Archive for the ‘Purple’ Category

Corallorhiza striata - Striped Coral-Root. Near Tyee Lake, B.C., June 12, 2014.

Corallorhiza striata – Striped Coral-Root. Near Tyee Lake, B.C., June 12, 2014.

Perennial. Zone 1/2. Orchidaceae. From the southern Peace River district and through B.C. and the Pacific Northwest into California. Found in most Canadian provinces and in many American states, and into Mexico and Central America.

This unusual and rather rare orchid is occasionally found in the moist forests of the Cariboo-Chilcotin, most often in conjunction with rotting wood, as it is a saprophyte, a plant which feeds entirely off of decaying organic matter in the soil. As it has no need of chlorophyll, the leaves are merely small bracts on the stem, and there is no green coloration to any part of the plant.

I was very pleased to come upon this thriving clump yesterday, on the edge of a wet meadow next to a fallen poplar tree. It may be found in bloom from May into mid-summer, and is often an unexpected find, having no foliage clump to mark its presence in the times before and after blooming, though the dried flower stems will give the sharp-eyed botanist a clue.

The bloom stems arise from rhizomes – elongated underground stems – and vary from a single spike to a generous grouping. Stems are pale brownish-purple, and typical hooded orchid flowers are vividly striped with darker purple over a whitish background.

Up to 20 intricate flowers are produced on each 12-inch (or taller) stem, and are pollinated by a variety of insects, including mosquitoes and tiny parasitic wasps. There is no detectable (to a human) fragrance. Seed capsules form after pollination, and mature many tiny seeds which are dispersed by wind or by disturbance of the dried flower spike.

Lewis J. Clark, Wild Flowers of British Columbia, 1973:

Like most members of the Orchid family, the Coral-roots are becoming increasingly rare as cultivation progressively destroys their habitats. The plant-lover should not attempt to transplant Corallorhiza species to the garden, because the odd, clubbed rhizomes are associated, for their work of extracting nourishment from decayed organic materials, with a complex group of fungi found only in natural sites.

A plea, then, to enjoy in the wild, and to leave undisturbed in the hope that this unusual flower may continue to thrive as part of an intricately balanced natural forest community.

Corallorhiza striata - June 12, 2014

Corallorhiza striata – June 12, 2014

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Shrubby Penstemon - Penstemon fruticosus var. scouleri - low clumps of large, light purple blooms are locally abundant throughout the Cariboo-Chilcotin on rocky cliffs and steep, gravelly, roadside cutbanks in mid-spring. This photo was taken near Soda Creek, B.C., May 23, 2010.

Shrubby Penstemon – Penstemon fruticosus var. scouleri – low, woody, fine-leaved foliage clumps covered with large, tubular, light purple blooms are locally abundant throughout the Cariboo-Chilcotin on rocky cliffs and steep, gravelly, roadside cutbanks in mid-spring. This photo was taken near Soda Creek, B.C., May 23, 2010. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1/2. Scrophulariacea. North America; in Canada throughout the southern third of B.C. east of the Cascades and west to the Rockies, and in the United States common in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. A.k.a. Shrubby Beardtongue, Scouler’s Penstemon.

In bloom from May until July, depending on elevation, this floriferous sub-shrub is unmistakeable when seen on the roadside. It favours steep rock bluffs, gravel pits and roadsides, flourishing best in well-drained, rocky/sandy soil. Its pale purple blooms range in shade of warm violet to cool mauve, with occasional (very rare) white sports.

Here is what Lewis J. Clark had to say in his 1972 Wild Flowers of British Columbia:

This subshrubby species is described by its name, fruticosus meaning shrub-like. It is a variable species, but in all its forms is very beautiful. Choice forms are easily obtained for the garden by taking short cuttings, which root very readily in sand…To keep the plants attractively compact and floriferous, they should be given gritty soil with very little food.

The plants are semi-evergreen, a proportion of the leaves usually turning reddish in the fall, and later dropping. Commonly the compact framework of branches is 6-12 inches tall. Leaves are generally without hairs, up to 2 inches long, but usually shorter…narrow, almost elliptic and obscurely toothed. Flowers are relatively large (up to 2 inches long), generally blue-lavender, but so highly variable that the gardener should always be on the alert for exceptionally good colour forms. White, and beautiful pink specimens are seen occasionally…

 

This close-up of Penstemon fruticosus var. scouleri found growing in generous abundance on the gravel roadsides opposite the huge open-pit Highland Valley Copper Mine east of Ashcroft, B.C. shows the reason for the common name of this genus - 'Beardtongue'. Lewis J. Clark: "The lower luip of the corolla is ornamented with two deep folds and with long white hairs. When the corolla is slit lengthwise, the anthers (and also the filament of the half-length infertile stamen) are seen to be densely white haired."

This close-up of one of the  Penstemon fruticosus var. scouleri clumps found growing in generous abundance on the gravel roadsides opposite the huge open-pit Highland Valley Copper Mine east of Ashcroft, B.C. shows the reason for the common name of this genus – ‘Beardtongue’. Lewis J. Clark: “The lower lip of the corolla is ornamented with two deep folds and with long white hairs. When the corolla is slit lengthwise, the anthers (and also the filament of the half-length infertile stamen) are seen to be densely white haired.” (Click on the image to open an enlargement, which will show the afore-mentioned long white hairs on the lip folds.) Image: HFN

According to Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia (Parish, Coupé, Lloyd – Lone Pine Publishing – 1996), traditional First Nations’ uses of this plant included the production of a dye to colour basket-making materials, in pit cooking to flavour root vegetables, and medicinally as a purgative, and to bathe sore eyes and sooth ulcers, wounds, and arthritic joints.

Though in general removing plants from the wild to the garden is frowned upon, in the case of this penstemon all of my guidebooks mention how easy it is to establish from stem cuttings rooted in grit or sand, and as this technique will not harm the parent plant, one may in good conscience give it a try. Seeds are abundantly produced in pointed capsules, but are difficult to germinate, so might not be the best way to obtain this lovely species.

This is definitely a plant for a specialized location, requiring full sun and extremely well-drained soil to thrive, as evidenced by its flourishing in pure gravel in the wild. It would be wonderful in a rockery where it could cascade over a border or down a slope. Bloom time is relatively short, a few weeks in late May and early June, but the plants stay reasonably attractive throughout the rest of the growing season. A good xeriscape plant.

Shrubby Penstemon and its many fellow species are much favoured by bees and hummingbirds, another point in favour of stopping to observe this plant in the wild, and of incorporating it in the garden if one has a favourable spot.

Growing in a roadside gravel pit, Highland Valley Copper Mine, Ashcroft, B.C. - June 8, 2014. A few miles west, the roadside display was even more spectacular - a veritable carpet of purple under the pine trees on both sides of the road.

Growing in a roadside gravel pit, Highland Valley Copper Mine, Ashcroft, B.C. – June 8, 2014. A few miles west, the roadside display was even more spectacular – a veritable carpet of purple under the pine trees on both sides of the road. Image: HFN

Plant habit is that of a tidy round mound. Closer investigation shows that the shrubby stems radiate from a central point, with a main taproot providing the anchoring point. Highland Valley Copper Mine, June 8, 2014.

Plant habit is that of a tidy round mound. Closer investigation shows that the shrubby stems radiate from a central point, with a main taproot providing the anchoring point. Highland Valley Copper Mine, June 8, 2014. Image: HFN

A brighter violet individual. The bloom time of Shrubby Penstemon coincides with that of the showy cream-coloured locoweed (Oxytropis sp.).

A brighter violet individual. The bloom time of Shrubby Penstemon coincides with that of the showy cream-coloured locoweed (Oxytropis sp.), making for an attractive colour combination which could be easily replicated in the rock garden. Image: HFN

One of the nicest displays of Penstemon fruticosus var. scouleri that I've ever seen is on a steep roadside cutbank above Dunlevy Ranch in Soda Creek, B.C., a few miles south of Hill Farm. May 23, 2010.

One of the nicest displays of Penstemon fruticosus var. scouleri that I’ve ever seen is on a steep roadside cutbank above Dunlevy Ranch in Soda Creek, B.C., a few miles south of Hill Farm. This photo was taken May 23, 2010. Image: HFN

 

 

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Wild Four-O-Clocks - Mirabilis nyctaginea. Spences Bridge, B.C. May 30, 2014.

Wild Four-O-Clocks – Mirabilis nyctaginea. Spences Bridge, B.C. May 30, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 6, possibly colder. Nyctaginaceae. A.k.a. Heart-Leaved Four-O’Clock, Umbrellawort. Native to the Great Plains of the United States, as well as southern regions of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Isolated introduced populations found throughout B.C., Alberta and Quebec.

On a recent road trip, heading through the arid rangelands and rolling hills south of Cache Creek and following the Thompson River’s deeply carved valley as it heads towards its spectacular rendezvous with the Fraser at Lytton, my attention was caught by several tall clumps of lush, dark green foliage, showing clusters of small but vivid magenta-pink blooms. Pulling over in a wide spot on the road, I looped back to take a closer look.

An initial examination of the flower structure and foliage gave me an “Aha!” moment. Could this possibly be wild four-o’clocks? It wasn’t in any of the wildflower field guides I had along, nor, when back home, in my trusty and comprehensive Lewis J. Clark’s Wild Flowers of British Columbia, but an internet search yielded an immediate confirmation.

Plant habit is eye-catching, in this case because of its unexpectedly lush greenness set against a background of silver-green sagebrush and bunchgrass-tufted hills.

Near Spences Bridge, May 30, 2014. Plant habit is eye-catching, in this case because of its unexpectedly lush greenness set against a background of silver-green sagebrush and bunchgrass-tufted hills. Image: HFN

My online research yielded these details.

The plants grow in vigorous clumps from 1 to 3 feet tall (these were about 2 feet tall), with broad, heart-shaped, opposite leaves clasping the angle-sided stems. Flower clusters show green bracts at the bases of the tubular flowers, which are of a bright magenta pink. Stamens are also magenta, tipped with yellow pollen. After flowering, the bracts enlarge into a papery “umbrella” centered by a cluster of large, rather hairy nutlet-type seed. These bracts then act as parachutes during the seed dispersion stage.

The plant forms a large, tuberous tap-root, which extends a foot or more into the soil, allowing the plant to thrive in arid conditions. This root is what has led this plant to be classified as a weed-of-concern in some regions, as it is very hard to eradicate once established, being highly herbicide resistant, and able to resprout from root fragments left in the soil after pulling. (And of course the wind-dispersed seeds would also be a major factor in its ability to spread, especially in areas of disturbed soil.)

The sweet-tasting roots of this plant were used by indigenous peoples as a poultice for skin ailments and burns, and as a medicinal tea to expel worms, and to treat fevers and bladder complaints. Though pigs apparently dig up and eat the roots with great relish – they are recommended for eradication in agricultural infestations – there is some speculation that Mirabilis nyctaginea may contain some mildly toxic alkaloids, so experimentation with herbal use is not advised.

I suspect that this plant would not be winter hardy in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, but it might well succeed as an annual, as its domestic relative, the lovely and fragrant Mirabilis jalapa (the commonly grown garden flower Four-O’Clocks, or Marvel-of-Peru) blooms generously as a summer-flowering annual, and forms a similar fleshy root which does not withstand freezing soil.

While decidedly pretty in a low-key way, Mirabilis nyctaginea is not particularly showy, and reports of its “weedy” tendencies would make me cautious to recommend this plant, though it might be an interesting addition to a wildflower planting if one is feeling adventurous, and is prepared to remove seedheads before they can disperse. Seed is often available for this plant through botanical seed exchanges, and commercially through some specialist native plant seed houses.

Near Spences Bridge, B.C. May 30, 2014.

Near Spences Bridge, B.C. May 30, 2014. Image: HFN

 

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Viola elatior - Tall Woodland Violet - Hill Farm, Macalister, B.C. - May 23, 2014. One-year-old seed-grown plants.

Viola elatior – Tall Woodland Violet – Hill Farm, Macalister, B.C. – May 23, 2014. One-year-old seed-grown plants. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 4. Violaceae. Syn. Viola erecta; V. montana. Central and Eastern Europe, from Northern Italy and France east to Siberia and Northwest China. Natural habitat is sunny marsh meadows, moist woodland, and rocky water edges.

This charming Old World woodland flower has taken to garden life with great success, and is a popular item in the various specialty garden society seed exchanges, which may ultimately save this species from extinction. Tall Woodland Violet is becoming very rare now in much of its native habitat, due to agriculture and urban development pressures.

The plant habit is an upright clump of very elongated, bright green, thinly-heart-shaped foliage. The effect is rather shrubby in well-established plants. It may reach 18 inches in height where conditions are just right; even if shorter the plant habit is very upright versus spreading. Plants are completely herbaceous, and die to the ground in winter.

The centres of these violets are a pristine white, giving a two-tone effect which is accentuated as the bloom edges darken with age.

The centres of these violets are a pristine white, giving a two-tone effect which is accentuated as the bloom edges darken with age. Image: HFN

In May and June generous numbers of pale purple, 1-inch violets with white central shading and beards and dark purple whiskers are produced. Some references mention mild fragrance; others declare Viola elatior scentless. I checked mine, and couldn’t detect any aroma, so will assume that noticeable scent is not a general characteristic of this species.

The overall effect of this pretty violet is that of quiet elegance. Just the thing for a not-too-dry corner of the rockery, to set off lower-growing plants such as the miniature campanulas or Oenothera minima, or to follow small spring bulbs.

Sun to part shade; appreciates humus-rich soils. Best with a steady supply of moisture, though it will handle dryer conditions if grown in shade.

 

 

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Perennial. Zone 2. Lamiaceae. Native to Great Britain, Europe, West Asia, North Africa.

Deep green, pebbly-textured, rather pungently aromatic foliage is arranged in basal rosettes. The plant sends up numerous multi-branching stems to 2 ft. or so, which produce hundreds of large “dragon’s head” flowers from late spring into summer. These are a bright violet blue in the original species, and shades of indigo-violet, mauve-pink and white in a number of named cultivars.

Meadow Clary is very showy during its bloom phase; the spent flowers drop neatly off and new buds at the top of the bloom spikes open in succession for many weeks. These flowers are alive with bees and butterflies on sunny summer days, and are frequently visited by hummingbirds. Meadow Clary is also reported to be a deer resistant plant, which may be of interest if you are one of the many Cariboo gardeners besieged by our increasingly bold garden-invading deer population.

Historically, Meadow Clary was used by brewers as a substitute for true Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea, as a flavouring in beer making. Though there are a few mentions made in literature of its medicinal use, generally in cough mixtures and so on, Salvia pratensis is not considered a medicinal herb. Its centuries-old inclusion in gardens must therefore be assumed to be purely for the pleasure of its blooms, and quite possibly for its attractiveness to bees.

There are a number of modern named cultivars of Meadow Clary. ‘INDIGO’, a deep rich purple-blue, has received the coveted Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. The ‘Meadow Ballet’ series is an excellent group, and includes ‘SWAN LAKE’ (pure white), ‘ROSE RHAPSODY’ (soft mauve-pink), ‘SWEET ESMERALDA’ (warm rich reddish violet), and ‘TWILIGHT SERENADE’ (soft violet blue). ‘MADELINE’ is a bi-coloured violet and white, and ‘MIDSUMMER’ is a pale violet-blue. There are numerous other pratensis cultivars available, especially in Germany, where the “meadow garden” incorporating ornamental grasses and grassland flowers is something of an art form. Some exciting new inter-specific crosses are being introduced which I will be watching for, such as a pratensis x sylvestris ‘ROYAL CRIMSON DISTINCTION’, a rich red-violet.

The original “unimproved” wild variety is also a very lovely thing!

Though the wild plants are reportedly very rare now in much of the former native range, Salvia pratensis and its cultivars are highly valued in ornamental gardens. I have grown this species and its cultivars for many years, and have found it easy, reliable and very lovely; it blooms with the earliest rugosa roses, and the rich violet blues, soft mauves and pure whites of the Meadow Clary set off the roses beautifully. Meadow Clary is also an excellent cutflower. Sun to very light shade; average soil & moisture. Drought tolerant once established. Mature plants are hardy and long lived, and self-sown seedlings are easy to either relocate to a desired location, or to weed out.

The plants will self-sow, but as the seeds take some time to fully ripen and drop, clipping off the bloom stalk when the last blossoms fall will prevent its seeding, if this is a concern. To purposely save seed for re-sowing, it is best to examine the maturing bloom stalks fairly frequently, and clip or pinch off the individual florets as the seeds, four small nutlets in a tight cluster, turn from tan to black. These should be further dried (I use paper lunch bags to allow for good air circulation) before storing away. Salvia pratensis germinates readily at warm temperatures, and the large seeds pressed gently into the surface of a flat of starter mix (light is beneficial to germination of all Salvias) should show sprouts within a few days.

Note: Though Meadow Clary has been grown worldwide in gardens for centuries as an ornamental, with the recent hyper-awareness regarding non-native (“exotic”) invasive species, there is some concern in parts of the United States that this species might naturalize and become a noxious weed in rangeland areas. It is therefore suggested that gardeners be aware of the self-seeding tendencies of their plants, and  prevent spread of Salvia pratensis (and, indeed, any ornamental plants) beyond the garden area. Clipping the bloom stalks after flowering is the best way to ensure this, though modest self-seeding within the perimeters of the garden is often encouraged by gardeners. I include this note not because I have found this species to be a problem in my garden, or in any others that I am aware off, but merely in the interests of “responsible gardening” at large.

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Image: HFN

Perennial. Z2. This is a relatively new cultivar, introduced in 1998. It is a hybrid of the gorgeous bicoloured monkshood, Aconitum cammarum, and a Himalayan species, A. spicatum. The individual hooded flowers look rather like bleached out versions of its variegated parent, being grayish white with faded purple veins, with a darker stamen cluster, but the overall effect is really something quite wonderful. Instead of the loosely arranged florets of A. cammarum, ‘Stainless Steel’ produces densely flowered spikes.

The plant is very vigorous and reliably sturdy, and the 3 to 4 foot stems stand tall without staking. It blooms for me for a very long time, through July and August, with reliable autumn rebloom if the first spent spikes are trimmed back. It sets abundant seed, but so far I have not seen any seedlings; I suspect that it may be a sterile cross. The photo included here is of the secondary bloom; the first spikes are much more lush and full.

If you see this one anywhere, buy it! It’s an excellent Monkshood. I may have a few divisions to spare this spring, as I’m thinking of moving my 5-year-old parent plant, but this depends on what I find when I get the clump out of the ground. Some Aconitums divide quite readily, while others are difficult to separate without damaging the crowns. I’m including it in this list just because it is so grand, and I’d like to recommend it, even if it’s not for sale from us!

Site carefully, as it does take a few years to really get going, and will resent being moved around too much, if it’s anything like its relations. Light shade is best, with good soil and some summer moisture. Note: All monkshoods are poisonous in all of their parts. Keep this­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ in mind when dividing, and if you garden with very small children.

Edited April 13, 2013 – I have been poking around in the garden and – such a disappointment! – it looks like ‘Stainless Steel’ did not make the (very mild) winter of 2012-13. Which was completely unexpected, as it had seemed quite happy and had reached quite a magnificent size. Monkshoods in general are tough and long-lived, so not sure what this is all about. I’ll be looking for another one; my recommendation still stands. Just one of those things in the perennial plant world, I guess…

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Vernonia noveboracensis – Ironweed – University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C. – September 2008. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3.  Asteraceae. Eastern North America.

In the months of lavender, late summer

and early fall…

…in the ageing fields

ironweed opens bright fur to nectar moths…

Purple Asters ~ Robert Morgan ~ 1981

My first glimpse of Ironweed at the UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver left me completely smitten. I’d certainly heard about it before, often recommended as a back-of-border fall-bloomer, but the reality of the eye-popping neon purple and the intricacy of the flower clusters was hugely more appealing than any of the rather washy photos I’d seen.

Vernonia is a huge genus estimated at over 1000 species worldwide. A number of the tropical species are important food plants, producing edible foliage. I have not yet heard of a similar use for any of the more temperate varieties, though a study of ethnobotany would doubtless find culinary and medicinal uses on this continent as well.

Of the 17 Vernonia species documented in North America, noveboracensis is probably the best-known. It is named after the English botanist William Vernon who first collected specimens of the plant in Maryland in 1698. The specific name, noveboracensis, refers to its wide occurrence in the state of New York, and indeed through a large range on the eastern seaboard from Massachusetts to Mississippi. It does not appear to be native to Canada, though it is now widely available from specialist nurseries in this country.

Ironweed’s common name most likely comes from the rusty-red colour of the seedheads. As the vivid purple petals eventually wither and turn brown, clinging to their calyxes, small puffs of rather dandelion-like seed clusters emerge. These are eagerly consumed by chickadees and other small seed eaters, who love to perch on the sturdy ironweed clumps to forage for food and to survey their surroundings from a safe height.

The stems of ironweed are also iron-strong, as one of the UBC gardeners joked to me. This is not a flower to be casually snapped off – pruning shears are definitely in order when harvesting blooms for bouquets. And you will definitely want to do that. The vivid purple tassels contrast perfectly with other fall bloomers; the paler mauve Joe-Pye Weed, any of the Rudbeckia, Echinacea and taller Sedums, late-blooming Phlox paniculata, plume poppy, the Michaelmas daisies and the last of the annual sunflowers all combine to make a sweetly fragrant and long-lasting autumn arrangement.

Ironweed is definitely a wildflower; unkind souls might even dismiss it as rather weedy. Undeniable – I certainly would not place it in a front-row position. At the border back it provides a nice foliage presence to frame more “domesticated” earlier flowers, and, once these are over, a welcome burst of colour to usher in autumn.

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A closer look at the bloom clusters. Note the unique “checkering” of the buds. Image: HFN

                         October inherits summer’s hand-me-downs: the last of the ironweed, its purple silken tatters turning brown, and the tiny starry white asters tumbling untidily on the ground like children rolling with laughter…

Rural Free ~ Rachel Peden ~ 1961 

This is a rambly sort of Plant Portrait; I really do like this plant. Perhaps I should concentrate on its garden attributes. Read on! (If you so wish.)

Brilliant purple, sweetly fragrant tassel-flowers emerge from clusters of elongated, geometrically-checkered buds mid-August through September.

Foliage is undeniably rather coarse. Heavy, pointed and lightly serrated 6 to 8 inch long, lanceolate leaves are dark green with paler undersides. THese are arranged alternately along the sturdy stems.

This ironweed is a sturdy clump-former, 4 to 6 feet tall, with a 2 to 4 foot spread. It grows largest on moist soils. It does not run from roots. It may self seed, but is not invasive in my experience.  For shorter, bushier plants, cut back when 24″ tall; new growth will quickly re-sprout and produce double the flowers in late summer on more compact plants.

Handsome in its own rough way, Ironweed is best sited as a back-of-border or wild garden plant. It comes into its own in late summer and fall when the main perennials bloom seasons is over.

Rather similar in effect and garden use to Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium) but colour is much more vibrant, being a “neon” shade of bright purple. Blooms fade to red-rusty brown, which is likely the reason for the common name.

A grand bee and butterfly flower, and an important nectar source in late summer. It is visited by migrating hummingbirds as they travel southward. The seed heads may be left on plant to provide seed for wild birds (though this may result in self-sown seedlings next year), or clipped off. Sturdy stems stand up to heavy snowfall; a favourite perch for small seed-eating birds if the seed heads remain.

Oh, and it’s deer resistant.

Widely adaptable to most situations. Likes moisture but tolerant of dryness. Prefers soil on the acidic side, but happily tolerates alkalinity.

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