Posts Tagged ‘White’

Palmate Coltsfoot - Petasites frigidus var. palmatus - Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. - April 8, 2014.

Palmate Coltsfoot – Petasites frigidus var. palmatus – Van Dusen Garden, Vancouver, B.C. – April 8, 2014. Image: HFN


Perennial. Zone 2. Asteraceae. (Syn. Compositae.) Widespread through Western North America. Common to wet coniferous forest and subalpine regions of B.C. A.k.a. Arctic Sweet Coltsfoot.

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

Petasites derives from the Greek petasos, a broad-rimmed hat, which describes the wide basal leaves. Palmatus (is) from the large hand-shaped leaves…

Most Composites bloom late in the year, but the Colt’s Foot pushes its thick stem through the ground at the beginning of March, sometimes while snow still lingers. Soon the rapidly lengthening shoot displays a heavy, flattened cluster of purplish (sometimes white, rarely yellow) flower-heads. These are of two kinds, the staminate soon withering. The pistillate-heads usually have a few short ray-florets. By early summer they are succeeded by clusters of achenes whose radiating pappus recall a very large, but flattened, Dandelion “puff”.


Petasites frigidus var. palmatus – close-up of pistillate heads. Image: HFN


Palmate Coltsfoot – Van Dusen Garden – April 8, 2014. Image: HFN

This species is very similar to Sweet Coltsfoot, Petasites frigidus var. nivalis, and as the ranges overlap, hybridization often occurs, making positive identification something of a challenge.

No matter what the details of nomenclature, the native Petasites found throughout the Cariboo are quietly spectacular in a low-growing, botanically interesting sort of way, being among the earliest bloomers and a sign of the start of the brief but intense growing season proper.

These plants happily grow in the garden, being most suited to moist wild gardens and boggy areas. They do spread vigorously where happy via underground rhizomes, so that is something to keep in mind when siting.

Coltsfoot is reported to be attractive to early foraging bees and other pollinating insects.

Ethnobotanical uses of Palmate Coltsfoot (and its relations) include flowering stalks and young leaves being used as an early “potherb”, no doubt highly welcome after a long winter of no fresh greens. According to the field guide Plants of Northern British Columbia (MacKinnon, Pojar and Coupé, 1992), Petasites leaves were used to cover berries in steam-cooking pits. Medicinal uses were widespread, with decoctions used to treat chest and respiratory ailments, as well as externally applied to treat rheumatism.

An interesting use which I have seen referred to in several places is the value of the plant as a salt substitute, either as an addition to stews, or from the ashes of the burned leaves.

As with any medicinal or culinary use of plants, it is best to be cautious about consuming or applying anything one is not familiar with; the above uses are provided merely as historical notes and not recommendations or suggestions. Petasites species contain alkaloids which may cause liver damage when ingested.

Palmate Coltsfoot at UBC Botanical Garden, April 8, 2014. This population shows the rosy colour variation.

Palmate Coltsfoot at UBC Botanical Garden, April 8, 2014. This population shows the rosy colour variation. Image: HFN

Newly emerging foliage in the background - notice the "palmate" form of the "hand-like" leaves. UBC Botanical Garden, April 8, 2014.

Newly emerging foliage in the background – notice the “palmate” form of the “hand-like” leaves. UBC Botanical Garden, April 8, 2014. Image: HFN

Close-up of flower cluster. UBC Botanical Garden, April 8, 2014.

Close-up of flower cluster. UBC Botanical Garden, April 8, 2014. Image: HFN

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Big-Leaf White Tansy at Hill Farm, July 2012.

Tanacetum macrophyllum – Big-Leaf White Tansy at Hill Farm, July 2012. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Asteraceae. (Formerly Compositae.) Syn. Chrysanthemum macrophyllum. Native from central and eastern Europe to southern Russia; the Carpathian Mountains south to Macedonia.

Grey-green, silky-textured, toothed leaves to 8 inches in length line 24 to 36 inch tall stems, which are topped by dense corymbes of ivory-white, yellow-stamened, yarrow-like flowers in June and July. Whole plant is pungently aromatic when touched.

Detail of flowers and bracted buds. Hill Farm, Macalister, B.C. - July 2011.

Tanacetum macrophyllum – Detail of flowers and bracted buds. Hill Farm, Macalister, B.C. – July 2011. Image: HFN

Detail of ray-and-disk composite flowers. Note small pollinator, mid-right. July 2011.

Detail of ray-and-disk composite flowers. Note small pollinator, mid-right. July 2011. Image: HFN

I recently came upon an interesting ethnobotanical report from Albania which reports that there is a traditional herbal use for Tanacetum macrophyllum. On St. George’s Day, May 6 – one of the most important rural religious festivals which is focussed around taking the flocks of sheep and goats to their summer pastures – this tansy in combination with nettles is rubbed on the goats’ udders in order to increase milk production. Also on St. George’s Day, a close relative, Tanacetum vulgare – Common Tansy, which we know as an introduced European species whose bright yellow button flowers are a common summer sight along rural Cariboo roadsides – is hung in Albanian and Macedonian stables and on butter churns as a good luck charm for abundant milk production.

Tanacetum macrophyllum has also been used to produce an essential oil which is being researched for its effectiveness as an antibacterial and antinflammatory.

If one doesn’t have a dairy goat around, or ambitions to pursue herbal medicine, one can still enjoy Big-Leaf Tansy in the garden. The early foliage is very lovely, being curled and frond-like with contrasting pale undersides, and the flower clusters quietly handsome in bloom. The bloom corymbs turn a mellow shade of greyish-brown as the florets fade; these can be clipped off for tidiness or allowed to remain on the plants, as they are not at all obtrusive.

Big-Leaf White Tansy forms a substantial clump in a year or two, reaching 2 feet in diameter and  3 to 4 feet in height. It is healthily vigorous but generally well-mannered. You may occasionally find a few seedlings, but they are easy to trowel out. Mature plants may be divided, the woody centers cut away, and the younger sections replanted.

This plant is good in mid-border as a contrast plant to showier-flowered things, and in the herb or wildflower garden.

Content in sun to light shade, and very happy with average garden conditions. The richer the soil the lusher it grows, but it is adaptable and can be quite drought tolerant if need be.


Tanacetum macrophyllum – a look at the rather attractive foliage. Image: HFN


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

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

Perennial. Zone 3. Araceae. Kamchatka Peninsula of northeastern Russia, Sakhalin and Kuril Islands, northern Japan.  Closely related to the native yellow-spathed Skunk Cabbage, Lysichiton americanus.

Very early blooming, emerging through the last of the snow and flowering from late April through May. Big white spathes with a central green spadix packed with tiny green flowers. Large, thick, shiny green leaves.

Pollinated by beetles and flies, which are attracted by the somewhat transient fragrance of the flowers. Foliage is musky-scented when bruised, hence the common name. Foliage clumps are 2 to 3 ft. tall.

A handsome species for the bog garden, edge of pond or stream, or wet woodland garden. Prefers shade. This one thrives in moist conditions, and will require some extra care to establish in Cariboo gardens, though it should prove fully hardy where happy, especially in areas where the native Skunk Cabbage already thrives. It is reported to hybridize with Lysichiton americanus; offspring will show cream coloured spathes which will be larger and more showy than both parents, according to botanical garden reports from England.

Of most interest in earliest spring into early summer, when the seed pods form and the foliage starts to get a bit tired. The “skunky” aroma is not particularly offensive, but it is noticeable when plants are disturbed.

Very rare in cultivation in our region; one for the serious collector. Fraser’s Thimble Farms on Saltspring Island is a good place to inquire if you are keen on giving this one a try. Slow growing, taking five years or so to reach full size, but long-lived and problem free once established.

Lysichiton camschatcensis has received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.

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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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Althaea officinalis – Marsh Mallow. Hill Farm, summer 2010. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Malvaceae. North Africa, Western Asia, Europe. 

This ancient medicinal herb makes a pleasant border background plant. It’s definitely not showy but it has a certain presence about it. The plant forms a long-lived, many-branched clump of 6 foot tall stems lined with  maple-leaf-like, soft, grey-green foliage.

The rather small, inconspicuous, white to pale purple flowers like miniature single hollyhocks are produced over a very long season, from summer well into fall.

An “innocent” plant, as the old herbalists called it – all parts are safe to consume, with no harmful properties. The soothing properties of the plant made it a popular and reportedly effective treatment for sore throats, and it was one of the herbs grown in the monastery gardens of Medieval times.

The plant was also used to produce original “marshmallow” confection, with the roots yielding a mucilaginous sap which was mixed with honey by the ancient Egyptians to form a candy. French confectioners of the 1800s whipped the root extract with sugar to form a frothy dessert. Eventually the plant sap itself was replaced with egg white and sugar, and the popular snow-white marshmallow candies we know today were developed.

A highly adaptable clump former which thrives with some moisture and can tolerate some standing water, Marsh Mallow is just as happy in dry garden soils, though it will be shorter. The occasional seedling may appear, but never enough to cause a problem.

Sun to light shade; average conditions.

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