James E. Barto
Reprint of an article appearing in the Quarterly in April 1950
A paper read by Del James at a meeting of the American Rhododendron
Society at Portland, Oregon, February 16, 1950
I have chosen as a subject for my short talk tonight, a man who will be long remembered by all rhododendron lovers for having been one of the pioneers in introducing rhododendrons on the Pacific coast, Mr. James E. Barto.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Barto in person, which I regret very much, so my information has been gathered at random. Mr. Barto was one of the first of 27 Americans to belong to the Rhododendron Association of England, in 1927.
He must have been a man with a great deal of courage to take his family out on the high pass road from Junction City, Oregon, and take up a homestead, cut off timber, grub stumps, build green houses, lath houses, irrigating systems, and prepare the ground for planting, and at the same time, work away from home during the week, to provide for a large family.
Contrary to some stories that he traveled to foreign lands in search of rhododendrons, Mrs. Barto told me that all his contacts were made by correspondence to any place or person who might be of help to him with plants or information. One of the first people to help him start was Mrs. A. C. U. Berry of Portland, Oregon, and Mr. Raup, of Eugene.
In so doing he was soon on the list of such famous plant explorers as George Forrest, Kingdon Ward, Dr. Rock, Dr. Hu and collector Mr. Wu, of China, and also Mr. Wada of Japan.
In going over some of his old books, I found many lists of seeds sent to him by all the collectors in the field in China, and in addition he had contacted Mr. Rothschild, Mr. Magor and many others in England, who sent him seeds and pollen for hybridization.
Never will I forget my first visit to Barto's, about the first of May, some years ago. Upon entering the gate I saw rhododendrons by the thousands in full bloom along the creek, in the valley and all over the hills. Since becoming more familiar with the genus rhododendron, I find that I was looking at some of the rarest plants known, some of which probably do not exist in our gardens to this day. At that time there were more than 500 species of rhododendron and azaleas in his collection.
I will read a letter written by Mr. Barto a short time before his death on December 22, 1941, to Mrs. Chauncy J. Craddock, of Eureka, California, which tells of some of things he was looking forward to.
Dear Mrs. Craddock:
I cannot express my full appreciation of your generous offer of presenting me with a plant of rhododendron R. thomsonii as Roald Kausen of the Cottage Gardens wrote me.
You may be assured the plant is more than acceptable and will be a means to the betterment of American gardens.
With the great number of species I have, and so many coming into flower, the plant will give me the opportunity to hybridize and create forms more suitable to the Pacific coastal area.
The war in Europe has cut off my supply of pollen from Mr. Magor and others. But the results are beginning to show in the hybrids starting to flower, crossed some years ago.
The results of hybridizing surpass my fondest dreams so far. A. indica x oldhamii produced a deep blood red double and one brick red double of great beauty. Also some dark rose, brick red and pinks, semi double, and singles. The characteristics of hairy foliage of R. oldhamii was transmitted to most all the seedlings. R. californicum x thomsonii three crossed on one each of very distinct forms of the natives, one form has produced only reds so far withstanding open sun without fading for six weeks. This may surpass the hybrid R. 'Britannia' by far in endurance of the sun. The flowers may be a trifle smaller, but only three plants out of 60 have flowered so far.
A hard freeze the first of May, 1939 destroyed many of the terminals, consequently not so heavy bloom this year. However the value of the Triflorums was seen in their heavy blooming, some covered as completely as any azalea could be.
I am waiting patiently for the falconeri and lacteums to come into flower. The plants are growing fine but some of these years I hope for my reward.
Starting with R. dauricum, Mucronulatum, January 10th this year a succession of bloom has occurred with R. racemosum, ciliatum, lapponicum, triflorum, beesianum, fortunei, the various azalea, R. vernicosum flowered for the first time. Also R. campylocarpum, a neriiflorum, one R. sutchuenense has produced mostly flowers like a semi-double camellia, a beauty with a marbled pink color.
I have discovered a method of growing camellias from single leaf cuttings producing on test plants, 24 inches in one year. This I am sure will shorten the period of newly introduced plants from grower to the gardens, making so many more plants to the present methods, speeding up production both in quantity and size.
I have many seedlings of the Dr. Hu Collector, Dr. Wu, Szechuan, China, old seed but producing a good number of plants. A very noticeable cross, R. sutchuenense x lutescens, the small plants show both parents in shape and texture of foliage. This was just a test to see if species so distant related would cross. My method is to use the foreign pollen covering the stigma completely and afterward re-cover with pollen of the same flower. I believe a chemical or some unnamed action is set up when the self pollen is placed over the foreign pollen. This seems true. The crosses obtained in all cases was made as above. In the indica-oldhamii cross, not one plant has the indica flower or foliage.
I hope all is well with you and yours and the plants. Recent illness demands I get lots of rest so will close, thanking you again very much for the rhododendron thomsonii.
Respectfully yours, James E. Barto
Shortly after my visit, Mr. Barto became ill and it was decided to sell off some of the rhododendrons. People came from all over the country, especially from Oregon, Washington and California. Rhododendrons were sold by the thousands to nurserymen, collectors, and people who wanted them for their gardens.
I myself, saw people come in trucks, cars and trailers, from Portland, Seattle and many other places and depart with loads of plants. I am sure hardly any of them realized what rare plants they were getting.
On one of my visits to Barto's, in one of the lath houses, I noticed a bed of small rhododendron plants with dark round leaves, about one or two inches high, which caught my eye. Shortly after this, I made a trip to Seattle and while going around the garden of a well known collector, he pointed out a plant of R. didymum in Neriiflorum series. I immediately saw a picture of the small plants in the lath house, and on my return home, the next day, promptly drove out to collect some didymum, but some one had been there and taken a good portion of the plants. Of course, I was sure some one had recognized the plants and was curious to find out more about who had gotten them.
Some years later, I paid a visit to the garden of a good friend, who has since become an authority on species of rhododendron, and who is also doing fine work for our society.
I noticed some fine specimens of didymum and repeated my story to him regarding my curiosity as to who had gotten the plants. He smiled and said, "Yes, Mr. James, I was the one who got them, but at that time, I had no idea what they were."
Wouldn't it have been wonderful if more of the many rare species could have been so fortunate as to fall into such capable hands for everyone to enjoy. I, too, was one of the uninformed people, and only through good fortune was able to bring home some of the plants which later turned out to be beautiful species and hybrids. I will name a short list: among them is R. calophytum, R. auriculatum, R. diaprepes, R. rubiginosum, R. triflorum, R. neriiflorum, R. decorum, R. arboreum, R. falconeri and R. grande, and many more species yet to be identified.
Also in this collection from Barto's we were able to bring home some beautiful hybrids. One outstanding plant, we have named 'Esquire' and after seeing Mr. Grace's picture of R. 'Sunrise', I feel it could be from that cross.
In all my visits to gardens in Oregon, Washington, and California I have yet to see a garden that did not have plants from Barto. They may even be seen growing in Lithia Park, in Ashland, Oregon. It has been my experience that before you go very far in most any collector's garden, he will soon point with pride to some unidentified or beautiful specimen plant from Barto's. I will wager that there is not a member present at this meeting who cannot go out in his garden in the morning and find some choice rhododendron, either directly or indirectly originating in the Barto garden. Who will ever know how much Mr. Barto contributed to the enthusiasm for rhododendrons in the Pacific northwest, and there is no doubt he has done as much as any one in providing the foundation for the American Rhododendron Society of today.
In conclusion, it is my sincere wish that in the near future, the American Rhododendron Society will be able to dedicate a lasting memorial to the memory of James E. Barto for his work and love for the genus Rhododendron.