Connoisseur Plants

Connoisseur Plants are rare, new plants, or hard-to-find old favorites. These wonderful plants are being offered to our upper level members, Collector (formerly Sponsor) level and higher.

Please note that several plants are available in very limited quantities. For some plants, we don't know the full range of hardiness, only how it has behaved at the JC Raulston Arboretum. Sometimes, we cannot find any information in our references on a particular taxon. This does not mean that the plant doesn't exist, perhaps just that we are staying one step ahead of published information. One of the purposes of the Arboretum is to test new plants for suitability to the southeastern United States. By growing some of these "new-to-us" plants in your own garden, you can be a part of this evaluation process. Feedback from you is invaluable!

Happy choosing, and thank you for your continued and invaluable support of the JC Raulston Arboretum.

To submit your selections, please use the form link in the e-mail you received on February 21, 2024 from Kathryn Wall. If you need assistance, please e-mail Kathryn at or call (919) 513-7004 Selections should be placed no later than end of day March 3, 2024.

Note: The distribution year listed below is the year the plants were awarded. Members request them early the following year. And they're picked up or delivered shortly thereafter.

1990 Plant Selection

Abies squamata
flaky fir

A treasure for the conifer collector. A Western Chinese fir species introduced by E. H. Wilson in 1910—described in Hilliers Manual as "a very rare, small to medium-sized tree with conspicuous, shaggy, peeling, purplish-brown bark." These are two year old seedlings about 1-2" in height from seed collected in the wild in China by an expedition of the Holden Arboretum. Probably best in Zones 6–7 and needing good drainage to succeed in hot areas.

Citrus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon'
contorted hardy orange

A unique and dramatic Japanese cultivar of this hardy "orange" species which has curved and twisted stems—and the thorns are also beautifully curved. A deciduous shrub reaching 8'–9' with age which bears white fragrant flowers in spring and showy yellow "oranges" in fall. They are edible, but you would have to be pretty desperate to actually enjoy eating one (juice with lots of sugar?). The plant is most spectacular in winter when the twisting branches are fully exposed—and works best when silhouetted against a light-colored wall. The branches can be cut and used fresh or dried for floral arrangements and as decorator branches.

  • flowering tree to 12' tall
  • plant in sun to part shade
  • hardy
  • white flowers in spring

Cornus elliptica
evergreen flowering dogwood

A new botanical variety of the long used, familiar and widely grown Chinese ornamental flowering dogwood tree. This variety differs in having longer and narrower leaves, and in having persistent foliage which is evergreen in milder climates. It flowered for the first time in the United States in 1989 with typical white kousa dogwood flowers. It has been hardy at the Arnold Arboretum, but the foliage is killed in most winters there. Best in light shade (particularly in winter) and moist well-drained soil. Probably adapted to use in zones 6–9.

  • to 20'–30'
  • plant in sun to part shade
  • hardy

Eleutherococcus sieboldianus 'Variegatus'
variegated five-leaf aralia

A beautiful creamy-white variegated deciduous shrub adapted to the toughest of growing sites. The parent species was introduced from China in 1874. Because of its beauty and landscape value, this plant has been selected by the North Carolina Association of Nurserymen as a future industry promotion plant and stock is being built up at present. It reaches 4'–7' in height and can be grown in sun or shade, wet or dry spots. It is one of the few plants to grow and look good in dry shade (under trees in yards). Good in zones 4–9.

  • deciduous shrub to 6'–10'
  • plant in sun to shade
  • hardy

Hosta yingeri
Yinger's hosta

A new species of Hosta resulting from our 1985 expedition to Korea named after Barry Yinger, the noted Asian plant authority who lead that trip. The leaves are thicker and more glossy than most hostas and the plant is eagerly being sought by hosta collectors (one plant sold for $150 a year ago but prices are rapidly dropping with increased propagation). We are offering small divisions from plants from the original Korean seed.

  • hardy

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Pia'
Pink Elf dwarf bigleaf hydrangea

A beautiful dwarf, dense growing cultivar of Hydrangea which will eventually reach 2' feet in height. It has 4" diameter inflorescences of many pink to purple flowers (color depending on soil pH) in early summer. An excellent compact plant for shady areas. Zones 5–8? This is another plant which the North Carolina Association of Nurserymen is working with for future introduction.

  • flowering shrub to 18"
  • plant in filtered sun
  • hardy
  • rosy-pink to mauve flowers in early summer

Ilex opaca 'Pearle Le Clair'

A local cultivar of American holly named in honor of a past superintendent of grounds at the University of North Carolina. Makes a handsome broad-leafed evergreen tree of excellent form with showy red fruit in winter.

Lagerstroemia fauriei
Japanese crepe myrtle

Most visitors to The NCSU Arboretum have seen and admired this beautiful plant in the west arboretum. This species was collected by John Creech, Ph.D., in Japan in the 1950s and our arboretum plants came from the first distribution of this species throughout the United States. We have decided to name and release a cultivar from the finest of our several plants—one which is likely the largest L. fauriei in the United States today at about 40' in height with a 2' diameter trunk. It has good upright trunks for growth as a small white-flowering tree, good red bark, and shiny, mildew-free foliage. It should be useful in Zones 6–9.

  • hardy

Lagerstroemia fauriei
Japanese crepe myrtle

Another selection of the same species described above. The parent plant is one of our own seedlings presently located in the Townhouse Model Garden in the Arboretum. We have not yet fully decided to name and release it—but each year we get perhaps more questions and admiring comments about this plant than almost anything else in the arboretum due to the spectacular dark red bark—darkest of any of our plants. It also has white flowers and handsome foliage. So we have been propagating a few plants to build numbers as we try to decide on formal naming and release—and will share some of those here.

  • hardy

Pinus nelsonii

Another rare experimental plant for the conifer collector. A Mexican species which grows as a small bushy tree with unique united needle groups and dramatic cones persisting on the trunk. Krussman lists it as a Zone 9 tree, but it is likely hardier than that with our heat—and the seeds our plants were grown from were also collected at high elevation where winter temperatures equivalent to Raleigh occur. Will likely need good drainage to prevent summer root rotting.

Rhus chinensis 'September Beauty'
Chinese sumac

People think of sumacs as shrubs but this tree species reaches 25' with large panicles (to 2' diameter) of white flowers in September and (on this selected cultivar) spectacular autumn orange foliage. Rarely offered due to propagation difficulties (root cuttings only). Tough durable plant for any soil—best in sun. Zones 5–9.

  • hardy

Rosa 'Nastarana'
Persian musk rose

J. C. Raulston's best choice for an outstanding rose. An old cultivar from Persian Harem Gardens of the 1800s—it is disease free (no spraying), blooms dependably almost continuously from spring until frost with showy white, fragrant flowers. What more could one want from a rose? Makes a shrub to 5' in diameter or can be pruned smaller.

Syringa oblata subsp. dilatata
Korean early lilac

Yes, the plant northerners miss most when they move south are the wonderful lilacs—most of which will not take our heat. This is the best one for the south from our trials—it actually looks and smells like a real lilac (many species/cultivars don't), blooms very early in spring, and takes our tough soils. It is not commercially available at present and we have worked hard to build numbers for N.C. nurserymen with little success (cutting timing is critical and we keep just missing it—1,500 cuttings in the last two years have given us about 40 plants—ugh!). It will eventually be available from contract tissue culture growers which is going to be our next attempt. But we do have a few plants to offer here for those who just can't wait. The plant you receive won't be a pretty thing—they are small rooted cuttings—but they will survive and grow and make beautiful plants (and those heavenly flowers) in a few years.

  • hardy

Ulmus ×hollandica 'Jacqueline Hillier'
dwarf Dutch elm

A beautiful dwarf elm discovered in England and named in honor of the wife of Harold Hillier, the incredible plantsman of international arboretum/nursery fame. A deciduous shrub reaching 4'–5' in diameter with slow dense twiggy growth of only a few inches a year—outstanding for a rock garden, as a specimen, or for bonsai culture. Useful in Zones 5–8 and will grow in sun or partial shade, most any soil or moisture condition.

  • deciduous small tree to 12'
  • plant in sun to light shade

Vesalea floribunda
mexican abelia

A native American species of Abelia introduced to cultivation in 1841 from Mexico—but essentially unavailable commercially anywhere in the United States. (we ordered our plant from Holland at ridiculous cost to get it for trial!). Considered the most beautiful species of Abelia with bright red tubular flowers and semi-evergreen foliage. We do not know the hardiness at this time (considered marginally hardy in England but that may be due to lack of summer heat) and would guess it to be Zones 8–9, possibly 7? We will try a plant outside this year for the first time.

  • evergreen shrub to 6'
  • plant in sun
  • pendant, tubular, pink flowers in spring – fall