Over my cliff is a maple tree That always delights my heart to see.
In some stormy day its smooth bole fell And now lies prone where it started well.
Its trunk is scarred, and with branchlets weak That struggle still to the light they seek.
But straight to the blue its new limbs rise And spread their leaves to the rains and skies.
One would not know from the verdant crown That winds had beaten the old trunk down.
Its neighbors stern in the forest grim Stand stiff and strict and all churchly prim.
But its branches spread more wide than they And fling their fruits to the winds away.
And panellings fine its bole will make When the artist comes his part to take.
Over my cliff is a broken tree That it always cheers my heart to see.
I have on several earlier posts quoted (click here!) from Liberty Hyde Bailey’s botanical work The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture (which is so big I call it a “cyclopspedia”) — but had somehow missed the fact that Bailey was also a poet and published several books of poetry in the olden days. So I was pleased to come across his poem about a broken tree to go with the photos below: the poem seemed to mirror my brief obsession with photographing these damaged trees.
The first nine photos below feature the broken-trunk trees I came across in early winter — two that had likely split during last summer’s August thunderstorms; and one that must have come down during autumn’s similarly stormulous days, given that the leaves had switched on their fall shades before the tree came down. The color contrasts caught my eye — the dark fallen branches against red and orange groundcover, and the orange leaves against the pebblestone walkway. The first ones almost look like the tree dropped a section to rake up the leaves. I didn’t actually catch them raking leaves, to be honest — but maybe they only do that when no one’s watching.
“[Lantana] is not particular as to soil, provided the exposure is sunny, and also that the soil is well supplied with moisture at least until a fair growth has been made. When well established the plants do not seem to mind drought, and continue bright and attractive in the hottest weather. They should not be transplanted out in the open before danger of frost is over. If the old plants are wanted for propagation, cut them back and transfer to pots early in September, and when they start into new growth the soft wood will furnish cuttings that root easily. Keep young stock in a warm position through the winter months, and repot in April….
“Save the old plants, after frost has nipped their freshness late in autumn, prune severely back, remove them indoors, giving them a temperature anywhere above 40 degrees, and with a little attention and fresh soil, every plant will be a perfect specimen, covered with blooms in May.…
“Gardeners train them into fine standards, as prim and shapely as need be.”
“This family consists mainly of shrubs and trees, and many herbaceous members of the family are slightly shrubby in growth. Most of them have square stems and leaves in opposite pairs, and most of them are distinctly aromatic, having a strong smell when handled or crushed, sometimes a pleasant scent, and in some cases a disagreeable odour. One of the best known species in this country is Lantana camara, a straggling, very prickly bush, originally introduced from America; this has spread widely over large areas of the country and is now declared a noxious weed. It has quite pretty, circular heads of orange and red flowers followed by black berries, but it is held responsible for a number of cases of cattle poisoning. It is also encroaching rapidly onto grazing lands, and an effort is being made to eradicate it entirely.
”Lantana angolensis is an erect, unbranched plant of up to fifty centimetres in height, flowering early in the year, and common in woodland clearings and on waste land. The stems are square, hairy, and woody towards the base, and the leaves grow on short stalks, either in pairs or in whorls of three around the stem. They are narrowly oval with a slight point, evenly toothed around the edges and hairy on both surfaces. The tiny, bright mauve flowers are borne in axillary and terminal clusters, half a dozen or so in a cluster surrounded by a ring of green bracts, the whole on a short, hairy stalk. More noticeable than the flowers and more attractive are the juicy, bright purple berries which follow them; these are much enjoyed by many kinds of birds.”
“The maples are hardy ornamental trees or shrubs, with handsome large foliage which, in some species, shows a remarkable tendency to vary in shape and coloring. Numerous garden forms are in cultivation.
“Though the flowers are small, they are quite attractive in the early-flowering species…. [In] some species the young fruits assume a bright red color…. Nearly all assume & splendid color in autumn, especially the species of North America and Eastern Asia, which surpass by far the European maples…. The Japanese maples… are among the most striking and showy exotic small trees, and are adapted for fine grounds and for growing in pots.”
“North American maples were brought to Europe during the 18th century. Maximovich was responsible for many introductions from the Russian Far East, Japan, and China. Plant hunting in southern and eastern China continued to bring in introductions, until virtually all species had been discovered and introduced by the early 20th century. The larger maples have proved popular as landscape trees, with the numerous smaller species proving to be successful garden plants. The diversity of the Asian species has led to much connoisseur interest in the West.
“East Asian Acer palmatum shows particularly high diversity. In Japan the first literary mentions were in the Nara period; it was certainly cultivated in the Heian, when the nobles would hold leaf-hunting competitions in the woods. Over 100 selections were made during the Edo period, with yellow leaves the most highly rated — a Chinese influence, as yellow was seen as the highest-status colour (and traditionally reserved for the emperor); 40 were specifically grown as bonsai. So central are maples to the Japanese autumn aesthetic that the word momichi, originally used to describe all autumn colour, came to be a synonym for kaede, the original word for maple.”
The photos below show two different varieties of Japanese Maple as they produce new leaves and get ready for spring. Both are large weeping shrubs that cascade over stone walls at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The last three photos are my favorites of this series: I caught them at just the right time to display some of their unusual shapes and intense colors, which will last only a day or two as the leaves unfold.
“SALVIA (Lamiaceae): With a name derived from the Latin, salvare (“to heal”), it is clear that some of the sages have a significant medical history. All have a powerful aroma, very clearly that of Lamiaceae to any reasonably experienced gardener or botanist, but also very different from each other. Indeed, it would be fair to say that there is probably as much difference in aromatics from sage to sage as among the scents of any other genus. The range of colour is also unrivalled….”
“ARTEMISIA: A large genus of aromatic and bitter herbs and small shrubs, mostly in the northern hemisphere, and most abundant in arid regions. Leaves alternate, often dissected: heads small and mostly inconspicuous, numerous and generally nodding, with yellow or whitish florets… In the West, many of the species, particularly A. tridentata, are known as sage brush.”
“SPIRAEA (Rosaceae): Once upon time this was a large genus, but the splitters have had their way, so Spiraea is down to around 80 woody plants found across cool temperate North America and Eurasia…. Spireas are deciduous shrubs of woodland edge and open damp habitats. All are long-lived clonal competitive shrubs, and some are able to sucker strongly to form thickets…. [The] plants contain salicylates and so have analgesic qualities. The genus is named after the Greek word for a plant used in making garlands.”
Spring must be on its way: bits of color are starting to appear!
The salvia (in the first six photos) has begun making new leaves, shedding purplish winter ones for freshened up green. Spirea (in the last six photos) has popped out some of its tiny white blooms, while showing off their bright yellow collars. Sagebrush (in the middle) doesn’t really have much color, but I liked the fluffy silver look mixed with some shadowy blues — the closest we ever got to ice-on-plants this year.
“The lantanas are free flowering in winter and summer, but an odor of foliage and flowers that is disagreeable to many persons prevents them from popular use as cut-flowers. They are very useful in window-gardens and the dwarf kinds make good subjects for hanging-baskets. From the window they may be transferred to the open in summer, where they grow profusely.
“The lantana is not particular as to soil, provided the exposure is sunny, and also that the soil is well supplied with moisture at least until a fair growth has been made. When well established the plants do not seem to mind drought, and continue bright and attractive in the hottest weather. They should not be transplanted out in the open before danger of frost is over. If the old plants are wanted for propagation, cut them back and transfer to pots. In September, and when they start into new growth the soft wood will furnish cuttings that root easily….
“Gardeners train them into fine standards, as prim and shapely as need be.”
“Lantana is generally termed a Weed. We go further, hereabouts, and call it a Pest, to say nothing of less printable names. But in fact it is not altogether useless, and it is not so much wicked as crazy. It preserves, through all its misdemeanours, a kind of feckless innocence which, while often inducing extreme exasperation, still disarms hostility. We have become used to it — as those who work in lunatic asylums become used to mental aberration.
“Other weeds, such as Noogoora burr, Cobblers’ Pegs, Crowsfoot, Groundsel and Stinking Roger, are systematic and purposeful enemies — Napoleons and Hitlers of the vegetable world, shameless aggressors bent upon territorial conquest; but the lantana, poor fool, is not really greedy for lebensraum. Like an amiable, gangling half-wit who, without the slightest intention of incommoding anyone, gets under everyone’s feet, it simply keeps alive, and grows.”
As I’ve featured it here many times before, early this fall I only took a few photos of some of the lantana growing on my property. Click this lantana tag if you’d like to take a look at the previous years’ galleries.
Since the flowers are small — typically about an inch in diameter — lantana is always an excellent subject for macro photography, even moreso perhaps because its stiff stems keep the flowers from swaying too much when it’s windy. It’s not flat — the tiny petals curve backward on a rounded structure about the size of a large marble — so it gives The Photographer a chance to practice achieving balance between depth of field and focus with a macro lens. You can see the difference among the set of images below: those with the sharpest focus on the flowers were taken at f-stops f/16 or f/19; those with a softer overall appearance (especially in the backgrounds) were taken at f/9 or f/11.
I like this variation — it’s officially called Mary Ann Lantana — because it packs so many colors in such small spaces. I mean, really, how many flowers can you think of that exhibit all these distinctly different tones?
Each spring, lantana varieties occupy a lot of space in southeastern garden centers, packed onto long tables in the tiniest plastic pots the stores carry, each pot sporting a single plug with just two or three foot-long stems. That’s how all of mine started, but they spread rapidly, filling up open ground spaces or stuffing a pot with new roots, sometimes shooting a long root through the pot’s drainage hole and deep into the ground. One had a big surprise for The Gardner when — in a frenzy of relocating pots — he grabbed a potted lantana, the lantana held its ground, and The Gardener fell on his ass.
But I’ve dug them up and pulled them out and replanted them many times, and they never seem to mind. Some wild varieties are considered invasive even here in Georgia; those perennial and annual variations available from garden centers are not. The annual varieties — despite being annuals — often return for a few years, and may continue to grow back without blooming but still produce beautiful thick batches of spear-tip-shaped, saturated-green leaves.
The second quotation at the top of this post, from the book Lantana Lane by Australian author Eleanor Dark, is in a book chapter whose full title is…
Some Remarks upon the Nature of Contrast with Special Reference to the Habits and Characteristics of Ananas comosus and Lantana camara and an Examination of their Economic and Psychological Effect upon Homo Sapiens
… which is a humorous mouthful. The contrast examined by the author compares pineapple plants (Ananas comosus) with lantana shrubs, both of which present challenges for Australia’s farmers and ecologists because of their unchecked growth, yet only one of the two — the lantana — meets the definition of “noxious” weed.
Because a weed is just a plant with a bad reputation, pineapple plants are let off the hook since they can at least bolster Australia’s economy (lots of pineapple for pizza, folks!) whereas lantana plants just tangle everybody up until they’re cut down or smothered with deadly chemicals (and are even then only in remission). Having wrestled to untangle and prune some that grew beyond their garden borders a couple of times, I can relate.
The book is mostly fiction, containing a series of short stories or vignettes about various characters and their struggles to live with lantana. In that sense it follows a typical literary theme of “man versus nature” or “civilization versus wilderness” — with the antagonist taking the form of a shrub whose exuberant growth will not be stopped. It’s unusual for a plant to feature this prominently in a work of fiction, so that — along with Ms. Dark’s lyrical writing style — makes for a delicious read. Lantana becomes an ominous presence in many scenes, not entirely unlike its appearance in the 2001 murder-mystery Lantana (also set in Australia) where the shrub waved menacingly throughout the movie and (spoiler alert!) was used to hide a corpse. Stand aside, Audrey Jr. — The Little Shop of Horrors is amateur hour compared to exploding invasions of lantana.