Who’s afraid of the Arisaemas?

In the garden world the common ‘everyday’ can vanish somewhere between real and surreal; for sure Arisaemas are to blame for this. Mysterious and animistic creatures, they are permanently watching us, even from the underground. At Lost Horizons Nursery there are quite a few Arisaema species (Cobra lilies or Jack-in-the-pulpits) around; sometimes benevolent and sometimes mischievous you’ll find them everywhere: in small seedling trays to pots, stock beds or in the display gardens.

Arisaema ringens

Arisaema ringens from the galeate section of cobra lilies is worth growing only for the huge, trifoliolate, glossy, and leathery leaves. The thick spathe with green and purple stripes resembles a cobra head rising up from the shade, ready to attack garden intruders. The spathe-limb is described botanically as galeate (galea – means helmet), and can be green or purple with white stripes and revolute green or purple margins. The spadix is either male or female. Origin: Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan, and E China. The only regret that someone can have about A. ringens is that it rarely produces seeds. Maybe the right pollinators are not around, and we also need to have the two partners together in order to have babies, aka. seeds (at least in most cases).

Arisaema ringens flowering last year in June

Another species with galeate spathe-limb (helmet-like) is A. franchetianum. It has 1 or 2 trifoliolate leaves with bluish green, ovate leaflets and the inflorescence appears below the leaf, like in A. ringens. Arisaema franchetianum ‘Hugo’ has the spathe-limb deep purple with white stripes and its tip is ending in a 20 cm long tail-like apex. The spadix is either male or female, exceptionally bisexual – but let’s not get started on the Arisaemas gender variability now…

Arisaema franchetianum ‘Hugo’ showing up in a pot

Arisaema franchetianum doesn’t require that much shade like other Arisaemas; in its original habitat is actually growing in “ open sunny sites among boulders and scrubs, along roadsides” (SW China, NE India, and N Myanmar). Here you have it, one Arisaema that doesn’t have to be in the woodland garden!

Arisaema franchetianum ‘Hugo’ flowering last year

Do not be afraid of the Arisaemas, take my example – Good and not so good things happening around the garden?

Blame them all on the Arisaemas!

The Lord of the Corydalis

I someone would ask me, I would say that no garden is complete without at least one member of the ephemeral genus of Corydalis. The more common is the delightful Corydalis solida and varieties but wait until you meet the lord of the genus: Corydalis nobilis. If lucky to be able to drive you can see it in flower at Lost Horizons Nursery. It does not look quite like a Corydalis and it is hard to believe that it will  become dormant in early summer.

Corydalis nobilis in early spring

Sometimes called Siberian Corydalis, Corydalis nobilis (Fam. Fumariaceae) was introduced in cultivation in Sweden in 1765 due to a fortunate mistake. The  seeds received by Linnaeus were collected from Siberia (Altai mountain range) and believed to be of Lamprocapnos spectabilis. This wonderful Corydalis still grows happily in Carl Linnaeus’ gardens at Upsalla and at Hammarby. Unfortunately, the prediction of  “a great horticultural future” for this species has not become true yet. Not being very easy to propagate might have something to do with this. It is available only from a few specialty nurseries in Europe and North America, and of course some years at Lost Horizons.

Corydalis nobilis is very hardy and will start growing quite fast in the spring achieving a 30-50 cm tall clump with juicy stems and green-blue ferny leaves. It produces lots of inflorescences, very dense, with 20-35 flowers, golden yellow with the inner petals dark violet at the top. Flowering lasts for about three weeks in April-May, and it has a spicy fragrance.

Corydalis nobilis inflorescence

Origin: NW. Siberia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, N. Xinjiang (China). Propagated by seed (sown immediately when ripe, otherwise the ants will run away with them to feed on the elaiosomes) or by division in the fall. Corydalis nobilis has an irregularly branched, fragile rootstock, not easy to divide; you can see it here (courtesy of Rare Books – Missouri Botanical Garden Library). It can grow in full sun or shade, but will thrive best in a place reasonable dry during the summer. A focal point in the spring garden, the Lord of the genus Corydalis never fails to attract attention and questions from the visitors.

Corydalis nobilis in the Display Garden at Lost Horizons

Flying on the witch’s broom – Scopolia carniolica var. brevifolia

Scopolia is a genus ignored by the horticultural ‘mass-marketers’, thus the only information about it comes mostly from medicinal/ethnobotanical references. Scopolia carniolica and its more ornamental yellow-flowered variety (var. brevifolia), are perennial plants from the mountains of central and eastern Europe. They flower in early spring at the same time with the hellebores, only that they will usually go dormant in early summer, allowing the display of other beauties afterwards. The name commemorates the Italian physician, botanist, geologist and chemist Prof. Giovanni Antonio Scopoli (1723-1788).

Scopolia carniolica

Like many other members of Fam. Solanaceae (nightshade family) they contain alkaloids which depending on the dose can be medicinal, hallucinogenic or poisonous. There haven’t been though any reports of people dying from Scopolia and actually the highest concentration of alkaloids (e.g., scopolamine) is in the rhizomes. We might end up with some flying squirrels around us, but that’s about it. Because of its hallucinogenic properties (said to give a sensation of flying) it was regarded as magical in medieval Europe and was one of the plants associated with witchcraft. It was also used as a sedative prior to surgeries, as a truth serum and as a cosmetic – for the dilatation of the pupils, considered attractive at the time (Atropa belladonna was used for the same purpose). Today its active compounds are used in medications against motion sickness.

Scopolia carniolica var. brevifolia

Scopolia carniolica forms a 40 cm tall clump, adorned with bell-shaped, deep-purple flowers, while S. carniolica var. brevifolia is a little more showy, with bigger and more numerous yellow flowers. They flower very early in the season when not much else is around, as you can see in the image, and they are a good source of food for pollinators too.

A big clump of Scopolia carniolica var. brevifolia takes the center stage of a stock bed in the spring at Lost Horizons Nursery. It will be followed by the Epimedium ‘Amber Queen’, which continues the show for the rest of the season.

Scopolias are very hardy, perfect for a woodland setting in part-shade and with a moist substrate. They are particularly useful in the early spring garden, until other plants are starting to emerge. Most often they’ll go dormant in early summer; great ‘followers’ can be tall varieties of Epimedium, Disporum and Polygonatum, or they can be used around shrubs and trees just for the spring display.