Jane McGary
Wed, 09 Jun 2004 10:55:52 PDT
Like Jim McKenney, I'm a little surprised at the absence of Veratrum from 
most gardens, but I think it can be explained by the fact that these are 
large-scale plants that go dormant in midsummer, leaving a big gap. 
However, this can also be said of Oriental poppies, which we see 
everywhere. Also, they are very toxic, and people who read this are always 
afraid their children or pets will eat the plants. I can't vouch for the 
discrimination of children, but my pets have never poisoned themselves on a 
plant, and one often sees Veratrum growing in pastures, where the cattle, 
horses, etc., do not touch it.

There are two species native to my area, V. californicum at lower 
elevations and V. viride at high elevations. V. calif. has cream-colored 
flowers and is a very large plant; V. vir. has green flowers and is a bit 
shorter, though still stately.

I have V. calif. in the garden, having collected the seeds from a nearby 
roadside and direct-sown them in rich woodland soil in an area that's 
irrigated in summer (they are moisture-lovers). As I recall, they took 
almost ten years to flower from seed, but now bloom every year. The scape 
can reach 7 feet (>2 m). The rhizome (not a true bulb) is huge, with thick 
feeder roots below it, and makes some offsets, gradually spreading into a 
colony. Digging one is quite a task. That is probably another reason they 
are seldom seen in gardens: the mature rhizome is so large that it wouldn't 
be easy to manage in a nursery container.

These are excellent foliage plants if you have a deep border with something 
in front to fill in as the veratrums wither, such as hostas and deciduous 
ferns. Mine are behind a planting of the native Disporum smithii. They grow 
well in sun or shade but flower best in sun.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon. USA

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