell Gardens.
…and how about these drop dead red flowers of true Beebalm (Monarda didyma ‘Jacob Cline’ a wild selection from the southern part of the plant’s range so tolerant of heat and humidity without mildew) which are in the mint family. They are also an edible flower with the taste of bergamot found in Earl Grey tea (and this plant makes a nice tea too — known as “Oswego Tea”).