More Bloodroot

Sanguinaria canadensis – Part II

It’s raining cats and dogs here (instead of flowers); a good time to get back to the bloodroot. It flowered over the weekend – a sure sign that the woodland floor is slowly awakening. Not much is happening in our gardens either, except another early riser that I’ll talk about soon.

Sanguinaria canadensis is a variable species and sometimes you can stumble upon forms with pink-lilac flowers (after opening they turn white), with increased number of petals or slightly different petal shape (the group from the gallery has unusual pointed petals).

Sanguinaria canadensis - pink form

Sanguinaria canadensis – pink form

I admit it is not a  glamorous flower, it is more than that. Sitting down on an old stump to watch them glistening in the filtered sun rays I was overwhelmed by the smell of the spring forest, the mixture of the decayed leaves, fresh greens and the warmth of the soil.

To see a World in a grain sand
And a Heaven in a Wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.
                        William Blake (from Auguries of Innocence)


An after Easter portrait – Symplocarpus foetidus

Chocolate eggs hunting and skunk cabbage viewing may sound unusual but it certainly works for some as an Easter tradition.

All nature lovers in North America are familiar with the eastern skunk cabbage (polecat weed) – Symplocarpus foetidus, a true spring harbinger, a curiosity, a reason to go hiking in the woods in early spring, a conversation subject but most of all a warm-blooded plant!

Eastern skunk cabbage is the first plant to appear and flower in the frozen landscape due to its ‘central heating system’. The pointed inflorescences break through the ice and snow as heavily spotted, reddish thick-textured spathes that enclose the sexual parts (spadices).

“As my eye sweeps over the twenty or thirty plants before me, my gaze is brought into a spiraling movement when it tries to rest upon any single specimen. The deep color is warm, the sculpted form alive” Craig Holdrege

The French naturalist Jean Lamarck was the first to report that aroid inflorescences produce heat and lately this metabolic process was called thermogenesis. It was (and still is) quite a fascinating phenomenon and lots of research has been done to explain what’s happening.

Symplocarpus foetidus

Symplocarpus foetidus

Today we know that it is the salicylic acid from the plant which functions as a hormone, initiating the heating process and also the production of odours and unfolding of the spathe. In eastern skunk cabbage, the warmth from the spadix also dissipates foul smelling substances to attract flies, beetles and other pollinating insects, which are rejoicing in the warm environment created inside the spathe.

Spadix temperature is regulated depending on the ambient up to two weeks. Regardless of the near-freezing air temperature, the heat produced by the spadix can raise the temperature of its tissues 15 to 35°C above the surroundings!

Symplocarpus foetidus spadix

Symplocarpus foetidus spadix

There would be lots to be said also about the medicinal and magic uses of skunk cabbage. The one I like most is the ritual performed by the Menominee tribe of North America: they tattooed people recovering from an illness with a decoction of the skunk cabbage roots in the region where the illness had caused pain. This way the illness would not return…

Cultivation: Moist to wet soils in partial shade, great around ponds and streams. Seeds sown in moist compost and plants transplanted young or directly outside. It forms a stout, vertical rhizome and division is difficult. Even in nature, populations increase through germinated seeds, not vegetatively.

Tea party with the Arisaemas

Yesterday, being threatened with snow and freezing temperatures, there was a big rush to cover and wrap up plants again. Some heavy containers and the early flowering potted Arisaemas had to be brought inside the house. Let it snow…

Today, a bit relaxed,  I couldn’t say no when I was invited to a cup of tea with all the Arisaemas.
The mother and son Arisaema sazensoo are having a new friend in Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urashima (syn. A. urashima). It was supposed to be an Arisaema ringens, but accidents happen and any Arisaema is more than welcome in our home. She has already made friends with everyone around and we got to listen to her story while sipping warm tea.

A. thunbergii subsp. urashima and A. sazensoo

At the tea party – A. thunbergii subsp. urashima and A. sazensoo

She said that the Japanese name – Urashima-so, comes from its long spadix appendage which reminds of a fishing line. In her native land of Japan, there is this legend about a young fisherman named Urashima Taro. After he saves a turtle from the hands of some children and returns it to the sea, the next day he is invited by the Emperor of the Sea at his castle (the little turtle he saved was actually the princess Otohime). By magic he gets gills and is brought to the Palace of the Dragon at the sea bottom.

The story doesn’t have a happy ending – after spending a few days at the sea palace, he wishes to return to his village and Otohime gives him a box (that he’s not supposed to open) to protect him from harm. But upon his return, he discovers that his home and his mother had vanished and he doesn’t recognize anything around. Actually, 300 years have passed since the day he had left for the bottom of the sea. In despair, he opens the box and by doing so he suddenly becomes an old man – the box contained its old age…

We listened in silence and then told her that it is nice to be named and be remembered after a fairy tale – not to mention her impressive ‘fishing line’!

Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urashima

Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urashima

Some gave it the common name of Dominatrix Cobra-lily, but I believe in fairy tales…

An early flowering Arisaema from section flagellarisaema; usually purple spathe and purple spadix ending up in a very long tail (a flagellate thread) up to 20-30 cm. It will go dormant in late summer but it may produce fruits. Offsets easily by contrast with A. sazensoo and A. sikokianum, hence it has become increasingly available and it is suitable for container culture.

Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urashima tuber

Arisaema thunbergii subsp. urashima tuber with emerging roots

So, you are thinking about moving out…

What about us? –  (coming from) little voices, twirling and circling around the thyme carpets in the stoned patio.

That’s what I hear every day now, stepping out in our small patio garden. Recent events pushed us to think seriously about moving out. Small garden you say? – no problem. But (call me crazy) in the past 5 years I have been removing stones from our patio (think about the foundation too) to make space for plantings.

Pocket gardening makes sense for some. For others it surely doesn’t, as well as the piles of stones with small or ‘unfashionable’ plants peeking out between them. So, call me crazy again, but now I am working to put the patio stones back in. Don’t worry plants – most of you (or at least a piece of you) will make the move with us:

From the sunny side – Hymenoxys lapidicola (Stone rubberweed). A narrow endemic from the Blue Mountains, Utah at cca. 2500 m, with congested linear leaves topped with sessile, yellow flowers in the summer. For full sun, in dry, gravelly sites: crevices, trough gardens (from Wrightman Alpines).

From the shady side – Haberlea rhodopensis (Resurrection plant). A subalpine evergreen gesneriad, growing on eastern and northern rock walls in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria; if happy, it will produce in abundance light violet flowers during late spring. Very hardy and resilient – mind you, at some point it was sitting under 70 cm of packed snow (from Lost Horizons).

 I do expect to see very good behaviour from everyone involved: container culture, temporary homes and gifts, donations for spring-fall sales – we’ll all have to compromise a bit to make this work.

 What goes aroundpart of my donation, divisions and the extra seedlings for the ORGS Spring Sale

Plant donation for spring sale

Plant donation for spring sale

 I hope they’ll find good homes and come around back to me one day!

Note: Until now plants are at their best behaviour, but be prepared to hear more whining from me as I slowly demolish the ‘rock-pile garden’.

In the featured image: a baby rock gem – Edraianthus pumilio


Shining – Gaultheria procumbens

Filled out with the enthusiasm brought by a sunny, warm day (first after a long and dreary winter), we had our first hike in the forest. In the shaded areas the snow cover was still knee deep but on the warmed up slopes, underneath bare oak trees, a carpet of glossy, purple leaves was shining in the sun – the wintergreen.

Gaultheria procumbens - fruits in early springGaultheria procumbens (wintergreen, teaberry, mountain tea) – is an adorable low growing evergreen shrub native to northeastern North America usually found in pine and hardwood forests and as a part of the oak-heath forest, favouring acidic soil. It reaches about 10-15 cm high with glossy, leathery and fragrant leaves (when crushed) that will turn purple in the fall, especially in sunny areas. It has white, bell-shaped flowers (typical of fam. Ericaceae) and berry-like red fruits, which persist through the winter.

For the gardens it is an excellent groundcover beneath other acidic-lovers, in part-shade to full shade locations and it has received an AGM from Royal Horticultural Society.

But I don’t know if any of this would matter until you see it shining brightly one early day of spring

Gaultheria procumbens -early spring

Gaultheria procumbens – in early spring after the snowmelt

Besides its ornamental qualities as an evergreen groundcover, it has been used traditionally for making a fine herbal tea and also for the extraction of wintergreen oil (used for flavouring of chewing gum, candies, medicinal). Various tribes of Native Americans used Gaultheria for medicinal purposes too, most commonly for relieving aches and pains and rheumatism. The colonists who first started to use the wintergreen leaves as a substitute for the imported tea during the Revolutionary War, also adopted its medicinal uses.

Gaultheria procumbens flowering (Killarney, Ontario)

Gaultheria procumbens flowering in Killarney, Ontario

Most wintergreen oil is produced synthetically today, but in traditional herbal medicine oil extracted from fresh leaves is preferred. The active ingredient of this oil is methyl salicylate, an aspirin- like compound, which like aspirin has proven anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic and analgesic properties.

Gaultheria procumbens also has wildlife value – the leaves and fruits will be consumed in the winter by various animals such as wild turkey, red fox, northern bobwhite, pheasant, eastern chipmunk….not to mention that the pollinators are indulging in its flowers in the spring.

Bumble bee on Gaultheria procumbens

Propagation: by seeds, cuttings, divisions.

Note: Gaultheria honors Jean-Francois Gaulthier – physician and botanist in the French colony of Quebec in mid-17th.




Taking advantage of the good weather I have been working hard to ‘dismember’ one part of the rock garden (I’ll talk about it later). Bought some big containers to do some sort of a crevice planting – in went the already existing plants, and why not stuff in a few of the last year’s seedlings I thought?

Crevice container

Overstuffed ‘crevice container’

Funny what comes out of pots sometimes – these are one year seedlings of Incarvillea delavayi ‘Alba’ and of another seed accession called ‘Snowtop” (probably the same thing). Little snowmen just about to start walking on the snow…(which slowly recedes revealing the thyme carpet underneath).

Incarvillea delavayi 'Snowtop'

Incarvillea delavayi ‘Snowtop’ – seedlings  with carrot-like roots

Incarvilleaa genus with about 20 species in Central Asia and the Himalaya. Common names: hardy gloxinia and Chinese trumpet flowers (fam. Bignoniaceae).  Incarvillea delavayi one of the most familiar in culture has very handsome, big trumpet shaped flowers, usually pink with yellow throats. The two cultivars mentioned above – one year seedlings, have white flowers. For a full sun or part-shade location in good drainage soil – in the wild they grow in rocky, stony habitats, rocky mountain slopes.

This Incarvillea compacta from Wrightman Alpines would have been more appropriate for my rockery – there is always next year…

Incarvillea compacta