Archive for the ‘Plant Portraits’ Category

Claytonia lanceolata Spring Beauty Wells B.C. Image: HFN

Claytonia lanceolata – Spring Beauty. West of Wells B.C., May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1. Montiaceae – Montia Family – formerly Portulacaceae. Native to western North America, widely occuring in subalpine and alpine meadows from the lower half of British Columbia south to New Mexico. The generic name Claytonia is after 17th century English botanist John Clayton, who collected plants in North America. Lanceolata refers to the shape of the rather fleshy, lance-shaped, paired leaves. Also known as INDIAN POTATO or MOUNTAIN POTATO, for its importance as a First Nations food crop.

British Columbia is a place of astonishing biodiversity, and one of the most fascinating aspects of this botanical richness is just how many of our native plants were foraged for and cultivated by the local indigenous peoples. Claytonia lanceolata, abundant in certain areas of the Cariboo-Chilcotin (in particular in the Potato Mountain range near Tatlayoko Lake on the Chilcotin Plateau) is perhaps one of the most important examples.

In earliest spring, as the snow recedes, smooth, lance-shaped leaves emerge from the mountain meadow turf, and Spring Beauty sends up its slender 6-inch bloom stems, topped by clusters of delicate 5-petalled flowers, purest white to ethereal pink. These bloom with such abundance as to turn whole areas white, mimicking the just-vanished snow.

Claytonia lanceolata in a wet meadow, near WElls, B.C. May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

Claytonia lanceolata in a wet meadow, near Wells, B.C. May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

Aesthetically beautiful, to be sure, but the plant is more than just another pretty wildflower, for it sprouts from a sturdy bulb, high in starches and sugars, and local inhabitants, human and ursine, found these to be worthy of foraging as the flowers faded and the bulbs reached their peak in energy storage to prepare for summer dormancy.

Wild food foragers value these greatly. Xavier de la Foret shares the following on the Sustainable Living Project blog:

Spring beauties (Claytonia lanceolata) are a delight to the eyes, both from generous carpets in sunny meadows and single flowers up close. The above-ground parts are edible and great in salads. They can also be cooked but I find that they become quite slimy that way. I definitely prefer them raw. But their greatest treasures rest under the ground and fairly close to the surface at that. They have a corm resembling the appearance and taste of small round potatoes and they’re absolutely delicious.

To find the largest corms, look closely at the thickness and number of stems emerging from a single spot on the ground. In general, if the plant has at least 4 thick stems, or a least 10 thin stems, then the corm has a good chance of being large. Don’t bother digging up the smaller plants as these are best left to grow for subsequent years!

Cook the corms as you would a potato. They also dry very well if you cut them in half while raw or if you mash them and dry them as thin patties after cooking them. Alternately, you can store them in earthen pits or buckets full of dirt to keep them fresh.

This plant is a moisture lover, and flourishes in the acidic soils of snow-water seepages in higher elevation meadows throughout our region. An easy-to-access population flourishes beside the road to Wells and Barkerville, east of Quesnel, where sharp-eyed botanists will catch sight of intriguing flushes of low-growing white bloom in May.

Though the species is yellow-listed in B.C., as stable and not in danger of extirpation, casual observers should not disturb the wild populations, enjoying them instead for their beauty. However, grizzly bears are under no such injunctions, and they will forage the bulbs with great enthusiasm, which gives further credence to their reputed delectability as a food source.

Bulbs are generally quite small, 1 or 2 inches in diameter, but I have read ethnobotanical accounts of the Claytonia lanceolata habitats of the Potato Mountains being subjected to controlled burning in the fall, to decrease shrub and competitive plant growth. In those cases, bulbs as large as a person’s fist were reported to occur.

The bulbs are very close to the surface, and are easily harvested. They sometimes grow in conjunction with another lovely ephemeral, the Avalance or Glacier Lily, Erythronium grandiflorum, which was also harvested for its sweet roots. Large quantities of Claytonia bulbs were collected during foraging trips, and were then eaten right away, or processed by cooking and drying, or stored in raw form in deep pits for future winter consumption.

This is not a plant I would recommend for inclusion in a cultivated garden, though if you live in an area such as Wells where the plants naturally occur, and if your property includes a wet spot, you might find it interesting to develop a wild garden featuring Claytonia and other native species, such as the dwarf white Trollius laxus, yellow Viola glabella, and the white-flowered Rhododendron albiflorum. Or just enjoy them all in the wild; a great excuse for a spring ramble. (Watch out for those bears!)

Claytonia lanceolata Image: HFN

Claytonia lanceolata. Pink-tipped stamens await a visit by the first foraging pollinators. Image: HFN

Claytonia laceolata, getting its pretty feet wet. Wells, May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

Claytonia lanceolata, happily getting its roots wet. Near Wells, B.C., May 20, 2015. Image: HFN

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Lewisia rediviva - Bitterroot. Near Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva – Bitterroot. Near Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Montiaceae – Montia Family – formerly Portulacaceae. Native to western North America, east of the Cascades in southern British Columbia, south to California and east to Montana, Colorado and Arizona.This plant is the state flower of Montana. Also known as ROCK-ROSE and RESURRECTION FLOWER.

This improbable ephemeral of the sagebrush hillsides of southern British Columbia (from approximately Cache Creek, south and eastwards) is of remarkable delicacy, rather unexpected considering its challenging home.

Tiny rosettes of succulent foliage emerge in early autumn, taking advantage of fall rains to fatten them enough for overwintering. In spring, the foliage withers away, and, as the leaves die, elongated flower buds emerge on short stems in April and early May, and proceed to unfold tissue-thin, delicately veined petals in shades of white to rich rose-pink.

Lewisia rediviva was an important food plant for the region’s First Nations people, though European settlers who sampled the roots reported that its bitterness was not to their liking.

The genus is named after botanist-explorer Meriwether Lewis, of Lewis and Clark renown, who tried eating the roots of Lewisia rediviva at some point during that exploratory expedition into the Louisiana Purchase lands and the Pacific Northwest, from 1804 to 1806. He wrote in his journal that: “(T)hey became perfectly soft by boiling, but had a very bitter taste, which was naucious to my pallate, and I transferred them to the Indians who had ate them heartily.”

Lewisia rediviva growing in great abundance on cattle-grazed rangeland, west of Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva growing in great abundance on cattle-grazed rangeland, west of Ashcroft, B.C., May 2014. Image: HFN

Here is an excerpt of this plant’s entry in Lewis J. Clark’s 1972 masterwork, Wild Flowers of the Pacific Northwest.

This extraordinary plant, remarkable for its spectacular flowers and adaptation to a harsh environment, is the state flower of Montana, and gives its name to the Bitter Root Mountains.

The origin of the specific name is illustrated by an anecdote. Captain Meriwether Lewis, on July 1, 1806, when the celebrated expedition he led with William Clark had reached (on their return from Oregon) a point just south of the present city of Missoula, Montana, collected a specimen of what he recognized to be a remarkable plant, and pressed it between dry papers in a botanical press. Months afterward (in Philadelphia) this completely desiccated specimen was planted, since it still showed signs of life – and proceeded to grow! Pursh was so impressed that he aptly named the new species rediviva, restored to life.

We would like to see the Indian name retained, just as we have seen that the native name has survived for Camas, and has even been Latinized as Camassia. Spatlum, or Spaetlum, was even more important as a food resource to the aborigines, being more widespread and more readily kept for winter use. Bitter Root is, of course, the white man’s name – for even after removal of the intensely bitter, orange-coloured, inner bark, the white interior pulp remains rather unpalatable to the European taste.

Lewisia rediviva occurs – at times in vast numbers – both among the rock spurs of the high country, and the desert flats of the inter-mountain regions, from the crests of the Cascades eastward, and from southern British Columbia to southern California.

The relatively big, forked, fat rhizomes of the plant, after the first rains of waning summer, sprout a thick tuft of succulent leaves that resemble large plump fir-needles. These leaves survive the winter but begin to shrivel, and are often quite withered away by the following May, when the arid wastes are sprinkled – it seems almost overnight, miraculously – with brilliant “water-lily” blossoms – white, pink, and rose. These open only in bright sunshine, and afford a quite astounding spectacle. On dull days the spectacular waxen petals become furled, like an umbrella, within the brownish bracts and sepals, only to reappear within minutes – as if by magic – when the hot sun breaks through. The effect is breath-taking on some of the dry flats, where the plants adorn every few inches over many acres.

Each 2-inch flower (with its 12-18 petals) is solitary, carried about 3 inches above the ground, and ripens 6-20 shining brown seeds (that are spread widely when the dried capsule is broken off and rolled away by the wind). In spite of the destruction of many fields by cultivation, the lovely Bitter Root still is abundant in arid flats unsuited for irrigation.

On a 2014 journey through south-central British Columbia, we were thrilled to observe Lewisia rediviva in full bloom along the roadside near Ashcroft, B.C. A casual driver-by might miss this botanical spectacular, but a sharp-eyed plant person will have no difficulty in noticing something worthy of further investigation. Start searching on the west side of Highway 97, just south of the racetrack. Late April to mid-May is the time.

Lewisia rediviva habitat west of ashcroft may 2014 Image: HFN

This is what you’re looking for: Lewisia rediviva habitat, west of Ashcroft, B.C. May 2014. Image: HFN

Lewisia Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva.  Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva close-up Image: HFN

Lewisia rediviva. Image: HFN

Plants should not be taken from the wild, but can be grown from collected or commercially-purchased seed. Seeds should be sown in pots in autumn, and placed outside to overwinter in a freeze-thaw cycle. They will sprout when the weather warms in spring, and generally take several years to reach flowering stage.

Lewisia rediviva is only happy in a well-drained location with zero supplemental watering in summer – too much moisture will be fatal. Tiny foliage tufts overwinter under the snow, to give way to the spring blooms. Not for the garden proper, but a lovely rock garden plant, and worth trying in a hypertufa trough, if such is your horticultural pleasure.

 

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More bees on Scabiosa cousin Cephalaria tchihatchewii - 10 feet tall and alive with humming visitors. Hill Farm, July 21, 2014

Cephalaria tchihatchewii – Tchihatchev’s Cephalaria. This Scabiosa cousin is a true bee magnet. It reached 10 feet tall and was alive with humming and buzzing visitors at Hill Farm, July 21, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Dipsacaceae – Teasel Family. Native to Turkey and Iran. The genus name Cephalaria originates from the Greek kephale, “head”, and ala (alaria), “winged”, in reference to the large outer petals of the blooms. Tchihatchewii is after the Russian naturalist and biologist Pyotr Alexandrovich Chikhachyov (alternatively Chikhatchev/Tchihatchev), 1808-1890, who traveled widely throughout his long life and documented the flora of Asia Minor in his 3500-species Herbarium Chikhatchev.

This big, back-of-the-border, trouble-free plant has thrived here for almost twenty years. It originally arrived as part of an order of interesting perennials from a small, now-defunct Canadian prairie mailorder nursery. It has given me a whole lot of pleasure over the years, and has received a lot of positive comment from garden visitors.

Occasionally we dig it up and move it to a new position, knocking a division or two off to share with others, and it always settles back in without any issues, other than shorter bloom stalks for the season of the move.

Great big clumps of raggedly cut foliage reach 2 or 3 feet tall and wide, and send up many tall, multi-branched stems, 6 to 10 feet tall, which are starred by round, creamy sulphur-yellow, white-stamened “pincushion flowers” in July and August.

Bees and butterflies of all sorts love Cephalaria, as they do its close relation Scabiosa.

This plant is not particularily showy in the traditional sense of the word, but it is decidedly attactive. It is a good accent plant for others sharing its bloom season, and is a long-lasting cutflower for mixed bouquets. Place it mid or back of the border, where the graceful blooms can be best appreciated as a foil for the other things sharing its space.

It doesn’t generally need staking. Bloom stalks with their bristling, rounded seed clusters may be left intact to delight small birds in autumn, or cut back in the interests of garden tidiness. It will self sow if allowed, but we have found young plants easy to remove from where they’re not wanted. One plant is probably enough for any but the most expansive garden.

Tchihatchev’s Cephalaria has a number of equally garden-worthy relations, including the well-known Cephalaria gigantea – just as large, with identical blooms – I’m not quite sure what the botanical differences are, because they look pretty well interchangeable to me – and Cephalaria alpina, slightly smaller and more compact at a mere 4 to 6 feet.

Sun is best, average soil and moisture. Quite drought tolerant, but not what I’d call a true xeriscape plant, as the foliage yellows in very dry locations, and flower production suffers.

Cephalaria habit hill farm, July 2, 2014. Image: HFN

Cephalaria tchihatchewii. At the back of a sunny border, Hill Farm, July 21, 2014. Image: HFN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cepahalaria foliage hill farm july 2, 2015 Image: HFN

Cephalaria tchihatchewii. An out-of-focus glimpse of the foliage clump. (Leaves in left foreground are Echinops sphaerocephalus.) The Cephalaria‘s substantial dark green leaves are large and divided with raggedly-margined leaflets. Flowers are produced on individual stems coming from the leaf axils of the bloom stalks, starting at the base and going all the way up. Image: HFN

 

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Perennial. Zone 3. Plantaginaceae, formerly Scrophulariaceae. Syn. Penstemon pubescens. A.k.a. HAIRY BEARD-TONGUE. North America. In Canada, from Ontario eastward. The entire plant – leaves, stems, buds, flowers – is entirely covered by tiny, silky hairs, hence the Latin and common names.

Penstemon hirsutus is an attractive North American wildflower which is widely grown in gardens. There are numerous forms, including a dwarf type, Penstemon hirsutus ‘pygmaeus’, which is very popular in alpine gardens. Colours may range from pure white through pale lavender to rosy tones – but the most common is the blushed lavender pictured above.

This Penstemon is a quietly  elegant, rather understated plant. The foliage clumps are attractive, being composed of smooth, satin-textured, dark green, lanceolate leaves. Its roots are rhizomatous, and the plant slowly expands from its center. Penstemon hirsutus is completely non-invasive. Mature plants may be carefully divided and replanted in early spring to prolong the plant’s life, as they can get quite woody and die off  in the centers.

Slender stems arise in early summer, 18 to 30 inches tall. These are lined with loosely arranged whorls of small, pale-purple-flushed-with-darker-highlights, tubular flowers in late June through July. The buds and flowers have a silken sheen which rewards a closer look.

A rather beautiful plant, though not at all what one could call “showy”. I am fond of it, for its ease of growth and self-sufficiency – no need of staking or pruning or any sort of fussing –  and its profuse blooms, always alive with bees. All of the Penstemons are great hummingbird favourites, and this species is no exception.

Penstemon hirsutus is happy in any average garden soil. It is drought tolerant and can be used in xeriscape plantings, but will get larger and bloom more with at least a bit of supplemental moisture in the hottest months of summer. Full sun is best, though it can tolerate part-day light shade. A pleasant front-of-border plant.

Penstemon hirsutus coming to the end of its bloom time - Williams Lake, B.C. - July 2014. Image: HFN

A rosy-purple Penstemon hirsutus coming to the end of its bloom time – Williams Lake, B.C. – July 2014. Image: HFN

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Perennial. Zone 2. Asteraceae, formerly Compositae. East-Central Europe, Asia.  The genus name is from the Greek echinos = “hedgehog-like” (in some references “sea-urchin-like”) – in reference to the spiky structure of the bloom; ritro = “of gardens”.

This is often the first Globe Thistle every gardener starts out with – my original plant is alive and well and giving great pleasure more than twenty years after I received a hefty division of it, overflowing its disintegrating cardboard box, from a fellow-gardener friend. I’d admired her gorgeous dried flower bouquets containing the perfectly round, frosted blue Globe Thistles at an early autumn farmers’ market, and she remembered my interest the following spring.

Though the common name “thistle” might cause the neophyte Echinops grower some initial concern, the prickles on this plant are soft and benign. The lush, dark green, raggedly-cut foliage is tipped with flexible points, but they do not detach, and the plant can be handled easily with bare hands.

Echinops ritro is a clump former, with a height of 2 to 4 feet or so, depending on soil fertility and moisture, and a spread of about half its height.

Sturdy stems covered by fine white hairs produce perfectly globular buds in mid-summer, and these enlarge and expand and take on an increasingly intense blue tint, until the tiny electric-blue flowers pop open one by one and immediately attract bees, butterflies, and a host of other nectar and pollen seeking visitors. Bloom time of the large golf ball-sized and -shaped flower clusters is extended, easily 6 to 8 weeks or more, and the aging flower heads stay attractive well into fall, when they will be visited by chickadees and other small birds which relish the seeds.

Echinops ritro aging seedhead - still blue, ans still showing its perfectly globular structure - Hill Farm - early October, 2013. Foliage in background is of Plume Poppy, Macleaya cordata. Image: HFN

Echinops ritro – aging seed head – still blue, and still showing its perfectly globular structure – Hill Farm – early October, 2013. Foliage in background is of Plume Poppy, Macleaya cordata. Image: HFN

Echinops ritro is hardy and drought tolerant, but produces the best show in good garden soil with summer moisture. It spreads modestly at the roots, expanding its clump year by year, and it will also self sow in a mild way. Plants are tap rooted, but mature clumps may be divided with care in early spring.

Full sun to light shade is acceptable to this plant. It combines beautifully with the other blue garden thistle, Eryngium planum (Blue Sea Holly), as well as fall-blooming sedums such as Hylotephium x ‘Autumn Joy’, any of the Rudbeckias, and all sorts of ornamental grasses.

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Malva moschata 'rosea' 'Rose Perfection' Musk Mallow - Hill Farm, July 2013. Image: HFN

Malva moschata ‘rosea’ – ‘Rose Perfection’ Musk Mallow – Hill Farm, July 2013. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Malvaceae. Europe, North Africa.

When I was recently listing all of the “old faithful” nursery plants we seem to offer year after year after year, the Musk Mallows, pink and white, were at the very top. And I doubt this situation will change, for Malva moschata is one of the easiest perennials there is, though it does have its faults, the main one perhaps being its relatively short life span, which is balanced by its willingness to self sow, which is in turn balanced by the ease with which the seedlings can be recognized and removed from unwanted areas.

Musk Mallow is so named for the scent of the foliage when bruised, moschata meaning “musk-like”, though I must say that I have never particularly noticed much more than a general “green” scent when I have occasion to work with this plant. It was once apparently used quite extensively in perfumery.

From Jo Ann Gardner’s The Heirloom Garden, 1992:

The Musk Mallow was grown in colonial gardens, probably for its ease of culture and lovely flowers, fondly remembered from the Old Country, where it grew wild in abundance. Perhaps it was also valued as a herb. “Whosoever takes a spoonful of Mallows,” proclaimed the first-century Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, “will from that day be cured of all diseases that come to him.” For centuries species in the Mallow Family have been used to soothe inflammations and a variety of complaints. All parts of the Musk Mallow contain a mucilaginous sap suggestive of soothing. The genus name, Malva, comes from the Greek malakos, meaning “softening.”

Unlike other useful plants that were abandoned once they were no longer valued for their healing properties, the Musk Mallow was a favourite ornamental throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The elegant white form, ‘Alba’, (was) appreciated in the flower border for (its) beautiful and plentiful shimmering blossoms and accommodating habit.

Malva moschata 'rosea' - Musk Mallow 'Appleblossom' - Hill Farm, July 2011. Image: HFN

Malva moschata ‘rosea’ – Musk Mallow ‘Appleblossom’ – Hill Farm, July 2011. Image: HFN

The pink-flowered Musk Mallow, Malva moschata ‘rosea’, is a vigorous plant, making handsome, multi-branching clumps to 4 feet tall and 2 or 3 feet wide. Foliage is bright green, and deeply cut in rounded lobes. Clusters of buds appear in the leaf axils in June, and quickly open into silky-textured, saucer-shaped blooms with prominent bosses of pale yellow stamens. There are different degrees of mauve-tinted “pinkness”, from the pale cultivar ‘Appleblossom’ to the darker ‘Rose Perfection’.

The white-flowered Malva moschata ‘alba’ is a slightly smaller plant, reaching 2 to 3 feet in height. The blooms are white with delicate pink veining, and a blush of pink in the center. ‘White Perfection’ is the cultivar most commonly found.

The basal stems of Musk Mallow can get quite woody by autumn, and mature plants are rather shrub-like in effect. They bloom and bloom and bloom, with new flowers appearing along with the clusters of papery seed pods. If Musk Mallow gets out of hand and starts to lean a bit too heavily on its border neighbours, it can be shorn quite severely in midsummer, and will then cheerfully respond to this rather brutal ‘housekeeping’ by putting out fresh growth and a whole new crop of flowers. It will still be in bloom up to the final hard frost which ushers in winter.

New York gardener Louise Beebe Wilder, one of my very favourite botanical writers, published a book in 1935 entitled What Happens in My Garden, in which she has kind words for the Musk Mallows.

While the Hollyhock is undoubtedly queen of its tribe, some of its cousins are of passing charm. My favorite is the Musk Mallow, and the white Musk Mallow for choice, Malva moschata. They grow about two feet tall, bloom prodigally through July and August and sometimes into September, and the wide flaring blossoms borne in quick succession at the ends of the branches have a fine satin finish that is very attractive. The leaves are cut and cut again, and the plant has a nice bushy, space-filling habit. It was Miss Jekyll who suggested the cool and charming association of white Musk Mallows and steel-blue Eryngiums, one of the most pleasing of summer companionships. And I have found both the pink and white kinds delightful…(T)hese plants are friendly and blossomy when these attributes are most wanted.

Musk Mallow is wonderfully appealing to bees and other pollinators. It also makes a good cut flower. In general, an easy and appealing old-fashioned flower, happy to play a long-blooming supporting role in the perennial border.

 

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Myrrhis odorata - Sweet Cicely - Hill Farm - June 2013. Image: HFN

Myrrhis odorata – Sweet Cicely – Hill Farm – June 2013. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Apiaceae syn. Umbelliferae. Central Europe, the Pyrenees and the Caucasus. Widely naturalized in Europe and Great Britain. Myrrhis is from the Greek, in reference to the similarity of this plant’s aroma to that of the sap of the tropical myrrh tree (Commiphora species), much valued for perfumery. (The true myrrh was traditionally one of the costly gifts presented to the Baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men.) Odorata is from the Latin, “scented”.

I have never seen this lovely herb for sale in commercial nurseries in our area, which is why I was so thrilled to find it in a small roadside nursery near Bella Coola way back in 1998. I tucked it into a corner of the flower border, where it has maintained itself ever since, forming quite a vigorous colony of ferny, liquorice-scented foliage accented by lacy umbels of pure white blooms in spring.

The lacy flowers of Sweet Cicely are highly attractive to pollinating insects of all sorts. Hill Farm, May 2013. Image: HFN

The delicate flowers of Sweet Cicely are highly attractive to pollinating insects of all sorts. Hill Farm, May 2013. Image: HFN

I’ve transplanted seedlings – very carefully, for Myrrhis odorata has a long, brittle tap root – into various shady spots, where it happily settles in and adds its delicate leafiness to the general green tapestry effect. The blooms are followed by upright clusters of huge, light green seeds, which slowly darken to glossy black.

Sweet Cicely seed cluster - Hill Farm, May 2014. Image: HFN

Sweet Cicely seed cluster – Hill Farm, May 2014. Image: HFN

Where happy the plant reaches a substantial size, easily 2 feet or taller, and eventually several feet wide as the foliage expands through spring into early summer. Once blooming is finished, the plant may be shorn back to the ground, where it will re-sprout with renewed vigour and provide a pleasant backdrop for later-blooming flowers.

The texture of the foliage is delicately downy – it feels as soft as it looks. I have occasionally added it to cut flower bouquets for its ferny effect, but it isn’t really happy once cut, so I now mostly enjoy it in the garden.

Sweet Cicely has a long history of use as an herb, being strongly anise (licorice-like) scented in all of its parts, and having a very sweet flavour. It is one of the benign “innocent herbs” – edible in all of its parts, and free of potentially harmful components.

Myrrhis odorata will thrive in the sunny mixed perennial border, as it enjoys fertile soil and summer moisture. It can also be placed in quite deep shade, and, if encouraged to self-sow, will spread to fill in the area under high-pruned shrubs and trees.

I have not found Sweet Cicely to be particularly weedy – seedlings are easy to identify and easily plucked out – but it is a persistent plant once established (that taproot goes a long way down), so consider its siting carefully. Mature plants do not move well, so container grown starts and young seedlings are your best bet for bringing it into your own garden or for spreading it around.

Myrrhis odorata - Sweet Cicely - Hill Farm - June 2014. Image: HFN

Myrrhis odorata – Sweet Cicely – Hill Farm – June 2014. Image: HFN

Maud Grieve’s massive reference book, A Modern Herbal, first published in 1931, has these notes on Myrrhis odorata:

It is a native of Great Britain, a perennial with a thick root and very aromatic foliage, on account of which it was used in former days as a salad herb, or boiled, when the root, leaves, and seed were all used. The leaves are very large, somewhat downy beneath, and have a flavour rather like Anise, with a scent like Lovage. The first shoots consist of an almost triangular, lacey leaf, with a simple wing curving up from each side of its root. The stem grows from 2 to 3 feet high, bearing many leaves, and white flowers in early summer appear in compound umbels. In appearance it is rather like Hemlock, but is of a fresher green colour. The fruit is remarkably large, an inch long, dark brown, and fully flavoured. The leaves taste as if sugar had been sprinkled over them.

It is probable that it is not truly a wild plant, as it is usually found near houses, where it may very probably be cultivated in the garden. Sweet Cicely is very attractive to bees; in the north of England it is said that the seeds are used to polish and scent oak floors and furniture. In Germany they are still very generally used in cookery. The old herbalists describe the plant as ‘so harmless you cannot use it amiss.’ The roots were supposed to be not only excellent in a salad, but when boiled and eaten with oil and vinegar, to be ‘very good for old people that are dull and without courage; it rejoiceth and comforteth the heart and increaseth their lust and strength.’

 

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