Early spring flowering with Forsythia

by Larissa Glasser, Library Assistant
April 10, 2017

Forsythia by Blanche Ames Ames

Early spring flowering with Forsythia

Forsythia by Blanche Ames Ames

Forsythia ovata Nakai. Natural size. In the lower right hand corner a spray of X Forsythia intermedia Zabel has been drawn at the same scale for comparison. Drawing by Blanche Ames Ames. Bulletin of Popular Information, Series 4 Volume II number 3. May 14, 1934. Blanche Ames [Ames] (1878-1969) married Arnold Arboretum Supervisor Oakes Ames (1874-1950, and no relation) in 1900. was an American artist, political activist, inventor, writer, and prominent supporter of women’s suffrage and birth control. She often complemented her husband’s published works with illustrations, particularly of the orchid family. Their collaboration includes the seven-volume Orchidicae: Illustrations and Studies of the Family Orchidicae.

April is the perfect month to catch the bright flowering of Forsythia in our Living Collections. Spring is manifest in these golden, deciduous shrubs, and the Visual Archives at the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library curates brilliant Ektachrome color photographs of Forsythia, available online.

Forsythia is named after William Forsyth (1737–1804), the Scottish horticulturalist and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

According to British garden writer Stuart Phillips, Forsythia correlates in plant lore with “anticipation; good nature; innocence.” This link with the anticipation of spring makes perfect sense, and during your visits you can see a cluster of blooming where Bussey Hill Road intersects with Forest Hills Road, near the Bradley Rosaceous Collection.

In 1844, plant explorer Robert Fortune introduced Forsythia to western horticulture. Nautical transport during this era proved a challenge, as the specimens required sunlight and protection from salt water spray. Fortune used Wardian cases (solariums) to protect Forsythia during its long journey to Europe from the Orient by way of Cape Horn.

Forsythia has a long and storied history at Arnold Arboretum, starting with Ernest Henry Wilson’s 1918 introduction of F. ovata, from Korea, and the hybridization endeavors of Karl Sax during the 1930s and 1940s. It is native to Asia and AA cultivars within F. intermedia include ‘Beatrix Farrand,’ which Karl Sax named after the early 20th century landscape gardener (and this particular cultivar is a tall, sought-after landscape hybrid), ‘Arnold Giant,’ ‘Karl Sax,’ and ‘Primulina,’ a seedling that Arboretum research taxonomist Alfred Rehder (1863-1949) discovered by chance in 1912.

These flowering shrubs are also noteworthy for their hardiness in urban settings, superior by comparison with other plants more susceptible to disease. Their early spring bloom also helps distinguish them in the Arboretum landscape. During your visit, also remember to visit the library where we curate a wealth of information about Forsythia and other spring blooms.

Larissa Glasser, Library Assistant

Anderson, Edgar. “Hardy Forsythias.” Bulletin of Popular Information, Series 4 Volume II number 3. May 14, 1934 [pdf].
DeWolf, Gordon P., Hebb, Robert S. “The Story of Forsythia.” Arnoldia, Volume 31 number 2. 1971 [pdf].
Dirr, Michael. Manual of woody landscape plants : their identification, ornamental characteristics, culture, propagation and uses. 6th ed. Champaign, IL : Stipes Pub., 2009.
Krüssmann, Gerd. Manual of cultivated broad-leaved trees & shrubs. Beaverton, OR : Timber Press in cooperation with the American Horticultural Society, 1984.
Phillips, Stuart. An encyclopaedia of plants in myth, legend, magic and lore. London : Robert Hale, 2012.
Wyman, Donald. “The Forsythias.” Arnoldia, Volume 10 number 2. April 14, 1950 [pdf].
Wyman, Donald. “The Forsythia Story.” Arnoldia, Volume 21 number 5. April 7, 1961 [pdf].

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