This Month in the Garden: Tricyrtis, Callicarpa, and Magnolia

by Tom Fernandez, State Extension Specialist,

Department of Horticulture, Clemson University, Box 340375, Clemson, SC 29634-0375.

Tricyrtis (image: Tricyrtis with a link to more images) The South Carolina Botanical Garden has an excellent collection of both native and non native plant material. Since I've been here I've tried to walk through the Garden at least once a month and I've enjoyed discovering its treasures. I would like to share them with you through articles in this newsletter about some of the plants that have caught my eye at the time of writing (which is about a month before the newsletter gets to you). Right now the weather has just begun to get cool in Clemson but leaves aren't turning color yet. After this tough summer you know that plants that still look good are tough. The plants that caught my eye this month were Tricyrtis (Toad-lily), Callicarpa (Beautyberry) and big leaved magnolias.

According to Allan Armitage in Herbaceous Perennial Plants, toad-lilies get their name from a tribe in the Philippines that believes rubbing the juice from the flowers and leaves on their hands helps in catching frogs by attracting them and making them less slippery. There are two primary cultivated species of toad-lilies, T. formosana (Formosa Toad-lily) from Taiwan and T. hirta (Common Toad-lily) from Japan. What caught my attention is that they are in flower this time of year, mid-September, and continue to frost for Formosa toad-lily and a little earlier for the common toad-lily. They do well in partial to full shade and prefer a moist well drained soil where they will form large colonies (although not aggressive) for Formosa toad-lily while the common toad-lily does not form colonies. We tried some in full sun this year but lost them. Formosa toad lily is more showy, reaching 1 to 3 feet in height with bluish-purple to lavender flowers. Leaves are hairy on the underside and strap shaped, 4 to 5 inches long by 1 inch wide. Flowers first appear in at the terminal of the shoots but as the season lengthens, flowers develop in the leaf axils of the last 4 to 10 leaves. The flowers of most toad lilies are purple to lavender tints but T. macrantha has yellow flowers and T. hirta var. alba has white flowers with pink stamens. Propagation of toad-lilies is by division in the early spring. Seed propagation can also be done by sowing in a cold frame in fall or early spring but they may not be true to species if more than one species is in the area since they will hybridize. Toad-lilies are known to be hardy to zone 6 and may be more hardy.

Callicarpa Americana (image: Callicarpa americana with a link to more images) There are several species of beautyberry but my favorite is the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). This is a loose, open shrub that will reach 8 to 12 feet and is native to the Southeastern US to Mexico. It is more compact and fruitful with more light but should have afternoon shade. It has large, opposite elliptic leaves with flower clusters appearing in the leaf axils of the new growth from June into August and sometimes into September. The flowers are only moderately showy but the fruit are the true attraction. Large clusters of purple to violet berries encircle the stem at each node on the new growth in the fall and persist after leaf fall into December. The masses of purple berries are a spectacular sight especially after leaf fall. 'Lactea' is a white fruited selection that is equally attractive. Propagation of American beautyberry as well as other Callicarpa species is easily accomplished by softwood cuttings in a well drained media under mist. Seed propagation is easily accomplished for American beautyberry by sowing the entire fruit after it has turned purple and before it dries out, often several seedlings will arise from each fruit. I had about 95% success last fall with this method. I have germinated other Callicarpa species this way but some have lower percentage germination than American beautyberry, as low as 20%. American beautyberry is hardy from zone 7 to 10. Some other Callicarpa species are japonica (zone 5 to 8), bodinieri (zone 6 to 8) and dichotoma (zone 5 to 8), all with attractive purple fruit, some species with white fruited selections. Most of these are not as densely fruited as American beautyberry but have other attractive attributes.

Magnolia Macrophylla (image: Magnolia macrophylla with a link to more images) Most people think about magnolias in the spring and summer but the big leaved magnolias are really striking almost any time of year. There are several large leaved species including M. asheii (leaves 12 to 26 inches long and 6 to 10 inches wide), M. fraseri (8 to 15 inches long), and M. tripetala (10 to 24 inches long) but the largest being M. macrophylla with leaves 12 to 32 inches long by 7 to 12 inches wide. The undersides of the leaves are silver with a downy pubescence and combined with the unusually large size make a very attractive display all year long as you walk underneath. Most of the bigleafs will reach at least 25 feet in height and M. macrophylla
reaching up to 40 or 50 feet. All have large attractive flowers (up to 14 inches across for M. macrophylla) appearing in the early summer. The bigleaved magnolias are hardy from zone 6 to 9. Propagation is accomplished primarily by seed. Seeds usually need to be cleaned and cold stratified for 3 months before sowing.

There are many other excellent fall plants in the garden now but I had to limit my selection or this article would have gone on for several more pages. For some reason these caught my attention this time around, I hope you will enjoy them on our Web page visit the gardens in person.