Archive for the ‘White’ 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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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 4. Scrophulariaceae. Mid-Eastern North America, including Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. A.k.a. FOXGLOVE PENSTEMON.

Some years ago Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ was absolutely everywhere, and being touted as something of a wonder plant – “Long blooming!” “Beautiful foliage!” “Drought tolerant!”  It was the Perennial Plant Association’s “Perennial of the Year” in 1996, which is generally a recommendation of good garden merit, but in this case I do believe the hype was greater than the plant proved to be. I grew it for a few seasons and thought it nice enough in a minor-key way, but when it succumbed to a not-particularly-hard winter, I shrugged and moved on.

‘Mystica’ is the offspring of ‘Husker’s Red’, and has proven to be a generally better plant than its parent. Released in 2008, ‘Mystica’ is not receiving nearly as much promotion as its ancestor, but the word in the gardening world is uniformly positive. I’ve been growing it for four or five seasons now, and I have found it quietly attractive and reliably hardy.

Penstemon digitalis is a showy North American wildflower, widely adapted to various soils and happy in full sun to light shade. It is drought resistant to the point of being included on xeriscape lists, though the nicest specimens are those which receive at least a bit of attention in the way of decent soil and some summer moisture. Both ‘Husker’s Red’ and ‘Mystica’ are selections of the species, developed by choosing the seedlings with desirable traits (dark foliage, showy flowers, long bloom time, hardiness) through successive generations.

‘Mystica’ makes a tidy clump of purple-flushed, silky-smooth foliage. 18 to 24 inch tall bloom stems emerge in early summer, and produce pretty, white-blushed-with-purple rather foxglove-like blooms for 3 to 4 weeks. Once the flowers drop, the glossy purple seed pods provide garden interest. The foliage stays attractive right until first snowfall, responding to cooler autumn temperatures with a reddening of its dusky leaves.

As with all of the Penstemons, hummingbirds love ‘Mystica’, as do numerous types of bees and other insects. It is nice towards the border front, and is tidy enough for the rock garden. In general, a good plant, attractive for three seasons and adaptable in a wide range of conditions.

‘Mystica’ is propagated by seed, so plants are a bit variable as to ultimate height and coloration of foliage. Occasionally a mostly green plant shows up in a batch, but when I kept a few of these instead of rogueing them out, I found them to be perfectly acceptable, blooming away nicely with their showier-foliaged siblings, and adding some contrast to the small colony in my garden.

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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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Leontopodium alpinum - Alpine Edelweiss - Williams Lake, July 2014. Image: HFN

Leontopodium alpinum – Alpine Edelweiss – Williams Lake, B.C., July 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Asteraceae, formerly known as Compositae. Widespread in European and North Asian mountain regions. Perhaps most famously this plant is found the Swiss-Austrian-Bavarian Alps, where much of the popular culture folklore surrounding it has originated. Leontopodium is a Latin translation from the Greek and literally means “lion’s paw”, for the shape of the flowers. This appearance is also noted in the local common name, Chatzen-Talpen, Swiss-German for “cat’s paw”. Alpinum is self explanatory. The common name Edelweiss is from the German: edel = noble, and weiss = white.

This small alpine plant has a fascinating history. It was something of a Victorian era symbol of bravery and devotion, for the flower was reputed to bloom only in the most inaccessible alpine regions. Fetching a bloom for one’s loved one to wear on her bosom proved your courage and dedication beyond doubt. This was something of a fictional fabrication, as the plants were not terribly rare or particularly hard to access, until the tourist boom in alpine climbing in the 1800s and over-picking as a souvenir caused heavy pressure on the species. It is now a protected plant throughout its native ranges.

Edelweiss was used as a military badge device by various European alpine countries, and, during World War II, ironically both by German special forces and by anti-Nazi youth groups in Germany.

Edelweiss is now perhaps most strongly associated with Switzerland, though its range spreads far beyond the Swiss Alps. It appears on mountaineering club badges, coats of arms, and of course all sorts of tourist merchandise and handicrafts.

And of course then there is “that song”, made famous in American popular culture by the Hollywood musical “The Sound of Music”, with its sentimental ode to the little alpine flower crooned lovingly by Julie Andrews and a troupe of winsome children.

How does this plant live up to the romance of its legend, one might ask oneself. Is it really that special? I think it depends on each gardener’s susceptibility to imaginative and emotional associations. I do know that I have sold a goodly number of these to Swiss expatriate gardeners over the years, their general reaction when spotting these on the table at the Farmers’ Markets we attend throughout the Cariboo being something like “Ah! Edelweiss! Wonderful! How many do you have?!”

It is rather a sweet little thing, with the added appeal of being a grand everlasting. The wooly flowers dry perfectly, and always remind me of tiny white starfish.

Tidy clumps of densely fuzzy, pale green foliage send up many 6 to 8 inch tall stems topped by clusters of woolly-white star-shaped blooms in summer. These last for a very long time in the garden, and, as just mentioned, make excellent everlastings. A very soft and appealing flower.

Leontopodium alpinum is perhaps happiest in a rockery or on a slight slope at the border edge; it appreciates sharp drainage. Any average soil will do, with some summer moisture appreciated. Full sun is best, to very light shade.

For the dedicated rock gardeners, it is worth noting that are quite a number of excellent Leontopodium species, from tiny ground-huggers to substantial clumpers up to a foot tall, hailing from a wide array of mountain ranges, including the Himalayas. Alpine garden club seed exchanges are a rich resource if seeking these out.

Not a long-lived plant by nature, Edelweiss often fades away after a few years. It is a profuse bloomer and this sometimes causes the plant to not have enough resources to overwinter after a few seasons of pushing out an endless succession of flowers. One may allow a few blooms to mature seed to collect for re-sowing indoors in early spring. I have never noticed self-sown seedlings, though in a less crowded garden than my own and with a certain amount of care and attention I suspect one could create a naturalized, self-maintaining colony of this easy little alpine.

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Biennial/Monocarpic Perennial. Zone 3. Campanulaceae. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Syn. Campanula hofmannii. A.k.a. PENDULOUS BELLFLOWER, HOFMANN’S RINGED BELLFLOWER.

Most people are not terribly familiar with any of the Symphyandra, for while they are widely grown in botanic and alpine gardens, the genus is rather rare in the mainstream plant trade. But there are many keen gardeners who grow the various species with great pleasure, including well-known British Columbia garden writer, Helen Chestnut. Here is what she had to say in her column in the Victoria Times Colonist, July 17, 2008:

The description of a Campanula relative, Symphyandra hofmannii (pendulous bellflower), in a 2006 seed catalogue caught my attention. Placed in the front garden early last summer, the plants resulting from those seeds are pure enchantment this summer. They have grown to form slender pyramids of soft leaves and stems heavily hung with large, creamy white, bell-shaped flowers. My plants are about 40 cm (16 inches) high. They are very unusual, and utterly charming.

“Charming” is indeed an apt word for this quietly pretty flower, in any of its dozen or so species. Symphyandra hofmannii is particularly nice.

The plant is monocarpic, which means it dies after flowering and setting seed, and therefore is generally classed among the biennials.

The first year long-leaved, rather wrinkly foliage rosettes form. The second year brings the bloom. Many upright-to-gently-arching 12 to 18 inch long stems arise from the basal clump. These are lined with inflated, down-facing buds, which open into a succession of large, ivory white blooms for a long period in summer.

Symphyandra hofmannii is happy in sun to part shade, in good soil with average moisture. It will set seed generously, and may be allowed to self sow to perpetuate itself in the garden. Clipping off the bloom stalks before seed matures may allow another season of bloom, but then again your plant may decide to expire without replicating itself, having done its best to bloom itself to death as its nature intends it to, so I don’t recommend this.

A note on nomenclature:

Symphyandra is as close as close to Campanula. In fact, by the time of this writing, the genera may again be combined, as botanists play their endless game of familial and generic splitting and lumping, aided (encouraged?) by botanical DNA analysts.

What separates the sheep from the goats – er – the Symphyandra from the Campanula – is a small detail regarding the anthers, the parts of a flower’s stamen which produces pollen. In Campanula the anthers are separate. In Symphyandra they are united to form a tube surrounding the style. (I should probably stop here, unless I want to add diagrams. Probably too much information already!) In any event, this explains the genus name, from the Greek symphio – “to grow together” – and andros – “anther”.

The specific name commemorates botanist Florian Hoffmann, who collected this plant in the mountains of Yugoslavia in the late 19th Century; the name was first assigned in 1881.

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