The Importance of Geophytes

The Importance of Geophytes

Cultural  Connection

Researcher and author Kat Anderson is perhaps best known for her much-loved work, Tending the Wild. Her contributions to ethnobotany and historic ecologies in California have greatly expanded our understanding of the human relationship to native plants. Recently, we were privileged to have Kat serve as our Fremontia guest editor for a beautiful double-issue on geophytes. The following is an excerpt, capturing some of the highlights.

Excerpt from Kat Anderson and Philip Rundel in California Geophytes

M. Kat Anderson

In the course of evolution, plant species have developed a myriad of adaptive features that help them survive environmental stress. One such adaptation that has evolved multiple times in diverse lineages is the geophyte growth form. Geophytes have an underground storage organ which allows the plant to die back to the ground and go dormant during unfavorable seasons for growth. Renewal buds associated with the storage organs allow a new cycle of leafing and blooming when favorable conditions return.

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A Wild Cyclamen from California

by Carol Bornstein

This article, first published in the January/February 2011 issue of The American Gardener, is reprinted with permission of the American Horticultural Society.

Since leaving Michigan almost 30 years ago, I have made the acquaintance of many fine California native plants. My list of favorites keeps changing but Cleveland’s shooting star (Dodecatheon clevelandii, now called Primula clevelandii) is always among them.

dylan-neubauer-dodecatheon-clevelandii-ssp-insulare

Primula clevelandii ssp. insulare – Photo by Dylan Neubauer

SHOOTING STARS
California is home to eight of the dozen or so species in the genus Dodecatheon, which is predominantly native to western North America. The lone representative of the eastern United States is eastern shooting star (D. meadia).

The genus possesses a list of evocative common names: American cowslip, rooster combs, bird-bills, mosquito-bills, mad violets, sailor caps, prairie pointers, and wild cyclamen. The last is particularly apt, because cyclamen are the Asian and European relatives of Dodecatheon.

In California, shooting stars comprise two basic categories: high-elevation species that bloom in the late spring or summer and occur in moist habitats, and lowland species that bloom in late winter or spring and grow in the winter-wet, summer-dry Mediterranean climate regions of the state. They share easily recognizable flowers, whose slightly askew, reflexed petals are indeed reminiscent of cyclamen. Borne in loose umbels, the nodding white to magenta flowers seem to dance atop leafless stalks, stealing the show from the rather plain basal foliage.

Cleveland’s shooting star (D. clevelandii, USDA Zones 6-9, AHS Zones 9-5) is one of the most appealing members of the genus. Found throughout much of California’s Mediterranean core, this clove-scented perennial grows wild on grassy slopes and flaps in chaparral, foothill woodland, and valley grassland communities from central California south into Baja California, Mexico. The most commonly cultivated form, D. clevelandii ssp. insulare, is found in southern California and the offshore Channel Islands.

Emerging in fall, shortly after the rainy season begins, the plant’s light green, somewhat succulent leaves signal the end of its summer dormancy period.

Soon thereafter, the flower stalk elongates, reaching eight to 16 inches tall. Once the buds open, the upswept petals of lilac, rose, magenta, or white appear poised for flight. Later, the ripening seeds within the tan seed capsules rattle in the slightest breeze.

GROWING REQUIREMENTS
Although widespread in nature, Cleveland’s shooting star isn’t as easy to find in commerce. Yet gardeners who successfully track down seeds or plants will be amply rewarded if they follow a few simple guidelines. Place them in a sunny or partly shaded location and keep them well watered from autumn through spring. Then allow them to dry out completely in summer, otherwise their delicate, fleshy roots will rot. The succulent leaves and roots attract snails, slugs, and gophers, so protect the plants from these pests. Seeds germinate fairly easily and plants reach flowering size in about three years.

There are many ways to appreciate shooting stars in the garden. Growing them in containers is the most reliable method, whether nestled into established plantings while in flower and whisked away as the foliage yellows, or combined with other compatible plants in a trough garden. Rock gardeners can tuck a few among bulbs, succulents, and other diminutive companions.

For a captivating effect, plant drifts in a grassy meadow or beneath the dappled shade of trees or tall shrubs such as redbuds or manzanitas (Arctostaphylos ssp.). Be sure to retain the showy, dried inflorescences long enough to release the next generation of shooting star seeds.

Carol Bornstein is Director of the Nature Gardens at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. She co-authored California Native Plants for the Garden and Reimagining the California Lawn. For 28 years, she was a horticulturist at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

Ribes in Spring

RibesArticle and photos by Jennifer Jewell

The spring woodland garden has many bright stars in the form of shrubs: ceanothus and mahonia come immediately to mind. But look a little closer and you will see how lovely the ribes are as well this time of year. The native ribes are far more soft-spoken but have equally nice things to say as their brighter companions. Continue reading

California Hazelnut – by Vivian Mazur

CA Hazelnut photo courtesy Keir Morse

CA Hazelnut photo courtesy Keir Morse

If you have a shade garden, the California hazelnut (Corylus cornuta ssp. Californica) is a natural resident. It is widespread in woodland, particularly in moist or shaded canyons. It can be found along the Coastal Ranges in Northern California, the Siskiyous, and Sierras. If you hike this time of year, you may be rewarded with a crop of nuts unless the squirrels have beaten you to them. The name, Corylus, comes from the Greek ‘coys’, meaning helmet, which refers to the sheath around the nut. The hazelnut is in the birch family (betulaceae), related the alder. It is interesting to notice the similarities between them – from the shape of the leaf to the late winter catkins.

The hazelnut is an attractive addition to the woodland garden. It is a large (12’ – 15’), spreading, deciduous shrub with graceful, arching branches. In late winter the catkins appear. Each plant has separate male and female flowers but it is the males that are most conspicuous as they develop into long, golden tassels, followed by the unfurling of soft, velvety leaves. In late summer or early fall, the nuts ripen, much appreciated by squirrels and birds.

The California hazelnut is an adaptable garden plant. It is drought resistant once established but unlike many native plants, it will accept year-round water. It is a plant that will fend for itself, needing only pruning to keep it looking attractive. Some natural companions are sword ferns, bush monkey flower, and Douglas iris.

A nice resource

dodecatheon-hendersonii

Dodecatheon hendersonii – courtesy of Henry W. Coe State Park website

Our buddy, Patrick Pizzo, send us this link to a very colorful website about wildflowers: http://coepark.net/pineridgeassociation/plants-animals-geology/wildflowers?catid=6

Their photos are all really clear – for example, the one shown here is  Dodecatheon hendersonii – I wish I could capture an image that radiant.

Please pass this along to those who love clear examples of nature’s best.

 

Buckwheats by the Bay

Buckwheats

It’s fairly warm in most parts of California and the northern end of Baja. And dry. People are talking dry dry dry…so here is a bit of refreshment.

I took this photo at the Waterfront Grill in National City. The cool water and colorful surfboards reinforce the beautiful rusts and creams of this field of buckwheats. Eriogonum species always turn up on drought-tolerant plant lists everywhere. For ornamental gardening, they are usually conceived of as plants for the typical dry-looking garden.

But here, they were positioned at water’s edge and they really made a hit, visually.

The Eriogonum family is a pretty diverse group, with a wide cultural range. Great pollinator attractors, too. Find out what grows nearest to your location, find it at a local nursery and try one soon. Then plant more!

 

Houzz shows off Ceanothus

 

 

One of our online email list buddies, “Garden Contessa,” spotted this article about Ceanothus at the site called Houzz – which is an Internet resource where we can all browse home and garden photos and information. Houzz is a huge repository of articles, topics and lovely images.

I was pleased that Garden Contessa called our attention to the article – and there are some really interesting comments at the bottom of the page. Interesting how people’s advice about a plant can vary so much…”love the scent”…”hate the scent”…etc.