Douglas Justice, the Curator of Collections here at the UBC Botanical Garden, took today’s Photo of the Day in the David C. Lam Asian Garden. Stephen Coughlin contributes his second entry.
Rodgersia, a genus of five herbaceous perennial species from the moist valleys and forests of East Asia (Himalayas, China, Korea, and Japan), is known for its large, pinnately or palmately compound leaves, its spreading underground stems, and its sizable paniculate inflorescences (up to 2 m long), which are studded with numerous white or pink star-shaped flowers. The genus is named for the distinguished mid-19th Century United States Admiral John Rodgers, whose exploring and surveying expedition contributed significantly to early American knowledge of the eastern and northern waters of the Pacific Ocean and included the first scientific collection of a Rodgersia species.
The smallest and reportedly least hardy of the rodgersias, R. sambucifolia was first collected by British plant hunter Ernest Henry Wilson on his 1904 expedition to China. The species is native to the provinces of Guizhou, Sichuan, and Yunnan, but is not as well known as most other species. The specific epithet recalls Sambucus, the elderberry, which R. sambucifolia‘s elegant, deep green leaves resemble quite closely. The species, like all rodgersias, thrives in semi-shade and moist soil, looking well when sited near water. In June, R. sambucifolia‘s creamy blooms glow; do not wait to take in this refulgent drama, however, for the initial whites and pinks of June soon turn to weaker browns and greens. Fortunately, the handsome foliage more than makes up for any late floral indiscretion, and the plants continue to look fine through the summer with shade and moisture. In winter, the plants die back to the ground cleanly and completely. In the Vancouver area, the species is completely hardy (Zone 7), and a skiff of leaf-mould in the fall is all that the gardener needs in order to maintain a colony; the leaves both feed the plants and protect the ground from the pounding of the coming winter rain.