Scoliopus bigelovii

Mary Sue Ittner
Thu, 27 Jan 2005 17:35:18 PST
Hi Rodger,

I've been trying to grow Scoliopus bigelovii for years since I'm very fond 
of it and it grows naturally in the areas I hike each spring. I once heard 
someone who was growing it say that it needed to be kept absolutely dry 
during summer. My experience doing this has resulted in plants that 
although they have survived have not advanced at all. When I dumped the 
soil out to see if there was anything there I could barely make out some 
thin roots.

Ian Young had pictures of some healthy specimens and I wrote to him and he 
advised year round water and a very deep pot for the extensive root 
structure. This makes sense to me since most of the ones I've seen in the 
wild are close to water and could go down very far to get to the water 
table during their summer dormancy. Certainly the root structure that 
others have described did not match my plants that may have been desiccated 
in their dry soil without water for many months.

They are often woodland plants where there is shade and leaf litter and 
grow in coastal summer fog belts where it rarely is hot. I haven't rooted 
around in the soil where I've seen them, but I'd guess clay. The Wild 
Lilies, Irises and Grasses book that many of us purchased has a gorgeous 
drawing in it (reproduced in Pacific Horticulture) and it says: "A 
rootstock four to five inches deep sends yellowish tan, fuzzy roots down to 
permanent moisture in humus-rich clays."

Here is what Ian Young wrote me privately. Seeing his plants in May I can 
testify that he is growing them very successfully.

"The compost we use is a free draining loam based compost with some extra
leaf litter to add humus. We grow the seedlings in deep polystyrene
(Styrofoam) boxes as they like a deep root run. I get the feeling that you
are getting them too hot and dry in the summer, they hate that. We keep them
cool and moist in summer - this is not difficult as that is what a Scottish
summer usually is. They can withstand long dry periods in the summer but it
sets them back and they never seem to progress to flowering size. I think
that you are going to have to water them through the summer and give them as
much depth as you can as their roots will easily go down 50cms in search of

He didn't say anything about fertilizer, but to expect four years from seed 
to bloom. Perhaps with more fertilizer it would be faster. Jim McKenney is 
growing Scoliopus successfully. Perhaps he can say how.

I've added a picture Bob took in Ian Young's garden of his pot of Scoliopus 
leaves mid May so you can see that how large the leaves are (perhaps his 
foot can be a reference). After many years of growth my plants with a dry 
summer remained very small in contrast.…

Mary Sue

Mary Sue Ittner
California's North Coast
Wet mild winters with occasional frost
Dry mild summers 

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