Friday, January 13, 2012

A Jasmine Is a Jasmine, Or Is It?

My Jasmine is blooming… a lovely sight in the middle of winter and one that confuses a lot of passersby.  “Your Forsythia is in bloom already!” which leads me to explain that it is a Jasminum nudiflorum or Winter Jasmine and is meant to flower this time of year.
Jasminum belongs to the Olive family, and most originated from tropical and subtropical habitats in India, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.  Of course, we usually associate Jasmines with heady perfumes.  But, in fact, not all species possess fragrant flowers.  And quite a few are hardy enough to withstand winters in the Mid-Atlantic.

Jasminum nudiflorum is a mounding, almost weeping shrub, native to China, which easily grows to 4’ high and 8’ across.  Some gardeners train it up a trellis.  Here in Central Virginia, we often plant Winter Jasmine on slopes and along city streets to reduce soil erosion and keep weeds at bay.
My Jasmine, maintained as a single, ornamental specimen, is uncommon.  But I believe it deserves every inch of its prime real estate.  Adjacent to our driveway, it marks the transition from side to back yard and has thrived through decades of abuse: garbage cans and recycling bins, parked cars, snow removal, backhoes and summer after summer of blistering heat.  It provides shelter for birds and praying mantises.  And every winter, snow or sleet, it swells with hundreds of cheerful yellow trumpet-flowers.
Jasminum floridum (Showy Jasmine) and J. fruticans (Shrubby or Wild Jasmine) are two other hardy Jasmine shrubs, native to China and the Mediterranean respectively, that remain smaller here on the northern edge of their comfort zones.  They are both semi-evergreen with delicate stems, shiny green leaves and bright yellow tubular flowers.  Like Winter Jasmine, the tangled haystack of Showy Jasmine grows well on banks or draping over walls and prefers full sun.  It blooms late spring through summer.  Shrubby Jasmine has a more upright habit.  Late spring-into-summer blossoms are abundant but odorless and may repeat in the fall.
Early 19th century print of Jasminum fruticans
available at Old Imprints in Portland, Oregon.
If you love yellow, you might consider planting all three hardy Jasmine shrubs to extend your bloom time.  They require a lot less space than Forsythias and, as far as I know, are non-invasive… unlike the pretty but prolific Scotch Broom.

The descriptor jasminoides often distinguishes other species with very fragrant, trumpet-like blossoms, such as, Gardenia jasminoides (Gardenia), Pandorea jasminoides (Bower Vine) and Solanum jasminoides (Potato Vine).  And the common name Jasmine or Jessamine applies to several plants that are not true Jasminum.

Trachelospermum jasminoides is one of the most popular flowers in the South.  Known as Star or Confederate Jasmine, even though it originally hails from China and Japan, this evergreen vine can quickly reach 20-40’ high in warmer climates.  New growth emerges light green and darkens as it matures.  Deliciously-scented, little white stars of flowers bloom from late spring through summer.
‘Madison’ is the hardiest cultivar.  Maxing out at about 12’ high, ‘Madison’ can still be leveled by wicked winter weather.  And I’ve seen it struggle with aphids and white flies through summer droughts.  So, find it a protected, partially sunny spot in the garden.
Trachelospermum asiaticum or Asian Star Jasmine is a similar evergreen vine usually grown as dense groundcover further south.  Its pinwheel flowers are creamier in color, somewhere between ecru and primrose, with bright yellow centers.  Variegated cultivars, such as, ‘First Snow’, ‘Variegatum’, ‘Ogon Nishiki’ and ‘Winter Beauty’, seem to remain more modest in size.  Could they also be a little hardier?  Imagine them as replacements for Vinca minor or Euonymus fortunei.

I suspect I would need to pamper T. jasminoides and asiaticum here in Central Virginia, but both should perennialize in coastal areas of the Mid-Atlantic.  Please be aware: T. asiaticum is native to Japan and Korea and has become invasive… or at least very difficult to control… in some warmer regions of the country.

Gelsemium sempervirens, commonly known as Carolina Jasmine or Jessamine, is a vigorous vine native to the southeastern United States.  As the botanical name suggests, its slender leaves are evergreen in Zones 8 and 9 and semi-evergreen further north, possibly to Zone 6.  It enjoys partial shade to full sun and looks wildly lovely, with sweet-smelling, bright yellow blossoms, climbing up a trellis or over a fence.  At Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s Healing Garden, they show Carolina Jasmine trained up rebar teepees.  It’s rather lush and rustic, especially in March and April.
Gelsemium sempervirens photographed today at a local garden center.
In its northern range, it loses some of its winter greenery, but it is already in bud and should rebound.
G. sempervirens ‘Margarita’ is a cultivar with noticeably larger and more aromatic flowers.  ‘Double Shot’ promises repeat bloom.  And ‘Pride of Augusta’ sports frilly double blossoms that look more like little Pansies.
Gelsemium rankinii, called Swamp Jasmine or Jessamine, is a less prevalent species native to wetlands of the southeastern Coastal Plain and Lower Piedmont.  It shares characteristics of Carolina Jasmine, except, it usually repeats bloom, spring and autumn, and the flowers are without fragrance.  Of course, Swamp Jasmine requires a wet spot or regular watering in the garden!

I’m thinking about adding two G. sempervirens to the back garden.  I would like to create a backdrop for a new perennial border plus bring a little froth to the top of our picket fence.  However, I’ve read that all parts of the plant are poisonous.  How poisonous?  It’s rather confusing.  Gelsemium supposedly attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  It’s been used in herbal medicines for centuries.  But it's poisonous to honey bees and pets?  More research is definitely needed before I proceed!

Oh yes, and in case you were wondering…
As in…
jazz                             (“All That Jazz”)
ME                               (not you but me)
num                             (that popsicle made my lips numb).
The emphasis is on ME, of course!

As in…
track-eel-o                  (say it kind of fast, almost like Dracula, that starts with T and ends with O)
SPERM                         (just like it sounds)
um                              (um… could you repeat that?)
The emphasis is on SPERM.

As in…
gel                               (not a cream but a gel)
SEM                             (the beginning of semi-colon)
ee-um                          (the end of helium or millennium).
The emphasis is on SEM.

Niche Gardens, Lazy S'S Farm Nursery and Woodlanders handle several varieties of Jasmine and Jasmine-like vines if you can't find them at your local garden center.  So plant a little sunshine!

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