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

Five-lobed Hardy Yam

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Contrast as well as collaboration are the keys to season-long garden interest.  See those big, tasteful, shiny leaves at the right?  Maybe they need to be partnered with something skinny and weird.  Like Five-lobed Hardy Yam, Dioscorea quiquilobata.  It's the frothy cascading stuff in the middle.  True, at this glance it's too soon to be able to identify it as an actual plant, let alone (if you can believe it) one that's in full boom.  Maybe it's just wispy green packing material that got blown in from Kansas.

 

Every element of the name is a "Huh?"  "Five-lobed" and "Hardy Yam" are mysterious enough—Do yams have lobes?  Yams aren't hardy?—but the Latin is even more, so to speak, Greek to You.  It means means five-lobed.  And hooray: Quinquilobata is, finally, your opportunity to say any word, in any language, whose first two syllables begin with "qu." 

 

It's the leaves that a five-lobed not the tubers.  To my eye, though, "septimilobata" is more like it.  Or even—see the pair of vague bumps an inch to the right and left of the inward scallop at the top of the leaf?—decimilobata.  But quinquilobata is certainly more fun to say.

 

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Dioscorea honors Pedanius Dioscorides, an ancient Greek physician and botanist most remembered for his five-volume encyclopedia about herbal medicine, De Materia Medica.  It's the world's oldest-known pharmacopeia.  Although Dioscorides was writing at the time of Nero —50 to 70 BC— De Materia didn't need to be rediscovered in the Renaissance of 1600 years later:  It had never been out of circulation.

 

How did the yam family come to be named after Dioscorides?  Maybe because yams themselves—the tubers, I mean—have a variety of medicinal talents, from birth control to reduction of inflammation. 

 

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Hardy Yam's flowers sure don't honor anyone.  See the little green things paired on the vertical stem?  The tiny white bits at the end are the petals of the flower.  Sheesh.

 

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I grow Hardy Yam because the vertical chains of flowers are such a who-knew? contrast to huge glossy leaves at the right, which are those of a hardy Southern magnolia.  And because the magnolia's flowers are, oh, a thousand times bulkier than the yam's.  And because Hardy Yam is one of the few hardy vines that, nonetheless, dies right down to the ground in the Fall.  (Think about it:  Isn't every other hardy vine a woody plant, with top growth that stays alive through the Winter and sprouts new growth the following Spring?  Ivy, Boston creeper, honeysuckle, clematis, wisteria, bittersweet, poison ivy, trumpet vine, grapes?  Yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, yup, and yup.) 

 

And because to a Hardy Yam my Southern magnolia—one of any garden's most voluptuous and universally-swooned-over plants—is just another scaffolding through which it can scramble though each Spring. 

 

And because to most garden visitors the Southern magnolia and its foliage is at least generally recognizable:  It's a magnolia of one kind or another.  But why stop there?  Since the magnolia is recognizable as such, it doesn't need the spotlight all to itself.  It can share the focus with, say, a bizarre something-or-other rambling up through it.  Like, say, Five-Lobed Hardy Yam.

 

"Why Stop There?"  A good motto for a garden that's always about something more.

 

 

Here's how to grow this distinctive twining vine:

 

Latin Name

Dioscorea quinquilobata

Common Name

Five-lobed Hardy Yam

Family

Dioscoreaceae, the Yam family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy herbaceous vine.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9.

Habit

Twining, multi-stemmed, and upright.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

A clump to fifteen feet or higher, depending on what's available for the ascent.

Texture

Unusual in hardy vines, with large many-pointed leaves unlike any other hardy plant's.  In my experience, not dense enough to form a curtain or a screen.

Grown for

its rarity:  Few Dioscorea are hardy in colder than subtropical climates.

 

its distinctive foliage, with five points (or ten, depending on how picky you are on calling a bump a "point") on leaves that point downward.  Quinquilobata means, literally, with five lobes.  

 

its unusual growth habit:  Most hardy vines are also woody, with stems that survive for years.  Only a few hardy vines die back to the ground like a typical perennial, sending up fresh stems each Spring.  The hardy Dioscorea die back below ground in Fall, sending up stems that are faster-shooting even than bamboo, but a fraction of the thickness of asparagus.  Provided there are wires or a cooperative shrub or low-branched tree nearby, growth can soar two stories high by July.

 

its very long—well over a foot—racemes of laughably-small white flowers, which are showy only because the racemes are straight, but which mature to larger as well as showier pendant chains of seeds.

Flowering season

Summer: July and August; the seeds are showy from August into Fall.

Culture

Sun and any decent soil. 

How to handle it

Plant all the hardy dioscoreas where you've already planned for their high-twining habits.  They'll race right up vertical wires, so a lattice or trellis isn't needed.  For one, I have wires that run from permanent stakes in the ground right up to the roof overhang two stories above.  Vertical wires are particularly handy for Fall clean-up: you can sever the thin stems and shimmy them back down the wires like old socks.

 

For D. quinquilobata, I've provided espaliered Southern magnolias that are themselves heading up to two stories and more.  This means, yes, that in the Fall I need to extract the dead stems from the magnolia.  Fortunately, they yank out well.  It's fine for the clump to be in the shade at ground-level, as long as there's more and more light to climb toward on the way up. 

Downsides

This quirky vine sets its own standards of performance and aesthetics, so accept it on its own terms.

Variants

There are about six hundred members of the Dioscorea family, the vast majority of which are subtropical and tropical.  Most of them have tuberous roots.  Yams, anyone?  And the colorfully-foliaged "sweet potato vines" that are so successful as annuals?  Dioscoreas both.   

 

Dioscorea batatas is one of the other rare hardy dioscoreas, with cinnamon-scented growth and truly-odd leaf-axil tubers the size of doll-house potatoes.     

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By division in Spring, or by seed.

Native habitat

Dioscorea quinquilobata is native of Korea.

 
 
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