Day of the Themids

Jane McGary
Sat, 13 Jun 2015 14:58:16 PDT
It is mid-June, so here is my annual recommendation that bulb fanciers 
use more members of the family Themidaceae in their gardens. This recent 
name refers to Brodiaea, Triteleia, Dichelostemma, and a few other 
American genera formerly in Alliaceae, and before that in Liliaceae. 
Fortunately they got their own family in time to avoid being tossed into 

These species mostly flower in late spring to early summer, forming a 
bridge (along with Calochortus and Lilium) between the masses of spring 
bulbs and summer, which in their native communities is mostly 
flowerless. An outlier is Dichelostemma capitatum, flowering early to 
mid spring and a great addition to the perennial border; Triteleia 
hyacinthina is also earlier and very adaptable. The latest western 
American themid to flower here is Brodiaea californica, a very tall, 
large-flowered plant that comes in both blue and pink(ish) forms.

In flower here today are Dichelostemma ida-maia (Firecracker Flower), 
Dichelostemma volubile (Snake Lily, a climber), Dichelostemma 
multiflorum, Brodiaea elegans, Brodiaea coronaria, Brodiaea terrestris 
(a short one), Triteleia ixioides, Triteleia laxa, Triteleia 
peduncularis, and Bloomeria crocea. All of them have been hardy in the 
garden to about 17 degrees Fahrenheit (about minus 8 C). They do well 
without summer water, but moderate moisture will not kill most of them. 
The corms should be planted fairly deeply.

These are wonderful plants to attract hummingbirds, which I have seen 
feeding on all but the yellow-flowered ones. D. ida-maia is probably an 
obligatory hummingbird plant with its tubular scarlet flowers. The 
others are also pollinated by bees.

Long, prostrate basal leaves and mostly tall, bare flowering stems 
suggest placing themids among other, leafier perennials, grasses, and 
shrubs, as they in fact grow in nature. The best effect in a border is 
gained by close grouping. I have a casual sort of steep rock garden in 
front of the house, and these are the latest of the many bulbs planted 
at random among the tufts, cushions, and dwarf shrubs.

Themids are very easily grown from seed; it's best to leave them in the 
seed pot for two years because the first-year corms are very small. They 
have not self-sown excessively for me and do not become weedy by 
increasing, though some produce numerous offset corms.

A few species are available for purchase in Dutch bulb catalogs. Under 
"Brodiaea" in the current Scheepers catalog I find D. ida-maia (listed 
as "Brodiaea coccinea," an old synonym), 'Corrina' (a hybrid Triteleia), 
T. ixioides 'Starlight' (a pale yellow selection), T. laxa 'Silver 
Queen' (a white form, and who would want one?), 'Pink Diamond' (probably 
a hybrid between D. ida-maia and D. volubile), T. laxa 'Queen Fabiola' 
(a typical form), T. 'Rudy' (a selection or hybrid of T. laxa with 
strongly contrasting median stripes, pretty here today). Most of the 
commercial stocks are offered under old synonyms or have silly English 
names given them.

I hope this will encourage you to seek out corms (sometimes available 
from Telos and Illahe nurseries) or seeds (frequently available in 
botanic garden or NARGS seed lists).

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

More information about the pbs mailing list