Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Feather-leaf Japanese Oak

quercus-dentata-pinnatifida-640

Pink and feathery, oh, my.  Like the antennae of some huge moth, but it's really a weird oak.  The feather-leaf Japanese oak, Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida.'

 

"Dentate" means that the leaves of even the species have a toothy or indented edge. "Pinnatifida" means to be finely lobed along a central vein like a feather, with the individual threads all attached to the pin.  Dentata pinnatifida?  Lobed and toothed and finely-cut and—just in case you forgot—lobed: The Latin throws in everything but the kitchen sink to stress that, wow, these are wierd leaves indeed.

 

But beyond the literal Latin, "pinnatifida" conveys all kinds of extreme featheriness in the sound of the word itself.  Say "pin-uh-TIFF-id-uh" and you hear a lot of rustling and airiness, as well as whiffs of special and even recondite pleasure.  It makes me think of the admiring adjective for Venice:  Not just "serene" but "serrenissima."  Most serene. 

 

This oak's leaves aren't just dentate, nor just pinnate.  They're pinnatifidadly dentate.  Pinnatifidaliciously dentate.   Pinnatifideleriously dentate.

 

And fuzzy pink, even if just for a day or two when the foliage is really young.  But still: there's so little pink foliage at all in hardy plants, we need to celebrate it wherever and whenever.

 

This shot shows the scale of the young foliage—many times smaller than the feathery monsters it will become in June.

 

quercus-dentata-pinnatifida-finger-640

 

It was taken was on a spritzing morning too, so the leaves are a bit wet.  The pink velvetiness is brighter and whiter when dry, like in the first shot. 

 

The feather-leaf Japanese oak offers rare viewing pleasure indeed:  Just for a few days in Spring—and hope it doesn't rain.

 

 

Here's how to bring some pink-fingery foliage to your garden:

 

Latin Name

Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'

Common Name

Feather-leaf Japanese Oak

Family

Fagaceae, the beech family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous tree.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 8

Habit

Open, upright, and, for many years, shrubby.  Eventually a medium-sized tree. 

Rate of Growth

Slow.

Size in ten years

Four or five feet tall, two or three feet wide.

Texture

Large feathery leaves in whorls only at the tips of twigs, and so don't hide the branches.  Loose and open.

Grown for

the peculiar (which I write with affection) foliage.  Slow to leaf out—not until Mid-Spring, even later than beeches, and weeks after chestnuts and maples.  When their finely-cut young leaves finally do appear, they are edged in velvety pink.  They look like the feathery antennae of a heretofore unknown species of huge moth that—who knew?—liked to take a rest from the appendages for a bit, and left them on this little tree.  Odd (again, I write with affection) more than pretty. 

 

the size of the mature foliage, which is among the largest of any of the hundreds of oak species and cultivars.  Given how very slow-growing and therefore shrubby the plants are, the large foliage is particularly contrasting to the overall size. 

 

the mature foliage is, in truth, a dull green and entirely pink-free—but it still maintains the remarkable feathery fingers.  Pink feathers may have been only a phase in youth (and haven't we all had our own versions of pink-feathers-in-youth), but feathers themselves are there for life.  (Ditto.)

Flowering season

Late-Spring, but not showy.

 

Culture

Full sun and any decent soil as long as it's well-drained in Winter. 

How to handle it

In its requirement for promptly-draining soil year-round but especially in Winter, the feather-leaf oak grows shoulder-to-shoulder with its cousins in the Fagaceae family, the faguses themselves: The beeches.  The rule of thumb for all of them:  Never plant on level ground.  I.e., always plant on a slope, no matter how modest, so surface water drains right away.

 

The pink Spring foliage needs to be seen close-up, even under magnification, so site the plant near grass or a pathway.  Although the tree is very slow-growing, painfully so, over many years it will inevitably be larger than when you planted it.  In a couple of decades, an actual tree—by which time the foliage would be too high for close viewing.  So every year or two prune out a higher branch (if indeed there actually is one) to encourage the lower ones and to limit overall height.  You want to keep this tree a shrub forever.

 

With the open habit and, typical for oaks, deep roots without a lot of surface feeder roots to compete with underplantings, the feather-leaf oak welcomes a groundcovering partner plant.  The featheriness of the leaves would suggest something with large simple leaves.  The Spring-pinkness suggests a groundcover that doesn't dawdle about being in full leaf at what, for the oak, is its sole prime viewing season.  The large size of the leaves—ten inches and more—shouldn't trump the featheriness in your considerations: The leaves are more striking for the feathers than for their dimension.  And so a huge-leaf hosta would partner this huge-leaf oak well.  (Blue leaves would be great with the foliage.)  Or perhaps Siberian bugloss. 

Downsides

Growth is so slow that this is a frustrating plant if you don't have glacial patience.  It's also uneasy about being transplanted, so large specimens would be difficult to handle even if they were available.  (And anyway, their price would be daunting too.)  The foliage can get a little blotchy at the end of a hot Summer, as if it's gotten heat-rash from a baby.  But for the unique as well as wonderful-weird Spring display, I'd forgive it all.

Variants

The species itself also has large leaves, non-feathery and not pink in Spring.  Probably not worth planting in its own right.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

Grafting.

Native habitat

Japan and Korea.


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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