Mike Dirr Visits

Mike Dirr Visits

On July 8th we were paid a surprise visit by internationally known plantsman, Mike Dirr. Mike was in the area with his wife Bonnie to lecture locally. Mike told me he enjoys coming to the Scott Arboretum because we always have the newest and most exciting plant selections, cultivars, and species. Bonnie alluded that she can’t think of a campus that is more beautiful than Swarthmore College.

Mike Dirr has become internationally known because of his research as a professor at the University of Georgia; his extensive lecturing on a broad base of subjects such as plant propagation, plant breeding, and anything to do with woody plants; and his writing of Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Mike told us he is finishing the 6th edition of his Manual which, even with condensed text, will be approximately 1,200 pages.

Mike Dirr taking notes on new plants at the Scott Arboretum. photo credit: R. Maurer

In 1993 Mike Dirr was awarded the Arboretum’s prestigious Arthur Hoyt Scott Medal and Award which recognizes an individual who has made a significant contribution to the art and/or science of horticulture.

Helwingia japonica 'Gold Boat' photo credit: R. Robert

As always, Dirr was eager to talk plants. He wanted to know what was new at the Scott Arboretum. We have recently planted Schima remotaserrata and Dirr quickly wanted to know if we had acquired two new bigeneric hybrids with Schima, Gordonia and Franklinia as parents, XSchimlinia (Schima x Franklinia) and XGordlinia (Gordonia x Franklinia). I countered with “Yes, we have xGordlinia, but have you seen the golden Helwingia.” The golden Helwingia is esoteric, at best, but Mike wanted to see it immediately. In the Terry Shane Teaching Garden we have a small specimen of Helwingia japonica ‘Gold Boat’. Even though it was a bit bleached out by the sun and barely recognizable in a mass of Tiarella, Mike was intent on wading into the herbaceous plants to get a picture.

I have always been incredibly impressed by Mike’s passion, interest, and insatiable pursuit to learn about new plants. Rhoda Maurer mentioned to him our recent introduction of Magnolia denudata ‘Swarthmore Sentinel’ which was selected for its fastigiated form. Mike immediately flipped open his black book and start jotting down notes about it. I have no doubt that our Magnolia will make it into the 7th edition.

Andrew Bunting
  • Matthew Quirey
    Posted at 08:02h, 23 July Reply

    What a great encounter! I am not surprised to read that the Scott Arb. continues to stay at the forefront of the botanic world; even keeping Mike Dirr on his toes. Thanks for sharing this on the web Andrew.

  • Andrew Bunting
    Posted at 09:02h, 23 July Reply


    Thanks for your comments. A lot of the plants we grow are relatively unknown even in the botanic garden world, but an Arboretum is a perfect place to trial these plants and inevitably there will be some real gems like the small seedlings that we got from JC Raulston in 1993 of Poliothyrsis sinensis which today are 25′ tall beautiful flowering trees.

    Andrew Bunting, Curator

  • Eve Thyrum
    Posted at 09:21h, 24 July Reply

    Way to go Scott!! How lucky are we of the Delaware Valley to have such a cutting edge arboretum in our midst — and of course an Andrew Bunting who keeps Michael Dirr on his toes!

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