From The Bug Catcher's Net
IRIS: DESERT JEWELS, ROCK GARDEN GEMS
FRITILLARIAS - PECK'S BAD BOYS AND FRUSTRATING
Shooting Stars on the Ground - The Genus Dodecatheon
by Len Lehman
The Essential Shade Plants
by Martha Oliver
You thought it was Hosta and impatiens, didn't you? In your shaded
woodland garden, that's as far as many gardeners care to go. It does
give you nice color in the summer, and something to look forward too.
But there's a whole lot more out there, and the shade garden can be the
most easy care of all gardens. So many of our lovely native
spring-blooming plants are for the shade garden! The whole group of
Trillium, Tiarella, and Phlox will offer prime color in April and May,
and the new hybrids in Tiarella bloom over a longer period of time.
Starting with the good foliage color of T. ‘Spring Bronze’ and ending
with the late blooms of T. ‘Pink Brushes,’ tiarellas will add a good six
weeks of blooms in the woodland.
Don’t neglect the spring bloomers from east Asia, though, since with a
similar climate these plants are excellent among the trees. Epimedium
and Primula both bring all the spring colors (pink, white, yellow) to
the woodland. Plant these in soils with good humus content and mulch
with leaf mold or rotted chips. Primula sieboldii is a good companion
for epimedium, since both can thrive where summers are dry without extra
For interest through the summer, ferns are spectacular and the native
gingers are wonderful companions. Choose Dryopteris intermedia or the
splendid Polystichum acrostichoides for evergreen fronds, or use the
East Asian Japanese painted fern, Athyrium nipponicum pictum (2004
Perennial Plant of the Year) and pair it with the silver and maroon
foliage of the new Heuchera hybrids, such as H. ‘Silver Scrolls’, which
will bloom with pink flowers in June and have lovely leaves all summer.
The gingers to go for are the silvery-leaved types, both native and
exotic, such as Asarum ‘Carolina Silver’ and A. ‘Velvet Queen,’ as well
as the tiny A. ‘Eco Décor’ and A. ‘Greenbrier’ which are suitable for
the rock garden too.
The fall shade garden is more difficult to populate with natives as most
of the fall blooming essentials are from east Asia. Perhaps their fall
weather is more conducive to blooming and setting seed? Tricyrtis, the
toad lily, fills the autumn garden with the curious passiflora-type
flowers in white and speckled purple. Hostas come into bloom now, as
well as Cyclamens, those adorable pink and white shooting star type
flowers. C. hederifolium blooms in the late fall, followed by the
durable C. coum for winter. C. purpurascens can carry the summer months.
The foliage is spectacular. One lovely October combo I admired very much
this year was Hosta ‘Red October,’ Tricyrtis ‘Miyazake’ and Heuchera
‘Royal Velvet’ with shades of lavender flowers and leaves. I always look
forward to the blooming of the Sternbergia lutea, the bright yellow
crocus which are mentioned in the Bible as the “Lilies of the Field.”
Once planted in a shady spot, they increase and multiply and return
every year with larger clumps of the flowers. They usually bloom heavily
in October. But of course my very favorite shade plants are the
Heucheras which have come out of the breeding program here at the
Primrose Path. These plants offer evergreen foliage, large flowers and a
drought-tolerant habit which makes them easier to care for than many
other perennials. They do need well-drained soils, so add plenty of sand
or gravel to keep them from getting wet feet.
The early hybrids, such as H. ‘Quilters’ Joy’ and H. ‘Regina’ have
smaller flowers, but excellent foliage; later hybrids have been selected
for larger flowers, shorter scapes and a more graceful habit, and still
retain the good leaves. A new form, H. ‘Purple Mountain Majesty’ had
deep purple leaves and large white flowers; H. ‘Midnight Burgundy’ has
the deepest purple leaves with pink flowers. These plants combine well
with all the native and exotic perennials and are a year-round presence
in the shade garden. Of course, you must rake the leaves off them
(unless the wind blows them away) but other than that they are easy to
care for and use in the garden.
FROM THE BUG CATCHER’S NET
by Len Lehman
ONCOCYCLUS IRIS: DESERT
JEWELS, ROCK GARDEN GEMS
The genus IRIS was named
for the Greek goddess largely because of the large showy flowers that
come in all colors of the rainbow except true black and some even
approach that. Most gardeners are familiar with Iris but most are
familiar only with the tall German bearded, Siberians, Japanese and some
of the bulbous iris. I wish to address a section of iris that include
some of the most spectacular and yet some of the most useful rock garden
iris that are sadly neglected. These are the Oncocyclus and Regelia iris
- iris that are largely desert dwelling in nature and having a somewhat
dubious reputation of being difficult to grow. Yet the very conditions
that they exist under in the desert are those that make them so
adaptable to rock garden conditions, particularly scree and tufa
gardens. Certainly their spectacular bloom deems that one should at
least try a few of the more common species and hybrids. Oncocylus
iris are so named because the enormous flowers (sometimes up to 8" in
diameter) are somewhat rounded and the standards often form a globe.
These are true desert iris requiring summer baking and cold dry winters.
Regelia iris, often called hexopogon iris, are elongated globes or flat
open flowers. Both these groups have been crossed with tall bearded
varieties to produce what are called Aril bred or oncobred iris. This
name refers to a creamy white appendage found on the seeds of both
groups called an aril. This structure, rich in oils and protein aid in
seed distribution since ants carry the seed back to their burrows and
eat the aril - then tossing the remaining seed structure out with the
garbage which often contains rich humus, and other organic material
necessary for proper seed development. It is these aril breeds that
offer the greatest possibility for rock gardeners.
Some of the species and
cultivars that rock gardeners should try are as follows: Iris iberica
subs. elegantissima is, as its name implies, one of the most elegant of
this forms. Widely distributed in the Mideast, it is most successfully
grown in sand beds. Growing about five inches tall, the flowers cap off
in white and purple or purple. In addition, as with all oncocylclus
iris, there is a dark spot or circle on the falls in the area of the
beard. Some believe that this is the most beautiful of all iris.
A completely different looking iris is Iris paradoxa - growing
slightly larger at 15", this iris is white with blue veining and blue
black falls with darker spot. A similar one in ducky maroon with smaller
falls is Iris susiana. These two can be grown under similar conditions
to those required by I.iberica.
Now, on to the regalia iris. These have more of a bulbous rhizome
than the oncocyluc and can be grown on more normal conditions that rock
gardens contain. One of the most readily available is Iris bucharica -
often called the cornstalk iris since it produces a cornstalk like stem
upon which several yellow-white or yellow flowers are produced. Some say
that this species is too tall for pure rock gardens, but its natural
habitat is rocky hillsides in Turkey through Tibet. Another iris that is
just recently becoming available in bulb company offering is Iris
cyanoglossa - which looks ever so much as a small version of a Bella
Abzug hat. It is fortunate that the Dutch have been successful in
propagating this delicate and beautiful species because its natural
habitat was around Herzat, Afghanistan where the site of some of the
most ferocious and desperate battles of the Afghan War took place. Some
naturalists now believe that it may well be extinct in the wild as a
result of this and it will be years before botanists can fully do an
inventory to see if it still exists. A third somewhat easily obtainable
regelia is Iris winogradowii. This true regelia dwarf is much more
common in cultivation in England where it is prized and generally grown
in bulb frames under pot culture.
Now on to the Aril bred hybrids that contain remarkable forms and
colors not normally found in the species. Also, since these have Tall
German Bearded Iris in their heritage, they are more adaptable to a wide
range of conditions. Still they need hot baking summers and dry winters
or snow cover to survive. I know of one individual in Massachusetts who
grows these plants in a bed of pure red-dog slag. They also need a good
fertilizing in April and May when new growth occurs. Some of the newer
hybrids that are readily obtainable are:
"Omar's Gold" - a yellow standard, purple falls form with a black
spot. Growing about 18", this one has been rock hardy in my garden.
"Sheba's Jewel" - a pale pink-white with black spot. This is a new
one for me and I have yet to see how successful it is under our
"Pasha's Whiskers" - a dark purple - again a new one which has yet
prove its hardiness.
"Lemon Lime" - a white standard/ yellow falled form with black spot.
"Big Black Bumble Bee" - the name says it all.
Mankind, it is said, needs to have explanations for everything. This
is, in part, a desire to bring order out of confusion and to help to
bring harmony. Take for example mythological and religious explanations
that developed to explain rainbows before scientific findings that
raindrops acted like prisms thereby creating the marvelous bow of color.
In Norse mythology, a rather dark and pessimistic mythology, the rainbow
is the rainbow bridge that connects earth to Valhalla and by which Norse
gods regularly rode to visit earth and return. The rainbow was formed
from the goddess Helga's tears shed on the death of the god Baldor due
to a trick by the semi-evil god Loki. In this dark mythology, the
rainbow bridge is shattered when Valhalla burns in Goterdamerung - the
end of time. In Greek/Roman mythology the rainbow was an actual person
in the form of Iris - the daughter of the minor sea god, Thaumos and
Electra, the goddess of dawn. She was a messenger of the gods helping
to bring dreams and messages to humans from the gods. Of coarse, in
Christianity, the rainbow is the symbol of God's promise to never again
destroy the earth by flood. So what has this to do with plants? "
Ester the Queen" - one of the oldest aril breeds - it is uniquely
greenish and black with black spot." "Ninevah" - again an old timer -
russet and maroon Oncocylcus and Regelia iris and their aril bred kin
certainly require more care than most plants but the reward in bloom is
spectacular - well worth the effort. The jewels of the desert are truly
gems of the rock garden. Sources: Seed of many of these are found in
rock garden society seed lists particularly the British and Scottish
groups. The Airl Society International is well worth membership in that
it has an annual auction/sale of species and hybrids at remarkable
bargains. Aril Society International, 10913 N. Sunshine Drive,
Littleton, CO 80125
Adamgrove iris and Daylilies 31642 Wieneke Branch Rd., California, MO
65018 offers many aril breeds including Omar’s Gold and Omar's Tent.Van
Bourgundian, Inc., Babylon NY, often carries Ester the Queen, Ninevah
and Iris susiana.
McClure and Zimmerman, Randolf, WI, has carried Iris cyanoglossa in
fall catalog as does John Scheepers Inc, Bantam CT
References: Stebbings, Geoff. THE GARDENER'S GUIDE TO GROWING IRISES.
Timber Press. Portland, Or. 2001 (Paperback Edition). Probably the best
guide for culture of Arils and Aril breeds of a general type - easy to
follow and easy to do. Also lists good species and varieties for the
FRITILLARIAS - PECK'S BAD BOYS AND FRUSTRATING BULBS
I am always interested in names of plants and why they are given such
monikers. Generally, if you want to know the name and the reason for the
have to go back to Linneaus and the binomial nomenclature system that he
established. Linneaus was a Swedish doctor who is considered the father
of organisms, particularly plants. He must have been a randy old man for
scandalized Swedish society when he published his binomial taxonomic
Plants were classified on the basis of flower structure and he often put
statements as "stamen (man) in bed with 5 pistils (women)" referring to
arrangement of one stamen surrounded by pistils. He also was touchy
beautiful flowers for his friends (Dahlia, Fuchia) and noxious weeds for
But most often, he simply named the plants in Latin after some
of the plant.
Such is the case with Fritillaria, the Latin word for
reference to the checkerboard markings found on many species and
Fritillaria meleagris, the common Checkerboard Lily or Guinea Hen Flower
which is native to England and was probably the type species for the
which Linneaus named.
Fritillaries are a large group of bulbs of about 172 species and ranging
throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Mostly they are found in rather dry
the Grecian Isles harbor many unique species, some often restricted to
small isle. Others are far ranging such as the so called Black Lily
(Fritillaria camschatcensis) which is found in Japan, Manchuria,
Kamchatka Pennisula and across the Bering Straits in Alaska. Some people
consider this to be the blackest of all flowers. The color range is
almost entire and you can find fritillaries of white, yellow, red,
green, brown, purple, pink. Perhaps the
only color not present is blue. They also range in size from giants, the
familiar Crown Imperial - Fritillaria imperialis - to dainty dwarfs
suitable for rock
gardens such as Fritllaria pudica. Despite their obvious charm of
flowers, Fritillaria have the bad reputation of "here today - gone
tomorrow". Even Reginald Farrer gave them bad and short shrift. In her
book Adventure With Hardy Bulbs, Louise Beebe Wilder reports that Farrer,
in his classic book The English Rock Garden say that "Many of the race
are very miffy or mimpish or both, and the family all around has a bad
character”. Despite the bad press, certain frits are and have always
been staples of a spring garden and deserve better attention by rock
Here are some which I have tried following new thinking and
new advice from such notables as Martin Rix and Brian Mathews.
Obviously, Fritillaria meleagtis tops my list as being reliable, hardy
and, if given some summer drying, prolific. This dainty English native
has been one of the oldest cultivated flowers in British culture and now
has several selected forms and color changes. I particularly like the
alba (white) form. These I plant in an elevated bed with mixed ash,
gravel and soil under a Birch Tree. Some authorities recommend this as
the tree roots tend to soak up moisture in summer giving them the
dryness they so desire. The checkerboard flowers appear in late spring
at the same time as Trout Lilies and late Daffodils. One species that
has enjoyed a remarkable success after being offered in the late 1970's
is Fritllaria michailovski, a nodding bell of purple red with a
distinctive yellow edge. Growing about 4 to 6 inches tall. This requires
similar conditions to the guinea hen flower and can be readily obtained,
even at most garden centers and even such places as KMart and Home
Similar to Fritllaria michailovski but growing taller and with a
green edge, and a more brown color is Fritillaria uva-vulpis. I have not
personally grown this yet but notice that it is available from many bulb
specialists. It too is listed as having the same cultural requirements
as Fritllaria michailovski. Probably one of the best yellows is
Fritillaria pudica, often called Johnny Jump Ups. This West Coast native
can be grown in pots or in gritty or sandy soils. Drying out in summer
is crucial to the survival of this form. Many selected forms with larger
flowers or different shades of yellow are available and some have even
made it to must grow lists that frequently appear in horticulture
One final one to consider is the already mentioned Black
Lily, Fritillaria camschatcensis. This species can be grown with more
water than others and is typically found in moist meadows, tundra
muskegs and other similar grassy habitats. Most frits are best planted
in the fall of the year since their life cycle dictates that in fall
they begin to set new roots and prepare for new growth in the spring.
Frits are a real delight and should be grown by all good gardeners. Try
some because, despite their bad press and stinking flowers, they have an
elegance all of their own and truthfully fill a nook in the garden not
offered by other plants.
Fritillaries Garden Gate magazine in Issue # 47, Oct. 2002 on Page 8-13
several common species and gives nice lists of good companion plants.
Gardeners Guide to Growing Fritillaries by Kevin Pratt and Michael
Brown published by Timber Press in 1997 is probably the most readable
complete book on fritillarias. Growing Bulbs by Martin Rix published by
Timber Press in 1983 is a detailed account of growing all bulb species
and lists bulbs by geographic region and by climate needs. The Smaller
Bulbs by Brian Mathew published in 1987 by Ancho Brendon, Ltd. London is
the best reference for small bulbs. Adventures with Hardy Bulbs by
Louise Beebe Wilder published by Collier Books in 1936 is an American
Classic, detailed and pulls no punches, is excellent reading for both
background and culture.
• Some sources, and by no means complete:
1. John Scheepeers Inc., 23 Tulip Drive, PO Box 638, Bantam, CT 06750,
lists 4 species.
2. Van Engelen Inc., same as Scheepeers and wholesale lists 12
3. McClure and Zimmerman, PO Box 368, Friesland, WI 53935-0638, lists
18 species and forms and a source for camschatcensis.
4. Dutch Gardens, 144 Intervale Road, Burlington, VT 05401, lists 4
5. Brent and Becky's Bulbs, Gloucester, VA, lists 14 species and forms.
Shooting Stars on the Ground - The Genus Dodecatheon
In my college days, largely as a result of a recommendation from my
college advisor to get experience that would look good on a resume, I
as a nature counselor at a camp for underprivileged children. My
responsibilities were largely to take students on nature hikes and be
responsible for nature activities at the camp. One of my fondest jobs
was to teach students astronomy at evening campfires and overnighters
using tents. Campers, many of whom were from downtown areas and,
because of lights, could rarely see the stars around their homes, were
awed at the brilliance and makeup of a dark summer sky with the vivid
Milky Way. The stories of how each of the constellations got their
names also helped keep their attention and wonder.
However, one of the
best parts was to have a campfire and story session in early to late
August when the Perseid Meteor Showers occurred. In these shooting star
events, as many as 10 meteors per minute can be seen and this lights the
heavens as no one can adequately describe. To see the arching lights as
meteors enter our atmosphere and burn up is rather wondrous and awe
inspiring. I still try to see this annual event when possible but more
and more light pollution in city areas makes this more difficult every
year and the only way to fully enjoy them is to be off in the outback
where few street lights, housing developments and malls destroy the
effect of a starry sky. However, one may, in a sense, enjoy a more
ground like meteor shower by growing members of the genus Dodecatheon.
These members of the Primrose family are 100% red, white and blue
Americans found only in the North American continent. The name derives
from a name given by Pliny the Elder to a plant (probably a primrose)
that was supposedly under the protection of the 12 Greek/Roman gods.
Hence the Dodecatheon, from the Greek dodekas - 12 and theos - god. It
is said that the name was given in reference to the arrangement of the
stamens around the pistil.
These ephemeral spring plants look like
shooting stars in that the petals and sepals recurve to reveal a pointed
stigma and pistils - ever so like an arching falling star. Most of
these plants have leathery succulent leaves and tend to require the same
general conditions as primroses. Their one weakness seems to be that
all tend to be short lived and must be periodically renewed.
George Schmid, in his marvelous tome, An Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials,
makes comment that they were much admired as a temporary wonder since
they are a spring empheral. He says that they are best adapted to
and grassy prairies and that they require a slightly alkaline soil
and 7.5. He also states emphatically that they should not be placed
evergreen trees as they do not tolerate high acidity. He also gives
that their loveliness is fleeting and do not provide lasting displays of
either. Most of the species have flowers in rose, pink, lavender and
carmine with few species having white forms. Some of the more commonly
available species either from commercial growers or seed exchanges are:
Dodecatheon media - our common Eastern shooting star typically found in
most areas of oak wood and a rather easy one to start with.
Dodecatheon jeffreyi - a taller species with much larger and robust
and crimson flowers.Dodecatheon pulchellum - supposedly the most desirable of the group and
one with a selected named variety called “Red Wings”. Ingwersen says
that this is one of “exceptional beauty”.
Dodecatheon uniflorum - dubiously in cultivation but also said to be
desirable - a 2” pygmy with rose flowers.
I have only tried Dodecatheon media with mixed success. Of 15 seeds
were in the envelope, 7 germinated. William Cullima, propagation
for the New England Wildflower Society’s Garden in the Woods, in his
book on wildflower propagation, suggests that the seeds are moderately
work with largely because the seedlings often go into summer dormancy
shortly after germinating. He suggests that light fertilizing and
constant moisture can reduce this and, if you can get the plant to grow
beyond going dormant that this produces a healthier plant. He also
suggests planting shooting stars beside large boulders so that when they
go dormant, one can remember where they are and also for esthetic
Dodecatheons are a group of recently evolved plants, probably developing
from species of primroses in the Parryi section during the last glacial
Their graceful flowers make it no wonder that the National Rock Garden
Society chose it to represent an alpine plant on their insignia. The
shape of the flowers and the fleeting growth are every so like the
meteors and shooting
stars of a meteor shower.
Ingwesen, Will. A manual of Alpine Plants. 1978. Dunnsprint, Ltd.
Schmid, George. An Encyclopedia of Shade Perennials. 2002. Timber
Press. Portland, Oregon.
Collectors Nursery, 16804 NE 102nd St., Battle Ground, WA 98604 - offers
4 species including white form of D. media.
Roslyn Nursery, 211 Burrs Lane, Dix Hills, NY 11746 - offers D. Media.
Van Bourgundian, Babylon, NY - irregularly offers D. pulchellum “Red