Podophyllum and Dysosma collection at OpdeHaar gardens
On this page about podophyllum information on and photos of:
Podophyllums are ideal foliage plants for moist, lightly shaded positions in the garden and are perfect woodland plants. Taxonomically, along with a surprising number of other woodland species, they are included in the Berberidaceae family. There is a wealth of information to be found on the Internet on the various varieties and I will therefore provide an overview of my experiences in our garden which will hopefully be of supplementary interest to gardeners, particularly in northern Europe.
P. peltatum occurs naturally in the eastern part of USA up into Canada and is readily available from garden centres. It forms clumps from a spreading rhizome and is fairly fool-proof when kept moist and not exposed to intense sunlight. It generally flowers white in May and red fruits form under the covering leaves. Dan Hinkley reports that a pink flowered variant (P.peltatum var. deamii) occurs. Barring this, the plant is fairly consistent in form which is not the case for its Asiatic counterpart, P. hexandrum, which is widely distributed from N.E. Afghanistan through the Himalayan area into China. There is variation in both leaf form and flower colour but suffice it to say that a major difference from P.peltatum is the attractive black marking on the leaf surfaces. Gardens with frost pockets and/or places where night frosts occur until late in the spring can give problems because P.hexandrum can be damaged and, in extreme cases, weakened to the extent that it eventually fades away.
There are several other Asian Podophyllums having the general characteristic of highly decorative leaves which are still often encountered under the nomenclature “Dysosma” rather than “Podophyllum“; rarely, one also encounters “Sinopodophyllum” but this nomenclature was never officially recognised. These highly decorative Asian podophyllum varieties are generally expensive and, in my experience, rather more temperamental than their plainer family members. That said, varieties such as P.veitchii ( P.delavayi) and P. difforme invariably cause garden visitors to stop and comment. If only they could be readily propagated and induced to grow with the ease of P.peltatum!!
Such sentiments and no doubt the commercial reward awaiting a plant catering for these needs most probably lay behind the development of a new hybrid rejoicing in the unforgettable name of P. “Spotty Dotty”.
P. “Spotty Dotty” is illustrated in the accompanying photos and is a complex hybrid described in US plant patent PP17361. Most interesting commercially is that it is reported to come true from tissue culture micro-propagation and this is evidenced by its relatively easy availability in the trade. The seed parent was a complex hybrid of Asian varieties from Japan which was pollinated by a selected P.delavayi plant. As the photos illustrate, it is a highly decorative plant and I obtained it some years ago from a local nursery, De Hessenhof. Over about 3 years, it slowly formed a small clump and then the central area just seemed to disappear but then it was as though numerous seedlings were appearing and these had every appearance of “Spotty Dotty”. In all honesty, I didn’t investigate matters too closely because I was busy elsewhere and just thankful that I suddenly had a potential load of “seedlings” to plant in other locations so I really can’t say exactly what caused this but the seedlings have transplanted without any problems whatsoever. One possible explanation is that the rhizome was damaged during excessively wet winter conditions resulting from a blocked drainage ditch and this effectively provided me with a host of root cuttings. Whatever, “Spotty Dotty” is a lovely addition to the woodland garden and here at “Op de Haar” is as temperament-free as P.peltatum.
P. Versipelle (Dysosma Versipellis) has large leathery leaves under which red calyxes appear in spring and large fruits later in the year. It comes from China. “Versipelle” means varying in shape. The leaves appear first as hexagonal and later become star shaped. It grows to a height of about 80 cm and does very well in shade/part shade in humous, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil.
For completeness, I should add that there is also another commercial Podophyllum hybrid which is called “Kaleidoscope” which uses the same seed parent as “Spotty Dotty” but a different pollen parent and is described in PP14460. I have no experience with this hybrid but it does indeed have very attractively marked and patterned leaves. When I saw young plants of “Kaleidoscope” for sale, they struck me as being significantly less decorative than “Spotty Dotty” and there was a caution about susceptibility to excess winter cold, I consequently didn’t buy any. However, I have since seen various reports praising the decorative value of the plant and reference to illustrations collected over the Internet reveal a staggering variation in leaf patterns. To what extent this variability stems from variations in the hybrid itself or from its age or position, I do not know, but there do appear to be young plants with highly patterned leaves available in the trade. To judge from the literature it appears that US nurseries are active in podophyllum hybridisation and there is a very informative article by Dan Heims which gives interesting insights into this. In the light of my earlier comments, his remarks on cold-susceptibility are very noteworthy.