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

Chinese plum yew

cephalotaxus-foliagefingers

 

This conifer wears its needles in a Mohawk.  All the better to show off the creamy female inflorescences. 

 

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With its loose but full growth, Chinese plum yew can be a screen as well as a specimen.

 

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But the bush's biggest talent is its shiny mahogany bark, which peels off to reveal pale underlayers.  For my money, Cephalotaxus sinensis has the showiest bark of any hardy tree.  Better than stewartia, lacebark pine, and paperbark maple.

 

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The bark on my ten-year-old is already dramatic and intense. 

 

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If only I'd known, I wouldn't have planted the bush by the fence at the back of a really large bed.

 

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Only during some Fall clean-up of huge perennials nearby did I realize what a sensational conifer was growing right next to me.  Now that you know, too, you can site Chinese plum yew so you can enjoy every inch of it, from head to toe.

 

 

Here's how to grow this versatile evergreen beauty:

 

Latin Name

Cephalotaxus sinensis

Common Name

Chinese Plum Yew, Cowtail Pine

Family

Cephalotaxaceae, the Plum Yew family.

What kind of plant is it?

Evergreen conifer; a large shrub or a medium tree.

Hardiness

Zones 6 - 9

Habit

Upright but wide; irregular and with several trunks.  Eventually exposing the lower trunks.

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

Six to ten feet tall and six to eight feet wide; faster in warmer climates that have longer growing seasons.  Variable, with some plants, seed-grown and in warmer climates, growing to trees of twenty to thirty feet.  Cutting-grown plants tend to mature as large shrubs.

Texture

Loose and fluffy, thanks to the small branches, which arch outward and are thickly foliaged by two ranks of needles held upright in a V-shaped profile.

Grown for

its foliage: Green needles are stalwart year-round.  It is rare for deer even to sample them. I regularly include Cephaloxatus in client projects where deer pressure is heavy.  I have never lost so much as a tip of foliage to them.

 

its bark and trunk:  the open and multi-trunked habit naturally provides glimpses of the remarkable mahogany and tan bark.  The plant is easily limbed up to show more. 

 

its tolerance:  Cephalotaxus thrives throughout the Deep South, where prolonged and high day- and night-time heat is too much for yews.  It will grow in almost pure sand near open ocean, as well as in deep and moist woods. 

Flowering season

Spring into Summer:  The bushes are dioecious.  Female bushes bear inflorescences that are discretely showy, as small greenish-yellow spheres dangling in two ranks underneath the two-ranked upward "V" of needles.  If I were also growing a male, I could look forward to the female's olive-sized fruit, which is "plummy" only in the sense of Japanese pickled plums, not the larger and more colorful fruit you'd encounter in a fruit bowl.

Color combinations

Cephalotaxus goes with anything.

Partner plants

The soft and feathery foliage is heightened by association with large leaves.  Where you're growing Cephalotaxus with a bit of shade, an underplanting of hostas or bergenia or Canadian ginger, Asarum canadensis, would be very satisfying.  Yellow or white variegation in partner plants would pick up the pale-green inflorescences of female plants.

 

If you're growing Cephalotaxus sinensis to highlight its peeling bark, keep partner plants low.

Where to use it in your garden

Cephalotaxus sinensis is flexible and accommodating.  It can be a substantive woodland filler or a formal hedge in full sun.  It can be limbed up to form a small tree, and to highlight its extraordinarily colorful peeling bark, or it can be encouraged to grow as a broad and full-to-the-ground shrub.

 

If you're growing Cephalotaxus sinensis to highlight its peeling bark, site the bush closer to lawn or pathways so the bark can be appreciated in detail.  You'll already be limbing it up to expose the bark, so it won't block the pathway. 

 

Culture

Any decent soil and any exposure, from full sun to deep shade.  Growth is denser in full sun.

How to handle it: The Basics

Cephalotaxus sinensis can be planted almost anywhere in the garden, in sun or shade, in any soil that isn't blatantly soggy or subject to flooding.  

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

If the choices of growing Cephalotaxus sinensis as a limbed-up tree, a full-to-the-ground shrub, a smartly-trimmed hedge—and in sun or shade—aren't enough, then I recommend that you move into topiary. 

 

As a single-ball standard, the trunk would be highlighted to the max.  Start with a small individual that you can stake to train the trunk to a true vertical; trunks are normally somewhat angled and leaning.  Remove other branches that might attempt to develop into rival trunks.  When the bush is as tall as you'd like—I'd recommend five to eight feet—begin lightly pruning the top branches in early Spring to encourage a rounded head to form.  Try not to tip back the side branches very much, though, because their feathery texture would be lost.  Prune off any branches from the trunk at any time. 

Quirks or special cases

The plant's extreme deer resistance rivals that of boxwood. 

Downsides

Cephalotaxus sinensis is so versatile and tough, it's a shame it's not hardy colder than Zone 6.

Variants

There are eleven species in this Asian genus but, so far, only a few have been embraced by Western horticulture.  Cephalotaxus sinensis is still very much the oddity, but Cephalotaxus harringtonia, by virtue of several stunning cultivars, is becoming justly popular.

 

These are the most distinctive of nearly a dozen cultivars currently identified: C. harringtonia 'Duke Gardens' is full to the ground, dense, and mounding, and makes a terrific groundcover to about five feet tall and seven feet wide.  If possible, plant where it will never need pruning; the feathery foliage texture is worth the extra space.  The branches of 'Fastigiata' are vertical, but many, so the plant eventually widens out like a pyramidal horticultural pipe organ; over many years, to eight feet tall and six wide, maybe larger.  'Korean Gold' is 'Fastigiata' with gold needles in the Spring, and that's a wonderful thing.  'Prostrata' is loose, low and variable, but often very wide-spreading: two to three feet tall, maybe, but easily twelve to fifteen feet wide.  It would be very exciting planted on a large bank or even at the top of a wall, so that its bet can be called in on just how prostrate it's interested in being.  

 

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By cuttings as well as seeds.  Seed-grown plants are thought to mature into more tree-like individuals; cutting-grown into large shrubs.

Native habitat

Cephalotaxus sinensis is native to eastern Asia.

 

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