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.


A risky business – Polygala paucifolia

I think some are imagining that trying to open a business of selling wild collected seeds is a breeze – happily wandering in fields and mountains and grabbing here and there whatever comes under your eyes. Well, very far away from the truth. For example, who would think about stumbling into a massasauga rattlesnake (the only venomous snake in Ontario), while collecting Polygala paucifolia seeds!

Massasauga snake

Massasauga rattlesnake (Sistrurus catenatus)

The timing to collect Polygala is almost impossible; the fruiting/seed setting is usually low and then the seeds are equipped with elaiosomes that ants will carry away very fast. So, there is no wonder that seeds are almost never offered and, although desirable, neither are the plants! Looking at the flowers, you understand why all this is worthwhile!

Polygala paucifolia

Polygala paucifolia

My germination trials with Polygala seeds showed that dry stored seeds in the fridge, sown in the spring germinate very well, and also the seedlings are developing very well. Seeds stored moist-cold, germinate later and in a lower percentage.

Polygala seedlings

Polygala paucifolia seedlings – germination 95%; they may look small size but remember that this is a little plant

PS. Keep your eyes wide open when hiking in the rattlesnake habitat! When moving, it makes a low rattle noise to make you aware, but when standing still it is very well camouflaged and it doesn’t rattle. They give birth to live baby-snakes, finger-size but already venomous! It is designated a species at risk in Ontario – more about it on Reptiles and Amphibians of Ontario website.

A Carnivorous Feast

Happy Canada Day!

This year we had a real Carnivorous feast in advance to the Canada Day Celebration, heading out towards the Bruce Peninsula just at the right time to see in flower, among others, the butterwort – Pinguicula vulgaris. This small vegetal carnivore will trap and digest insects with the help of its sticky, glandular, bright green leaves. But the flowers are highly attractive too, reason why a few species and hybrids are also cultivated. It is great around the pond areas, bog gardens or even a moist crevice of the rockery.

Pinguicula vulgaris

Pinguicula vulgaris

 Pinguicula vulgaris

Celebrating Canada Day includes honouring the wild, pristine landscapes we are fortunate to still have. Unfortunately, large areas of wetlands are threatened by housing developments (followed by the inevitable shopping malls), and one of the first things to disappear when a wetland habitat degrades are its carnivorous plants. The least we can do is first to be aware of their existence!

And there wouldn’t have been a celebration without something red, but there were plenty of pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea) and slenderleaf sundews (Drosera linearis).

Sarracenia purpurea

Sarracenia purpurea

Drosera linearis

Drosera linearis

Note: Interestingly enough, in northern regions of Europe butterwort leaves were known to have bactericidal properties; for example, traditional uses included healing cattle sores and to curdle milk.
Found more about Pinguicula, including tips for growing at this website: A WORLD OF PINGUICULA.




The cure for insanity

Cornus canadensis – Bunchberry or Dwarf cornel, creeping dogwood
Native range: Eastern Asia to Far East Russia, Canada, Greenland, Northern USA

We are in for a steamy week ahead; certainly not my idea of great weather. The creeping dogwood also likes it cool. Usually the name Cornus makes us think of trees and shrubs. But this is a lovely perennial dogwood, which grows only to 15-20 cm tall, with leaves arranged in whorls of 4 or 6. The flowers, typical for a Cornus, are easy recognizable after the 4 large, white petal-like bracts. The fruit is an attractive, red, globe-shaped drupe, persistent, and also edible; especially birds are very fond on consuming the fruits during the fall migration.

Cornus canadensis flowers

Cornus canadensis flowers

Among its uses by the Natives Americans I found the mention of fruits consumption as a cure for insanity!

(Maybe I should try to sell fruits instead of seeds – I might get rich; or I can eat them all and have at least my plant-insanity taken care of).

Cornus canadensis fruits

Cornus canadensis fruits

Desirable as a groundcover in any shade garden, where it will form a carpet underneath small trees or shrubs; I have also seen it growing on old tree stumps on top of moss, which would be great to try to ‘reproduce’ in a shady corner. It needs a slightly acidic substrate and a really cool location in part-shade to shade.

Propagation: by seed (difficult germination, but there are protocols available) and division.

Cornus canadensis with Linnaea borealis

Cornus canadensis with Linnaea borealis in a cool, moist forest

Note: Linnaea borealis – twinflower, it was the favourite plant of Carl Linnaeus from when exploring the northern part of Sweden (and the only species that bears his name). A delicate, evergreen woodland plant, with short stems that bear pairs of nodding, pink flowers usually in June. Borealis –‘northern’ refers to its distribution in forests of the northern hemisphere (circumpolar).


A new contender – Delphinium

In time, most gardeners develop a liking for a particular genus (or a couple). In my case, the liking for Gentiana and Hepatica were inborn; then a few years ago I added Arisaema and Epimedium. I thought, that’s it! Enough to try to grow and study for more than one lifetime. Then slowly, Roscoea started to sneak in and now there is a new contender at the horizon.

As usually, a ‘liking’ has no rationality behind; I was always fond on Delphiniums and last year when D. oxysepalum bloomed I felt a pinch. In the winter I bought seeds of D. tatsienense and got hold through Seedex of a few others.

Delphinium oxysepalum
Delphinium oxysepalum

An endemic larkspur from western Carpathian Mts. (Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland). On a rainy day it looks like a watercolour on the making – deep blue flowers with liquid violet paintbrush strokes flowing through. On regular days, it may be blue, it may be violet…

Then, at Wrightman Alpines last month, I felt a stronger pinch – D. alpestre, D. nudicaule and Delphinium beesianum were in flower; a still unidentified Delphinium sp. was also flowering…

Delphinium nudicaule
Delphinium nudicauleRed larkspur or canyon larkspur

Found on mountain ranges from California to Oregon, it is one that didn’t followed the rules – instead of having blue or purple flowers pollinated by bumblebees, it has evolved tubular red or orange flowers for hummingbirds pollination.

Delphinium alpestre
Delphinium alpestre Colorado larkspur.

As its name says, a quite rare, alpine larkspur that grows on high peaks above 3000 m.

Delphinium beesianum (?) a Chinese larkspur with a question mark after its name: it doesn’t quite fit the description (I dare anyone to open Flora of China at Delphinium – huge number of species of which 150 endemics, with a narrow geographic distribution and also a ‘small’ problem with hybridization). Wonderful by any name for now…

Delphinium beesianum(?)
Delphinium beesianum(?)

Delphinium sp.? (most likely D. wootonii)

Delphinium sp.

Delphinium sp.

La primevère du Mistassini

My apologies to anyone who tried to post a comment in the past couple of weeks – my new anti-spam ‘ware’ needed readjustments.

In the same idea of great little plants, this dwarf canadian primrose would have looked very well in my shade container with the Soldanellas and Haberlea rhodopensis.

Primula mistassinica

Primula mistassinica

Primula mistassinica, the Mistassini Primrose, or even better after its French name – Primevère du lac Mistassini, it’s a small size, more or less farinose primrose that was first discovered growing around the lake Mistassini in Quebec, and so it took its name. Anyone who sees it understands that it is best called by its French name: la primevère du Mistassini – it will answer looking at you with charming yellow eyes from big, pink flowers!

Primula mistassinica

Primula mistassinica flowering in Bruce Peninsula, Ontario

Best grown in part-shade or in full sun locations, if enough moisture is available. Although it looks fantastic in mass plantings it is also suitable for a trough.



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.

Noisy Merry-bells

Uvularia grandiflora – Large-flowered bellwort, Merry-bells

Spring is a busy time when it comes to wildflowers – lots of species start flowering almost at the same time, especially when the springtime gets condensed in a couple of months. While I try no to discriminate, some will be overlooked for now and I will highlight just a few; for example would be hard to ignore the Merry-bells! They start to flower at the same time, or a bit after Trillium grandiflorum, depending how shady the location is.

Uvularia grandiflora - just starting to flower

Uvularia grandiflora

Unlike some other wildflowers, Uvularia grandiflora is not a stranger for the cultivated woodland garden. Although not that popular as it should be, it is appreciated for its elegant habit and clusters of pendulous yellow flowers with twisted tepals, always ringing loudly for attention.

Uvularia grandiflora flower close up

Uvularia grandiflora flower close up

More than this, it is an important food source in the spring, providing nectar and pollen for bumblebees, mason bees and other bee species. It will grow to form a nice, tight clump in a few years, so it can be used solitary although it looks fantastic in large groups.

Note: Another native bellwort – Uvularia sessilifolia has smaller flowers and non-clasping leaves.

Out in the woods – thrilled about Trillium

Trilix (Latin) = having a triple thread

If nothing else about wildflowers, one image can still thrill anyone  – the white carpeting of the woodland floor when Trillium grandiflorum is flowering; in southern Ontario sometime from late April to May.  Unfortunately, our car committed suicide, so I took this picture close to home in a remnant neighbourhood forest. You’ll just have to imagine this small patch of Trillium multiplied by hundreds, as it happens in the wild wooded areas.

Trillium grandiflorum

Trillium grandiflorum – Large-flowered trillium

Not that the provincial flower of Ontario needs a description; it is all about the number 3: 3-petaled white flowers (rarely pink) with 3 green sepals above a whorl of three leaves. Usually as they age the white flowers turn light pink. Unfortunately, it goes dormant by mid-summer but after the spring display we can forgive this little shortcoming.  Sometimes, individuals with green bands on the petals can be spotted – they look interesting but it’s said to be a result of a phytoplasma infection.

Mixed in with T. grandiflorum is often Trillium erectum – Wake-robin trillium, Stinking Benjamin. It displays stunning dark-red flowers above the foliage – three pointed petals framed by 3 green or reddish green sepals. The scent of the flowers is the source for the common name Stinking Benjamin – they emit odours to attract carrion flies, which are their main pollinators.


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).