Posts Tagged ‘Trachystemon orientalis’

UBC Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C. April 8, 2014

Trachystemon orientalis – UBC Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C. April 8, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 4/5. Boraginaceae. Syn. Borago orientalis. Bulgaria, Turkey, northern Asia.

Something of a bio plant (“botanical interest only”) but one which I am intrigued by, having long had a strong affection for the members of the Boraginaceae as a whole.

Deep green, crisply wrinkled, rather bristly leaves arise in early spring, along with many 6-inch stems topped by loose spikes of many small, star-shaped blue blooms with curiously reflexed petals and prominent stamen clusters. A rich nectar source, the flowers are a favourite of foraging bees. Once the flowers subside in May, the foliage expands to form a dense colony of 18-inch long, bright green leaves, reminiscent of a colony of furry-leaved hostas.

Most literature dismisses Trachystemon orientalis as hardy only to Zone 6, but properly sited, in humus-rich soil in areas with reliable snow cover, this one is worth a try in our region’s Zone 4-ish woodland gardens.

From UBC Botanical Garden horticulturist Jackie Chambers, April 2, 2008:

A fine example of Trachystemon orientalis can be found in the David C. Lam Asian Garden here at UBC. The coarse-textured, heart-shaped leaves are bright green and reach 25-30cm long. However, it is the dainty blue flowers, currently in bloom, that are the most striking feature of this perennial groundcover.

The flowers are held on hairy, purple flower stalks of 15-30cm in height. Flower stalks emerge in early spring (March-April) before the leaves have reached full size. Individual flowers are about 1cm in diameter, and are hermaphroditic – meaning they have both staminate (pollen producing) and carpellate (ovule producing) structures. Stiff hairs and blue flowers are typical features of members of Boraginaceae.

Trachystemon is derived from the Greek trachys, meaning rough, and stemon, a stamen. The species name orientalis means eastern or from the orient, and is a reference to the native distribution of this species. Trachystemon orientalis is endemic to southeastern Europe and western Asia.

In Turkey, the plant is eaten as a vegetable, and has the common name aci hodan. The flowers, stems, young leaves and rhizome may all be cooked and eaten.

English common names include Abraham-Isaac-Jacob, and Eastern or Oriental borage.

From a horticulturist perspective, this plant is an extremely useful groundcover; while it prefers partly shaded woodland locations, it can tolerate full sun to shade, and a range of soil conditions. It even performs well in dry shade which is always a challenge for gardeners.

Trachystemon orientalis grows in forested and subalpine areas of its native lands, where it is collected in early spring as a much-loved delicacy. It is sold in the local farmers’ markets and prepared rather like spinach, though I would fervently hope that the overall bristly texture is subdued by cooking.

A gardener from Ankara, Turkey, shared this comment on an online garden forum I occasionally visit:

This plant is highly edible and grows in the Black Sea mountains in Turkey. Much like spinach it needs a very good soak and rinsing several times because of the bristles. It is a lovely food, stem and flowers included, when chopped and added to sautéed chopped onions then whisked eggs stirred in and allowed to cook through. Salt and pepper to taste.

It is a seasonal plant and not available except by foraging for it. (The common name in Turkey is) ‘Kaldirik’.

Grown as an ornamental in Great Britain since the 1860s, it was reportedly introduced to North American in the 1970s by renowned plantsman John Elsley, who has been instrumental in introducing many new-to-the-continent species and cultivars to the North American nursery trade.

Still very rare in the nursery trade in Canada. Reported to be easy from seed, so a good place to start would be the various alpine garden club seed exchanges, or keep an eye out if visiting a coastal specialty nursery. Hill Farm Nursery hopes to be able to offer this plant in the future. A test planting is in the ground as of fall 2014.

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