Posts Tagged ‘Yellow’

More bees on Scabiosa cousin Cephalaria tchihatchewii - 10 feet tall and alive with humming visitors. Hill Farm, July 21, 2014

Cephalaria tchihatchewii – Tchihatchev’s Cephalaria. This Scabiosa cousin is a true bee magnet. It reached 10 feet tall and was alive with humming and buzzing visitors at Hill Farm, July 21, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Dipsacaceae – Teasel Family. Native to Turkey and Iran. The genus name Cephalaria originates from the Greek kephale, “head”, and ala (alaria), “winged”, in reference to the large outer petals of the blooms. Tchihatchewii is after the Russian naturalist and biologist Pyotr Alexandrovich Chikhachyov (alternatively Chikhatchev/Tchihatchev), 1808-1890, who traveled widely throughout his long life and documented the flora of Asia Minor in his 3500-species Herbarium Chikhatchev.

This big, back-of-the-border, trouble-free plant has thrived here for almost twenty years. It originally arrived as part of an order of interesting perennials from a small, now-defunct Canadian prairie mailorder nursery. It has given me a whole lot of pleasure over the years, and has received a lot of positive comment from garden visitors.

Occasionally we dig it up and move it to a new position, knocking a division or two off to share with others, and it always settles back in without any issues, other than shorter bloom stalks for the season of the move.

Great big clumps of raggedly cut foliage reach 2 or 3 feet tall and wide, and send up many tall, multi-branched stems, 6 to 10 feet tall, which are starred by round, creamy sulphur-yellow, white-stamened “pincushion flowers” in July and August.

Bees and butterflies of all sorts love Cephalaria, as they do its close relation Scabiosa.

This plant is not particularily showy in the traditional sense of the word, but it is decidedly attactive. It is a good accent plant for others sharing its bloom season, and is a long-lasting cutflower for mixed bouquets. Place it mid or back of the border, where the graceful blooms can be best appreciated as a foil for the other things sharing its space.

It doesn’t generally need staking. Bloom stalks with their bristling, rounded seed clusters may be left intact to delight small birds in autumn, or cut back in the interests of garden tidiness. It will self sow if allowed, but we have found young plants easy to remove from where they’re not wanted. One plant is probably enough for any but the most expansive garden.

Tchihatchev’s Cephalaria has a number of equally garden-worthy relations, including the well-known Cephalaria gigantea – just as large, with identical blooms – I’m not quite sure what the botanical differences are, because they look pretty well interchangeable to me – and Cephalaria alpina, slightly smaller and more compact at a mere 4 to 6 feet.

Sun is best, average soil and moisture. Quite drought tolerant, but not what I’d call a true xeriscape plant, as the foliage yellows in very dry locations, and flower production suffers.

Cephalaria habit hill farm, July 2, 2014. Image: HFN

Cephalaria tchihatchewii. At the back of a sunny border, Hill Farm, July 21, 2014. Image: HFN

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Cepahalaria foliage hill farm july 2, 2015 Image: HFN

Cephalaria tchihatchewii. An out-of-focus glimpse of the foliage clump. (Leaves in left foreground are Echinops sphaerocephalus.) The Cephalaria‘s substantial dark green leaves are large and divided with raggedly-margined leaflets. Flowers are produced on individual stems coming from the leaf axils of the bloom stalks, starting at the base and going all the way up. Image: HFN


Read Full Post »

Perennial. Zone 3. Asteraceae. Central Europe, namely France, Italy and Spain. Tomentosa = Latin term meaning “covered with hairs”, referring to the dense silver hairs covering the leaves and stems of this species.

This tends to be one of those quietly ignored species. It is not showy or particularly exciting, but it is completely charming, especially in spring, when its freshly-emerged woolly rosettes are truly beautifully, especially when misted with tiny drops of morning dew.

After emergence of the ferny, fuzzy foliage rosettes, densely furred bud clusters emerge in May, opening up into corymbes of clear yellow flowers on 6 inch tall stems. These bloom through June and into July. The bright yellow tarnishes as the clusters fade, and the plants can then be shorn of bloom stalks, which, quite frankly, look rather tatty once flowering is finished.

The foliage and flowers are warmly aromatic when touched.

Achillea tomentosa is well suited to rockery or border edging, and thrives on well drained soil. It is very drought tolerant once established, and is a good xeriscape plant. It spreads to a foot or so in diameter, and makes a good cover plant over small bulbs such as crocus or species tulips, or early spring-blooming alliums.

The main named variety found under the name Achillea tomentosa  is ‘Maynard’s Gold’, also listed as ‘Aurea’.

There is another tomentosa-connected cultivar, ‘King Edward’, a hybrid cross (Achillea x lewisii), which is taller, with soft sulphur yellow flowers.

Sun, average soil, good drainage.

Read Full Post »


Achillea filipendulina – ‘Cloth of Gold’ Fernleaf Yarrow. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Compositae. Syn. Achillea eupatorium (obsolete). Eupatorium referred to the plant’s native presence around the city of Eupatoria (Yevpatoria) on the Crimean coast. The species is native to Europe’s Caucasus Mountains, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. There are a number of improved cultivars which are widely grown in gardens. ‘Cloth of Gold’ is a well-known older variety, which received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1999.

Poor Fernleaf Yarrow – it seems to be named mainly for its resemblance to other plants! The specific names filipendulina refers to its foliar similarity to Meadowsweet, Filipendula species. The common name “Fernleaf” needs no explanation.

Esteemed horticulturalist William Robinson, in his 1883 masterwork, The English Flower Garden, had this to say:

Achillea eupatorium (sometimes called A. filipendulina) is a tall-growing, vigorous, herbaceous plant, somewhat woody in its lower growth. Its flowering corymbes are flat, bright yellow in colour, and elevated on stout stems to a height of 3 ft. to 4 ft.; they retain their beauty and freshness for at least two months. This is admirably adapted for a shrubbery border, where its brilliant yellow flowers and its erect habit of growth show to wonderful advantage amongst the evergreen foliage. It is native to the shores of the Caspian Sea, and is one of the finest of perennials.

Shining yellow flowers in flattened domes top strong 24-inch or taller stems. In habit, Fernleaf Yarrow is a non-invasive clump-former. Foliage is light sage-green, and warmly aromatic.

This is a superb everlasting and cutflower – heads can reach 5 inches or more across. Some years ago, when I was growing everlastings and making wreaths and arrangements for sale, this was outstanding for its effect and attractive colour.

Close-up of the tightly packed flower head, with 6-legged visitors.

Close-up of the tightly packed flower head, with 6-legged visitors. Completely pest-free, though frequented by insects of all sorts seeking nectar and pollen. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

Fernleaf Yarrow is one of those bombproof plants which just keep on looking good (or at the very least decent) even in challenging conditions. It has times of great beauty – new spring foliage is downy-soft, pleasingly aromatic, and elegantly fern-like, while the huge corymbes of tiny, bright yellow flowers remain gloriously untarnished for an astounding length of time – but even when the gold fades to brown and the leaves get a bit dusty-looking round about the beginning of autumn it remains upright and respectable.

This plant is a star of the xeriscape garden, thriving in sunny and dry locations, though it is appreciative of some supplemental moisture at summer’s peak. However, too rich a soil and too much moisture will cause Fernleaf Yarrow to produce lush foliage at the expense of flowers.

This plant is reputed to be very deer resistant, likely because of its downy foliage and high aromatic oil content.


Read Full Post »

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.


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.



Read Full Post »



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.


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.


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.

Read Full Post »

Spring's first flowers - Sagebrush Buttercups on the Hill Farm hillside, April 16, 2014.

Spring’s first flowers – Sagebrush Buttercups on the Hill Farm hillside, April 16, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Ranunculaceae. Western North America. Interior and subalpine regions of B.C. and Alberta and into Saskatchewan; in the U.S.A. south to New Mexico, and east to North and South Dakota and Nebraska.

As the snow recedes from our river-valley hillsides each spring we eagerly kneel on the snowmelt-soggy ground to check on the state of the sagebrush buttercups. First of the spring flowers by far, blooming as soon as late March, their opening signals the very beginning of the progression of other springtime markers – the first returning Canada geese; the first robins and bluebirds; the appearance of the pollen-dusted catkins of the poplar tress and then the cottonwoods; the first evocative smell of “green” after a spring rainfall; the first day the horses leave their hay piles untouched and instead nuzzle through last autumn’s rustling fallen foliage for those first elusive but oh-so-welcome blades of grass…

We’ve made it through another cold time, for look, here are the buttercups again!

This is a tiny creature, but its cheerful blossoms shine like the sun, and a flourishing colony in full bloom is an amazing sight in late April and early May.

The specific name glaberrimus means “smoothest”, and refers to the foliage: freshly green, gently lobed, and slightly succulent. Purple-flushed flower buds appear on short stems which lengthen as the flowers open to a height of perhaps six inches at the utmost; most are only three or four inches tall. Five-petalled buttercups are typical of their race, being reflectively shiny as to petal surface, with a ring of thick yellow anthers surrounding the protruding cluster of pistils – potential achenes which will mature into ripe seeds in May and June.

Clusters of shallowly anchored, thickened, semi-tuberous roots provide the stored energy for R. glaberrimus‘s early spring flourishing; plants remain green through the entire growing season, and an investigation in autumn reveals the next spring’s buds already formed in the leaf axils at the base of the foliage; ready for emergence after a winter dormancy under the snow.

Enjoy this buttercup on your spring rambles; it is locally abundant throughout the Cariboo-Chilcotin, especially along roadsides through the Fraser River valley’s Douglas fir belt, and in the grasslands around Williams Lake.

Though I have never been tempted to bring this pretty wildflower into my own garden – it is happily abundant on the grassy hillsides of our farm and makes an ideal excuse for many springtime excursions to check on the progression of the colonies’ blooming – I have seen it established in a number of alpine gardens where it thrives generously, for it appears to be a healthy and adaptable plant.

Full sun suits Ranunculus glaberrimus best if its natural habitat is any indication, and it is very drought tolerant once established, though it appreciates springtime moisture.

Though technically Ranunculus glaberrimus has five petals, some populations show a tendency to producing extras, doubling or tripling the modest prototype.

Though technically Ranunculus glaberrimus has five petals, some populations show a tendency to producing extras, doubling or even tripling the modest prototype. Image: HFN


Image: HFN


Read Full Post »

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

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

Perennial. Zone 3. Araceae.  Western North America; California north to Alaska; throughout British Columbia from coastal regions to lower elevations of mountain ranges. 

This spectacular native wildflower emerges from its winter hibernation before the snow is completely gone, appearing in wet and swampy areas in April and early May. Tight-packed green flower spikes are enclosed in a large, bright yellow bract. Pollinated by flies and beetles, which are attracted by the musky fragrance of the flowers. Club-shaped seed pods mature in late summer.

Foliage is strongly pungent when bruised, hence the common name. Massive, glossy, fleshy fleaves are 3 to 4 ft. tall.

Excellent for those with larger gardens, and adds early spring interest to the bog garden and pond edge. Prefers shade. A moisture lover, which demands wet feet to be happy. Fairly slow growing, but long-lived and maintenance free where happy.

Yellow Skunk Cabbage may be found in our in the wild in our area in wetter regions, generally where cedars thrive. Look for it in the bush around Likely and Horsefly, and in lower elevation wet areas in the Cariboo Mountains. Abundant in Wells Grey Park.

From Lewis J. Clark’s superb 1973 masterwork Wild Flowers of British Columbia:

The whole plant has a smell of spring, of surging growth, that would be objectionable in a closed room but is not unpleasant in its own habitat. For the record, it does not smell at all like the mephitic spray of the skunk. Bears consume the whole plant, including the short thick rootstock, while deer occasionally browse the leaves.

This huge plant is related to the taro, staple food of the Polynesians. Both plants produce a stinging sensation in the mouth, due to calcium oxalate. Ages ago, however, the natives in our area discovered, as did those of the South Seas, that roasting and drying the root drove off the substance responsible for the stinging, burning taste, after which it could be ground to an edible flour.

Fraser’s Thimble Farms on Saltspring Island is the only commercial source that I am aware of, but you may be able to acquire this by special order through local nurseries such as Richbar in Quesnel.

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

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

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

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

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

Mid-summer foliage. Wells Gray Park, north of Clearwater, B.C. July 20, 2011

Mid-summer foliage. Wells Gray Park, north of Clearwater, B.C. July 20, 2011 Image: HFN

Maturing seed pod. Wells Gray Park, north of Clearwater, B.C. July 20, 2011

Maturing seed pod. Wells Gray Park, north of Clearwater, B.C. July 20, 2011 Image: HFN

Read Full Post »