By Roy Farrow
November, I’ve found, is a difficult month to choose a garden highlight. The glory of autumn color is passing as the storms of our historically wettest month remove the most stubborn holdouts from the branches of our Acer, Stewartia, Oxydendrum and Fothergilla. Those same storms presage the return of honest-to-goodness mud, while the uplifting gems of winter such as Helleborus, Galanthus, Cyclamen and Hamamelis are still just distant dreams. Most people of sound mind are driven inside at this time for a much deserved break from the garden.
However, it is just these conditions that can spotlight the rare jewel for people still out and about. Danae racemosa is just such a jewel. During the summer months, its only request is that you keep it out of full sun. In the right shade, Poet’s Laurel is a fine, arching, bamboo-like mass of lush green foliage all year. Take a closer peak at the “foliage” and you might notice something odd. The leaves are actually just flattened stems called phylloclades. Danae spreads slowly by rhizomes.
A monotypic genus, Danae has but the one species. Currently listed in the family Asparagaceae, it has previously been located within Ruscaceae and even Liliaceae. Danae is closely related to Ruscus which also uses phylloclades rather than leaves, though Danae has terminal racemes of 1/8 in. flowers rather than have the flowers and fruit magically appear in the center of the “leaf” as with Ruscus. While the foliage of both Danae and Ruscus is quite long lasting even when cut, the fruit set of bright orange-to-red berries of Danae tends to be much more impressive than Ruscus, mostly because Ruscus requires both a male and female plant to be present, while Danae does not.
Come visit the Witt Winter Garden and you will see Danae racemosa growing in close proximity to both Ruscus hypoglossum and Ruscus aculeatus.
Name: Danae racemosa
Family: Asparagaceae (prev. Ruscaceae, Liliaceae)
Common Name: Alexandrian Laurel, Poet’s Laurel
Location: Witt Winter Garden, Washington Park Arboretum
Origin: Turkey, Iran
Height and Spread: 3’x4’