The lure of the Caucasus

The universal yearn for far-away places and their plants

My hands trembled a little when sowing this special plant from Caucasus: Potentilla divina; whoever named it most surely referred not only to the plant but also to the place where it grows: ‘divina’, meaning ‘divine’ or ‘heavenly’. Then I sown some Eremurus tianschanicus and a few Gentiana… After a while, I took a break and sat down on a rocky ledge; a gentle breeze swirled around, clouds moved slowly over the blue sky above the snow-capped mountains…

Potentilla divina in habitat

Potentilla divina in habitat, Mount  Musa Achitara (Caucasus Mts.)

Yearning for things, including plants that are not easily accessible, is not something new. Remember the early days of the botanical explorers, the quest for the new and unknown lands and plants? The more distant and inaccessible, the more they became desirable and mesmerizing…

But I think it is more than that; it is about the possibility of fulfilling the dreams of these far-away lands just by simply growing and/or owning something that associates with them. There may be places that will remain inaccessible and illusory to us, yet we could see them embodied in a seed, a plant, a small stone…This is a universal yearn; I can tell that people from the far-away lands, also have yearnings for some North American species that are not widely available.

Potentilla divina flower close-up

Potentilla divina flower close-up

To keep it short, to satisfy my yearning of the Caucasus Mts., I put a lot of energy in trying to establish a connection in the region. I hope that in time it will flourish; for now I only have a few extra seeds that I can spare. If you are under the same lure, hurry up to the Shop – I made a Plants of the Caucasus Category for easy finding. There are just a few small packages, and there is no time now for too many details; I googled for good plant images, in their wild habitats.

You’ll find there Potentilla divina, Eremurus tianschanicus, Gentiana angulosa, Primula ruprechtii and a few more. This is the time to get sowing!

Special thanks to Sergey, for providing the images and most importantly, the seeds! Also to the many others that are still collecting and sharing the wealth of plants from the Caucasus Mts.;not an easy thing to do.



Rays of sunshine

In late fall I wrote briefly about The Beauty and the Parthenocarpy; well, the beast has been defeated and the beauty is all mine now. Rays of sunshine breaking through!

Acer triflorum seedling

Acer triflorum seedling

Acer triflorum - fall colour

Acer triflorum – fall colour

Soon, my germination stand will have to start providing rays of sunshine for more seedlings, like these prematurely born Syneilesis aconitifolia:

Syneilesis aconitifolia seedlings

Syneilesis aconitifolia: almost 1 week old seedlings, extremely cute!

Spring beauty awakening

One more garage check-up before sinking into another round of low night-time temperatures. The spring beauty seeds are sprouting! – maybe they know something that we don’t? ;)

Claytonia virginica is a true ephemeral beauty, a cheer for the soul in springtime!

Claytonia virginica

Claytonia virginica

Virginia spring beauty is common in southern and south-central Ontario and it flowers before the trees are leafing out. The pink (rarely white) flowers that are glistening in the spring sun are a treat after the long winter months! After setting seeds, it retreats in the soil for the rest of the season.

As a trial out, I sown a few seeds immediately after collecting, and I kept the rest in moist vermiculite (warm then cold). The seeds in moist storage have germinated in late December; the ones sown in the spring are germinating now. Note taken: the seeds can be safely offered for sale until beginning of December.

Claytonia virginica

On a top list of ‘hardest seeds to collect’, Claytonia comes first. I have expected Corydalis to win the prize but it didn’t. Like everything beautiful, Claytonia has proven very difficult to handle because it flowers in succession and the fruit maturation follows the same pattern, plus the fruits are dehiscent; a nightmare! And, do I need to mention the small seeds? No wonder is not on many seeds shops lists! But, a few people were happy to find these seeds available, so my effort did pay off. Plus, now I have a few seedlings for myself. Double hit!

Claytonia virginica

Claytonia virginica seedlings

Mountain orchids

Feeling that not many will be interested in reading my essay on the ‘deep simple double morphophysiological’ seed dormancy in the middle of the winter, I am continuing the fragrant journey started a while ago (read about Nigritella if you missed it). Back on the mountain we also found for the first time a really small population of Orchis ustulata, the burnt tip orchid. It was growing at about 1300 m elevation, on the rocky slope of a narrow valley (look up and to the right ;), in the company of a few weather-shaped larches (Larix decidua), and other typical species typical of vegetated screes.

Orchis ustulata reportedly grows wild throughout Central Europe (up to the Leningrad region in Russia). It is a small orchid, 20-25 cm tall, with spikes of white with purple spots flowers, delicate, and also fragrant; used to be an abundant orchid in the British Isles on undisturbed chalk and limestone grassland, but due to several factors it has become another species to join the growing list of rare and endangered species!

On the other hand, Gymnadenia conopsea plants were splurging over an entire meadow at about 1800 m elevation in the Postăvaru Massif (part of the Barsei Mountains/Carpathians).
Spiked inflorescences in various colours from white to light pink and purple were quite impressive and the beauty of scenery made us linger for quite a while in the area. Not to mention their light clove-like fragrance!

Gymnadenia conopsea

Gymnadenia conopsea (the fragrant orchid) – in a wet sub-alpine meadow in the Carpathian Mts.

They were sharing the place in a joyous mix with Trollius europaeus, Alchemilla, Geum rivale, Bistorta, Campanula, Astrantia major, and other smaller species hard to see in the image like: Viola, Thymus, and Soldanella hungarica (alas, no ripen seeds on the last one)…

Gymnadenia conopsea1

Helleborus journeying

A short break from the deep freeze allowed me to unwrap and check the plant trays stored in the garage today. Anxiety was running high because I had noticed that a few species had started to germinate more than a week ago. Luckily, from under two sheets of fleece and plastic, the Helleborus seedlings showed their happy faces :)

While I had never thought of growing Helleborus from seeds until last year, this has proven to be a very fruitful and satisfying journey so far. The seeds have germinated promptly after being sown fresh during late summer; also the storage in moist vermiculite turned out to be a very good option for extending the fresh seeds offering period.

These Helleborus seedlings are descendants of mountaineer mother-plants:

Helleborus purpurascens

Helleborus purpurascens – a native of alpine meadows and forests in the Carpathian Mts. (Romania to Hungary)

The hybrid double Helleborus seedlings have ‘blood’ of Helleborus torquatus – a species confined to mountain regions of the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Croatia, Hertegovina and Serbia – where natural double forms can be found). The most desirable forms have deep violet purple flowers (H. torquatus is one of the parents of the first dark flowered Helleborus hybrids).

Double flower Helleborus torquatus

Double Helleborus torquatus

Just starting to germinate is also Helleborus foetidus, a native of mountain regions from Central and S. Europe. In many cases, Helleborus seedlings will start to flower in the second year, which is another reason to happily continue the journey. Even if not all of them will be garden worthy, there are endless chances to obtain new forms with different flower colours or traits. It will be a long time until the melting snow will allow us to enjoy the Helleborus flowering on this frozen land; until then we can rejoice in growing seedlings!

And to keep them company under the lights there is another mountain plant, this time a peony – Paeonia mlokosewitschii (a native of the Caucasus Mts.)

Paeonia mlokosewitschii seedlings

Paeonia mlokosewitschii seedlings

Syneilesis punishment

After wasting time with the ceremony, I was punished to do my homework on the weekend – there are still seeds to be added in the catalogue…

I didn’t think at Syneilesis until someone who participated in the Helleborus seeds trade, asked if by any chance I have a few Syneilesis aconitifolia good seeds…There it was the warning! Indeed, if you read on various gardening forums, it will be confirmed; seeds are set copiously but only a small amount are viable. Such a pity, considering it is a warm, easy germinator. Luckily, I was gifted, again :), a whole bunch of dry inflorescences and after sorting through all of them with patience, I was left with a few good seeds (and a REALLY big pile of ‘fluff’).

Syneilesis aconitifolia, the shredded umbrella plant, is a great foliage plant usually grown in part-shade, but who also tolerates full sun. When grown in a rich, moist substrate it will spread to form a healthy clump, but don’t worry, there will always be someone wanting a small division of your plant. Personally, I like it most in the spring when new shoots are emerging from the ground, with the leaves covered in silky hairs – the equivalent of a fuzzy mayapple!

Syneilesis aconitifolia

Syneilesis aconitifolia emergng in early spring

They maintain the fuzziness for a little while; then after expanding, the large, ‘shredded’ leaves will make you believe they belong to another plant! The name aconitifolia, actually suggests the resemblance with an Aconitum leaf (the deeply lobed kind). Tall flowering stems erupt in the summer bearing rather insignificant flowers.
There are also mentions of Syneilesis aconitifolia being used as a medicinal plant.

Syneilesis aconitifolia foliage in May

I just sown a few seeds for fun, and will post an image as soon as they emerge (in 2-3 weeks). I imagine them being extremely cute! If growing from seeds is really not your thing, it is usually offered at Lost Horizons Nursery and also listed on Fraser’s Thimble Farm catalogue (mail-order).