Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Garden Designers Roundtable: Fantastic Foliage Factoids

Today I’m participating in the monthly Garden Designers Roundtable. Join us as we share our ideas about foliage---what it is and how to use it in the landscape.

Foliage is really the heart of the garden. It cloaks our plants with the colors and textures that create the lush, complex and rich aesthetic experience that we all crave. As a landscape designer I must often rely on my visual memory and employ a descriptive vocabulary to communicate about plants with my clients. Botanists use very specific terminology to identify and classify plants, and leaves have their very own world of weird and wonderful words. Amaze your friends! Astound your children! Impress your mother-in-law! Grow your foliage vocabulary and Trivia Night will never be the same. Here are just a few examples…

First, let’s look at the way leaves are composed.

A simple leaf consists of a single segment, like this Salvia sp., culinary sage:

A compound leaf consists of two or more segments called leaflets. There are at least eight types of compound leaves, but here are two examples that are fairly common. The composition of this Sorbus acuparia, European mountain ash, is oddly-pinnately compound. The leaflets are arranged along a rachis (axis), with a leaflet also present at the tip (terminal).

The Aesculus glabra, Ohio buckeye, has leaves that are palmately compound. There is no rachis present; instead, the leaflets radiate from the apex (upper end) of the petiole (leaf stalk).

Don’t be fooled. The simple leaf of this Acer palmatum, Japanese maple, is cleft (deeply indented, about half way to the mid vein), creating a 5-fingered palmate shape (A hint, there in the Latin name!).

This Chamaebatiara mellefolium, fernbush, leaf is also a trickster. It looks compound, but is just divided (indented all the way to the mid vein).

Round leaf shapes, like these, are orbicular. Nelumbo nucifera, sacred lotus:

Tropaeolum majus, nasturtium:

This Ipomoea purpurea, morning glory has a classic cordate, or heart, shape:

And how about the oblanceolate shape of this kale leaf? And, say, what’s up with the surface there? It’s papillate, covered with pimple-like bumps (Eeeeew!).

Brassica oleracea, Tuscan or - much more funner! - dinosaur kale:

Glossy leaf surfaces, illustrated by this ‘Cleveland Select’ ornamental pear, Pyrus calleryana, are glabrous:

Dull surfaces are, well, dull. No photo needed.

The beautiful, bluish-white waxy coating on this cabbage foliage is called glaucous. By the way, did you know that kales that do not form heads are termed acephala (headless)? What twelve-year-old would not want that word in their arsenal of insults?!

Many, many leaf surfaces have hairs of some sort. Long, short, fine, coarse, wooly, or velvety and they all have weird and wacky names, of course. Here's a photo of one of my plants with its canescent (dense mat of grayish-white [but not curled and interwoven!]) hairs. Behold, Verbascum bombyciferum, giant gray mullein:

Other visual (and named!) foliage characteristics, in addition to composition, shape, and surface, that may be use to describe and/or identify plants, include leaf arrangements, margins, venation, apices, and bases. I’ll save those for another time…

Today, as you visit the posts of my fellow Roundtable bloggers (see links below) or stroll through your own garden, see how many “garden geek” words you can use to describe the foliage that you see. You may even wow yourself!


Manual of Herbaceous Ornamental Plants, Steven M. Still

Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, Michael A. Dirr

Vascular Plant Families, James Payne Smith, Jr.

Links to participating Garden Designers Roundtable members:

Andrew Keys, Garden Smackdown

Christina Salwitz, Personal Garden Coach

Debbie Roberts, Garden of Possibilities

Ivette Soler, The Germinatrix

Pam Penick, Digging

Rebecca Sweet, Gossip in the Garden

Shirley Bovshow, Eden makers


Pam/Digging said...

A botany lesson is an instructive and fun take on the Foliage theme, Jocelyn. I enjoyed your lovely pics too.

ivette said...

I learned so much!
And I always love seeing my favorite kale - I am eating some right now.
Fabulous, educational take on this topic - a fun way to get some info into my head.

Shirley Bovshow "EdenMaker" said...

I too enjoyed being transported back to hort class. Great information and visuals. I'm fascinated with botanical names and how they describe the physical characteristics of plants.
Nature is amazing. Thanks for the lesson.

Shirley Bovshow
Garden World Report Show

Andrew said...

This is terrific!

OK, a confession: I love plants, but I have a hard time keeping botany terms straight, so I'm always appreciative for a refresher.

It's so interesting to see what different Roundtablers came up with for this post, and I'm so glad you thought of this!

I do always remember that palmate is my favorite leaf shape...

Debbie@GardenofPossibilities said...

What an interesting take on the topic of foliage. Like Andrew, I benefited from the botany refresher. And who doesn't like to know interesting everyday facts to impress and amaze the family!

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Pam, I love the "photo part" of blogging. Glad you enjoyed them.

Ivette---I'm a kale fan too! Someday I'll do a foliage post featuring all kale. It's the best!

Shirley, I'm with you. The descriptive Latin names are fun to follow---and helpful!

Andrew, I have a confession: I don't remember all this stuff all the time either. No use getting bogged down in hort jargon, eh? But a few factoids CAN be fun!

Debbie, I'm glad you enjoyed my post---I wanted to do something a bit different, and I'm sure foliage will feature prominently when I post next month on color. Stay tuned!

ScottHokunson said...

Jocelyn, as a fellow plant geek, I very much enjoy talk of leaf characteristics, and have found myself reading and reviewing Dirr and Still, and loving it. Usually talking of such things to clients brings on a glassed over look or a trip in their mind to their list of things to do when I'm gone, so I have learned to limit discussion to statements of pizzazz! Thanks for including this in today's post, I really enjoyed it. Great pics too!

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Thanks, Scott. I agree---don't want any glazed eyes, just enthusiasm, please!

Sweet Home and Garden Carolina said...

Wonderful post Jocelyn. It takes me back to my studies of trees and shrubs and learning the incredible variety of leaves they have.

And I do amaze garden center customers when I use botanical terms. Just saying Acer palmatum instead of Japanese Maple sounds like a foreign language to many.

Ken Greene said...

Glad to see some edibles featured in your post. Especially the Dinokale (my dog's namesake!) We grow many other ornamental edible heirloom varieties on our farm and offer their seeds in our Seed Library catalog. One you might like is Sweet Salad Pepper- small sweet peppers ripen on compact plants in three colors at the same time- yellow, purple, and red.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Carolyn, I'm glad you have an opportunity to use your Latin often---if you don't loose it, you loose it. Besides, it IS fun to speak a - sometimes - mysterious language.

Lee, your peppers sound pretty perky! Seriously, I enjoy adding edibles to my ornamental garden beds. The trick is to match the water needs...

kate smudges said...

You`ve made learning Latin garden terms fun. I enjoyed reading this post & intend to use some of the words today just so I remember them. Lanceolate anyoneÉ

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Fun learning is what it's all about here! Thanks for stopping by, Kate.

Stone Art's Blog said...

lovely photos, i particularly like the photo of the Ipomoea purpurea, what amazing deep colours of blue

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Isn't that color gorgeous! Be sure to join us next month when the Garden Designers Roundtable (including moi)will blog about COLOR.

Aubree Cherie said...

Just discovered your blog - I love it! Leaf characteristics are so important for plant ID, and you've made them fun to remember!

Jocelyn H. Chilvers said...

Thanks for your comment, Aubree. You're welcome to visit any time!

Noel Morata said...


i've enjoyed reading your post tremendously...wow how i've forgotten a few of those terms, thanks for giving the lesson and done in such an engaging fashion...i loved the kale also :)

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