Unbridled enthusiasm – Gentiana purpurea

There is no secret that I suffer from Gentiano-philia. Like with other rare diseases, the factors involved and the treatment are unknown. Any Gentiana, under any form and colour (seeds, plants, pictures…) will provoke a wave of unbridled enthusiasm that sweeps me over (the edge of rationality). Getting Gentiana purpurea seeds was no short of such happening! My grateful thanks to the seeds/images donor ;)

Gentiana purpurea

Gentiana purpurea

Gentiana purpurea can be considered the ‘little sister’ of Gentiana lutea. The deep red, or better said wine coloured flowers, are making me dream of the day when the two of them will grow in our garden. And more than that, what if a hybrid of them will arise? What then???

Berberidaceae seeds and embryos

Speaking about the inside winter gardening, this year I am trying to use GA3 to speed up the germination of Caulophyllum thalictroides (and a few others). There would be much to say about Caulophyllum seeds, from the fact that they develop outside the ovary and have a drupe-like look, they must be kept moist at all times after collecting, to the fact that they have a tiny immature embryo (it’s very hard to see it even with a hand-lens) but a gigantic corneous endosperm…
But I am only showing my new method of treating the seeds with a GA3 solution and then placing them back in vermiculite in the same small plastic bags, instead of using moist towel/Ziploc or sowing in pots. At this point, the embryos are most likely at the torpedo stage.

I think it is a great method for medium to large size seeds and a super space saver (which is of my high interest right now). It is easy to see if/when something germinates, and I had proof that the roots can grow quite a bit on the support they get from vermiculite (in contrast to keeping the seeds in moist towels, where the new roots get entangled and are easily damaged).

If someone is curious to browse the gallery (hover for caption): sectioned seeds/embryos of Caulophyllum, Podophyllum peltatum and of Ranzania japonica, a most intriguing species from the same family as Caulophyllum (Berberidaceae). Many members of this family, which simply fascinates me, are difficult to grow from seeds: think Epimedium, Podophyllum, Jeffersonia, Vancouveria…I will be most happy to grow Ranzania – it looks like a cool hybrid plant between Glaucidium and Anemonopsis!
A few Epimedium and Jeffersonia diphylla were sown early summer last year. We’ll see about that…

The love of winter – Pipsissewa

Chimaphila  from Greek: cheimon – winter, philein – to love

Pipsissewa from Cree language, meaning ‘it breaks into small pieces’

As we start looking towards the New Year, another thing becomes more obvious for those living in the northern hemisphere: winter has settled in! You absolutely have to love it; or you’ll be miserably dragging over 3+ months of hating it. Choose for yourself… Myself, I can’t wait to start new seeds experiments and to write more about the plants I love. Here’s the first one to put you in the mood of winter love ;)

Chimaphila umbellata (Pipsissewa, Prince’s pine) is another species about which I developed a mild obsession to propagate from seeds. It has showy, leathery, evergreen foliage, equally interesting pink, fragrant flowers and it grows in shady places (it has a taste for a slightly acidic soils). It would look great at the edge of the woodland garden or on the shaded side of a rockery. The dry capsules are also very ornamental and last into the next season; they contain lots of tiny, dust-like seeds (much like the Cypripediums) which are released easily when mature. The best time to try to collect them is in late fall.

The species is morphologically variable across its native range. Five or six subspecies have been recognized in the literature, depending on what source you look at; for example, the one from Ontario would be C. umbellata subsp. cisatlantica – it never gets easy…

Only the difficult propagation made it virtually non-existent in cultivation. According to some sources, Pipsissewa is a partial myco-heterotrophic plant, which means that it obtains a portion of its nutrients from parasitizing fungi that are part of mycorrhizal associations of other plants. It also forms its own mycorrhizal symbiosis with fungi. Kind of complicated…

Reportedly, it can be propagated from cuttings and from rhizome fragments but not very successfully (I presume, otherwise we would have seen it in cultivation). I don’t have the conditions to try rooting cuttings and don’t feel like uprooting plants to take rhizomes, so I’ll stick with seed germination trial-outs. Others have tried with some success stratification of fresh seeds in a mix inoculated with local soil, and the fine size of the seeds suggests that it might be a light sensitive germinator. We’ll see how it goes…

Chimaphila umbellata seeds

Chimaphila umbellata seeds

Interested in medicinal plants? – read more

Pipsissewa was and still is valued for its medicinal properties. Native Americans used it in their traditional medicine mainly for treating rheumatism, as well as for kidney, liver disorders (leaves), and other ailments. Scientific research has confirmed its pharmacological qualities a long time ago, and the modern therapeutic use of C. umbellata reflects the traditional indications. In short, it can be used like Arctostaphyllos uva-ursi, but its active components are more potent.

Today it is utilized in small scale modern herbal medicine, but has become the component of a proprietary formula – Eviprostat® largely used in Japan and Europe for the treatment of benign enlargement of the prostate.

If this is good news, the bad is that Chimaphila has been classified as a slow-growing perennial, sensitive to harvesting pressures, ecological disturbances, and foot traffic; also various reports have emphasized that it regenerates too slowly for regular commercial harvesting.



Vermiculite from Latin ‘vermiculus’ = wormlet

The recently emerged rootlet of bloodroot seed has attached on this vermiculite particle with the same desperation a climber clings onto a rock. A place to grow on, salvation…

Sanguinaria canadensis seedling attached

Sanguinaria canadensis seedling growing attached on a vermiculite particle

For us, it remains just an exfoliated fragment of a hydrated silicate mineral; worm-like shaped, lightweight, incombustible, compressible, sterile, with a high cation-exchange capacity…

Only very few Sanguinaria canadensis seeds have started to germinate in moist storage; this one was particularly well developed – good genes probably… The very young rhizome already shows signs of the future red coloration characteristic to Sanguinaria rhizomes.

A tasty lunch

The rainy weather of this year has surely pleased all the baneberries (Actaea species). Their fruits are not indicated to be consumed for lunch!!! being poisonous, but they are so attractive. Let’s call them local gourmet foods for the soul and eyes!

All Actaea species make for superb specimens in part-shade to shaded locations of the garden. White, fragrant flowers that attract pollinators in late spring, beautiful foliage, colourful and long-lasting fruits… isn’t this enough to consider adding these native beauties to your garden?

Actaea pachypoda – Doll’s eyes, White baneberries

Actaea pachypoda

Good fortune made it that I also found a few plants of A. pachypoda with magenta coloured fruits – which is a rare form given as Actaea pachypoda f. rubrocarpa (not everyone agrees on this, but after I found them, I surely do).

Actaea pachypoda f. rubrocarpa

Actaea pachypoda f. rubrocarpa

Actaea rubra – Red baneberry

Actaea rubra

I am very pleased that I can offer them all in my Seed Catalogue – BotanyCa. They are a bit difficult to germinate sometimes (just require more time) but since when are beautiful things easy to obtain?

A chic hat

Update: ID as Aconitum variegatum subsp. paniculatum

All Aconitum species are wearing cool hats but this one in particular with the hood on one side looks very chic. Growing Aconitum from seeds that are not properly identified is quite a pain, but worth the trouble.

All monkshoods are equally beautiful and deadly, with spikes of violet, dark blue, yellow or white hood-shaped, complicated flowers that one needs to know the terminology in order to ‘read’ their characters. Species are usually described on the basis of root and flower morphology.

Aconitum variegatum

Update: Aconitum variegatum subsp. paniculatum

After lots of searches, pictures, dissections… this one was narrowed down to Aconitum variegatum subsp. paniculatum (syn. Aconitum degenii) or A. variegatum subsp. variegatum. We’ll know for sure in late fall after I’ll dig it up and see the tuber shape; and maybe I’ll have a seed or two but glad to hear other opinions…

Aconitum variegatum

Aconitum variegatum: sepals (hood with pronounced rostrum) and petals with coiled nectary spurs


Before being praised as a garden plant, Aconitum was considered (and still is) “the king of the poisons” (Europe) or “the king of medicines” (Tibet and China), depending on where it grew, but this is a good subject for wintertime storytelling…
It is a good idea to wear gloves when doing anything that involves touching an Aconitum. It contains highly active and toxic alkaloids.

Aconitum variegatum

Aconitum variegatum (?)


What’s cooking?

My kitchen has become a small scale operation – thinking fruit pies, jams and jellies?

Caulophyllum thalictroides

Caulophyllum thalictroides seeds

Caulophyllum thalictroides (Blue cohosh) blue seeds will easily pass for blueberries but unfortunately are poisonous if ingested in large quantities. That’s very improbable to happen though because what seems like a big berry is actually a single huge seed surrounded by a thin fleshy and blue seed coat.

More likely to lose a tooth or two than being poisoned!

Caulophyllum thalictroides cleaned seeds

Caulophyllum thalictroides cleaned seeds

On the other hand, Podophyllum peltatum (Mayapple) fruit it is/has been used to prepare jams and jellies. The big size fruit (hog apple, wild lemon, Indian apple), when fully ripen has a light yellow colour and a persimmon fragrance (in my opinion). It is actually the only part of the plant that’s not toxic.

Podophyllum peltatum fruits

Podophyllum peltatum fruits

To ensure good germination seeds of both species have to be placed in moist storage right away. They belong to a large category of species with hydrophylic seeds (intolerant of dry storage).

Also, both species are important North American medicinal woodland plants.

Podophyllum peltatum seeds

Mayapple seeds – enclosed in a gooey substance

PS. In case you have available large quantities of mayapple fruits to make jam, be kind and promote a sustainable harvest (always) by discarding the seeds in a nearby wooden area.


Out in the woods – Podophyllum peltatum

Mayapple, American mandrake, Hog apple

For plant collectors, Podophyllum name sparks instantly the ‘rare plants’ lust. Like with the Arisaema species unfortunately the North American continent wasn’t left with much, one Podophyllum species – the Mayapple. It has its charm and personality and it will very slowly form a colony in the woodland garden.

Podophyllum peltatum colony

Podophyllum peltatum colony

It emerges in early spring with a couple of tightly closed leaves, which expand umbrella-like afterwards and cover one solitary, white flower. The fleshy fruit (hog apple, wild lemon) becomes yellow when ripe and is enjoyed by a variety of small animals, who are also the principal seed dispersers (the fruit is the only part of the plant that’s not toxic).

Podophyllum peltatum flowers

Podophyllum peltatum flowering

But there’s more about the Mayapple than just being a great plant for the shade garden – its Medicinal uses:

The Mayapple has been a staple medicinal plant in the repertoire of the Native Americans, which used it as: boiled roots (laxative), juice of the fresh rhizome (improve hearing), powdered root (skin ulcers and sores, purgative). At some point the Mayapple resin (extracted from the rhizome) was considered one the most powerful laxatives available but because of its toxicity this use disappeared.

Pharmaceutical research proved that certain chemical constituents of the Podophyllum species can be used as anticancer agents. The substance responsible is called podophyllin and it is a resin contained in the rhizome (see the use of powder root to treat skin ulcers). This resin is composed of several toxic glycosides, the most active being podophyllotoxin. Derivatives of the podophyllotoxin (etoposide and teniposide) are formulated today into anticancer drugs used in chemotherapy to inhibit the growth of tumors in various types of cancer.

Unfortunately, in a few regions of the Indian Himalayas, another species, Podophyllum hexandrum, also exploited as medicinal, has become endangered due to overharvesting in the wild. I hope we won’t start destroying our Mayapple populations too. Actually, Podophyllums are very easy to cultivate – all you need is shade …and seeds of course (or rhizomes cuttings).

Note: The genus name comes from the Greek ‘anapodophyllum’ meaning a leaf like the foot (podos) of a duck (anas) and peltatum – refers to the specific attachment of the leaf stalk near the centre of the leaf blade.

Out in the woods – the Blue Cohosh

A short hike revealed quite a change of the woodland floor with a few ‘faces’ familiar to everyone, like the trout lily (Erythronium americanum), spring beauties (Claytonia spp.), mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) and Trillium ready to flower but also forgotten woodland treasures such as the Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides).

Spring woodland flowers


 Caulophyllum thalictroides – Blue Cohosh, papoose root, squawroot

Blue cohosh is an impressive plant, easy to recognize in early spring by the strikingly beautiful purple, almost back shoots. The foliage will change later to green and resemble the meadow rue (Thalictrum), hence the epithet ‘thalictroides’.

‘Cohosh’ is believed to derive from an Algonquian word meaning ‘rough’, referring to the texture of the plant’s rhizome, while ‘blue’ comes from the unusually blue seeds. Also the stem and leaves are covered with a bluish film early in the summer.

Caulophyllum thalictroides shoot in early spring

Caulophyllum thalictroides shoot in early spring

The small purplish or yellowish green flowers would not qualify for a beauty contest but not the same goes for the blue seeds adorning the stems in the fall. For combinations in the garden, only imagination is the limit: a mix palette with early spring flowering native species (Claytonia, Erytronium, Sanguinaria) or for an European decor combined with: Corydalis solida, early primroses, Anemone nemorosa, Ranunculus, so on…For part-shade to shade locations, in rich humus soil.

 Other uses:

Blue cohosh was used medicinally (powder rhizomes) by various native American tribes, mainly to promote childbirth (‘squawroot’) but also for: anxiety, rheumatism, stomach cramps and genito-urinary dysfunctions. It contains a number of active compounds among which caulosaponin is a powerful stimulator of uterine contractions (under medical attention it is still used in modern herbal medicine as a natural labour-inducing stimulant).

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)