Winter getaway – Caryophyllaceae part I

Follow-up to Friday’s seeds – let’s go up the mountains and then travel to the Dobrogea region (close to the Black Sea, Romania) to see a few Caryophyllaceae.

I’ll start with Arenaria; yes, usually not overly ornamental plants but easy to please and cheerful when in flower. Arenaria ciliata shown below; another Arenaria found at high altitude is A. biflora.

Arenaria ciliata at about 1100 m alt.

Cerastium alpinum ssp. lanatum, the alpine mouse-ear, can be found at alpine level in quite a few mountain ranges, not only in the Carpathians; it grows on rock crevices, nooks formed between boulders, also on stabilized rock screes and alpine meadows. It is quite adaptable and the woolly foliage makes a nice addition to the large, white flowers; something good to try for any ‘not that advanced’ rock gardener (myself included).

Depending on the traveling time, there are always various Dianthus species to admire from the alpine level to the foothills of the mountain, like D. petraeus, D. tenuifolius, D. carthusianorum and D. glacialis, to mention just a few. Over the years I’ve presented and offered seeds of some of them, except D. glacialis.

Dianthus glacialis

Gypsophila petraea, a cushion forming alpine baby-breath, endemic for Carpathian Mts. usually grows on conglomerate boulders and crevices on the rock walls; often in localized areas. Excellent species for rock gardens and not difficult to grow based on from my previous experience; unfortunately, most of the capsules were immature and I found very few seeds.

Gypsophila petraea; in the image below with Asperula

Moehringia is an overlooked genus in my opinion. I like Moehringia muscosa for its fine texture and although I didn’t have a shaded rock crevice to offer, it did quite well this summer in my garden in a less than favourable position (‘protected’ by Primula sieboldii). The picture in the wild was taken in Barsei Massif (also part of Carpathian Mts.).

Quite a few Minuartia species grow at alpine level and lower; among them, Minuartia verna, the spring sandwort is a rewarding, easy to grow species so don’t be shy to give it a try.

Two cushion forming species of Minuartia from the Bucegi Mts. would be worth having in a rockery: Minuartia recurva and Minuartia sedoides. Especially M. sedoides looks similar to Silene acaulis, but of course that the flowers, when present, signal the different genus. Sometimes they grow interlaced with one another and it is even harder to distinguish them.
One year I must make a special effort and collect seeds of these species.

Minuartia sedoides with yellowish flowers, Silene acaulis and rosettes of Primula minima

Minuartia recurva

I previously showed and probably everyone knows Silene acaulis (first image in the gallery). I’ve also shown with other occasion the cute Silene pusilla (now growing in my garden as well :), so please browse through the gallery to get an idea of the habitats these species are growing in (click to open full size images).

Most pictures are from the Bucegi plateau (alpine level). The ‘green’ boulders’ composed of Silene acaulis, Minuartia and other cushion species, which punctuate the barren rocky areas, are in fact small plant communities.  The cushion-type plants are colonizers of these harsh habitats on rapidly draining rocky/sandy soils, and thus very important as pioneers for the installation of other alpine species.

Here’s one more good example with Minuartia sedoides and Primula minima taking good roots in the partly decomposed cushion.

Minuartia sedoides with Primula minima

I didn’t mention Sagina, Scleranthus and probably few others but it’s time to come down the mountain. From the South-Eastern Carpathian Mts. to Dobrogea region there is about a 4 hour drive; it won’t take long to get there – stay tuned…

Back with more seeds

I’m back and guess what? – I brought more seeds :)
We cannot remove/transport plants but, no worry they are contained within the seeds: tiny capsules of time and memories, of new places, mountains and blue skies…
A gallery with few images for now, there will be plenty of time for stories when days are getting shorter.

All available seeds, including more local collections will be added to the Shop over the next couple of weeks. Please stay tuned…

Through the looking-glass: Montreal Botanical Garden

Every time I visit a Botanical Garden, it feels like stepping into a parallel world full of wonders. Montreal Botanical Garden especially felt like the Garden of Live Flowers. Did the flowers think that I was one of them? I don’t know, but let’s see what’s on the other side of the mirror.

Maybe not enough time to do a full exploration, but we can always return for more ;-) There are 10 exhibition greenhouses and about 30 thematic outdoor gardens!!!
Link to – Montreal Botanical Garden

Very short, I have to mention that MBG came into being in 1931 through the efforts and vision of botanist Frѐre Marie Victorin, which practically dedicated his life to this garden. Rightly so, today he welcomes all visitors at the entrance.
In the pictures: Frere Marie Victorin, and second, an archive image with him and the garden’s designer, Henry Teuscher (1936) – please click to open the full size images in the gallery.

Because it is cold, snowy and I had a bad cold, there is no other place I’d rather be right now than the Rainforest section of the Conservatory where it is warm and humid, and epiphytic plants and lianas are draping over the skilfully built ‘cork trees’.

Tropical Rainforest Greenhouse at Montreal Botanical Garden

Before starting to admire the multitude of species growing here, it’s good to note how much effort went into creating an environment that mimics very well the wild habitats of the displayed species, in this case many epiphytic bromeliaceae, Tillandsia, various  aroids, Orchids, Maranthaceae, Zingiberaceae and Nepenthaceae.

Aechmea gamosepala and Vriesea sucrei from Brasil

As you can see from the close-up image, pieces of cork (bark of Quercus suber, I think) were skillfully arranged and tied over ‘skeletons’ of trees (made from metallic tubes). In this way, were created various levels on which species from many parts of the world could coexist harmoniously according with their light requirements.

As well, panels with the same cork supporting epiphytic Tillandsia and orchid species hanged around the sides of the greenhouse and helped to achieve a tri-dimensional look of the indoor forest.

Tillandsia andreana (Colombia)

And a bit more :)



A walk through the Finnerty Gardens

In the idea of opening the New Year with a colourful post, I will show a few images from a small but charming garden seen in Victoria (Vancouver Island).

The Finnerty Gardens, located on the grounds of Univ. of Victoria, came into being as a result of the Buchanan family estate donation to the university. At their property in Lake Cowichan, Mrs. J. Buchanan Simpson and her husband developed over the years a large collection of Rhododendrons, mostly grown from seeds; when it became impossible to manage the collection, Mrs. Buchanan made the right decision.

Although it is not a botanical garden, many species have signs with the names, and besides the large number of rhododendrons and azaleas, there are many other interesting plants displayed in an enchanting woodland atmosphere. Among most notable: a large Davidia involucrata tree, Magnolia species, Styrax japonicus, Michelia, Camellia, a stumpery with lots of ferns, and also native species of the region like Vancouveria hexandra and Dicentra formosa.

An absolutely delightful place, I hope the colors will make it up for the lack of sun – click to enter the gallery and enjoy the short walk!


Entrance is free, parking also free on the weekends.

Plants of the Canadian West Coast – III

From the shady side

As we are approaching the longest night of the year, it seems appropriate to present few species from the shady side. The characteristic rain forest of the area presents itself as an enchanted place with huge ferns, moss clad tree logs and boulders, and lichens of all sorts and shapes. One could easily imagine how handy rain gear would be if visiting in spring or fall!

Growing on a most beautiful mossy outcrop populated by reindeer lichen, Goodyera, hairy Arctostaphylos and ferns, was Plectritis congesta. Some plants were already with seeds, but a few were still flowering and looked very nice in deep pink on the background of moss covered rocks.

Plectritis congesta, the Sea blush (Fam. Caprifoliaceae), is an annual species, very adaptable to growing conditions and quite variable as height and flower colour.

A species abundant in cool and shaded damp places, was the broad-leaved starflowers – Trientalis latifolia (Fam. Myrsinaceae more recently). The species can be easily distinguished by its very broad leaves, which make the pinkish to white flowers look smaller than they really are. As well, Linnaea borealis was frequent in the same microhabitats.

Trientalis latifolia – all populations found had pink to deep pink flowers, some also presenting extra petals

There would be much more to say and show, but Christmas time is close, so I will end this trip with a few lichen images, so specific for the coastal rainy forest habitats (there are also species growing in full sun locations). Species shown here belong to the Cladonia and Cladina genera (reindeer lichens), but since I’m not a lichen specialist, I will abstain from assigning species names. We can just admire their most beautiful, intricate and delicate patterns.

And a Merry Christmas to all!


Plants of the Canadian West Coast – II

More snow is on the way for us (and bitter cold), but we are hiking on the Sooke Coast trail where there are many flowers ;) Enjoy and more to come…

As I mentioned in part 1, Sedum spathulifolium seems to enjoy the company of many other species: Triteleia/Brodiaea, Allium cernuum, Heuchera micrantha and Pentagramma, to note just a few. The contrast of its bluish rosettes with the violet flowers of Triteleia laxa was particularly exquisite.

Brodiaea coronaria

Triteleia laxa Brodiaea coronaria – corrected thanks to a SRGC forumist, grows from a small, edible corm (Fam. Asparagaceae) and flowers usually after the foliage dies back. Flowers can be light blue to violet, rarely white; especially attractive when growing in groups, with the flowers showing up among the golden, dry foliage.

Another Triteleia species encountered was Triteleia hyacinthina (fool’s onion). The plant can be variable in height (10-40 cm) and has compact umbels of white flowers (sometimes having bluish tints) with green midribs. I don’t know really know if to call this one Brodiaea…

Triteleia hyacinthina

Triteleia hyacinthina close-up

Allium cernuum, the nodding onion, was also found growing nearby and looked very attractive when drooping gracefully over a rock ledge.

Allium cernuum

Taking pictures of Triteleia, I noticed something glittering in the sun down the slope and approaching to see better, I noticed the goldback fernPentagramma triangularis. This lovely small sized fern can remain evergreen throughout the year when enough moisture is available.  In full sun and dry conditions, as I found it, it will curl its fronds and reveal the golden spores. I know the picture cannot show the reality of the ‘golden glitter’, but it’s true. What a great little fern for the rock garden!

Pentagramma triangularis – Goldback fern on Sooke Coast Trail

Meandering around beach pockets, the hiking trail enters sometimes into the forest (there is also an option to return through the woods to the trailhead). Majestic Douglas, Tsuga, Sitka spruce and Thuja plicata will accompany the path; it’s only after the bark that you can tell which one is which. A spectacular shrub encountered in large numbers as an understory, was the salal, Gaultheria shallon (Fam. Ericaceae).

Gaultheria shallon – Salal

This is an evergreen shrub, 1,5 m to 3 m tall, which can form very dense thickets. The leathery, thick leaves and the racemes of urn-shaped, white to pink flowers make it for a very handsome shrub. Fruits are purplish-black berries that are said to be sweetish and flavourful. Salal berries were a staple food for the NW coastal First Nations, who use to eat them preserved in oolichan (bear fat – correction thanks to a  sharp eye, oolichan or smelt is a fish – see end of the post for more info), pounded and dried into cakes (kept in woven baskets over the winter). There is also mention of mixing the fruits with salmon eggs to obtain a sweetish dish…

Gaultheria shallon


read more here – Eulachon, Oolichan, Candlefish, Hooligan 

“To Native Americans, the return of the eulachon meant the beginning of spring and a renewed food supply, literally saving lives and earning them the name “salvation fish” or “savour fish.”  They were the first fish to arrive in the river after a long cold winter when most of their stored food supplies had been depleted.   Unlike other fish oils, eulachon lipids are solid at room temperature, with the color and consistency of butter.  These fish are almost 20 percent oil by weight, allowing a fine grease to be rendered from their bodies and creating a high-energy food source that could easily be transported and traded with other tribes farther inland.”


Plants of the Canadian West Coast

Sooke Coast Trail – part 1

At this time of year we are in need of sunny/flowery images, so I’ll quit the propagation stories for a while (I am sure some readers got heavily bored ;). Chance made it that I got to visit Victoria (situated on the southern part of Vancouver Island) in late May, but never got to sort through the many pictures; few posts will take care of this now ;)

A short note for those who are not familiar with the region: the southern part of Vancouver Island constitutes the northern growing limit for many species, which are common otherwise on the US west coast down to the Californian coastal mountains. Victoria is considered the mildest city in Canada and enjoys a sub-mediterranean climate (yes you hear me well!) with mild winters (snow is a very rare event), rainy springs and falls and dry summers (hardiness considered, zone 7-8).

The first highly recommended hiking destination, in a short driving distance from Victoria, is the Sooke area. There are a few trails available, which can be done partially or entirely. The Coast Trail in East Sooke Regional Park was particularly impressive (follow link to see map and read more).


View from Sooke Coast Trail

Excellent views are opening all along the trail, which follows the rocky coast, only with a few passages going deep into the forest (usually to go around a pocket beach). In between taking pictures and stopping to admire the wild, rugged landscape, time flies; I would say that at least two days are necessary to get a good grasp of its beauty.  It is very hard to choose only a few pictures to show.


View from Sooke Coast Trail

Plants speaking, the first species that makes you go – WoW! Is the Pacific Madrone – Arbutus menziesii. Any time I encounter in the wild a species previously known only from picture, there is a special feeling, same like meeting a person known previously only from correspondence. I couldn’t shake hands with the Arbutus :) but I was happy to brush my hand over the exquisite cinnamon/red, exfoliating bark.


Arbutus menziesii on Sooke Coast Trail – Pacific Madrone, Arbutus

Pacific Madrone/Arbutus is an evergreen tree with many other qualities, glossy leaves and creamy clusters of flowers (attracting many pollinators) followed by red fruits; all making for a most beautiful tree. And there is more – the trunk and branches are twisting in various ways, to the point that sometimes they will hug and gracefully slide along the rocks’ contour. Its native range extends from:  SW  Vancouver Island to south Baja California. It is found growing in dry open forests, rocky slopes, on coarse or shallow soils.


Arbutus menziesii

Another ‘staple’ species of the region is Sedum spathulifolium – the broadleaf stonecrop. It seems able to grow absolutely everywhere: on moss-layered rocks, decomposed tree trunks, wind blasted rocks in full sun or cascading over shaded boulders. Truly spectacular! Probably half of my pictures contain this Sedum in various plant-associations. I liked it best together with Cladonia or a Cladina sp. (the reindeer moss); the white-silvery, lacy lichen bringing out the beauty of the bluish foliage and the contrasting red stems & yellow flowers.


Sedum spathulifolium and reindeer moss on Sooke Coast Trail


Sedum spathulifolium 


Sedum spathulifolium tumbling over the rocks

This post is getting a bit too long so more to follow…


with Geum reptans

Our night temperatures have plunged to new record lows of -30˚C; our spirits are following the same trend. Short of being able to fly away to a sunny destination, I made a trip into the past summer days.

Geum reptans

Geum reptans – in habitat, Carpathian Mts.

Geum reptans sits at the top of my ‘to collect’ list. I would have a lot to say about this mountain Geum. After seeing it in full splendour, there is no denying that it holds the record of the largest flowered Geum species. From my present frozen perspective however, size is not as important as their irradiating glow, which could (metaphorically) melt the ice away.

I am convinced now that it is a total calcifuge species. In the natural habitat we found individuals growing majestically on granitic boulders or isolated populations scattered over sloped rocky alpine meadows only where the underlying substrate was predominantly of silicaceous nature; amongst them were rosettes of Soldanella pusilla and Primula minima. Needless to say that, the drainage they enjoy in these conditions is nothing short of being ‘stellar’.

Geum reptans - solitary on a versant boulder

Geum reptans – splashed over a big boulder, on a stabilized scree

Geum reptans - on a rocky alpine meadow slope

Geum reptans – on a rocky alpine meadow slope

In a few early flowered plants, the magnificent rose and fluffy seed heads were just beginning to ripe, so I couldn’t collect seeds last year; another record – of disappointment this time…

Geum reptans - immature seed heads

Geum reptans – immature seed heads

Propagation: I wrote about the germination and showed seedlings in other posts. The seeds from a previous collection have germinated very well. Seedlings developed strong tap roots and weren’t too fussy, but I didn’t manage to keep them going longer than two years. Not enough drainage was surely a big problem, especially in my newly planted rock-plants containers. I hope one day I’ll broke another record: of growing this mountain avens in my rock garden!

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

For Seed trade – Helleborus purpurascens

I am not young enough to know everything” – Oscar Wilde

A quick post because I just ‘discovered’ that Helleborus purpurascens seeds are best sown fresh in the summer. They need to go through a warm-moist period followed by cold-moist in order to germinate best. Older seeds will still germinate but in a lower percentage. Helleborus is one thing I have never done from seed (members of Ranunculaceae are notoriously difficult germinators). This is a rare Helleborus species distributed only along the Carpathian Mountains range, up to central and northern Hungary. Interestingly, it can be found growing in full sun, in open alpine meadows and also under dappled shade in beech woods.

Helleborus purpurascens in native habitat

Helleborus purpurascens growing in full sun in native habitat – Carpathian Mts.

Graham Rice, the authority in all Helleborus matters, has an extensive article on H. purpurascens on his website, you can read it HERE. In a bit of a hurry, I will quote him so no one can say I am biased because of its origins:

It is “one of the most captivating species for its engaging habit of flowering so enthusiastically, for its subtle metallic tints… The foliage too is unlike that of other hellebores, in that it radiates from the tip of the petiole in a neat circle.”

As for the flowers, a few forms that are known from Botanical Gardens: are purple in colour with dark veins, slightly pinkish towards the base and netted towards the edge; some flowers have an overall green haze…In a second form which reaches 15 in in height the flowers are smoky blue-purple in colour, darker outside than in, with slightly reddish veins inside and green nectaries. Other forms may be slate purple or deep purple outside, shining pinkish shades….”

Helleborus purpurascens

Helleborus purpurascens – from what’s left it seems matching the description!

A truly collector’s plant, so this is a call for a seeds trade – if someone wishes a few fresh Helleborus purpurascens seeds to sow them right away, please get in touch with me here, on my email or at (of course replace AT with @

It would be a pity not to have them all germinating well – still enough summertime left!

Helleborus purpurascens seeds

Helleborus purpurascens seeds