Jurassic Garden Plants

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Jurassic Garden Plants

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru, Newsworthy

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.

Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) is another ancient tree that was actually described from fossils BEFORE it was found alive living in a remote valley in China. These magnificent deciduous conifers make remarkable shade trees. This image is a picture of a grove we planted at the same time along the dogwood walk to the Island Garden. These were grown from seed and one tree is twice the size of the second and three times the size of the third. It depicts my pet peeve when people ask how big will a tree get. Sometimes, just like how tall your children will be, it is hard to know! Dawn Redwoods can grow over 100 feet tall but 60-70 feet may be their size in our area and soils.
I had to show this beacon, the gold-needled form of the Dawn Redwood: Gold Rush(TM) a.k.a. ‘Ogon’. Look for this striking tree northeast of the Visitor Center — you can’t miss it off to your right on your way to the Fountain Garden.

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.

Waterlilies (Nymphaea spp.), like Magnolias are another of the most ancient of flowering plants. They are just now coming into marvelous bloom in the Island Garden’s pools. Be sure and give them a look: their flowers range in all colors of the rainbow. On Friday night’s Dinos in the Dark event, Caitlin Bailey our Senior Gardener on the Island Garden will have some waterlily flowers cut for you to smell their intoxicating aroma (usually they are far out of our nose’s reach).
I always am in awe at the variations found in our flowering plants. This is the “Smokey” flower of Grace Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria x obovatus) which is in the modern Cashew family along with pistachios, sumac and poison ivy.
…and how about these unusual male flowers of the Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima) in flower near the Rock & Waterfall trolley stop. Chestnuts are in the oak family.

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”).
So take a look at the ancient and modern plants on your visit to Powell Gardens along the Jurassic Journey. Oriental gardens are why ginkgos still survive (they are not known in the wild) and our mission is to play a role in understanding the importance of plants in our lives and their conservation and display to all.
It makes me want to ask the question: what will the flowers of millions of tomorrows look like?