Growing a Living Fossil Tree

Growing a Living Fossil Tree

Part of Ep. 2002 The First Gardens

Join us as we visit Avalon, Wisconsin, where we learn about trees that have remained virtually unchanged from millions of years ago.  They’re hardy and easy to grow.

Premiere date: May 02, 2012

TRANSCRIPT+
Wisc Gardener Transcript: 

SEGMENT #3 GROWING A LIVING FOSSIL TREE

 

Shelley Ryan:

Well, we're still in the Mesozoic, but now we're talking about living fossil trees you can grow in your own backyard. I'm at Klehm's Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery in Avalon, Wisconsin. I'm with the vice-president, Roy Klehm. Hi, Roy.

 

Roy Klehm:

Good morning.

 

Shelley Ryan:

We are looking at living fossil trees. The first one, to me, that always comes to mind is the Ginkgo. This was, you know, at it's height in the Mesozoic.

 

Roy Klehm:

And it's still popular today.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Exactly.

 

Roy Klehm:

Beautiful thick textured leaves with a little bit of cut in the leaf. This variety is called Jade Butterflies. I think it looks like a little butterfly. Ginkgo are monospecific species. That means there's only one species in the whole world. So these are all Ginkgo biloba.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So this is that's left from millions of years ago.

 

Roy Klehm:

It's all that's left, yes. Disease and insect immune. We've never seen anything on ginkgo in my lifetime and in the literature. There's nothing every recorded of any insect or any disease.

Shelley Ryan:

That makes it high on my list.

 

Roy Klehm:

Oh, it's a great garden plant. A little slower growing. The slowest growing one we have...

 

Shelley Ryan:

Speaking of slow growing.

 

Roy Klehm:

Is a variety called Troll. This comes from a Witches Broom. That means part a mature plant, the cells inverted and they became dwarf by nature. These were propagated off of that original dwarf plant. Something like this will only get about three feet high in ten years, maybe 2-1/2 feet wide.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So it's like a true mutation.

 

Roy Klehm:

It's a true mutation. They're called Witches Brooms.

 

Shelley Ryan:

It's beautiful and very cute, too.

 

Roy Klehm:

Then there's a variegated form, a beautiful variegated leaf. They look they're painted, don't they?

 

Shelley Ryan:

Yes they do.

 

Roy Klehm:

This has the same cut in the middle of the leaf. But this will grow a little bit slower too, because the plant has less ability to make chlorophyll.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, okay, sure.

 

Roy Klehm:

Because of the yellow. If you have a green shoot come up, you have to edit those green shoots out.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So prune them off.

 

Roy Klehm:

Because all the energy will go to the green shoot and you'd lose your variegation.

Shelley Ryan:

Okay.

 

Roy Klehm:

This is called Majestic Rainbow.

 

Shelley Ryan:

I love that one. These were at the height in the Mesozoic, but at the end of the Mesozoic, we had flowering plants come in. One of the first ones was another living fossil, Magnolias.

 

Roy Klehm:

We're lucky to have a blooming magnolia this morning. This is the sieboldi Magnolia. A little nodding white flower, very fragrant.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Beautiful.

 

Roy Klehm:

If you want to try it. Isn't that luscious?

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, I'd like that outside my window!

 

Roy Klehm:

It has a little pink center to it. Beautiful pink reproductive parts in the center of the flower.

 

Shelley Ryan:

You know, you look at that and as the seed head gets bigger, you start to get a sense of how primitive these plants are.

 

Roy Klehm:

It's right there, just starting.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Yeah, I mean they're very cool looking, the seed pods themselves. A lot of people think these are very tender and they're not. They're very, they're very hardy.

 

Roy Klehm:

Well sieboldi is rated for Plant Zone 4 actually. They're going to grow through most of Wisconsin. In my garden, I've never seen any winter damage on sieboldi.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Really?

 

Roy Klehm:

We're trying to breed other magnolias that are really hardy into Plant Zone 4. We have large-leafed ones like this. They'll get pretty big.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So if I wanted a shade tree, stick with the large leaf.

 

Roy Klehm:

Oh, yeah, and the smaller-leafed ones like this are more shrubby and more dwarf, better foundation plants. They generally have Star Magnolia blood in them, where the flowers look like little stars in the spring.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Again, throughout most of Wisconsin, maybe not Zone 3.

 

Roy Klehm:

It's Zone 5 for sure, Zone 4 probably you can grow them.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay. Well, and we've got another living fossil. But you've got a new living fossil first to look at.

 

Roy Klehm:

This is a rare weeping form of the Dawn Redwood called Miss Grace. You tie this leader up to a little stick to get height to it, and you let all the side braches hang down because they're pendulous. You'll have a little, like, I don't know, just a sort of soft textured garden plant. Now all Metasequoias of course are deciduous conifers, so it'll lose these leaves in the winter.

 

Shelley Ryan:

If we grow something like this it's an evergreen that's going to lose it's leaves. Don't panic.

 

Roy Klehm:

Don't panic, right. By the way, a very nice yellow fall color on Metasequoia or Dawn Redwood.

 

Shelley Ryan:

That's true, it's beautiful. This is the original living fossil.

 

Roy Klehm:

This is the original, yes.

 

Shelley Ryan:

They actually thought that Dawn Redwoods had, Metasequoias had died out, were extinct.

 

Roy Klehm:

Yes, until 1941, when a Chinese scientist found a little grove of them in China. Finally I think about in 1945 or '46, American scientists were allowed to go to China and pick the seeds and take the seeds into different gardens and arboretums.

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, and this is a little bit more tender?

 

Roy Klehm:

It could be. I see nice ones at Longenecker in Madison. I think there's probably different hardinesses on the different seedlings that came here, so it's a provenance thing. But it's worth trying because it's a beautiful plant. It gets tall and lacy. It'll take a wet condition.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Oh, good.

 

Roy Klehm:

It has very nice opposite leaf structure here. One leaf is opposite of the other. On a Bald Cypress, which is similar to this, they're alternate, where the leaf would be alternate on the stem. This is another deciduous conifer, like we said. It can take a wet area. Mulch it really well, and I think it has a very nice chance of being a really nice cornerstone to your garden.

 

Shelley Ryan:

So with any of these, any time you have a young tree, take good care of it the first couple years.

 

Roy Klehm:

Oh, yeah, baby it for a while and it'll pay dividends.

 

Shelley Ryan:

Okay, well hey, good start for my living fossil garden. Thanks, Roy.

 

EPISODE SEGMENTS+
EPISODE RESOURCES+

Funding for The Wisconsin Gardener is provided, in part, by The Wisconsin Master Gardener Association.