Ophiopogon chingii - NOT! (actually O. umbraticola)

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Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14
Ophiopogon chingii - NOT! (actually O. umbraticola)

I was going to put this under "Woodlanders", but since this plant is so ubiquitously misidentified and sold under the completely wrong name, I thought I'd put it under the Plant Identification area.

So, what we have here is a delightful, small, clumping non-rhizomatous non-spreading "Mondo Grass"... not really a grass at all, but a member of the Ruscaceae, formerly classified as Liliaceae.  I knew these as small liliaceous groundcovers from Japan and China, very popular in public plantings in more temperate regions of the US, down South and in California and elsewhere in the west coast.  Some are hardy here in New England, but they are not so popular or prevalent.

A small treasure has recently become popular, found in dozens of nurseries available on the web, the plant offered as O.  chingii, from China.  The problem is, if you check the botanical description of O. chingii in the online Flora of China, it is a complete mismatch for the plant being sold... O. chingii is a much larger and taller broad-leaf species.  To try and thwart a misnomer so entrenched  and well established in commerce is a daunting task, but we can all help to dispel the unfortunate error.  I believe the plant in question, is actually Ophiopogon umbraticola.

I show some photos... the first couple from last fall, where I was surprised to find for the first time, some remarkable shiny blue berries on this plant, almost worth growing for that feature alone.  The plant is in flower now (mid July), with tiny sprays of whitish-lavender flowers, the whole affair just a few inches tall.  Go and seek out Ophiopogon "chingii" from nurseries, but re-lable them to O. umbraticola, and spread the gospel.

Pertinent links to the Flora of China on Ophiopogon showing that the ID of O. chingii is wrong:
http://www.efloras.org/object_page.aspx?object_id=60757&flora_id=2
http://www.efloras.org/object_page.aspx?object_id=60758&flora_id=2
http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=2&taxon_id=200027784

I have also featured his plant on another NARGS thread Re: Evergreen plants after a New England winter
https://www.nargs.org/forum/evergreen-plants-after-new-england-winter

Hoy
Hoy's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-12-15

I do grow a couple of Ophiopogon but not this species however. Here they flower when I am away in summer. They do not set much berries but when they do the berries are blue like yours.
Your plant seems to be an interesting species with narrower leaves than mine.
I have no pics at the moment.

Trond
Rogaland, Norway - with cool, often rainy summers  (29C max) and mild, often rainy winters (180 cm/year)!

BalistrieriCarlo
BalistrieriCarlo's picture
Title: Guest
Joined: 2009-11-04

...and I grow several cultivars here--but not your plant Mark. They are slowly establishing themselves and have taken the heat and dryness with aplomb.

Carlo A. Balistrieri

Director

Moore Farms Botanical Garden

Lake City, SC

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

Trond, this species (Ophiopogon umbraticola) has among its synonyms, Ophiopogon japonicus var. umbraticola, and you are correct, the blue berries are much like the berries produced on O. japonicus.

Carlo, good point regarding their tolerance for dryness, noteworthy because in nature their habitat is described as "Forests, scrub, cliffs, streamsides, moist and shady places".  Mine is planted in very dry shade, where many other plants have suffered, particularly during our current long spell of heat and drought, this one doesn't blink an eye and always looks good.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

This darned plants looks just about the same every year, all year long including winter. It doesn't seem to grow or expand, just stays as a nice little bird's nest of dark green foliage, perpetually happy with its current size and disposition.  Although this year it flowered better than normal, as shown in this photo taken on July 20, 2011.  It's a vexing plant to photograph, the palest lavender flowers in shade trick the camera into overcompensating the exposure and invariably give terrible results, although this one is the closest I've gotten to being acceptable.

I've not had good luck with sowing seed. In several years just one seedling appeared last fall, but I suspect it was not mature enough to survive the winter as it did not reappear.  Last autumn I sowed seed again, planting the whole berries intact, but again no germination in spring.  I haven't bothered looking at the flats in a while, and lo and behold when I checked today (Aug.20th), there were a half dozen healthy seedlings.  They must have germinated in July sometime!

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

I love surprises like that!  

Do you surmise that planting whole berries was the trick?

(Like the natural dividers in the box, too.)

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

Hoy
Hoy's picture
Title: Member
Joined: 2009-12-15

What a surprise! My surprises are of the opposite kind: Seedlings have emerged and I tend them as nice as I can and suddenly they disappear - probably the result of adventurous slugs.
How come you don't get weeeds in your seedtrays? I always get seedlings of birches and willowherbs as they germinate at once.

Trond
Rogaland, Norway - with cool, often rainy summers  (29C max) and mild, often rainy winters (180 cm/year)!

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

Hoy wrote:

How come you don't get weeeds in your seedtrays? I always get seedlings of birches and willowherbs as they germinate at once.

Trond, I do get weeds in my seed flats; in fact, weeding them is what led me to discover the recently germinated Ophiopogon seedlings.  The weeds that most often appear are American Elm seedlings (I'm not sure why the American Elm has not taken over America... every single flat flake-like seed germinates!), dandelions, grasses, weedy oxalis, clover, and seedlings from neighboring plants; Penstemon digitalis and Hypericum frondosum.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

RickR wrote:

Do surmise that planting whole berries was the trick?

(Like the natural dividers in the box, too.)

Not sure... I should have been more scientific about it, sowing half the seed cleaned and the other half as whole berries.  In the past, I have simply scratched in fallen berries around the mother plant, and in the period of 5-6 years, only the single seedling appeared that I mentioned previously.  Maybe the seed being sown in a flat, and kept consistently moist as compared to the dry spot where the plant resides, is what made the difference?  This year with ample rainfall, the plant is setting lots & lots of berries, so I will try the dual method of sowing and see what happens.

I started using low & wide rectangular peat flats instead of smaller plaster pots.  For unattended (down right neglectful) seed germination and seedling growing, I have much better results in these types of flats because the porous water-transmitting peat when in contact with the ground, stays more evenly moist. The flats do decompose, particularly on the bottom where they stay more moist, but typically I get a couple years out of them, then I can just crumble them up and mix them in with soil :D

The flats can be sort of big for small quantities of seed, so I double up and sow other varieties and separate them with twigs from a Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum)... a tree that sheds LOTS of twigs.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

Mark McD
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-12-14

I have been watching this years crop of "berries" and they're just starting to color up.  This year it is my intent to do an experiment, sow half the seed uncleaned (whole "berry"), the other half with the pulp removed, to see how it affects germination.  I have planted out the seedlings that germinated this summer (about 8 seedlings) so I can hopefully increase my stock of this tight-clump forming species that never seems to increase vegetatively.  The berries are a few days to a week away from full azure blue coloration.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, USA, near the New Hampshire border USDA Zone 5
antennaria at aol.com
 

RickR
Title: Moderator
Joined: 2009-09-21

The plant looks darn good right now!

I remember the ruminations on germination of this gem in an earlier thread.  I'm glad you have found time to follow up on it, Mark.

Rick Rodich    zone 4a.    Annual precipitation ~24 inches
near Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

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