Iris ensata 'Variegata'
Welcome to the website of the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Although technically this template has been designed by Google to serve bloggers, our intention is to take advantage of the user friendly options and provide information about the Arboretum and, through images and slideshows, portray some of the people, places and activities we're involved with. Feedback is easy; anyone with observations about the Arboretum, or public gardening in general, is encouraged to submit their thoughts and we'll be happy to dialog. This is a site under construction-- a playground of sorts, so redundancies, discrepancies, errors and omissions are likely. We don't mind being corrected, especially where plant i.d. is concerned, so please dialog with us.


The William Louis Culberson Asiatic Arboretum is a featured collection of Duke University's Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Located in Durham, North Carolina, the Garden is situated in the Piedmont physiographic region of the southeastern United States at about 550 feet (168m) elevation. The climate is warm temperate with four distinct seasons. Summers are hot and humid with high temperatures frequently rising into the mid and upper 90's F (34-36C),....lows at night... winter minimums typically are around 10F (-12C), or USDA Hardiness Zone 7B. Precipitation occurs throughout the year but is heaviest in the summer months, in the form of afternoon storms, and least in the autumn. The Arboretum was established in 1984 and today is home to 2000 ornamental and botanically interesting Asian species and selections.


The Arboretum's vision and collections statement can be found under Labels on the sidebar.


Curator: Paul Jones
Horticulturists: Michelle Stay, Michael Patrick
Garden Assistant: Sally Boesch
Volunteers: General Horticulture-- Margaret McCotter, Betsy Brawley, Lois Ballen, Debbie Schwartz, Tina Godwin, Mary Dawson, Brian and Aneila Avery-Jones; Moss Gardener-- Barbara Kremen; Nursery-- Joe Rees
Student Asistant, Kim Le

(photos TBA in Staff slideshow)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Guest from Japan

The Arboretum recently hosted a distinguished guest from Toyama, Japan-- horticulturist Katsuhito Nakasone (right in photo). Mr. Nakasone is CEO of Nakasone Landscapes, a family business that for more than 50 years has specialized in creating gardens in traditional Japanese style. His two-week stay in Durham was made possible with the help of the Durham and Toyama Sister Cities programs. Also joining us for several days was Masashi (Mike) Oshita (left), a professional Japanese gardener now residing in Asheville, NC.

The Arboretum is currently planning for the construction of a Japanese-inspired garden about one acre in size. The Durham-Toyama Sister Cities Japanese Pavilion, which opened in October of 2007, will serve as the centerpiece of this future garden. Mr. Nakasone was invited to serve as an advisor during this early planning phase.

Among his many gardening talents, Mr. Nakasone is a skilled artisan in placement of rocks, construction with bamboo, and training of trees. He is also a devotee of chanoyu, the practice of Japanese tea. As such, he is an authority on roji, specialized landscapes associated with tea and cha-shitsu, or Japanese tea houses (huts). In addition to advising the staff on matters of the garden, Mr. Nakasone also joined the Gardens' tea group and served as their guest host for a couple of public tea gatherings.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Platycrater arguta

Strolling around the Gardens nursery this morning I happened upon this exciting new shrub-- new to me anyway, Platycrater arguta. Platycrater is in the Saxifrage family, and as you can see from the image it's flowers resemble those of Deutzia and Philadelphus, two other shrubby saxifrags. Can't claim to know a lot about this shrub, seeing as how I just discovered it myself, but from various websites I glean that: it's native to Japan and several provinces in eastern China; it's certainly hardy in central North Carolina (JCRaulston Arboretum website has images of a beautiful specimen in their Raleigh garden; it's easy to grow; and it's awfully cute. Looks to mature around 3-5 feet in height. If you want one, Platycrater seems to be around and available, heck it may even be common. I picked up my little gem from Scott McMahan, a friend and owner of McMahan's Nursery in Clermont, GA. I noticed that Asiatica Nursery also lists it, and Arrowhead Alpines. The only common name I've come across is Tea-of-Heaven-- apparently the leaves can be used to make a tea-like brew. Hydrangea serrata, a relative of Platycrater, is also sometimes referred to as "tea of heaven". Plant diversity, isn't it great!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Although tropical and sub-tropical, and assumed intolerant of cold, several species of banana, Genera Musa and Musella, survive quite well in Durham. Currently in the Arboretum collection are Musa basjoo, aka Hardy Japanese Banana, M. velutina, M. sikkimensis, and Musella lasiocarpa, the Dwarf Yunnan Banana. Bananas are valuable in the garden for the large foliar texture they impart, and the tropical hints they add to the landscape. Culturally, they can be treated as large, very large!, perennials, and require little more than good light, moderate water, and average soil-- though they do repay the gardener that treats them to abundant water and food. As for cold, a generous winter mulch in the first year or two is beneficial.

Mission, Collections Policy

Collections Plan for the William Louis Culberson Asiatic Arboretum

(Working Draft)

Vision statement for the Arboretum

The vision of the William Louis Culberson Asiatic Arboretum is to create an environment conducive to contemplation and learning in which the beauty, value, and diversity of plants may be discovered.

Purpose of Collections

The Purpose of the Plant Collections of the Asiatic Arboretum is to promote a better understanding about the beauty and diversity of the flora of temperate Southeast Asia, and to demonstrate the relationship between the floras of eastern North America and Southeast Asia.

The Purpose is achieved in the following ways:

a. Through the display of a broad selection of Asian species, and hybrids or garden selections of Asian parentage, that are hardy out-of-doors in Piedmont North Carolina, and which are generally recognized as aesthetically desirable landscape plants; [Education and Aesthetics]

b. By representing all the Plant Families native to temperate Southeast Asia that are hardy in Piedmont NC; [Education]

c. By demonstrating the biogeographical relationships between the floras of southeastern Asia and eastern North America through the display of complimentary “disjunct” species; [Education]

d. By creating displays that demonstrate traditional interactions between Asian cultures and their biotic environment; [Education and Aesthetics]

e. By developing “Species/Hybrid” collections to serve as tools enabling educators to stimulate interest in plant diversity, plant systematics, and principles of horticulture; [Education and Aesthetics]

f. By serving as a trial garden for newly described and/or less well-known species and botanical varieties for which potential usefulness as landscape plants has yet to be established; [Education and Aesthetics]

g. By enhancing the pleasure of leisure time spent in the Gardens through the use of seasonal displays of extraordinary showy taxa. [Aesthetics]

Plant acquisitions are considered for both the Aesthetic and Educational value they will add to the collections, and it should be kept in mind that the collections serve both purposes. Thus, while the desire is always to increase the diversity of the collections, it may be that, for landscaping goals, multiples of a given taxa are used repeatedly.

The design of the landscape and the placement of plants within it is intended to be naturalistic, vs. formal, thereby enhancing the aesthetic qualities of contemplation, inspiration, peacefulness. With few exceptions, the desirable native plants naturally occurring on the site are conserved. Generally speaking, the Asiatic plant collections are incorporated among the native flora.

Thematic Areas: Purpose of Plant Collection

++Japanese Stroll Garden

The JSG is typical of such gardens as they exist in Japan. The landscape plants used in the JSG are based upon an index of landscape plants traditionally found in the 25 most prominent sacred Japanese gardens in Japan. Additionally, foundation plants for the Pavilion in the JSG will be selected from a list of species traditionally associated with Japanese tea houses.

++Chinese Woodland Garden

The CWG exemplifies the warm temperate montane flora of southern China, and some of the typical plant-related activities of the local minority cultures living in that montane environment. Plants selected for use in the CWG represent both Chinese natives and cultivated non-natives (e.g. culinary ginger, rice, corn).

Temperate Montane Flora of Southern China:

Having in excess of 6000 species, the temperate flora of China’s southern mountains is much too extensive to be fully displayed in the CWG. In selecting species for use in the Garden, the following preferences are used:

a. examples of disjunct species;

b. genera not well-represented in the Southeastern United States but which have landscape potential or botanical interest;

c. species included as a part of any “Species/Hybrid” thematic collection of the Arboretum;

d. species listed in Addendum I, “Selected Species List of Fanjingshan”, a typical southern Chinese mountain;

e. as available, species of documented wild origin will be given preference to undocumented plants.

Cultivated Non-natives:

Plants in cultivation, natives and non-native, will be used in the CWG to depict man’s interaction with the environment. Races (local selections) of crops long-cultivated in SW China, as allowed by the USDA, are preferred (e.g. culinary Gingers, Rice).

++Species/Hybrid Collections:

Expanded collections of select, showy perennials are created as educational tools. The displays demonstrate the changes and improvements possible through horticultural manipulation by contrasting examples of “wild-type” species with both early and recent examples of selections and hybrids. Example collections include the genera Hemerocallis, Hosta, Epimedium, and the species Iris ensata.

++Biogeographical Relationships Display:

The “Floras East and West” display demonstrates the biogeographical relationships between the floras of eastern North America and Southeast Asia. Examples of “disjunct” species, i.e. species of genera that naturally occur both and (typically) only in these continental regions, are displayed in close proximity to one another for comparison. Examples may include paired species, such as the North American Gymnocladus dioicus and the Asian Gymnocladus chinensis, or multiple species within a Genera found only in the two regions, such as Lindera spp.


Sources for plant material are of two types:

a. sources which can provide data documenting a plants wild collection origin and provenance, and

b. sources of cultivated plants of garden origin, or a plant species but without wild documentation.

Discussion: the dual Purposes of Education and Aesthetics dictate that sources of plant material for the Arboretum will be of both types a. and b. Being thematic collections focused primarily on education, it is important that “wild-type” species form the core of the Chinese garden, the Species/Hybrid displays, and the Biogeographical Relationships display. For these collections, the preference is for examples of documented wild origin that have been legally collected and imported. It is understood, however, that this paper trail is not possible for some species necessary to complete a display. In some cases, it may be appropriate to replace non-documented accessions with documented accessions as they become available.

Correct identification is always an issue when many different sources are used. It will be the responsibility of the staff of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens to determine the correct name of a species or cultivar used in a Gardens’ display.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Lagerstroemia indica

Arboretum curator Paul Jones monkeying around in a large specimen of Lagerstroemia indica, Jinggangshan Nature Preserve, Jiangxi Province, China.
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Dichroa febrifuga

Photographed on the shoulder of Five Fingers Peak, Jinggangshan Nature Preserve, Jiangxi Province, China. Elevation ca. 1500m
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Lagerstroemia indica

Wangning and Zeng Yi Ping demonstrating the enormity of an old Crepe Myrtle growing in a bamboo forest at the base of Five Fingers Peak, Jinggangshan Nature Preserve, Jiangxi Province, China. Circumference ca. 11 feet. Elevation 1300m.
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