At the time of this writing, plants in UBC Botanical Garden are, by many estimates, about two weeks behind their normal schedules. And it looks like the cool weather is going to continue far into April. In fact, I’ve heard that the weather prognosticators are betting on a cooler than normal summer this year. While this bodes poorly for most vegetables, hybrid tea roses and bedding plants, cool weather is a significant benefit to the longevity of many of the spring flowers you can see at the Botanical Garden. In particular, rhododendrons and deciduous magnolias appear to be set for an outstanding display in April. However, there’s another whole set of things that will be springing up in the Garden in April: our new interpretive signage.
One of the most recently celebrated magnolias is Magnolia zenii, a plant of considerable beauty, but also of important conservation value. It is so important that we felt it appropriate to highlight it in our interpretive signage program. The text from this particular interpretive sign highlights the fact that the species has been reduced to a single wild population on the northern slopes of Baohua Mountain in Jiangsu Province, China, which is why M. zenii is considered a critically endangered species. Zen magnolia was first brought into cultivation in 1980 at the Jiangsu Institute of Botany and Botanical Garden Memorial Sun Yat-sen, in Nanjing, China. Nine seeds from the Baohua Mountain population were presented to staff from two American botanical gardens. While only five seedlings were successfully germinated, by 1986 the cuttings from these trees were distributed to botanical gardens around the world, including three to UBC Botanical Garden. Flowers are small, by magnolia standards, but they are borne in incredible profusion. It is a sight not to be missed.
As to rhododendrons, there are too many in flower in April to mention here. However, a series of Rhododendron species is outlined on another interpretive sign. Three of the four species mentioned on sign are April bloomers, but perhaps the most impressive of these is R. thomsonii. This species typically displays large, crimson, bell-shaped flowers that hang jauntily against a background of neat, rounded, blue-green leaves. These are beautifully captured by Daniel Mosquin’s superb photograph on the interpretive sign. Older specimens of R. thomsonii, such as those in the David C. Lam Asian Garden opposite the Moon Gate, exhibit tall, sculptural stems with peeling papery bark. Rhododendron thomsonii is not an endangered species—it is a common constituent of rhododendron scrub and fir forests between 2,400 and 4,300 m elevation throughout the Himalayas. Nevertheless, our numerous accessions of this species (representing seed collections from separate expeditions) represent a different, but no less important aspect of Botanical Garden collections, which is to display as wide a range of variation in wild species as is possible. This and numerous other botanical garden related themes, as well as themes specific to UBC Botanical Garden, are detailed in signage around the Garden. We’d like to think that the new interpretive signage will give the visitor a better, or at least a different understanding of the role of the Garden and the value of its plant collections.
The interpretive signage project was undertaken by UBC Botanical Garden staff in collaboration with the Cygnus Group, a Canadian interpretive and way-finding signage company, and was made possible by a donation from the estate of Dennis Lloyd.
More photos can be found in our Forums.
Submitted by Douglas Justice, Associate Director, Horticulture & Collections, March 29, 2017.