Posts Tagged ‘Plant Portraits’

Work in Progress:

  • aug 13 2011 018 (3)

    Sunflowers and Scarlet Runner Beans – Revelstoke, B.C. – August 2011. Image: HFN

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  • We are continually adding posts to this page. It is indexed and searchable, and can be referenced year to year.
  • Plant Portraits appear in order of posting, but if you are looking for something in particular, you can click over to the PLANT INDEX page, which is an ongoing compilation of links, or use the SEARCH function which appears in the right hand sidebar.
  • This page is not a sales list – it’s a general interest discussion of plants we’ve encountered:  in our gardens, in other people’s gardens, and in the wild.
  • Double-clicking photos will usually enlarge them in a new window.

The Legal Stuff:

  • All herbal/medicinal information is provided for general interest only. Please do not use historical or anecdotal references as a recommendation and/or guarantee of safe use.
  • For commercial use of Hill Farm Nursery images or information, please contact us for permission. High resolution images are available for purchase as jpeg files; please inquire.
  • For general non-commercial reuse, a quick message to ask permission is also requested; we are very easy to deal with! A credit/link to our site is appreciated.

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Petasites sagittatus (syn. frigidus var. sagittatus) - Arrow-Leaf Coltsfoot, in roadside swamp, Gibraltar Mine Road, McLeese Lake, B.C. - June 9, 2014.

Petasites sagittatus (syn. P. frigidus var. sagittatus) – Arrow-Leaved Coltsfoot, in roadside swamp, Gibraltar Mine Road, McLeese Lake, B.C. – June 9, 2014. In full seedhead development, which is the plant’s most conspicuous stage. The pure white “fluffs”, on foot-high (or taller) stems, are extremely eye-catching. These quickly disperse, leaving only the broad leaves as evidence of the plant’s presence. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Asteraceae. (Syn. Compositae.) Widespread through Northern North America, Alaska to Labrador. Found in wet seepages, swampy lake margins, and boggy meadows.

“I’ve seen a plant that I think you should look at,” reported Edwin the other day. “It’s got pure white flowers on tall stems, and it’s growing in the swamp on the Gibraltar Mine hill, just where the great blue heron hangs out.”

Well, that was like catnip to a cat, and off we went, camera at the ready. “What could it be?” I pondered, with dreams of finding something exotic. But as soon as we got close, the identification was immediate. It was the rather spectacular seed stage of yet another Coltsfoot.

This is decidedly the most noticeable Coltsfoot – Petasites –  in the Cariboo-Chilcotin, with its large (up to a foot long) arrowhead shaped leaves, green on the surface, and felted white underneath.

Leaves are large, thickly textured, and entire, with sharply toothed margins. The leaf surfaces are quite smooth, but the undersides are thickly coated with tiny, silky white hairs, making for an interesting contrast.

Leaves are large, thickly textured, and entire, with sharply toothed margins. The leaf surfaces are quite smooth, but the undersides are thickly coated with tiny, silky white hairs, making for an interesting contrast. Near McLeese Lake, June 9, 2014. Image: HFN

Petasites sagittatus has a creeping rootstalk, with flower stalks rising from it some distance away from the leaves. The flower stalks emerge in early spring, well before the leaves, and are thick, conspicuously bracted, and topped by clusters of typically Composite Family flowers, consisting of many disc flowers and surrounding ray flowers. Flowers range in shade from a slightly greyish white to faintly pink.

The seedheads are tall, up to 18 inches, and display cotton-ball white clusters of long-haired achenes, which soon disperse on the wind.

June 9, 2014 - Almost ready to fly away...

June 9, 2014 – Almost ready to fly away… Image: HFN

...and there they go.

…and there they go. Image: HFN

This species will sometimes overlap with the other regional Petasites, P. frigidus var. nivalis and P. frigidus var. palmatus, and hybrids showing a mixture of traits may result, but in general this is the easiest of the Coltsfoots to positively identify.

This plant will happily naturalize in a cultivated bog garden, though its vigorous nature and substantial size should be taken into consideration before introducing it.

First Nations’ uses of all of the Coltsfoots included use as an early spring green (cooked), and as a salt substitute (the leaves were burned, leaving a salty residue), and medicinally for chest and stomach ailments. These uses duly noted, it is not recommended that one experiment with consuming or self-medicating with any of the Petasites, as they all contain potentially harmful, liver-damaging alkaloids.

A handsome and unique genus.

One last look - June 9, 2014.

One last look – June 9, 2014. Image: HFN

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Convallaria majalis - Lily-of-the-Valley - Williams Lake, B.C. - May 23, 2014

Convallaria majalis – Lily-of-the-Valley – Williams Lake, B.C. – May 23, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1. Asparagaceae, formerly Liliaceae. Woodland flower of Northern Europe, from England east and south to the Caucasus, into northern Turkey. Also found in Japan, and the North American Appalachians, though there is some speculation that the American population originated from introduced plants.

Lily-of-the-Valley has been grown in gardens since at least 1000 B.C. It is well documented in many herbals and plant lists, and was an important medicinal herb as well as a highly-regarded ornamental. Today most of its uses are decorative, though the species’ chemical constituents are being studied for various medicinal applications, and it is used in homeopathy as a remedy for various heart conditions.

By mid to late April in Cariboo-Chilcotin garden, the tightly furled spikes of Lily-of-the-Valley start to emerge, soon unfolding into dark green, mule-ear shaped leaves, with the bloom clusters visible at the base of each foliage cluster.

A thriving colony of Convallaria majalis in early May - Hill Farm, 2014. If you look closely you will see the emerging flower buds at the base of the leaf clusters.

A thriving colony of Convallaria majalis in early May – Hill Farm, 2014. If you look closely you will see the emerging flower buds at the bases of the leaf clusters. Image: HFN

As May progresses the leaves expand to form a solid carpet of green, and the bloom stems lengthen, until one long-anticipated day one becomes aware, by catching a waft of the unmistakable fragrance, that the first flowers have opened.

Early June, Hill Farm, 2010.

Early June, Hill Farm, 2010. Image: HFN

The blooms are pristinely perfect: tiny pure white bells with pale yellow stamens, arranged in gently arching sprays. Thickly textured and long lasting, these are marvelous cut flowers, being free of their fragrance even after several days in a vase. Lilies-of-the-Valley are classic wedding bouquet flowers, and are commercially grown for the specialty florist market, though brides in months other than when the plants naturally flower should be prepared to pay a premium price for the artificially-forced greenhouse-grown blooms, which will also not be as fragrant as their garden-grown counterparts.

In the Victorian “Language of Flowers”, Lily-of-the-Valley signified “return to happiness” and “expectation of love”, which, along with the delicate virginal beauty of the blooms, no doubt accounts for its many bridal associations.

The fragrance of the flowers is outstanding, and perfumers have tried for centuries to mimic it in their concoctions, for though it is freely produced, it is not able to be captured in any sort of usable way. Reasonable imitations have been produced chemically, but there is truly nothing like the real thing, from a cluster of the dew-wet blooms picked on a fresh May morning.

To grow your own plot of Convallaria, you should first prepare a patch of shady ground by removing all surface tree and shrub roots and potentially competing grasses and other plants, and then digging in some well-rotted compost or manure. Plant the shallow-rooted pips just as they come out of their pots, with the rhizomes extending at right angles from the leaf clusters. Keep well watered and weeded the first season, and after that the plants should settle in to form an ever-expanding, maintenance-free colony. 

Lily-of-the-Valley does very well under trees and high-pruned shrubs, thriving on the filtered sunlight coming through leaves. Though very shade tolerant, plants do need some natural light if they are to bloom, so avoid dense shade such as that on the north side of buildings. Also avoid planting these in the mixed border, as they are happier where they can form a single-species colony. Very vigorous larger plants will crowd them out, and they in turn will gobble up more delicate things; the ongoing struggle will not be a happy thing, so it’s best to dedicate an area to your plantation right from the start.

Many people inquire as to the poisonous aspects of this plant, as it does appear on many “toxic garden flower” lists. Though all parts of the plant contain cardiac-affecting glycosides and digestive system-affecting saponins, though there are very few confirmed cases of actual poisonings, and no confirmed fatalities. It is theorized that, though potentially dangerous, the chemical constituents in the fresh plant matter are poorly absorbed by the digestive tract, so though accidental consumption might make you feel quite sick, it probably won’t kill you. (And I can’t imagine why one would accidentally consume this plant, as it is quite distinctive and not likely to be mistaken for anything else during any stages of its growth.)  The plants frequently produce red berries in the summer and autumn and this may be of some concern to those with very young children; be aware and garden with this in mind.

Convallaria majalis ‘striata’ – Hill Farm – May 26, 2014. Image: HFN

There are a number of interesting variations of this venerable garden plant occasionally available at specialty nurseries. We are in the process of propagating our own small colony of the striped-leaved variety, Convallaria majalis ‘striata’, and hope to be able to share these in a few more years. There is also a rosy-pink variation, Convallaria majalis ‘rosea’, and a double type, Convallaria majalis ‘prolificans’, though these last two are much less vigorous than their ancestors.

 

 

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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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Asarum europaeum - European Wild Ginger - Dense foliage mat - Williams Lake, B.C. - May 23, 2014

Asarum europaeum – European Wild Ginger – Showing the beautiful foliage and densely mat-forming habit – Williams Lake, B.C. – May 23, 2014 Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Aristolochiaceae. Central Europe, Scandinavia, Russia to western Siberia. A creeping groundcover of moist deciduous and mixed forests. Received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 2007. A.k.a. Hazelwort, for its presence under hazelnut bushes in its native woods, and Asarabacca, perhaps in reference to its long-ago use as a medicinal snuff.

Thickly textured, very glossy, slightly marbled, heart-shaped foliage is the main attraction to this quietly handsome woodlander.

Plants spread by creeping roots and modest self seeding to form dense mats, a slow process but very rewarding in the long term.

Excellent with woodland ferns and as an underplanting to trees and shrubs, as long as there is sufficient soil and humus to keep the Asarum well nourished. Shade and adequate summer moisture are much appreciated; this is not a particularly drought tolerant plant.

Leaves reach 4 inches or so in height; each plant is about 4 to 6 inches wide or so, so it is best to plant several in a group to get a head start on your own wild ginger patch. The plant is evergreen in mild climates, but dies down over winter in the Cariboo. Do not clip back or pull away the old foliage but leave it be to shelter new growth. Completely maintenance free!

The common name comes from the mild ginger aroma of the shallow, rather fleshy roots. The roots were once used medicinally as a purgative, and for various skin ailments, and to induce sneezing. Leaves apparently smell and taste like pepper; I haven’t investigated this myself. Asarum europaeum is still used in homeopathy.

The flowers of this plant are exceedingly unique. They are tiny, three-lobed, tubular structures, and are produced at the very base of the foliage. These lie flat on the ground, and emit a faint carrion-like aroma, which attracts pollinating insects – small flies, ants, and crawling beetles. One thing to note is the woolly hairiness of the stems and outer blooms, in contrast to the glossy smoothness of the leaf surfaces.

Close-up of Asarum europaeum flowers. Completely hidden under the foliage, these are pollinated by beetles and crawling insects.

Close-up of Asarum europaeum flowers. Completely hidden under the foliage, these are pollinated by beetles and crawling insects. Image: HFN

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Happily at home in a Williams Lake garden, under native fir trees on a west-facing slope, Asarum europaeum attractively coexists with natives such as holly-like Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium). Image: HFN

Gently encroaching on another dense mat-former, Gentiana acaulis, in a Williams Lake woodland garden. May 23, 2014.

Gently encroaching on another dense mat-former, Gentiana acaulis, in a Williams Lake woodland garden. May 23, 2014. Image: HFN

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Cushion Spurge - Euphorbia polychroma (syn. E. epithymoides) - Prince George, B.C. - May 18, 2014

Cushion Spurge – Euphorbia polychroma (syn. E. epithymoides) – Prince George, B.C. – May 18, 2014 Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1. Euphorbiaceae. Native of Europe from southern Germany to the Ukraine, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, where it grows in dry forests, mixed meadows, and on rocky hillsides.

Euphorbia was named by Linnaeus in 1753 for Euphorbus, the Greek physician of King Juba II (circa 12 B.C.E.) of ancient Numidia and Mauretania (approximately present-day Morocco), who reportedly discovered medicinal uses for the local species. While Linnaeus assigned the species name epithymoides for this plant, it was renamed polychroma in the 1850s by yet another classifying botanist, Anton Josef Kerner, and this name soon took precedence and is the more commonly recognized designation today. Polychroma is after the Greek polu – ‘many’ – and xrwma – ‘colour’, a reference to the shaded colours of the bracted stem tops and ornate flower clusters.

Sun to part shade; average conditions. This appears to be a deer resistant plant – something to note for those of you afflicted by these increasingly bold and destructive garden pests.

It’s well into May, and everywhere I go these days I note the unmistakably glow of this unique specimen plant. It flourishes happily in mature, well established gardens as much as in newer, more avant-garde plantings accenting newly built homes in the posher parts of town. When (and where) the lilacs bloom, then (and there) too the cushion spurge.

I first became aware of this rather unusual and eye-catching ornamental during our first spring living in an older neighbourhood in a small Alberta town. Many of the front porches of the modest clapboard-sided 1930s’ and 40s’ era homes were flanked by perfectly globular, neon-yellow-tipped twin bushes. Some kind of exotic shrub? – I wondered to myself, until a visit to the botanical garden at the Calgary Zoo acquainted me with its Latin name, and I was able to track it down in the gardening books. (This was long pre-internet – I smile at the memory of how laborious this sort of rather basic research used to be, before the wonders of the Google image search!)

The natural form of this plant is neatly globular, though it may occasionally "birdsnest" with summer thunderstorms. If this happens, a hard trim to within 6 inches or so of the crown will result in quick regrowth to tidy cushion shape.

The natural form of this plant is neatly globular, though it may occasionally “birdsnest” with summer thunderstorms. If this happens, a hard trim to within 6 inches or so of the crown will result in quick regrowth to tidy cushion shape. Image: HFN

Cushion spurge grows to 18 inches tall and 2 ft. wide where happy – which is most places, as it is an adaptable, good-natured thing. It thrives in sun to part shade, and in modestly moist to dry soils, though it doesn’t care for overly soggy ground. Once established it is very drought tolerant, though it will definitely appreciate the occasional soaking in hot summers.

Clumps of woody-based stems are lined with whorls of soft green, rounded foliage, which are tipped with the modified leaves commonly referred to as bracts, though the correct term in this case is cyathium leaves. These turn a vivid, glowing, chartreuse-yellow, centered with clusters of tiny, even brighter yellow petal-less florets. These clusters include nectar-rich glands – nectaries – which reward foraging pollinators. I have not noticed that bees are particularly attracted to the blooms – though they do visit – but the highest traffic seems to be small flies, and ants and other crawling insects.

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Note the small visitor. Image: HFN

An even closer view showing flower structure, and the downy hairs which give the entire plant its velvety texture.

An even closer view showing flower structure, and the downy hairs which give the entire plant its velvety texture. Image: HFN

After blooming and pollination – peak bloom time is all through May and into June – the yellow colour fades to a uniform green. Seed capsules form which eventually pop open later in the summer, catapulting seeds out into the garden, where they sprout in modest numbers. Seedlings are easily removed or transplanted to more desirable locations, where they quickly settle down to the business of growing and forming yet another perfect little globe.

Cushion spurge remains attractive through summer, and can be left to fend for itself or clipped back to produce fresh foliage. The plant fades to yellow in the autumn, frequently showing a red stage before the leaves finally wither after the last, hardest frosts.

Several “improved” (or perhaps one might say “enhanced”) cultivars of Euphorbia polychroma are popular in the nursery trade, including the burgundy-blushed ‘Bonfire’, a patented selection of the Euphorbia polychroma ‘purpurea’ sport which has been grown as a desirable rarity for many years, sometimes under the cultivar name ‘Candy’, and the white-pink-green ‘First Blush’. Of these two types I much prefer the red-leaved variety, as I’ve noticed that the white-variegated form is much less vigorous, and seems to show a high percentage of deformed and puckered leaves.

Euphorbia polychrome 'purpurea' - red-leafed form - an excellent specimen plant, more restrained and smaller than the green-leaved original.

Euphorbia polychrome ‘purpurea’ – red-leaved form – an excellent specimen plant, slightly more restrained and measurably smaller than the green-leaved original. Hill Farm, May 21, 2014. Image: HFN

E. polychroma 'purpurea' shows its richest dark red shading just before the yellow bracts fully develop; after blooming it fades to a uniform green.

E. polychroma ‘purpurea’ shows its richest dark red shading just before the yellow bracts fully develop; after blooming it fades to a uniform green. Image: HFN

The common form of this handsome plant is a venerable garden old-timer, having been grown for centuries both for ornament and for occasional medicinal use. John Gerard’s masterwork The herball, or Generall historie of plantes, first published in England in 1633, reported of  Spurge that “…the juice or milke is good to stop hollow teeth…”  A modern commentator theorizes that the poisonous latex probably destroyed the nerve endings. The specific species of Euphorbia referred to is unknown, though all share the same milky (and irritating) sap. 

Another medicinal use, and the origin of the common name of this very large genus (over 2000 species, found worldwide), is that of a purgative – a vigorous laxative – though one that was prescribed with some caution, as the violence of its action could be fatal if the decoction was too strong. From the French medical term describing the process, “espurgier”, came  the English “purge”, and hence “spurge”, or so the theorizing goes. Though we no longer find ourselves partaking of the plant in any way except that of enjoying its attractive appearance, it is a good idea to treat the plant with sensible respect.

The sap of some species was used to beautify the complexion, and to remove warts, but the herbalists warned about the dangers of letting it get into the eyes, as it could cause severe damage, even blindness, a caveat which has been brought forward to the present day. Some people experience a skin rash from handling the cut foliage, so it is best to be on the safe side and use gloves while pruning. Avoid contact with the milky sap, and supervise young garden visitors if they are too young to heed “don’t touch” warnings.

Don’t let this last bit about the fearsome qualities of the sap put you off – this is a very widely grown plant and incidents of problems with it are exceedingly rare. It doesn’t need much fussing, and can safely be handled with the same common sense that applies throughout the garden. “Don’t put the monkshood leaves in the salad; don’t poke yourself in the eye with the spurge.” There, see how easy that is?! 🙂

One final note. Euphorbia polychroma/epithymoides was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious Award of Garden Merit in 1993, confirming its excellent ornamental qualities to the world at large. Experienced gardeners will have taken this as a confirmation of what they already knew. This is a quietly grand garden plant.

 

 

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Corydalis aurea – McLeese Lake, B.C. – May 17, 2014.  Image: HFN

Annual/Biennial. Zone 2. Fumariaceae. North America. Widespread throughout North America, in particular in areas disturbed by development, logging and forest fires. Common in the Cariboo-Chilcotin on recently disturbed ground – on graded roadsides, in gravel pits, and in newly logged areas.

This interesting and largely ephemeral early spring bloomer is occasionally abundant and always something of a surprise to see, appearing in the most unexpected places. Once it blooms in earliest spring, it quickly fades away after casting out its seeds, which can remain dormant for decades until germination conditions are again to its liking.

Technically a winter annual, Yellow Corydalis sprouts in the summer, makes an inconspicuous foliage clump which overwinters in semi-evergreen state, and then advances quickly into flowering stage in early spring. By July its life cycle is nearing its end; the beautiful, lacy, grey-green foliage is turning yellow and the plant is fading fast. No sign of it will be left by autumn.

Corydalis aurea - growing in a gravel pit near McLeese Lake, B.C. - May 17, 2014

Corydalis aurea – growing in a gravel pit near McLeese Lake, B.C. – May 17, 2014. Image: HFN

Plants expand quickly from their over-wintered rosettes, reaching 6 to 12 inches in height and spread. Roots are tap-rooted and fleshy, with spreading side roots. Foliage is rather “carrot-like” in appearance, being much divided, slightly succulent, and softly blue-green.

Tubular blooms are bright yellow blushed with green and are produced in great abundance during the few weeks of flowering time. Early-foraging wild bees are attracted to the nectar-rich blooms, and sometimes bore into the tubes to avoid having to negotiate their way past the stamens at the opening of the flowers.

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Corydalis aurea – detail of flower cluster. Image: HFN

Seeds produced by Corydalis aurea are small, black and shiny, and form encased in slender, cylindrical pods. They are very attractive to ants, who aid in their dispersal by caching the seeds in underground storage chambers; it is theorized that when these nests are disrupted the seeds are brought back to the surface where they then germinate in great abundance.

This plant may be introduced into the rock garden as it is very showy in early spring, but as its ongoing garden presence depends upon random germination of the seeds and the plants themselves disappear after blooming, it should be sited with this in mind, and not depended on as a feature plant.

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The tiny, slender, legume-like seed pods may be seen at the base of the central floral cluster. Image: HFN

Corydalis aurea is reportedly very toxic to sheep, and less so to cattle and horses, though I am unaware of any poisoning incidents in our region. Because of the plant’s early emergence, and its palatability – sheep paradoxically find it quite delicious – stock owners might be advised to keep an eye out for this plant when investigating their spring pastures before turnout.

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