Two Houses: Dioecious Plants, part 2

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In the Oakland hills near the Berkeley border is Chapel of the Chimes, a columbarium. Renovated and expanded by Julia Morgan, the architect of Hearst Castle in San Simeon, it is a melding of Spanish and Gothic styles with arches, latticing and copious stained glass. I’ve been visiting since I was very young and it remains one of my all time favorite destinations. I reacquaint myself each visit with its myriad fountains, conservatory gardens, retractable skylights and hidden rooms.

Chapel of the Chimes is built into a hillside and Morgan’s building takes full advantage of the site. From the main entry hall the original building rises in three terraces. Two palms dominated the first terrace. As I grew older and embraced the world of horticulture, I realized they weren’t palms but cycads, members of an ancient group of plants. These plants were tall and splendid and had been there for many decades. When they flowered it surprised me. Closer inspection revealed the inflorescences were different and I realized they were female and male plants. What were the chances that one of each would be there? I took it as a sign of providence and fate.

Ginkgo trees are also relics of an earlier time and share the fact of separate male and female plants. Most named cultivars are male as the females are accused of being “messy” with their fruit drop. If you have the space why not plant a group of both kinds and let them fulfill their destiny.

The native Black tupelo mostly fits in with this group of plants. Considered dioecious, it occasionally produces flowers of the opposite sex as well as perfect flowers on the same tree. I hope you’re not thinking confused gender identity too. Part 2 of a 6 part series. Tomorrow – part 3

About the Author

I started in 1977 growing plants at wholesale nurseries and a wholesale seed company in California. In 1992 I started volunteering (in the nursery, of course!) at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco where I met my wife. My wife is originally from upstate and we moved here in 2002. It took at least two years of living here for me to fully understand our property and to take advantage and work with our microclimate. Although growing zone maps show us to be in 5, we are realistically a 4b. I am inordinately proud, in a smarmy kind of way, of how many of the plants we brought with us have thrived. Coming from a zone 9 has been quite an adjustment for all of us. But we are thriving and enjoy the beauty and what the land gives us everyday. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b/5a Location: rural; Central Leatherstocking near Cooperstown, New York Geographic type: riverine valley Soil type: Chenango alluvial – shallow clay and highly stony Experience level: 28 years professionally wholesale and retail, no longer in the business Particular interests: native plants and ecosystems, flowering and berry producing shrubs, home-grown foods, maples, birches, willows, ornamental grasses, filipendulas, iris, ligularias, persicarias, asclepias, artemisia, asters, arisaemas, hardy geraniums, euphorbias, eupatoriums, origanums, lysimachias, eryngiums, lilies, and visiting nurseries

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

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