Both the author and photographer for today’s entry, Taisha scribes:
A couple of weeks ago, the Garden Blog posted a Q&A with David C. Lam Asian Garden curator and horticulturalist, Andy Hill. One of the questions asked of Andy was to tell us about a plant in the Asian Garden we likely hadn’t heard of before. Andy responded with worm-head trees, or Meliosma spp, of which we have a few species growing in the Garden (Andy provided a map of the three species planted here). The genus name Meliosma, he notes, comes from the Greek meli meaning honey, and -osma referring to smell. He also mentioned that the buds of the immature leaves look like many worms all huddled together before they develop and open in the spring.
When I read the blog entry I realized I too was one who overlooked the Meliosma trees, despite walking by one every time I come to the garden (see point ‘A’ on the map link posted above). Intrigued by the common name of worm-head tree I thought I would pop outside and see these leaf buds for myself. Personally, I have never seen any worms huddle in a way that looks like the immature leaves, but was curious if this was some sort of worm phenomenon and did a few Google image searches (by the way, “worm huddle”, “worm cuddles”, and/or “worm gang” were not useful, while “worms on trees” and “worms attack trees” yielded some results). See my photos from a week ago of the leaf buds of Meliosma oldhamii var. oldhamii and decide for yourself about a resemblance to worm-clusters.
Meliosma oldhamii var. oldhamii is a member of the Sabiaceae, but sometimes classified in its own family Meliosmaceae with other members of its genus. The species is native to southern China, southern Japan, and Korea. It is named in honour of Richard Oldham, a botanical collector from Kew who gathered a specimen from Korea in 1867. This species has compound leaves with seven to fifteen ovate-lanceolate leaflets that increase in size toward the terminal leaflet. Despite Meliosma referring to a honey-smell, this species has a faint aroma of sour milk radiating from the leaves, particularly in warm, humid weather. The worm-head tree has small cup-and-saucer flowers that are produced in upright panicles after the leaves have expanded. The inflorescences, often produced at the tips of the branches, are large–sometimes more than 40cm tall and across. In the late summer, reddish drupes follow the flowers and add to the appealing exotic and tropical appearance.
This species information on Meliosma oldhamii var. oldhamii has been adapted from text that will be provided in the upcoming Vancouver Trees App. Over 1100 taxa are featured in the app that Douglas and Daniel (and many others) have been working on these past few months. The app will not only provide information on the genera, species and cultivars of trees in Vancouver, but also include maps of where to see individual specimens, photos and a glossary.