Flower count - WAS: What makes erythroniums bloom?

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Tue, 13 Apr 2010 09:32:51 PDT
Roy's comments -- I can't recall where he's writing from, is it the 
Midwest? -- are good evidence that using USDA zone ratings for bulbs 
is pretty useless. Indeed, using zone ratings for any plant anywhere 
west of the Rocky Mountains is, in my opinion, next to useless. (It's 
probably useless even in the east where any amount of elevational 
difference exists.) Yet nursery catalogs and books continue to 
provide these numbers in the belief that they can't explain anything 
more complicated to their customers and readers, just as we have to 
keep using the outdated English measurement system for the benefit of 
U.S. readers who slept through the introduction of the metric system 
in third grade.

The most startling thing in Roy's note is his success with 
Erythronium grandiflorum, an alpine species that is very difficult to 
flower at low elevation in the West. The only form I have that 
flowers reliably is a tiny, short form that comes, I think, from 
Idaho. Yet E. grandiflorum grows extensively in the mountains and 
river gorge less than an hour's drive from my home. And here is Roy, 
planting it in a "generic shady perennial bed," despite the fact that 
in nature it grows in shallow, rocky soils, not always in shade, and 
gets next to no water in summer; and it flowers for him. Is it 
getting the right amount of winter there, whereas it doesn't in 
Portland, Oregon?

Like Paige, I grow plenty of erythroniums well beyond their natural 
range and in winters harsher than they would experience in nature. 
They don't all enjoy exactly the same garden conditions; for 
instance, I recently visited a garden where E. helenae and E. 
californicum were flourishing in a "generic shady perennial bed," but 
E. multiscapideum was struggling and suffering from botrytis -- the 
last much prefers a very well drained site and is in full bloom in a 
scree bed at my place today. As for E. tuolumnense, I would not 
expect it to have much genetic variation, given its narrow endemism. 
It's been used for hybridizing because of its strong propensity to 
produce offsets, which is passed on to such hybrids as 'Pagoda' and 
'Citronella', and to a slightly lesser degree to 'Sundisc'. Perhaps 
this offsetting tendency is linked to the shy flowering Mary Sue 
mentions. Why produce flowering stems for the deer to eat, when you 
can make a hundred bulblets for the gophers to distribute?

As for hybrids of E. revolutum, at one time E. elegans was thought to 
be a natural hybrid of this and E. montanum, but I will have to look 
back (despite my dread of doing so) at the articles by Art Guppy 
published in the Rock Garden Quarterly a few years ago and see what 
he had to say about this. These articles, which are anecdotal in the 
extreme, not to mention hard to read, nonetheless contain a good deal 
of empirical information about the genus, which is why I went ahead 
and published them, under continuous fire from the author.

Jane McGary
Northwestern Oregon, USA

At 04:12 AM 4/13/2010, you wrote:

>Pacific Rim wrote:
> > Careful. Diana is the most scrupulous grower I have encountered in my own
> > life as a grower.
> >
>Agreed!! I was just comparing Diana's listing to Jane's much more
>conservative rating. Maybe it is even hardier--Brent and Becky list it
>as Z3-9, growable (or at least winter hardy) in every state of the lower
>48. I personally have never grown tuolumnense, but 'Pagoda' is fine
>here, but reputed to be easier to grow. Any Zone 3 or 4 (with unreliable
>snow) growers out there?
>Nobody has mentioned E. grandiflorum as a worthy westerner. It has been
>fine here for a few seasons in a generic shady perennial bed, nothing
>special. Not really showy, but it is cute. Any other fans?
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