Beautyberry Shrub, Mealy Bugs & Wollemi Pine

The first questions of the year: about propagating beautyberry shrubs; effectively controlling mealy bugs for the long term; and information about the Wollemi Pine--a ‘newly discovered’ ancient tree!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

February 4, 2007

Above, two shots of beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.) growing in Toronto and Parksville. Author photos. Below three shots of the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis) the latter showing cone [seed] collection by helicopter!
Photos by Jaime Plaza of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, Australia.

This week it is back to questions which have been building up for a few weeks. For example, Pete VanLoon, of unknown location, wrote early in the New Year with a very short question: “I am wondering how and when can I propagate Callicarpa dichotoma?”

Beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.) is a beautiful shrub in fruit with its iridescent mauve/purple berries lining the stem. I have grown it both in Toronto (where it is barely hardy) and here on Vancouver Island. There are many species, at least three of which are sold in Canadian nurseries. It is not considered a difficult shrub to propagate, either by seed or softwood cuttings, or even the simpler layering. If taking softwood cuttings they will root well in sand, but they should be covered with a plastic ‘tent’ and under regular misting. The cuttings are likely best taken in mid summer when the newer wood is just starting to harden. Layering is simply carried out by routing one of the longer outside branches of the shrub down through the soil, and with at least 30 cm of the growing tip emerging from the soil. Generally it is as well to pin the part passing through the soil down with something like an old-fashioned one-piece clothes pin.

Also of unknown location, Marjorie Kelley, wrote on Christmas Eve with a question about a common pest: “Help please. Why do I keep getting mealy bugs on my orchid cactus, especially in the winter!!!! I just can't seem to get rid of them. What product do you recommend? Thanks for your time and Happy Holidays!”

Marjorie’s problem is that she never really kills off all of the mealy bugs. I recommend Doktor Doom’s House & Garden Spray, applied about once a week and extending at least six weeks after all signs of the insects are gone.

Mid last month, Barbara Mitchell wrote to Donna Dawson with an interesting question which may contain some information about which many readers may not be aware. Thus, attempting to ‘answer’ it here seemed a good idea.

“You've likely heard of the Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis), a relic of the dinosaur age that was found in a remote canyon in Australia some ten years or so ago. I've been a member on the Wollemi Pine Society list for about five years because they offered a subscription list for seedlings of these rare and wonderful plants once they were released to the general public.

“Wollemi Pines first, naturally, went to Botanical Gardens all over the world, etc. etc.

“During the five or so years I've been on their "seedling list", I had checked back frequently to see when they would be released to the public. It was always "next year, next year", etc. Imagine my elation when I received an e-mail last month stating that seedlings were now available to subscribers and the general public...and a website for National Geographic was provided. Apparently NG has the rights to distribute the seedlings in North America.

“Now imagine my surprise when I completed NG's order form online, only to get the response "CANNOT SHIP OUTSIDE THE U.S.A. - TO CANADA" !!!! I immediately sent a letter to NG management, and a copy to the Wollemi Pine Society in Australia.

“Again, imagine my disgust when I received a stupid form letter, with no apologies whatsoever, basically to the effect "that's the way it is". I again wrote them stating I had been on the Wollemi Society's list, anxiously awaiting my pricey purchase of a seedling, for five years. Same stupid form letter received. And the Wollemi Society hasn't bothered to respond, either!

“Now I'll probably end up waiting another five years and finally get to buy one at, say, a Home Hardware or RONA, a shriveled, dried-out, bent and broken ‘on sale’ version of the Jurassic Age relic.

“National Geographic has no problem taking my money for magazines...

“Besides being a prime example of what could be used in a university's business curriculum ‘How NOT to Market a Product’, do you have any suggestions as to where I should turn to get a Wollemi Pine seedling? Thanks for any suggestions you can offer.”

An interesting question and some good points made.

First, allow me to question one aspect myself--that would be hardiness of what is basically a tropical tree. I know someone is estimating hardiness to minus Celsius temperatures, but that means nothing until they are actually tested. If you are in Alberta, I am certain you would not have a hope of a Wollemi surviving in your zone 3 climates. [Since starting this Barbara has responded that she is in the Okanagan Valley about ten minutes out of Vernon. That would put her in the same zone 3!] They might even have difficulty making it here in the mildest climate in Canada--on Vancouver Island. Keep one thing in mind, it was found near Sydney Australia--that’s a hot climate (trust me!), even though it is likely considerably cooler up in the mountains where it seems to be native.

You could, of course, grow it outdoors for the summer and bring it indoors in late August (in order for it to get re-acclimated before the light and humidity dip too low). There will be a major learning curve on how to accomplish that transition but once learned you should have little trouble.

The responses you have had from the two organizations are typical of today, and they occur every day. In theory there is not supposed to be any live plant material coming across the US/Canadian border now, without major inspection headaches in which most shippers simply do not to get involved. That has grown worse since the advent of SOD (Sudden Oak Death--about which you can read in the Commentaries section of my own Website, Even before SOD, there was a requirement, generally, that anything coming across the border had to be bare root.

That doesn’t mean it is impossible.

I know if wanted one, there are a couple of routes I would pursue and I am certain one or both would work. Here are a couple of suggestions.

  1. Depending on your location, contact a local botanical institution (not necessarily a botanical garden) and talk them into wanting one and then volunteer to help them if they will order one for you as well--you might even volunteer to pay for their plant.

  2. They are obviously available in Australia. I would contact my friend Graham Ross who has been a guest on my programmes for decades, and have him send me one by air in that new patented packaging they have. You could decide whether or not you would have the outside of the packaging marked with the actual contents.

In a sentence, I guess you need to get creative! Good Luck.

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