Aconitum anthora

And down we go…Aquilegia nigricans

Part IV of Bucegi Mountains

Before leaving the Bucegi Plateau, one more look at the grassland plant communities in the alpine areas revels associations of Carex, Luzula, Festuca, Sesleria, Agrostis, Nardus,and Poa species – lots of them! In the summer time you’ll also find Campanula serrata another Carpathian endemic, flowering in these alpine and sub-alpine meadows, with typical blue flowers in paniculate inflorescences. Usually when beginning to descend, a cool breeze of nostalgia will come swiping over you. It is time to say goodbye and who knows when you’ll be back – but luckily many other plant species will sweeten the hike down for you. One option to descend from the Bucegi Plateau is to hike down on Jepilor Valley. It is quite steep at times but there is so much to see along the way!

You’ll most surely see the fluffy fruit heads of the alpine pasque flower – Pulsatilla alba (syn. Pulsatilla alpina subsp. alpicola), which forms clumps of finely divided leaves and has large, white flowers, hence the name alba. There is little chance to see it in flower, because conditions are too dangerous in this area in the springtime, but the fluffy fruit heads are enjoyable enough. Loiseleuria procumbens – creeping azalea, was nearby too, so we should assume that this Pulsatilla prefers a lime-free substrate. Not very abundant in the area, scarce would be better said, is Aquilegia nigricans. In late July-August it is past its flowering time, however at high elevations one may get lucky and enjoy one last flower – deep blue, that some describe almost as black, perhaps taking into consideration its name (‘nigricans’). Like with many species growing in somewhat unusual or not too easily accessible places, some descriptions on various websites are imaginary or applied based on the copy & paste function and should be careful considered.


The descending trail follows for a while high rocky walls, adorned with various species, among which a nowadays common garden campanula: Campanula carpatica. Long taken into cultivation, it still has a particular charm when seen growing in its native ‘land’ – rocks that is. Another member of Fam. Campanulaceae, but not as widely cultivated is Phyteuma orbiculare. Does not look like bellflowers, but it is a very interesting genus with quite a few species good to grow in the rock garden. And one more species usually seen in flower from July to September is Aconithum anthora, a yellow monkshood found cultivated sometimes. The really large, showy yellow flowers are easily seen from far away – Don’t forget that it belongs to the Wolfsbane family though!   A few more species are presented in the gallery (hard to abstain :) –  I am sure Carlina acaulis would raise a few eyebrows. It’s easy to recognize the most beautiful of the thistles, called alpine or stemless thistle. It forms large rosettes with spiny leaves, usually basking in the sun and the equally large flowerhead with silvery-white ray florets is very handsome and attracts pollinators. Its roots were employed in herbal medicine as a diuretic and cold remedy.




Dianthus glacialis

Still botanizing in the Bucegi Plateau

Geum reptans is an alpine gem of which I was able to collect a few seeds. Growing in crevices and spreading in mats over boulders, it was already past flowering during late July, and its ornamental fluffy seed heads were getting pink. Although also admired for its yellow flowers, I find the pinnate, fernlike foliage very beautiful in itself. Called ‘the best of its race of mountain avens’ by Jim Jermyn, it is most definitely calcifuge requiring a perfectly drained mixture and full sun exposure – perfect for a scree garden.

Near the Geum reptans, small tufts of Armeria alpina stood out on top of the rocks, and then, fiercely competing with them for our attention, Dianthus glacialis, with its brilliant pink flowers, was making it very hard to concentrate on taking pictures! Dianthus glacialis in flower is a must see, at least once in a lifetime. Small green cushions covered in almost stemless pink flowers, defy description. There are two subspecies, glacialis and gelidus, the later being a Romanian endemic. The differences between them are quite minute; without going into details, subsp. gelidus has bigger flowers with a more intense pink colour, and it seems that the clumps we found belonged to this subspecies. To change the colour spectrum, clumps of two wonderful Asteraceae with white flowers: Achillea schuri and Anthemis carpatica were sprinkled on the rocky slopes, blooming profusely. Anthemis carpatica is already taken into cultivation and apparently adapts well to full sun and calcareous substrates, while Achillea schuri, endemic to Romania, has still to make its way into the gardening world.

Whenever the trail goes close to stone walls and outcrops, the delightful Campanula cochlearifolia greets you from above with its thimble-like delicate, blue flowers. It is not a pretentious plant to cultivate either, and can even overcome its boundaries if not restricted between some rocks. Among the species with violet or mauve flowers I have to mention Calamintha alpina subsp. baumgarteni (syn. Acinos alpinus subsp. alpinus). Considered a chamaephyte, it has a woody stem with small leaves and mauve flowers typical of the Lamiaceae family. On the other hand, the genus Oxytropis is not a stranger to rock gardeners, and Oxytropis halleri is a wonderful example with its violet flowers and dense pinnate foliage. And of course, it cannot be a mountain ‘story’ without a Saxifrage. Quite a few species are abounding in the Bucegi. Saxifraga paniculata seemed very happy in the Plateau, flowering in big colonies at margins of the path, as well as Saxifraga moschata, which has small rosettes, with finely divided leaves and yellow, fragrant flowers.

And to be continued…





The Great Race

It is January 31 and the celebrations of the Lunar New Year have begun! You don’t have to be an astrology aficionado to know that 2014 is considered the Year of the Horse (the 12 animals and their order in the zodiac calendar were chosen according with a widespread legend, after participating in a great race which involved crossing a river). 

More than this it is a ‘wood’ horse. In Chinese ‘wood’ (Wu Xing) sometimes translates as ‘tree’ and it is a yang character standing for springtime, east, colour green, blue…So, maybe with so many signs this is indeed the beginning of a great race – To the Springtime!

horse & tree peony

Digital collage – Leonardo da Vinci: study of horses and Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Taiyo’

The main colour associated with the celebrations is red, standing for: prosperity, happiness and good fortune. I cannot think of a better flower now than the tree peony – Paeonia suffruticosa. Native from China, where it was considered The Emperor Flower, it was later introduced and equally revered in Japan as a symbol for social status, prosperity and good luck.  Hence my digital collage for the celebration bringing together the most exquisite horse of all times (in my opinion) and one red peony – Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Taiyo’.

and everyone please read the lovely complementary legend about peonies added by garcanad in the comments area.

Fuchsia – people, plants & colours

For Gill, who likes plant stories

When someone says Fuchsia, a vivid splash of red and purple usually flashes through your mind. Too bad that I cannot throw this word outside the window to melt and colour our white and frozen world! These past days, Gill was showing off their Fuchsia glazioviana, a native of the tropical cloud forests – please read more HERE, and I remembered Fuchsia magellanica ‘Cape Horn’ which not only survived in a trial bed at Lost Horizons last winter (a mild one truth to be told), but also flowered quite profusely. ­­

Fuchsia magellanica 'Cape Horn'

Fuchsia magellanica ‘Cape Horn’ flowering at Lost Horizons Nursery

The term fuchsia, as a colour name, was first recorded in 1892 (wikipedia) and sometimes it is considered similar to magenta, although fuchsia colour usually involves more purple. I would say the shades of colour fuchsia are as many as Fuchsia species are.

Fuchsia magellanica is native to the southernmost area of South America and some of its common names include Hardy Fuchsia and Hummingbird Fuchsia. It can be quite variable and it is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. It behaves as a dying-back perennial or annual in colder climates and remains growing and flowering throughout the season in no-frost regions. The good news for us in colder regions is that the dreaded fuchsia gall mite is affected by temperatures under 40°F (5°C)!Fuchsia magellanica 'Cape Horn'1

Various Fuchsia cultivars can also be used as houseplants and I will always remember my grandmother veranda draped by the flowers of potted Fuchsias. It is also very popular as a hanging basket plant in North America, although I must confess I’m not very keen on the ones with super-double, frivolous big flowers.  Almost anyone would recognize the typical tubular red and purple Fuchsia elegant flowers, but what’s in its name? The genus Fuchsia was named in honour of Leonhart Fuchs, a German physician and botanist who lived in the sixteenth century – the century of the great herbals!

Fuchs wrote a massive herbal – De Historia Stirpium, first published in 1542 and considered exceptiFuchsia 'Cape Horn'2onal because it contained some 497 plant descriptions in Latin, and more than that, it was illustrated with over 500 detailed plant drawings printed from woodcuts. Many of the species featured in it were also grown in his own extensive garden in Tübingen. He was one (rare) scientist convinced that the study of plants has to begin in the field, in the ‘real’ life and he was known to organize field trips with his students.

Furthermore, I am sure you can guess where magellanica comes from! – I’m stuck in the snow here but I hope some of you can travel around the world :)

Bucegi – Mountains of my Soul

This is the first post from a series that will follow on the same subject – Bucegi Mountains. Everyone who grew up close to the mountains knows that once in a while, you have to listen to their magical call and return to climb and reconnect with them again.

The Bucegi Massif represents the eastern-most range of the South Carpathian Mts. in Romania, with the highest peak – Omu Peak rising at 2514 m. The main ridge of the massif runs south from Omu Peak and gets wider forming the Bucegi Plateau, about 10 km in length and 3 km wide. From the Plateau many spectacular panoramic views open around toward deep glacial valleys, rough ridges, and other mountain ranges. The vegetation is that of typical alpine tundra with low-growing species, among which quite a few of them are endemics. Special types of rocks have been shaped by the wind and snow/water erosion into spectacular landforms, and have received suggestive names such as Babele (Old Women), Omu (The Man), or The Sphinx. On the east side of the massif, on the Caraiman Mt., a 30 m high monument: The Cross, was built in1926 as a remembrance token of the First World War heroes.  At 2291 m altitude it can be easily seen even from the train or car when passing through the small town of Busteni. This is where we set our ‘camp’, being very convenient located for short or long day-hikes. Most hiking trails are clearly marked; at the same time, if you know the mountains, you can secretly enjoy hidden trails and not so well known places.

The geological substrate is composed mainly of crystalline schists with numerous granite intrusions, and in certain points with limestone deposits. These geological features, combined with the geographical position of the Carpathian Mountains at the intersection of different floristic elements, have generated an outstanding diversity and richness of the flora, characterized by a large number of endemic species. I will show here only on a few species growing in and around the Bucegi Plateau, following the trail from Babele to Omu Peak. Some of them can be observed at lower elevations too, but a few are truly alpines that can be found only on the Plateau or on peaks and ridges above 2000 m elevation.

If not in a mood for a steep 4-5 hours hike from Busteni, there is an easy access to the Plateau by cable car to Babele Chalet, from where many trails, including the one to Omu Chalet/Peak, start off. The cable car is old and rusty, and doesn’t run every day, however, entrepreneurial people are now offering four-wheel rides to the Plateau taking a route via Sinaia – another popular tourist town, which is south of Busteni. This gives you more time to botanise around. You can return by cable car or take one of the few routes hiking down – for which one needs very good knees – but worth the effort to witness the floristic changes at different elevations.

At the first sight, the Plateau can look quite desolate but if you go exploring in the areas with alpine turf, many species will start to reveal themselves. First welcoming sight was from the Carpathian endemic Thymus pulcherrimus. Extremely floriferous and fragrant, it is only one among the many other local Thymus species that we used to collect for our winter ‘tea time’. A member from Ericaceae family, Bruckenthalia spiculifolia was in full flower, drawing our attention from the distance. It is a low evergreen shrub 10-15 cm tall, with needle-like leaves and pink (rarely white), bell-shaped flowers; it requires acidic conditions if it is to be cultivated in the garden.The alpine willows are well represented as well. Usually they sprawl over big boulders or on the thin layer of soil available, intermingled with quite a few other alpines. Salix reticulata, called netted willow, is a prostrate shrub that forms tight, dense mats with leathery, reticulate leaves. Like many other willows, it is dioecious and sometimes you get to see the male or the female catkins. Another common alpine willow with smaller, rounded leaves, presented in an image together with Primula minima, is Salix herbaceaGentiana nivalis, the snow gentian, was spotting the alpine turf here and there with its small but intense blue flowers. It is an annual gentian that grows 5-15 cm tall, easy to recognize by the wings on the calyx, and it is characteristic to grazed, rich grasslands.  Close by was growing another Carpathian endemic, a Scabiosa with deep pink flowers: Scabiosa lucida subsp. barbata. Drops of gold from Hieracium alpinum, although scarce were very welcoming along the trail. Another bright yellow flowered species that can be stumbled upon is Helianthemum alpestre.

To be continued…


Planetary alignment

Sometimes you wonder how events with different space & time coordinates are coming together – planetary alignment? Having got my first seedex batch, I was happy about getting Schizanthus coccineus (Schizanthus grahamii var. coccinea) and a red Rhodophiala but a bit upset for missing Alstroemeria umbellata – all of them seen during our trip to Chile three years ago. They brought back happy, sunny memories. The seedlings of Puya coerulea, growing close to my desk are grounding them well in reality.

Schizanthus coccineus seeds

Schizanthus coccineus seeds

On the same day, it was time to put order in my fridge space for the new seeds. In a lonely pot sitting in a corner I found, to my surprise, seedlings sprouting; on the label – Alstroemeria zoelnerii – Chile 2011! I remembered that at one point, in a no-germination frustration, I threw them in the fridge and then forgot about them. Well, these are a few images that bring back to me happy, sunny memories, not only of plants but of the people associated with them, which actually makes them so special.

There are about 15 Schizanthus species in Chile and Argentina (Fam. Solanaceae), commonly called ‘mariposita’, or ‘flor the pajarito’. The common names used for the few cultivated species are: Butterfly flower and Poor Man’s Orchid. The flowers have a particular morphology resembling somehow a flying butterfly and are brightly coloured. They are perennials or annuals, growing in full sun in various habitats; those at high elevations are characterized by large amounts of snow in the winter and dry summer months.

And for a completely justified alignment, our ‘de-frosting’ has begun today and so did my seeding Enterprise – exploring the galaxy and discovering new plant worlds!


Sweet AND Sour

I wrote a lot about the garden sweetest moments but we all know that with them also come the sourly ones. No one boasts much about them, but the important thing would be to learn from our mistakes and try again hoping for a sweet outcome next time. Or should I say sweeter? (given the past sourness). This wave of arctic air brought to my mind my white Saxifraga ex. Porteous acquired last year from Wrightman Alpines. I lost it and in the worst way – that is after a brief but glorious display.

Saxifraga ex. Porteous early April

Saxifraga ex. Porteous in early April

It brought us joy and it will be remembered!

 “All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett (Worstward Ho)

Seeds of a New Year

Happy New Year everyone!

In keeping with a not too long tradition, on first of January, I’m writing about something that was the most special plant-wise for me, in the past year. And it seems that having up and running my indoor light stand won the honour!

From under the lights Under lights

For all of us gardeners and plant-alcoholics in the Northern hemisphere, the counter-attack to a long, harsh winter is without doubt having a growing light stand. With the seeds packages that start pouring in January, and the personal seeds collections, by mid February one can have a small growing operation! Of course that with the ‘seedling joy’ also comes frustration and sadness after loosing some, but that’s all part of the game, isn’t it?

Garden ready for 2014

Let’s all prepare to plant the seeds of a New Year! Try something new, approach differently what didn’t work last year, be creative, experiment, learn some more and watch your garden flourish.


May all your seeds germinate and all your plants and dreams come true in 2014!




Dabs of colour

Chances are that in every store and home you enter these days in Canada and the United States you’ll see displays of potted Poinsettia – Euphorbia pulcherrima. Statistics say it is the most sold potted plant for Christmas holidays. I have to give them credit – it is impressive seeing potted grown, brightly coloured Poinsettias.

I was most amazed though when I saw it growing in its natural habitat in Mexico – and completely understood the reaction Joel R. Poinsett had a long time ago. Appointed the first American minister to Mexico in 1825, he also had a keen interest in botany and in one of his trips to an area south of Mexico City, he stopped to collect cuttings from a roadside growing Euphorbia pulcherrima. Maybe the plant was looking something like this:

Euphorbia pulcherrima

Euphorbia pulcherrima – flowering during the dry season in Mexico. As probably known, the ornamental red bracts, are transformed leaves, which in conditions of short days turn red having the role of attracting pollinators to the inconspicuous, small, yellow flowers. In Mexico it is called Flor de Buena Noce- Christmas Eve Flower and it is also used in Christmas decorations.

By 1836 the plant was already known in the States under the name Poinsettia. The rest is horticultural history, and although under a different form, today we enjoy about 108 Poinsettia varieties, in red, pink, cream and other (sometimes weird) colour combinations. If not for the present winter storm, we would have bought ours today, but for now these dabs of colour will suffice…

Euphorbia pulcherrima 1

Iced Skullcap

From a tiny plant, this Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida transformed itself throughout the season into a mound of deliciously laced, glossy leaves topped with yellow flowers. Now, in late November, with the stems reddened and iced by the first flurries looks even more appealing. One of those sweets that you can never have enough of!

Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida

Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida

It was bought in the spring from Wrightman Alpines, along with other alpine ‘golden nuggets’. Although the genus Scutellaria (Fam. Lamiaceae), commonly known as Skullcaps, includes quite a few ornamental species, they are rarely seen in the plant nurseries; some species are often used as herbal remedies in various systems of traditional medicine.

Scutellaria orientalis ssp. pinnatifida  (no sugar added)