Posts Tagged ‘Phlomis tuberosa’

Phlomis tuberosa - Hill Farm, June 2011. Image: HFN

Phlomis tuberosa – Hill Farm, June 2011. Apologies for the poor image quality, as it was taken in the evening, after rain. I have some better photos somewhere, from the pre-digital camera era, but this shall have to suffice for now. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Lamiaceae, formerly Labiatae. Eastern Europe, Turkey, Iran, Siberia. A plant of steppes and dry meadows.

The quirky Phlomis genus has always rather fascinated me. Without any real hope of having them succeed, I’ve labouriously grown from hard-to-germinate seed and promptly lost their first winters the beautiful yellow-flowered Phlomis fruticosa (Jerusalem Sage) and P. russeliana (Turkish Sage). “Root hardy to Zone 5,” say those who should know, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be good enough. But I will doubtless try again, for I’ve just been through the Mediterranean section of Van Dusen Garden in Vancouver, and even in its autumn disarray Phlomis fruticosa looks darned good, all velvet foliage and intricate seed heads.

Phlomis fruticosa - Jerusalem Sage - a true Mediterranean plant, shrubby and silver-leaved. In Vancouver's mild climate it thrives in a raised bed at Van Dusen Garden. (And check out the flourishing Bay Laurel behind it! Oh, envy...) October, 2014. Image: HFN

Phlomis fruticosa – Jerusalem Sage – a true Mediterranean plant, shrubby and silver-leaved. In Vancouver’s mild climate it thrives in a raised bed at Van Dusen Garden. (And check out the flourishing Bay Laurel behind it! Oh, grounds for some serious plant envy right here in this small image…) October, 2014. Image: HFN

So I turned my attention to the only other readily available species on the seed lists I had access to, the pink-flowered Phlomis tuberosa. A few seeds sprouted, and quickly grew into sturdy young plants, with dark green, elongated-heart-shaped foliage. Planted out, these survived their first winter with vigour, re-sprouting in spring in much more substantial clumps than I had anticipated. By year three, obviously happy in their Cariboo home, long bloom stalks appeared in late May, with whorls of intriguing buds, each sporting a pair of elongated leaves at the base. The buds eventually popped open into the most fascinating small, mauve pink, delicately fringed dragon’s head flowers. Not as spectacular as the much larger blooms of my yearned-for Phlomis fruticosa, but charming nonetheless.

Phlomis tuberosa has now been in my garden for almost two decades. It keeps getting moved around, and I’ve lost track of the many places I’ve rather heartlessly plunked it down in during our endless plant shuffles, for I found out early on that it was an agreeable sort of creature, easy to transplant and happy almost anywhere.

Here is an image of a really lovely Phlomis tuberosa in full bloom in its native habitat. Image:

Here is an image of a really lovely Phlomis tuberosa in full bloom in its native habitat, in this instance in Russia, “meadow steppe on a hilltop, vicinity of Saratov city, June 2011.” Image: Le.Loup.Gris, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Phlomis tuberosa is a slender sort of plant. It will reach 3 or 4 feet tall in bloom stage, with numerous wiry, angular-sided stems arising from a tidy basal rosette perhaps a foot or so in diameter. Foliage is excellent and looks good spring to fall, being glossy, dark green, and roughly heart-shaped.

Whorls – technically “verticillasters” – of tiny, tubular, deliciously fringed pale purple-pink flowers in tiers on the slender but sturdy red-blushed stems appear in late spring. Each “ring” of blooms in the cluster opens at the same time, and the quiet show goes on through June and often into July, after which the developing seed heads may either be clipped off or left for garden interest.

Phlomis tuberosa has never needed staking, despite its height. The roots are quite fascinating, as you will find if you have reason to transplant a mature plant. Hanging from the ropy root clusters are many perfectly round tubers, like tiny potatoes. These are apparently quite edible – though please don’t experiment only on my say-so! – and were used as food by indigenous peoples in the plant’s native ranges.

Those storage roots may also explain Phlomis tuberosa’s wonderful adaptability. Established plants can take severe drought, and hold their own well among encroaching grasses, which has led to its use as a flowering accent in the famous “prairie borders” of such influential landscape designers as Holland’s Piet Oudolf. A potentially useful xeriscape plant for the Cariboo.

Though you may see Phlomis tuberosa rated at a conservative Zone 6 or so in much literature, rest assured that it is a lot hardier than that, and, if planted in the spring and given a growing season to get its roots down, can handle Zone 2 conditions without any trouble whatsoever.

This is not a particularly showy plant, but it is happily interesting, and I hope to continue growing it for many years to come. I’ve just pulled my own much-abused plants out of a border where they were being overshadowed by a massive Joe-Pye Weed, and have plunked them in the nursery rows in the garden to await a new placement come spring. I’m not quite sure where they will end up this time around, but I do know that they are “keepers”.

Bees and butterflies love Phlomis tuberosa, too. It may be grown in sun to light shade, and can handle any sort of soil. Good with sedums and ornamental grasses.

You may see Phlomis tuberosa listed with a cultivar name. A commonly seen tag is ‘Bronze Flamingo’, though as far as I have been able to discover this is merely a plant trade invention to up the appeal of the rather ho-hum species name. If visiting specialty plant nurseries on the coast, you may come across a cultivar named ‘Amazone’, which is reported to be an improvement of the species type, being larger in all of its parts and much taller, apparently to 7 feet.

Here is a detail of the fantastic flower arrangement of Phlomis tuberosa. Check out the beautifully fringed petals. Nowe the cultivar name 'Flamingo' makes sense, doesn't it? Image:

Here is a detail of the fantastic flower arrangement of Phlomis tuberosa. Check out the beautifully fringed petals. Now the cultivar name ‘Flamingo’ makes sense, doesn’t it? Image: Taken in Austria, June 2013, by Stefan.lefnaer, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

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