Diphylleia cymosa

The August Garden
 I first encountered the Berberidaceae as a child, getting entangled in a prickly hedge of Berberis thunbergii. Ow. The attractive berries quickly were not worth the scratches. Later, when we moved back to upstate New York, wherever I encountered it, I weeded it out with justification. "It is an invasive weed." But, as I was to learn, some fine genera belong to that family. My first acquisition for investigation, epimedium, was given to me by Ed Leimseider. The leaves are so delicate, the spurred flowers- an added asset. I looked anew at the family.

While a lusty Helleborus orientalis reigns in early spring, Diphylleia cymosa lies hidden, giving the entire stage to early spring flowers.

I expressed an interest in Japanese species hardy in Connecticut at a rock garden meeting. Ed generously invited me to his home. My jaw dropped. I tried not to drool too much at the Jeffersonia dubia, the Cypripedium japonicum, the Primula sieboldii, the Enkianthus campanulatus, and more. Upon my departure he packed me off  with a car load of seedlings, all Japanese species, including a few epimediums!

Trillium, jeffersonia and mertensia paint a flowing scene. All eyes dart to the erythronium hybrid. Still there is not much sign of what is to come
From this amiable introduction to the family, I moved onto growing another genus: Jeffersonia. For many years I confused the two species J. dubia and J. diphylla, as to which was native and which Japanese. As I always grow them both, now I remember by color: white is American, lavender the other. But even without color they are stunners. Easy, gentle doers for the woodland garden, they rise early with quick exquisite blooms, which make way for interesting seedpods. They live for many years and will self sow if happy. Topping out at about a foot, both species are soft accents, grown for their leafy demeanor.

By the time the trout lilies are spent, diphylleia jumps to life. Nearby Paeonia obovata alba puts on its spectacular show.  Ferns have unfolded and Gentiana asclepiadea begins in its ascent.
 Vancouveria hexandra is another in the vein of the epimedium- light airy leaves. Perfectly hardy in the Litchfield Hills, it runs a bit, but never as the thug. Of course there have been other wonderful family members who were just not hardy enough - Mahonia and Nandina. Both have been tried in a number of microclimates at various houses without luck. So far...
Tiny blossoms (right) are just the start to unfurling the leaves. Nearby the japanese paeonia is going by.

And another, more weedy member of the family, Podophyllum peltatum, kept at the far reaches of the wild garden, also has a distinctive leaf. No, it has no prickers. It is lovely as a carpeter. But grow it only if you can give over a glen. It's cousin, P. hexandrum, seems possibly a bit more refined. Again I keep a close eye and a spacious location.
Diphylleia takes a breath from spring and soon towers over every other plant in the area.
The most recent inquiry has been to grow one of the taller relatives- Diphylleia cymosa. An Appalachian native, it grows in the wild from Virginia to Georgia. But don't let this southerner fool you- it is perfectly hardy here, as well as the hills of  New Hampshire. There is an Asian counterpart. Some count one, others two:  Diphylleia sinensis and/ or Diphylleia grayi. Perhaps I will need to try them both out and see.

After bloom, the flowers give way to blue berries set in a red tiara of bracts.
Its most attractive feature? Why, the leaves are fantastic! Huge and bold, they emerge shyly, taking a month to get to their full stature. There are some who also hold that the berries are even more attractive. No problem - you get them both. The plant seems quite petite during flowering. But by the time the berries color, it towers and shades the nearby paeonia, gentiana, and hellebores. Finally grown, it's close to four foot in a damp woodland bed. Hold on to your rodgersia, you won't remember it when Diphylleia cymosa stands tall.

Just as the Ligularia stenocephala starts to wane, the edge-of-the-woods bed is taken hold by a billowing flag of diplylleia leaves.


Matt Mattus said…
I keep forgetting to order Diphylleia, after photographing a beautiful specimen in fruit in your garden last autumn. Have you tried starting it from seed?

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