Observations and experiences by James Nicholas
Observations and experiences with the oleanders in my collection.
I live in the vicinity of Hartford, Connecticut, in the northeastern USA. Our climate is anything but Mediterranean. Winters are long, cold, and snowy; average temperatures in January and February are between -7 and +1 C (10 and 34 F), occasionally as low as -18 C (0 F) during the night. Our spring is pleasant, but arrives a bit later than it does in Central Europe. April can be quite rainy, sometimes May as well to a great extent. The last frost dates are approximately May 10-13, as in Central Europe, although in recent years the last frosts have been substantially earlier, presumably as a result of global warming. Our summers are warm to hot, with temperatures rising as high as 32 – 37 C (90 – 100 F), and quite humid. If one compares our conditions with those of Südburgenland or of Central Hungary, where the oleander expert Mariann Hámori is active, they are in fact quite similar. I have grown oleanders for almost 25 years in this area.
Following are some remarks on and evaluations of the cultivars which I have tested. All, with the exceptions of Commandant Barthélémy and Mont Blanc, are single-flowered.
A compact, almost dwarf plant with spectacular deep red flowers. Widely-separated petals with angular tips; not fragrant, Unfortunately, the plant always looked sick and somewhat scrawny, Very difficult to root. I would like to be able to recommend it, but I can’t. However, I would like to try it one more time.
One of my favorites. I got the original cutting from Galveston under the name “Mrs. Willard Cooke”. Filippi is of the opinion that these two are the same variety. My plant corresponds precisely, in fact down to the last detail, with Köchel’s description and photos. I can’t praise this plant enough. It is robust, healthy, blooms even in unfavorable weather with white (actually with the subtlest trace of pink, but for all practical purposes white) blossoms of classical shape and beauty. Unfortunately they are essentially non-fragrant; however, under certain conditions (on warm but not hot evenings and with high humidity) the typical oleander or heliotrope fragrance is detectable. The foliage is dense, dark green, gorgeous, and long-lasting. Cuttings root very readily. Most highly recommended, especially for beginners.
Extraordinarily luminescent red flowers, propeller-shaped. Fragrant. Intermediate in size, quite a charming plant. Recommended. Unfortunately, my 3-year old plant died one winter, probably of root rot. I’d like to obtain another one.
Andrea kedvence (Andrea's Favorit):
A compact, hardy cultivar from Andrea Heyek in Hungary; a seedling of Jean Rey’s ‘Tamouré’. A slow-growing plant with small, very thick and leathery, particularly pest-resistant leaves. The petals are a deep fuchsia-pink and widely-separated, with angular tips. Small and tough bush, yet very charming and attractive.
One of the most popular of the new Gotsis hybrids. An eye-catcher, with its red-magenta windmill-shaped blossoms with white throats and long “eyelashes”. Fragrant. The plant is relatively robust and healthy, growth habit is vertical.
A cultivar by Irmtraud Gotsis in Greece. Intense red flowers, slightly cupped petals, healthy plant with upright growth habit.
I find this Gotsis hybrid to be particularly enchanting. The plant is compact, healthy, and seems quit robust, The rather large flowers are a very pale pink with darker pink throats. To my great surprise, they had the delectable scent of lilacs, which one can otherwise only enjoy for about a week in springtime! Very charming plant.
Relatively compact, round plant with very pale pink blossoms. Petals widely separated. Fragrant. Easy to grow and to root.
An outstanding plant; possibly the best all-around and probably the most popular variety in the USA. Intermediate in size and quite cold-tolerant. In the South, it blooms all year long. The flowers are a very intense deep pink, almost fluorescent. From a distance, however, the effect is quite different; they glow with a fiery salmon-orange-red color, especially in the late afternoon or at sundown. A real eye-catcher. It has the strongest fragrance of any single-flowered variety that I know. It’s difficult to find even one shortcoming with ‘Calypso’ – really, it’s got it all! Most highly recommended.
An old Sahut cultivar from the year 1898. I see it occasionally at the houses of some of our Italian residents. Double crimson flowers, very fragrant, sometimes with white streaks. The plant is more compact than other double varieties, but tends to grow somewhat wide. Quite healthy and grows in this climate without any problems.
Csillagszóró (“ Sparkler”):
A Hungarian cultivar from Andrea Heyek. Deep pink, fragrant flowers with brilliant white dots at the tips of the corona filaments, like tiny fireworks. Very robust, thick branches, but a compact bush.
A giant! Flowers are pure white, similar to those of Soeur Agnes, however the petals are a bit wider and the tips more squared; the petal edges are more toothed, wavy, and irregular. The plant is huge, extraordinarily robust (cuttings root insanely fast, almost overnight!), and extremely cold-tolerant. In many respects a superior variety, but probably too enormous for most patios. In spite of this, I’ve grown it in a big pot – a magnificent plant.
According to Bob Newding and other sources, ‚Ed Barr‘ is most probably one of the original two varieties (a single white and a double pink) which were brought by Joseph Osterman from Jamaica to Galveston in 1841. If this is correct, ‚Ed Barr‘ is a very old variety, probably brought by the Spanish to Jamaica prior to 1665, and possibly identical to the wild white variety discovered in Crete in 1547 – or at least very closely related to it. That might explain the extraordinary vigor of this variety.
The original cutting, unnamed, was sent to me from Greece by Mrs. Gotsis. The label read merely “pink, single, large-flowered”. The plant proved to be something very unusual, however. The deep pink flowers were as large as frangipani (Plumeria) blossoms, but it was primarily the fragrance that came as a shock: like roses, with a bit of lily-of-the-valley mixed in. I became addicted to it instantly! We decided on the name “Ellás” – “Greece”. The branches are somewhat weak and I had to stake some of them. The plant produced a few “blind” inflorescences before it finally bloomed.
An old French cultivar (1873). I got my cutting from Galveston, where it is called ‘Scarlet Beauty’. Very deep-red flowers with an especially fine, subtle, and soothing fragrance. Upright growth habit; the lower stems lose their leaves early on and should therefore be cut back frequently in stages. Otherwise quite healthy, reliable, and thrives in this climate very well. It is probably the most popular red variety here in the USA as well as in Europe.
Among the best-known of Mrs. Gotsis’ creations. The spiral-shaped, two-toned (pink and red) petals are striking, the fragrance is quite strong. The plant grows slowly and stays small, at least for me. Unusual and eye-catching.
My own discovery. It has the same intense red color as Emile Sahut. The fragrant flowers open flatter, however, and the foliage is somewhat lighter in color. A major advantage: the lower stems don’t get bare early on. The plant is rounder than Emile Sahut, and also seems to be more robust; many sprouts appear in the leaf axils. ‘Firewalker’ has had an adventurous history. The original cutting was brought over from Sulmona, Italy, by an Italian resident of Wethersfield, Connecticut. He gave a cutting to a Portuguese neighbor, who in turn gave me a couple of cuttings. I recognized the plant as a superior variety and named it after my firefighter boots (Ranger Firewalker brand). I sent several cuttings to Germany (to the Flora Mediterranea nursery) and the cultivar later turned up in Hungary, in the collection of the Hungarian oleander expert Mariann Hámori. A photo of it appears in her book Leanderoázis (An Oleander Oasis).
The original label from Jim Nicholas’ structural-firefighting boots. >> The story he told actually goes further. With confidence that the Oleander House and I, Wilhelm Hufnagl, would be worthy and successful in our mission of acquiring, maintaining and preserving as many oleander cultivars as possible, he sent this label to me in April 2014, joking that “many botanical museums were fighting over it”.
We are now in possession of this ”holy relic”.<<
The Firefighter boots (Ranger Firewalker brand), which gave the name to this red blooming oleander.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
Named after the President of the USA on the occasion of his visit to Galveston in 1938. An outstanding, healthy, relatively compact and cold-tolerant variety with unusual star-shaped salmon-colored blossoms; the throats are yellow with red stripes. The color changes considerably over the course of the long blooming season; in the cool autumn weather it becomes almost coppery-orange.
I got my cutting more than 20 years ago from Galveston. This is an excellent variety in every aspect and possibly the best of all for beginners. The blossoms are a light pastel pink, fragrant, and are produced reliably. Even in my climate, it blooms from March-April (in my cold overwintering room) into November. The plant is medium-sized, very healthy, parachute-shaped, and is extraordinarily easy to propagate – cuttings root rapidly. In a word – it has everything one could wish for!
Gyöngyvirágillatú (“Lily-of-the-Valley scented”):
From Andrea Heyek in Hungary. Healthy, robust, but rather compact plant. The blossoms are slightly funnel-shaped and a bit reminiscent of ‘Alsace’. The color is a very delicate pale pink but distinctly darker than ‘Alsace’.
Hamvadó parázs (Glowing Embers):
An extremely dark-red variety from Andrea Heyek in Hungary. Unfortunately, the plant I got exhibited major symptoms of Pseudomonas on the upper branches. After the first flower opened, I cut the
plant down almost to soil level, disinfecting the pruning shears with a bleach solution after each cut. The plant has grown back vigorously with numerous shoots; so far, everything looks quite
Another excellent variety for novices: healthy, compact, undemanding, and quite cold-tolerant. The shrub stays compact and round, the leaves are thick and leathery. The flowers are spectacular: a luminous fuchsia-red, very large, almost like plumeria (Frangipani) blossoms, with strikingly long corona appendages (or “eyelashes”, as they’ve been nicknamed in Hungary). In addition, the inflorescences are unusually flat and wide, enhancing the colorful effect. Unfortunately, it is not fragrant. Years ago I sent cuttings to Maria Köchel in Germany; a few years later, to my great surprise, 'Jannoch' turned up as a gorgeous full-page photo in Mariann Hámori’s book.
Lane Taylor Sealy:
An unusual and rare cultivar which should be more widely distributed. A compact shrub with very large, very pale salmon blossoms. The throat is yellow with red stripes. Unusually for salmon varieties, it has the typical oleander or heliotrope fragrance. Unfortunately, my plant disappeared somewhere, somehow. I want to get another cutting from Galveston. This variety is the subject of a comical yet touching anecdote (see Richard Eggenberger, The Handbook on Oleanders, pp. 124-129).
Madame Léon Blum:
A well-known European salmon cultivar which I introduced to the USA. Outstanding; probably the best standard salmon variety. It grows here without any problems. Floriferous and quite striking.
Pale yellow with deep-yellow throat; widely-separated petals. Beautiful but has proven to be a bit temperamental, although this can be overcome. Branches are somewhat floppy – I have to stake them).
Massif de l’Étoile:
A Jean Rey variety which Mariann Hámori sent to me from Hungary. Certainly a close relative of Papá Gambetta, perhaps a seedling of it. It has the same characteristically very narrow leaves of the “Gambetta types”, as Köchel termed them. However, the plant is quite compact, almost as if it had been treated with growth regulators. The flowers are large, similar to those of Papá Gambetta, but with a deeper, unusual coral-red color. Quite striking. The leaves seem somewhat susceptible to fungal diseases; I’ve had to spray them more than once.
Pure white, hose-in-hose (two superimposed corollas). This plant is extraordinarily tough and vigorous. Even as a potted plant a half-meter (20”) tall it blooms with enormous inflorescences. Intensely fragrant, extremely easy to propagate. You can’t kill it!
A dark-red variety from Mrs. Gotsis in Greece, named after me – a great honor, which I treasure! Quite similar to ‘Firewalker’. The foliage is a beautiful deep green; the petals are somewhat reflexed.
A best-seller in Europe, I introduced the plant to the United States (Maria Köchel sent me the first plant). Grows here without any problems, a real eye-catcher growing in a whiskey barrel on my street corner. I’ve already propagated it many times for interested people.
Petite Red (known here as Little Red):
Good dark-red color and advantageous because of its small size, but has turned out to be somewhat temperamental/sickly and (in my opinion) not worth the trouble.
A most unusual cultivar. The bush is fairly small, with rather small, graceful leaves – but the flowers are gigantic! Their shape is also unusual – propellerlike magenta petals with characteristically wavy inner edges and conspicuous white throats; the fragrance is strong. The ends of the branches often sag under the weight of the blossoms. Rather cold-tolerant and undemanding; unfortunately not a long-season bloomer. Ruby Lace has an unusual history. Presumably a chance seedling, it grew for 19 years in a California homeowner’s yard. In 1986, propagation material was donated to Monrovia Nurseries. (Ironically, the history of the oleander in California is probably at its end, as the Leaf-scorch disease (Xylella fastidiosa) has essentially killed off the oleanders there and no more are being produced by the nursery trade).
Often seen at the homes of our Italian residents. An old Sahut variety (1873). A well-known, very lovely and rather vigorous, floriferous plant with magnificent pure white blossoms, However, it is a fast grower and has to be pruned back hard (in stages), especially as the stems lose their lower leaves.
A gift from Wilhelm Hufnagl, which he sent to me from Austria. It is actually a wild oleander, which he collected in March 2014 in the Todra Canyon of the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco. Although native to alpine regions, this plant is no dwarf. As expected, it if is very tough and robust, with beautiful dark-green foliage. The graceful blossoms have the most delicate pale pink color. According to Willi, they are fragrant. I was only able to detect a very faint fragrance, which however was not the typical oleander or heliotrope scent. Although I have no experience yet with its cold-tolerance, it is obviously very hardy – it frequently snows in its native habitat.
A Greek variety from Mrs. Gotsis which is becoming increasingly well-known in Europe. Bright-red windmill-shaped flowers. The plant grows healthily and without any problems in my climate.
Ville de Lalonde:
A Jean Rey cultivar; possibly the same as the old variety ‘Claudia’ listed and described by Olivier Filippi. Maria Köchel kindly shipped the plant to me. This is a vigorous, strong grower, with
large, broad-petalled, fragrant, glowing deep-pink/light-red flowers. Their effect from a distance is extraordinarily luminous and eye-catching. Chrstoph Köchel mentioned that although a strong
plant, it bloomed only sporadically under conditions in Bavaria and that its usefulness in Central Europe would probably be limited. I have had no such problem with it here. In fact, I would
describe it as “Calypso on steroids”!
Ville de Martigues:
A Jean Rey cultivar. The flowers are a velvety deep red, fragrant, and somewhat goblet-shaped, the foliage is a very attractive dark green. Nice plant, but I must confess that I found it so similar to ‘Emile Sahut’ that it was very difficult to tell them apart. I ended up giving the plant away. Very lovely plant, though.
Oktober 2014, James Nicholas