New territory – Pedicularis

More seed adventures as I enter a new territory – that of the hemi-parasitic plants. Many beautiful and garden desirable species belong to this category, some not impossible to grow from seeds, most notably Castilleja spp. and Pedicularis spp. (Orobanchaceae, formerly Scrophulariaceae).
By coincidence, just after I collected a few Castilleja coccinea seeds, someone asked me if I would be interested in hemi-parasitic plants. And so, I got the chance to exchange it for Pedicularis oederi seeds ;)

Pedicularis oederi, Oeder’s lousewort, is an alpine species found in China, Japan, Russia, C and N. Europe (very rare in the Carpathian Mts.), and North America. Like many other Pedicularis spp., it has beautiful ferny looking foliage and it flowers for a very long time, producing yellow/crimson tipped flowers.

Pedicularis oederi

Pedicularis oederi – growing in the Carpathian Mts. at aprox. 2000 m alt.

Another Pedicularis that I am dreaming to grow one day is Pedicularis verticillata – whorled lousewort or Bumblebee flower, with whorled inflorescences of rich, purple-pink flowers. It grows in alpine tundra turf and rocky slopes from Japan, Russia, arctic C, N, and S Europe to NW America.

Pedicularis verticillata

Pedicularis verticillata with Bistorta vivipara in the Carpathian Mts.

An alpine meadow with Pedicularis verticillata in flower it is a sight to behold.

Pedicularis verticillata2

The good news is that most hemi-parasitic plants have a wide range of hosts and have been shown to germinate even without their presence. Various Pedicularis are parasitic on species of Poaceae, Ericaceae, Salix, Aster; but many others species have been also cited as hosts. Most notably, a study done on Bartsia alpina and Pedicularis lapponica found that both would form haustorial connections with Pinguicula vulgaris (Lentibulariaceae).

One method that is working somehow for these plants, involves the direct sowing outdoors – if you have something looking like a natural meadow, which I don’t. For my experiment, I split the P. oederi seeds in 4 portions. Even if I am not successful, I am sure I will learn something from it.

– Seeds sown by a gardening friend outdoors in the vicinity of an Erica plant.
– Seeds sown at our place, outdoors in the vicinity of Polygonum affine and Deschampsia caespitosa.
– Seeds sown together with Pinguicula vulgaris in a pot that will undergo cold/stratification outside over the winter.
– Few remaining seeds will be sown together with Carex grayi (a nice NA native sedge that can grow in full sun).

But there are many other wonderful Pedicularis out there! The excitement of a new territory…

Update 2016: I wasn’t succesful with any of the above,yet. Sometimes it takes 2 years for seeds to germinate so the ones in pots are not a lost cause. The ones sown in situ probably have been disturbed by the squirrels. More sowings have been done, this time only in pots in pieces of turf. One has to persevere :)

Mid-March blues

Binge sowing and trying to beat the mid-March blues, which are slowly turning violet…

Delphinium fissum flowering plant

Delphinium fissum – flowering plant in a sub-alpine meadow, Carpathian Mts.

     A tall, slender Delphinium with fine, laced leaves and rich blue-violet,  +/- pubescent flowers with long spurs. Quite rare…

Noticed the seeds with characteristic scales; when hydrated they look like miniature cones!

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

Finally a Gentiana!

Gentiana oschtenica (close-up images of seeds provide useful info for species identification & seed coat integrity)

If it would be after my heart desire the seed catalogue would be full of Gentiana species – no discrimination made regarding their origin, colour or reproductive orientation :0

Until then, I am very happy to have had received through seed trade this rare gentian from the Caucasus. Gentiana oschtenica looks and behaves just like Gentiana verna but it has large, yellow-cream coloured flowers (for a while it was named G. verna ssp. oschtenica). Its name remembers the Massif Oshten-Fischt of the Western Caucasus, where it adorns the alpine meadows together with many other alpine treasures.

 I don’t have a real picture of it so we’ll have to content ourselves with this digital artistic rendering I made using a Gentiana verna image

'Digital' Gentiana oschtenica

Artistic-digital representation of Gentiana oschtenica after Gentiana verna

Both are finicky in cultivation but I have dreams in blue and cream (Gentiana verna/G. oschtenica) for my rock containers; arising from between the rock hugging Caucasian Gypsophila imbricata foliage!

What would life be without dreams?

Gentiana verna

Gentiana verna in an alpine meadow from Carpathian Mts.

This also got me thinking of the Carpathians, with which the Western Caucasus Mts. have much in common; so much to write about and show during the winter’s short and cloudy days…

Note:

There will be 1-2 seed packets of Gentiana oschtenica left for the seed shop after I’ll do my sowing. While I am in the Holidays giving mood, if someone wants them faster or has something equally interesting to trade – send us mail (also available from the same region, a few choice Saxifrages for the alpine enthusiast: Saxifraga scleropoda, Saxifraga sibirica and Saxifraga kolenatiana – click to see images.

Gentiana oschtenica – image

Gypsophila imbricata – image

Along the mountain road

Along the mountain road
Somehow it tugs at my heart –
A wild violet.
                                           Basho

A few highlights are warranted from our holiday. Were we could have been if not up the mountains, again? At high altitude, early July equals with a late May-June elsewhere and this made it for lots of flowers to be found. It was a good scouting expedition and lots to talk about during wintertime.

 Various violets were sprinkled everywhere from meadows to high altitude rock ledges.

Viola alpina

Viola alpina between Silene acaulis flowers

Alpine meadows were brimming with flowers; rainbows of colours marked by the towering yellow giant gentian: Gentiana lutea.

Gentiana lutea

Gentiana lutea

Groups of deep blue Gentiana verna acting like an eye-magnet from far away.

Gentiana verna

Gentiana verna

Geum reptans huge flowers scattered over the boulders.

Geum reptans

Geum reptans

A joyous riot of grasses that were intermingling with colourful perennials.

grasses

Veronica spicata between various grasses

Fiery red, fragrant mountain slopes covered with Rhododendron kotschyi (commonly called mountain peony) were a delight to all senses.

Rhododendron kotchyi

Rhododendron kotschyi

And last but not least, tiny, delicate, fringed bells of Soldanella pusilla. This says it all.

Soldanella pusilla

Soldanella pusilla

Now back to work, fruits are ripening and seeds are bursting out!

 

The last push…

towards the Machu Picchu and I hope until the spring arrives

Trekking on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu – part III

After reaching the highest point at the Dead’s Women pass, what follows is really an up and down ‘climb’ of three more mountain passes and a few Inca ruins with similar sounding names: Runcurakay, Sayaqmarka and Phuyupatamarca.  The trail itself varies from wide and promenade-like to steep, cut-in-stone stairs. When in the cloud forest, there is the unforgettable imagery of trees dripping with lichens, moss, orchids and bromeliads. At some point, we even passed a sphagnum and peat bog area resembling a coral reef habitat at the bottom of the ocean, but with orchids. Then there were tree ferns and some odd looking Araceae, and then more orchids…and some more.

In the featured image – Vallea stipularis (capuli) is a somewhat rare evergreen shrub native to South America (fam. Elaeocarpaceae), usually growing above the cloud forest. I am sure we missed many plants when too tired to look away from the slippery stone steps.

Phuyupatamarca, called ‘Town in the Clouds’ and Winay Wayna (translated “Eternal Youth’ or ‘Forever Young’), both relatively close to Machu Picchu displayed the characteristic clusters of houses interconnected by long and abrupt staircases with fountain structures (called ‘baths’ at Winay Wayna); and to deal with the steep slopes – large terraced areas of what where, presumably agricultural terraces. Too much to explore and too little available time…

The first sight of Huana Picchu is an exhilarating moment. Some are lucky to arrive there in a sunny day, and some are not – like us. It was rainy, cloudy, misty, and we were soaked to the skin. But that didn’t temper our enthusiasm, just made everything more mysterious.

 

The Forgotten Forest – Polylepis

A recount of our trekking trip on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu – part II

We were just starting on the second day to eventually reach the highest point on the Inca Trail: Warmiwañusca Pass (in translation Dead Woman’s Pass) at 4265 m. But before getting there we passed through what’s called a ‘submontane, subtropical humid forest’ or strait said cloud forest. At some point, the trail was followed, sometimes on both sides, by small, contorted trees with a specific, flaked, cinnamon bark. You could feel it is something special and slow down a bit – it was like walking through an enchanted forest, from a fairy tale and hope it never ends!

Polylepis tunnel

Through a Polylepis tunnel on the Inca Trail

The genus Polylepis has 27 species of trees and shrubs with an Andean distribution (with 19 species in Peru) and belongs to the rose family (Fam. Rosaceae). All tree species in the genus Polylepis (Quenoa) are confined to the high tropical South American Andes Mountains, where they grow best at elevations between 3500 to 5000 meters! That’s why Polylepis is considered the highest naturally occurring arborescent angiosperm genus in the world!

Their contorted, twisted growth is due to the harsh environment they are growing in. Also the layered bark with lots of thin, reddish, exfoliating sheets and the congested disposition of the leaves on the branches are adaptations to the specific high altitude climate of the Andes.

Still under the Polylepis spell, you’ll feel that the climb becomes more arduous. But the scenery is ‘magnifique’ and there are lots of other plants you probably never saw. Some guides will be able to tell you a few of them, if not the proper identification can wait for later.

Such was the case of Brachyotum – a genus of shrubs endemic throughout the high elevations of tropical Andes. The one in the image, probably B. quinquenerve, has the most vivid deep violet flower colour. Who wouldn’t want it in the garden?

Brachyotum

Brachyotum spp. – on the Inca Trail (maybe quinquenerve)

Toward the highest point of the Inca trail: Warmiwañusca Pass, which is situated at 4265 m, we entered the vegetation zone called the ‘Puna’. It is mostly grassland with various species like Stipa, Festuca and Miscanthus (of which about 48 species! are reported above 3000 m). It is very windy and cold, and there is a foggy, mysterious aspect of the nearby mountain slopes.

But when on the mountain, what comes up has to go down, so quite a steep descent follows next toward Pacasmayo valley. In some areas the trail becomes very wide, at times looking just like a weathered garden stone path; a very strange feeling knowing you are at 4000 m altitude in the Andes – walking through the Inca gardens in the mountains!

Incas Garden in the Andes

Incas Garden in the Andes

To be continued…

 

Twitching and switching

Finally, with some delay, after twitching and switching I am happy to announce that Botanically Inclined has a new base camp. Unfortunately, a free-hosted blog doesn’t suit my future endeavours, but change is good and keeps one motivated.  I am still twitching and not completely ready to shed my old skin, so for a while, until I keep transferring, updating posts and get acclimated, I will switch between my two base camps – often when one needs to climb further, the return to the previous base camp is necessary in order to get adjusted with the altitude :)

I cannot thank enough everyone for reading and finding some inspiration in what I call my ‘scriblings’. Sharing together with you the passion for all things green is what kept me motivated and made it all worth. Your feedback is always much appreciated and please be patient – I am still using the wordpress platform but it’s a new experience and I am not that knowledgeable in computers as I am in plants.

To celebrate the announcement and sweeten the transition I took a break – after all it’s Sunday and we won the hockey gold medals at the Olympics!!! With this new, stimulated energy I started to recount our trekk on the Inca trail from a few years ago:

Flowers of the Incas

Bomarea sanguinea

Bomarea sanguinea

Let’s make a big jump and land in Cusco via Lima. One needs to spend a few days here for altitude acclimation. Needless to say you have to book your trip in advance, and this can be done very well on-line nowadays. There is plenty to do in Cusco, after all you are in the ancient Incan Royal City: bask in the sun in Plaza de Armas, visit the museums, the shops, take pictures or just wander around and see what plant species are growing in the area read more HERE at my new base camp (I’m there – lots of twitching to do).

Flowers of the Incas

A recount of our trekking trip on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu – part I

You may ask: what is the motivation of trekking on the Inca trail to Machu Picchu? Probably everyone has their own reasons: adventure, the curiosity to see some archaeological wonders, botanical quest, celebration, or just a mixture of everything. It is considered the most famous trek in S. America, with the final destination at the Lost City of the Incas – Machu Picchu.

But let’s make a big jump and land in Cusco via Lima. One needs to spend a few days here for altitude acclimation. Needless to say you have to book your trip in advance, and this can be done very well on-line nowadays.  There is plenty to do in Cusco, after all you are in the ancient Inca Royal City: bask in the sun in Plaza de Armas, visit the museums, the shops, take pictures or just wander around and see what plant species are growing in the area J. A few archaeological sites can be visited nearby, most notable and accessible on foot being Sacsayhuaman, but I disgress.

Your guide and team of porters will pick you up at dawn, and for a few hours drive to the starting point of the trail. While in the car, the realization that you’ll be actually retracing ancient Inca trails starts to settle in. Usually the Inca trail makes everyone think of Macchu Picchu. Actually, it is just one among the many trails of a large network that used to stretched from Ecuador to Chile and Argentina, connecting distant corners of the Inca Empire. The trails were used for transportation, religious and military purposes. Special messengers called ‘chasqui’ were delivering messages and light items, running on these trails (supposedly hundreds of km per day) from one place to another. One last stop in Ollantaytambo, where the statue of the Inca General Ollanta, wishes you good luck.

On the classic 4 days trek, you’ll hike a section of 43 km, from the start point – simply named km. 82, and reach Machu Picchu in the forth day. The start is located along the Urubamba River and belongs to a zone called by the locals ‘Quechua’ (Quechua was the language of the Incas). The elevation here is around 2600 m.

The trail has four main areas as regards to vegetation and altitude and is one fascinating journey from an arid landscape, through mountain scenery, lush cloud forest and subtropical jungle. The beginning is quite dry and dusty in July-August, passing small farmhouses and the scenery is a combination of introduced species, like Eucalyptus with native species of Puya, cactus and agave. At same point the trail enters the Cusichaca Valley and if you look upwards on the steep cliffs there are glittering Bromeliads, mostly Puya and Tillandsia (various species). If lucky, maybe you’ll spot a few orchids like Epidendrum and the so called Giant hummingbird. We weren’t so lucky about the giant hummingbird but got a glimpse of the very colourful Sparkling Violetear!

First day ends at the Wayllabamba camping grounds, at 3000 m elevation. Of course, you’re too excited to sleep, although you should prepare for the second day…Sleep or no sleep, you have to get going. The landscape changed to what’s called ‘submontane, subtropical humid forest’. While in awe for the breathtaking scenery, you’ll also have your breath taken away by the steep climbing. It is the time to reach the highest point of the trail: Warmiwañusca Pass at 4265 m.

But before that I will point in part II of the story, at the Polylepis forest the highest forest in the world!  Back to my twitching, and I hope to see you here next week…

 

 

 

 

Caiophora coronata

A botanical trip to Chilean Andes – part II

Another awesome trip, that shouldn’t be missed if you are in the region, is towards Embalse de Yeso. This is an artificial dam with an amazing alpine style lake at about 2500 m elevation. The narrow, gravely road follows dangerously close to the lake edge so it’s best to keep your eyes on the plants growing on the other side (if you’re not the driver!).

Caiophora coronata, which belongs to another South American family: Loasaceae, is definitely one of the coolest plant that you’ll see here. This species has big bonnet-shape flowers arranged in a crown, hence its name; the leaves are pinnate, heavily dentate and the whole plant is covered by stinging hairs. Needless to say, it’s recommended to wear gloves if you want to get close to it. The next one, Tropaeolum polyphyllum can be quite a shock for everyone used with the annual nasturtium. It is a tuberous plant with trailing stems up to 50 cm long, sprawling over the rocks. Leaves are deeply cut, grey-blue with 5-9 (11) folioles. Flowers are produced in a great number and they are big, yellow-orange, with a spurred calyx. Another Tropaeolum growing there is the endemic Tropaeolum sessilifolium. Smaller in size and more compact, the flowers are a combination of yellow, around the calyx and pink on the corolla. Something looking like splashed dots of colours on the rocky, barren slopes it is usually Cruckshanksia hymenodon – a plant with a name that makes you check your spelling five times. The actual flowers are very small, yellow and are surrounded by lavender-pink bracts, supposedly with the role of attracting pollinators.

We did manage to see a rosulate Viola toward the end of our stay. We were somewhere close to Laguna de Teno and stopped at the view of a showy Rodophiala rhodolirion. This is an endemic Amaryllidaceae, about 15 cm tall, which is quite a sight because of the big white to deep pink flowers with red marks, appearing before the foliage. Climbing the slope to take pictures of it, I almost crushed a Viola subandina, an annual Viola with a small purplish rosette. There were just a few of them, not too showy to be honest, and the flowers already gone – you could actually see a few seeds in the capsule, but I didn’t care. At that moment, it was the feeling of discovery that mattered most.

Have a look at the Viola subandina and also at a few other awesome plant species: