A PASSION FOR PLANTS: October 2007
by Nancy Schramm
This month let's take a look at how the plant world celebrates
Halloween. Plants might not put on costumes and disguises, but
I'd like to think they celebrate in their own twisted way.
Here are a few of my favorite plants that grow in unexpected
Juncus effusus "Spiralis" is a corkscrew
rush that grows (yes, the name gives you a clue) in a corkscrew
spiral. The green stems look like someone has tried to straighten
out a Slinky. These spiraling stems grow in a clump directly
out of the ground up to 2' tall. They take sun or part shade
and regular water. Another variety, J. e. "Unicorn"
is similar but bigger (3') and another species, Juncus inflexus
or hard rush offers us a gray-green version called "Afro."
Our second plant with a twisted attitude is the curly willow
(Salix matsudana "Tortuosa"). This fascinating
plant can be grown as a tree or as a large shrub if you're really
into pruning. The twisted branches and stems with curly leaves
are very attractive in flower arrangements. Remember this is
a willow it likes water and full to 1/2-day sun. There
is also a golden variegated version (S. alba "Tristis"
x S. matsudana "Tortuosa") that is a bit more difficult
One last plant that fits in the "spiral" group is an
ornamental onion. Allium sphaerocephalon "Hair"
belongs because of its flower that grows at the top of a 2-3'
stem. When the papery sheath falls off of the emerging flower
head, you can almost hear it go "sproing!" The greenish
flower parts twist and stick out in all directions like a really
bad perm. Plant in full or part sun, and let it go dry when the
foliage dies down. Be aware that this one can spread freely.
Moving on to another form of twisted plants, "Contorta"
is often used as part of a plant's botanical name when the growth
habit is twisted or bent in different directions. There are many
woody plants with contorted forms. (Woody plants are those that
do not die down to the ground each year). These forms are often
sports (spontaneously occurring mutations that suddenly start
growing on an otherwise normal looking plant). Observant gardeners
have sometimes become famous (in the plant world) by recognizing
the appeal of and propagating these sports.
One of the most famous of these is Harry Lauder's walking
stick (Corylus avellana "Contorta"). Named for
a famous comedian of the time, this is an amazingly bent and
twisted filbert. It can get to about 8' x 8' in size, but is
also effective confined to a container. The branching structure
is especially ornamental in winter when dormant. Selective pruning
can accentuate the structure, and then you can use the branches
in flower arrangements.
Another plant popular with flower arrangers is Corokia cotoneaster.
This shrub will slowly grow to about 8' tall in the ground if
you give it good drainage, but is also one more plant that takes
well to a container. The reddish black branches grow in a zig-zag
pattern and have small dark green oval leaves and star shaped
The contorted flowering quince (Chaenomeles "Contorta")
is yet another great shrubby plant that is happy to offer up
branches for cutting and arranging. This deciduous shrub can
grow to 5' tall and has some pretty substantial spines. The flowering
quince blooms late winter/early spring before the leaves appear.
It is hardy and will tolerate almost any soil if you give it
sun and moderate water.
Many of us are familiar with the black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia).
Although native to the east and central U.S., once introduced
to the west it escaped and made itself at home here, too. There
are several selections of contorted locusts that can be quite
dramatic. R. p. "Tortuosa" has the potential
of reaching 50' tall, and R. p. "Twisty Baby"
is a dwarf-limited to less than 10' tall. Both have the fine
textured appearance of their parent, but put to fine effect with
the bent and twisted branches and leaves.
For those of you who are only able to garden indoors, I won't
leave you out this month. Hoya carnosa "Krinkle Kurl"
is a houseplant that is often called Hindu-rope plant.
The leaves are all twisted and spaced closely together on the
flexible stem of a vining plant. Wonderful in the house, because
they do not require direct sun, the Hoya gives you the extra,
added attraction of flowers. Once they become pot-bound, Hoyas
will bloom all along the stems at the leaf nodes. The small waxy
flowers bloom in clusters on short spurs, are fragrant, and usually
Yes, there are more fantastic contorted plants, such as cultivars
of hawthorn, mulberry, and camellia, but finding a source is
and About Magazine
owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently
moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived
for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual
plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden
plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has
been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003.
She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder
of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the
Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.
Contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org