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

Hardy Mangrove

leitneria-floridana-closer-640

 

My, my, what gorgeously-glossy leaves!  And on such a deeply, even radically, oddball tree.  Corkwood's leaves are, indeed, distinctive.  Truth be told, their reflective powers go way beyond anything embodied by the merely glossy.  Even under overcast skies, these leaves glisten; on a clear day, they bounce sunlight into your eyes disruptively, like shards of green mirrors. 

 

leitneria-floridana-640

 

No wonder you, too, will need to get close and finger a few leaves while wondering just what the heck plant is this, anyway?  "Corkwood" suggests, rightly so, that the wood is so light it bobs on the water's surface; one of the (few) uses for it is as floats in fishing.

 

If only "hardy mangrove" were, in fact, one of the common names.  Instead, it's "corkwood", although being corky isn't all that special, anyway.  Besides the actual cork oaks themselves, Burning Bush, Euonymus alatus, has corky ridges on the stems, as does Winged Elm, Ulmus alatus.  And neither of them is a plant to to hitch your wagon to.  As a gift, being corky is light-weight in all senses.

 

But just as mangrove itself is the unique water-dwelling colony-forming tree south of Savannah, hardy mangrove is the unique water-dwelling colony-forming tree north of it.  Way north, in fact.  Want a grove of Leitneria in your pond in Buffalo?  What are you waiting for?

 

leitneria-floridana-overall-640

 

Silly me, how truly unimaginative, to have planted my Leitneria on dry land.  Let alone what a waste of space: I've got thousands of plants to plant in dry land, and never enough dry land to fit them all in.  But with a seventy-foot reflecting pool—hey, it happens—I've still got plenty of open water to plant up.  And until I dig up this Leitneria colony, strap on my waders, and dunk it in the water it really craves, all that open water won't have a single grove of trees planted in it. 

 

What am I waiting for?  Next April, actually, when the Leitneria will still be in its Winter dormancy and, hence, eager to be dug up to see more of the world.

 

 

Here's how to grow this wet-ground and swamp-essential tree:

 

Latin Name

Leitneria floridana

Common Names

Hardy Mangrove, Corkwood

Family

Simaroubaceae, the Ailanthus family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy deciduous tree.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9.

Habit

Upright, with sparse branches, forming large colonies.

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Depending on how it's handled (see below), and how far South in its hardiness range it's grown, a colony five to twenty feet tall and thirty to fifty feet across or more.  Much slower spreading, but not shorter, in its Northern range of mid-New England, e.g., Massachusetts, and Upstate New York.  Much shorter and less wide-spreading in dry-land sites; the full dimensions are only reached when it's growing aquatically.

Texture

Variable.  Sometimes open, with predominantly vertical trunks and branches in a mounding, spreading colony, with leaves only at the top portion of the stems, similar to that of sumac.  Other times a colony that's densely-foliaged to the ground.

Grown for

the Who-knew? factor (see Culture and How to handle it, below), unrivaled in hardy woody plants.

 

the long, narrow, strikingly glossy foliage, as if peach-tree leaves had been given a heavy and meticulously-buffed coat of furniture polish. The foliage is retained almost bizarrely late into the approaching Winter, and, indeed, is sometimes only removed by the weight of an early snowfall, not, as would be more normal, the impetus of lowering temperatures or shortening days.

 

The unusually light and buoyant wood, hence the common name of corkwood.

Flowering season

Early Spring—April here in New England—before the leaves emerge.  The flowers are grayish catkins just over an inch long, and are not showy.

Culture

Easy!  Sun or shade.  Leitneria has unique adaptability to soil and water, surviving in regular garden soil, dry(ish) soil even on a slope, pond-side or along streams, directly in low spots that have heavy and prolonged seasonal flooding, as well as in permanently flooded area, i.e., growing up from the soil at the bottom of ponds.  Leitneria grows in both fresh as well as brackish water, too.

How to handle it

Leitneria should be at the top of the very short list of hardy woody plants that can handle terrain that is sometimes dry and other times flooded, even for long periods.  Your other options are bald cypress (Taxodium), button-bush (Cephalanthus) and ... nothing else I can think of.  Leitneria IS the list of shade-loving woody plants that thrive in areas with heavy seasonal flooding, let alone thrive in actual ponds.

 

To establish in seasonally-flooded areas, plant at the edge of the flooded area in late Spring, when the water level will normally be falling further.  The plants can root securely into the ground that, with the warmer weather, is becoming drier and hence more stable, and are therefore more likely to stay secure during the seasonal floods to come.  Even so, stake the plants for the first year so they don't get dislodged by heavy flood-flow.

 

To establish directly into open water, you could plant at the margins and allow the plant to explore out into deeper water ad libitum.  Or you could plant (or at least squish down into the muck at the bottom of the pond) balled-and-burlapped individuals, keeping the burlap completely tied around the plant, so the soil of the root-ball doesn't just dissolve into the water.  Anchor the plant with a stake; if practical, also put rocks around and (delicately, respectully) even atop the rootball to hold it secure to the bottom of the pond. The roots will soon grow out through the burlap (which will quickly rot, anyway) and into the pond-bottom soil, sprouting new trunks as they go. 

 

Leitneria seems to be interested in open water that's "only" two or three feet deep, so you can plant in open water by standing or even kneeling on the pond bottom itself, instead of trying, awkwardly, to lean out of a boat.  Either way, you're on your own if you or your pond have piqued the interest of aquatic fauna like snakes or crocs. 

 

I'm going to try establishing Leitneria in my shallow reflecting pool, which is only 16 inches deep, and where frogs are as "mega-fauna" as it gets.  To keep the colony from spreading widely (and potentially piercing the pond's rubber liner) I'll be planting into a "pot" that's actually a galvanized washtub.  Resting on the bottom of the pond, it will still have four or five inches of open water atop it.  I'll need to feel around the tub each year to check if roots are heading out into open water (not bad, in itself) or trying to burrow into and through the membrane (very bad, in itself).  Probably best, then, just to cut off roots that have climbed up out of the tub and are trying to explore into the surroundings.

 

BTW, if your Leitneria colony ever strikes you as being too tall or too leggy—or if you just want the multi-cultural thrill of doing serious pruning while also wearing waders—don't hesitate to saw any or all of the offending trunks down to the ground, or at least the water level, in Spring.  Far from setting the Leitneria back on its heels, you'll only encourage new shoots from the base of trunks, as well as directly from the roots.

Downsides

None.

Variants

None that have been identified.

Availability

On-line and sometimes at "destination" retailers.

Propagation

Layering, division in Spring, and by seed.  In its native habit, the plant is an aggressive colonizer, by seed as well as by root-sprouts, of shady and wet disturbed areas.

Native habitat

The American Deep South, from Texas to Florida.

 
 
FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!

 

Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:

 

* indicates required