Horticulture Highlight: Amur Maackia
…Beneath the green mysterious
tree standing at the dead center
of the garden…
Having 5000 trees representing over 670 taxa, there are examples such as sugar maples, dogwoods and white pines, each with hundreds of individuals throughout our cemetery. To accomplish ongoing efforts of diversifying our living collection, we also grow lesser known, perhaps even mysterious, types of trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. One less well known and less frequently planted tree is Amur Maackia, Maackia amurensis.
The genus Maackia includes 10-12 species of deciduous trees and shrubs, all native to Asia. The name commemorates Richard Otto Mack (1825-1886), Russian naturalist, collector of flora and fauna, and geographer. This native of Estonia conducted explorations of the Russian Far East in the 1850’s which included areas of the Amur River region, hence the species name amurensis.
Amur Maackia is native to eastern Russia, northeast China, Korea and Japan. This is a small tree reaching 20-30-feet in height. Its bark may have handsome shades of amber, copper or brown, sometimes with a slight exfoliation. The alternate, compound leaves have 7 to 11 leaflets, each 1-3-inches long. Their early spring emergence appears with a silvery-gray hue due to ephemeral silky pubescence. The striking blossoms are arranged as 6-inch, upright, racemes of small cream-colored flowers, usually in August, with a fragrance recalling mown grass. In addition to diversifying our overall collection, Amur Maackia with later than peak-May flowering time, extends ornamental, as well as pollinator benefits beyond typical springtime.
Maackia are within the FABACEAE, commonly known as the pea or bean family, the third largest land-plant family (after ASTERACEAE and ORCHIDACEAE). FABACEAE includes 765 genera and nearly 20,000 species. Previously we have reviewed others within this large family including redbud, silk tree, blue false indigo, yellowwood, and wisteria. These, along with Maackia produce their seeds within a legume or “pod”.
Additionally, Maackia is one of a smaller number of trees which host bacteria, known as rhizobia, on their roots which can convert inert nitrogen gas out of the air to an available form usable for the host, referred to as nitrogen fixation. With its manageable size, late summer showy flowers, minimal disease and insect problems and nitrogen fixing capabilities, these trees could and perhaps should be planted more widely beyond our gates.
On a future visit to Mount Auburn look for some of our Maackia, not at our center, but at the main entrance gate, at Story Chapel, on Ash Avenue, Crystal Avenue and Hyacinth Path.
She had forgotten how the August night
was level as a lake beneath the moon,
in which she swam a little, losing sight
Edna St. Vincent Millay