Snowflakes by design: Mitella diphylla

Myriads of Mitella diphylla flowers are still falling from the sky. I noticed that not too many people are familiar with this dainty North American woodlander; what a pity…

It can be found in deciduous woodlands in part shaded areas, most often at the edges of the forest; easily noticeable despite its small flowers, it will flower somewhere at the beginning of May. A better timetable is to consider that it flowers at the same time with Trillium grandiflorum, Uvularia grandiflora and Coptis trifolia.

Mitella diphylla, Two-leaved bishop’s cap (Fam. Saxifragaceae) – Tall flowering stems carrying small, fringed, snowflakes shaped flowers above a pair of leaves. Fruits are dehiscent capsules with many small, black seeds.

Mitella is not an easy subject to capture on camera

What I like even more about it is that the basal leaves are evergreen; a most useful character in our climate with long flowerless periods. I cannot take a picture in the garden right now, but I have one from the previous garden showing it together with Cyclamen hederifolium and Hepatica in late November.

Mitella diphylla, Cyclamen and Hepatica foliage in November

Propagation: easy from seeds (sown in the fall) and mine has started to flower in the third year. After it gets established it can also be divided (it forms a rather tight clump so there is no worry about potential invasiveness).

Mitella diphylla seeds

The genus name Mitella comes from the Greek ‘mitra’= cap and the common name bishop’s cap or mitrewort refers to the cap-shaped fruit.

Paronychia cephalotes’ secret

I am wondering why this interesting, cold hardy, beautiful and excellent rockery plant is absolutely ignored. Is there a secret?

Paronychia cephalotes (Fam. Caryophyllaceae) in wild habitat – Dolomite hills to the south of Öskü, Hungary – photo courtesy Stefan Lefnaer

Last year I easily germinated seeds and grew the seedlings into a fine clump by the end of the season (the seedlings pot was planted in the rockery as a whole in May). I am confident it will make it well over the winter, and maybe even produce a few flowers. Meanwhile, someone else already knows why is it such a ‘secret’ species please?

Paronychia cephalotes – end of August 2016 (a group of seedlings were planted together in May);name=Paronychia%20cephalotes

Surprise, surprise! – Iris pumila

Growing from seeds is always full of surprises, especially for first time sowings, like in this case for Iris pumila.

Iris pumila – a dwarf, early spring flowering, bearded Iris with a wild distribution from Central Europe to the Caucasus. The large flowers can be violet, blue, purple, yellow, or in various combinations like it naturally happens in wild populations; it is super hardy and excellent for the rockery, or a sunny border.

For best germination, most sources suggest soaking the seeds and providing about 4 weeks warm and then a longer (few months) cold period. So, my plan was to keep the sowings the furnace room for 3-4 weeks (+/- 23C day/ 17C night) and then place the pots outside under snow for the remaining of the winter. I sowed on Dec. 19th – and a couple of days ago (Jan. 5)…surprise! I found some pots with the first shoots were out. The plan has changed of course, and my light stand will be up very soon :)

Iris pumila – seeds soaked, sown on Dec.19th at warm – first signs of germination Jan. 5th (few even sooner)

The pots contain seeds of differently coloured specimens, although this little Iris can provide even more surprises colour-wise!

I don’t know if the seeds will germinate in the same way after going into a deeper dormancy, but this is still a good time to sow – and few fresh seeds are still available in the shop!

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…

Growing Jeffersonia from seeds

I’ve repotted some fine young Jeffersonia seedlings two weeks ago and now it took me a great pleasure to write this post. Jeffersonia diphylla (Twinleaf) is a wonderful NA species that should be mandatory for all gardens; the pictures show it in its glory at Aspen Grove Gardens.

A delight from early spring (April) to fall, and notice that although a woodland species, it is grown with a fair amount of sun and does very well.

Just like bulbous/tuberous species, the ones that form rhizomes need 2-3+ years to develop their root system before they will start flowering. The faster/better their rhizome grows, the sooner they will flower. Again, it is very easy to underestimate the size of a seedling root system. This is why the repotting is very important and can be done either in the fall or spring. Each period has its pros and cons, but for our climate at least, I incline for the late fall (after they’ve gone dormant).

 I will outline next the whole process from sowing to repotting the seedlings:

  • Sow the seeds as soon as possible after collecting, or keep moist at room temperature; however, keep in mind that this species doesn’t keep too well in moist storage and seeds are available (if) for a short period.
  • Sow as usual or use my ‘space saving method’ – also very practical for someone who doesn’t want to have one pot sitting around by itself. Sow all the seeds in one larger pot and ‘plant’ the pot in the ground (in late fall I added some mulch on top, which I’ll remove in the spring).

Tip: ‘plant’ the pot close to a shrub/tall perennial plant that will shelter and shade the seedlings; also close to the house so you won’t forget about it (the seedlings require extra watering during dry spells). Mine was close/beneath an old Peony, unfortunately I don’t have a picture.

  • Seeds have germinated somewhere in May (about 100% by the look of them). Foliage wise, not much it will happen the whole season, only one shoot with the cotyledon leaves.
Jeffersonia diphylla seedlings

Jeffersonia diphylla seedlings

  • Use a diluted fertilizer once in a while (only if you remember…), water regularly; nothing else to do till late fall.
  • By late October- early November watch for signs of dormancy.
  • Let the pot dry out a bit.
  • Tip off the whole content and gently separate the seedlings (don’t forget to congratulate yourself, take pictures, eat some chocolate/cake…)

Jeffersonia diphylla: one-year old seedlings ‘extracted’ from the pot

  • Repot in a fresh potting mix (I don’t have any ‘special’ formulas); one or more seedlings/pot. Planting 2-3 seedlings/larger pot will make a ‘clump’ faster.

Jeffersonia diphylla seedlings showing an extensive root system after one season of growth and a well formed bud.

  • Water well, and if it’s late November, that’s all they need.
  • Storage: cold frame, or again, ‘plant’ the pot(s) in the ground and throw mulch/few leaves on top.

Jeffersonia diphylla: repotted seedlings ( I have 2-3/pot)


Special thanks to Robert Pavlis @ Aspen Grove Gardens, for growing this beautiful, ‘photogenic’ species and providing the material for this post, i.e. the Jeffersonia seeds :)

You can apply the same technique for growing its Asian counterpart, Jeffersonia dubia. Next to come – how to easily grow from seeds Aconitum alboviolaceum…stay tuned.

Petit Inventory II – Chinese Podophyllums

A rainy day, perfect to show my young Chinese Podophyllums: Podophyllum delavayi and P. pleianthum x versipelle. They don’t like the cold very much but surely enjoy the moisture whenever possible.


Podophyllum delavayi

The few that I manage to transplant in larger pots in early summer, obviously fared better than the ones left in small ones. This is happening with all rhizomes forming species, which need large pots in order to develop well. Note taken of the ‘thorny’ problem of quantity over quality…


Podophyllum pleianthum x versipelle

Talking Chinese Podophyllum spp., I have the chance to show a ‘freshly’ taken image with seeds of P. aurantiocaule ssp. aurantiocaule.


Podophyllum aurantiocaule ssp. aurantiocaule seeds

Interesting to see how different the seeds are comparing with others (see in the featured image germinated seeds of P. pleianthum x versipelle). This species belongs to Section Paradysosma and it said that combines the leaf shape of Sect. Dysosma (P. pleianthum, versipelle…) with the floral characters of Sect. Hexandra (P. hexandrum). The seeds are very similar with those of P. hexandrum, that’s for sure.

Looking fw to see the ‘youngsters’ next year!!!

And…I have few seeds to spare for those interested, enter the shop here: Podophyllum aurantiocaule ssp. aurantiocaule

Germination for all: clean the seeds from the fleshy fruits and sow right away (late fall); or place the seeds in cold/moist stratification and sow when they show signs of germination (early spring).


Where’s the Snow White?

This Scabiosa caucasica (grown from seeds) was supposed to be the Snow White, ie. Scabiosa caucasica ‘Fama White’.


Scabiosa caucasica – best called just ‘Fama’

Because the mother-plant grew close to a ‘Fama Blue’ last year, of course there was a chance of ‘mixed’ off-springs or the reverse to the wild type (I warned everyone). In any case, the bluish to lavender flowers with a silvery overlay are spectacular! A bit late start of flowering because I planted the seedlings very late. However, note that this is a plant started from seeds this year, in late February!

As it happens, the dwarf of the genus, Scabiosa silenifolia, is also flowering, and as well off-time. All these pincushion flowers for the delight of the pollinators!


Scabiosa silenifolia

The reproductive syndrome and Iris dichotoma

Iris dichotoma flowers, the Vesper Iris, formerly Pardanthopsis, open ‘religiously’ in the afternoon around 4 pm. By late evening, they are already withered. Nonetheless they are beautiful and it is exciting to watch. It makes you wonder – why the short period of flowering?

Iris dichotoma2

According with an article from the Journal of Experimental Botany: “flower opening and closure are traits of a reproductive syndrome, as it allows pollen removal/and or pollination”. Although a peculiar species, the vesper iris is not given as an example in the study.

Iris dichotoma

Iris dichotoma – first year flowering from seeds; super easy to grow

Those interested can read about the mechanism of opening and closure, carbohydrate metabolism, hormonal regulation and more here – Flower opening and closure: a review, Wouter G. van Doorn, Uulke van Meeteren.

Note on Vesper
In many Christian denominations, vespers is the name used for the evening prayer service. From Greek ‘hespera’ and Latin ‘vesper’ = evening.


One more for the collection!

Gentiana cachemirica

As it happens, species that flower successively over a long period of time will often have the first seeds ‘ready’ while still in bloom. Last evening, ahead of another front of thundershowers, I had a look around the garden and, you don’t say, I found the first seed capsules of Gentiana cachemirica!

Not often cultivated and often misnamed in the trade, this is an alpine gentian endemic from Pakistan and Kashmir (hence the proclaimed common name of Kashmir gentian).  Let’s see it again:

Gentiana cachemirica - flower open

Gentiana cachemirica

It flowers in late summer, starting in late July-August (don’t believe the ones saying it’s a spring flowering gentian), it has a decumbent habit (best to have it flowing over a wall or on the rockery slope, if possible) and enjoys a part shaded position. It grows from thickened rhizomes and it is long lived after established.

There are other plants flowering in the garden, of course, most notably Clematis heracleifolia ‘China Purple’, a gentle reminder of the slide towards late August //:-o

Clematis heracleifolia 'China Purple'

Clematis heracleifolia ‘China Purple’


Cuteness alert – Clinopodium arkansanum

Limestone calamint (syn. Calamintha, Satureja)

 Some may have noticed that I’m in love with little plants; I like them even more when they are fragrant!

The Limestone calamint is a dwarf, extremely aromatic species that I really wanted to have in my seed collections and around my rockery. In Ontario, it can be found growing on the rocky shores of Lake Huron, on temporarily moist, calcareous flats and between boulders.

Clinopodium arkansanum flowers

Clinopodium arkansanum – Limestone calamint

The little cutie has large blooms for its size, then capsules which remain enclosed in the calyces. The stems take a nice purple colour contrasting nicely with the lavender flowers. Stepping on them (by mistake of course!) will release an aromatic minty wave into the air; also an ID help when not in flower ;)

Unfortunately, it is very hard to say when the seeds are ‘ready’ and had I failed to collect them in the wild during the past couple of years. 

Fortunately, I managed to collect a few this time!

Too cute not to have it!