Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dendroseris Litoralis

Dendroseris litoralis just purchased from Annies' Annuals
     Since starting this blog I have been thinking about the old Heronswood nursery which used to exist near us on the Kitsap Penninsula, and I have been trying to remember all the great plants they had and what plants I have not been able to find anywhere else since.  One of those plants was Dendroseris litoralis.  This is a very cool looking plant in the daisy and sunflower family which is endemic to a group of islands off the coast of Chile called the Juan Fernandez Islands.  One of these was the island that Alexander Selkirk was marooned on and which became the basis for Robinson Crusoe.
     Anyway, I often visited Heronswood--anytime I needed a plant fix I would go and wander the greenhouses there and discover all sorts of treasures.  They were always putting out new things and many of them were not yet listed in their catalog.  So, while wandering the isles one day I came across these pots filled with these large leafed plants, and although they were labeled as Dendroseris litoralis, I knew nothing about them because they were not listed in the catalog.  I visited the nursery a number of times and each time I saw them and no one was buying them, so one day I decided to get a bunch of them and try them.  I must have purchased most of what they had, took them home, potted them up and began to water and fertilize them.  They grew in a very gratifying manner and soon were big, full plants in 5 gallon containers with these enormous, tennis racket sized leaves on big thick trunks.  The plants at that point were one or two feet tall.
     I looked them up on the internet and discovered they were a rare and endangered plant from the Juan Fernandez Islands, and that at one time this species had been down to only 3 individual plants on the island.  Later, I asked Dan Hinckley, the former owner of Heronswood, where he had gotten them and he said from New Zealand because there are places in New Zealand where apparently they are grown now.
     I grew them in large pots for several years, giving many of them away to my friends in the hopes that if mine died, someone else would have one that survived and that could be propagated.  I kept them outside in the summer, in full sun (which is not very hot in our climate), and watered them and fertilized them a lot.  They appreciated this treatment.  I think if these plants are grown in more shaded conditions they might become elongated and not such good looking specimens.  However, I have read that they do not like hot scorching conditions, either.  
     Wintering them over was more of a challenge and eventually led to their demise.  The problem is that they cannot just be left in a cool sunroom without water in the winter which is the treatment all my other non hardy plants get.  You can certainly cut down on water in the winter, but I don't think letting them get bone dry is good for them.  Also, they were prone to pest infestations in the sunroom.  I think all these problems can be overcome with more attention but I usually don't pay too much attention to my indoor plants in the winter.
     So, I had been without Dendroseris litoralis for about 4 or 5 years when I just started thinking about it again while I was contemplating all we plant nerds had lost with the demise of Heronswood.  I decided I would try to find seed of it on the internet.  It appeared that had had them at one time, but no longer had them in stock, although they did have 3 other Dendroderis species which look equally interesting.  I finally found seed on Ebay from a seller in South America, which, of course, I ordered and which are supposedly on their way to me.
     And then, just about the next day after I had ordered those seeds, I got an email alert from Annie's Annuals that they now had a one crop offering of Dendroseris litoralis!  So I immediately ordered three plants and the last picture posted above is of one of those.  This time, I have sworn that I will take more care of these in the winter.  Based on my past experience they are not hard to bulk up--just feed and water them a lot in the summer.  They are not hardy in our climate.  I have read that they do not like temperatures below freezing, and they do not like it too hot either.  These sorts of conditions are the same as many of the New Zealand natives require, and so I would treat them like those types of plants.  They are apparently easy to grow from seed, so I am looking forward to trying that when (or if) my seeds arrive. 


  1. I miss so many old nurseries too, and then along comes another great one like Annie's to pick up the slack. So glad you found a source.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Denise. Yes,I am so glad for Annies' Annuals. I have already ordered 4 times just this year from her. One of the days I will write a post on the demise of Heronswood, which was so unnecessary.

  2. I was really glad to be able to visit Heronswood last year when the GC had it open, though some areas were in a bit of disarray.I wish I had seen it in it's heyday . I still have every catalog I ever got, and use them as a reference-not to mention enjoyable wintertime reading.