Friday, November 30, 2007

Oh, Piffle!!

Every flower gardener has issues and questions about things in their garden, that they go around and around about... for better or worse, a lot of mine are documented in some detail in this blog. Take the issue of identifying my fall-blooming snowdrop; it's a minor problem (how could it be otherwise with a plant all of four inches tall), but a vexing one. This single snowdrop reared its raggedy little flower out of the ground for the first time one November day two years ago, in a patch of Galanthus elwesii (an early spring flowering snowdrop). That first flower frankly looked like something the cat drug in, and the leaves weren't much better, so I figured it was fatally confused and not long for my garden. However, last fall it was back, blooming in November as if nothing was wrong, and it looked to be in a little better health. At first I thought it must be a single bulb of one of the fall-blooming species of snowdrops, but after some research found out that there is a naturally-occuring strain of Galanthus elwesii that blooms in the fall, and decided that was a likelier answer, especially as the true fall-blooming species of snowdrops are said to be a tender lot, which one could expect. The little snowdrop didn't show up in early November this year, so I thought it was a goner, but a week or so ago I happened along and there it was, in full bloom and looking almost robust. I did a little blog piece about my fall-blooming elwesii. Well, today I was out in the garden doing some last minute clean-up before we get buried tomorrow by an ice storm, and noticed the snowdrop, so I got my nose down and looked at it closely and suddenly realized its spots aren't right... Galanthus elwesii should have two little green spots on each inner petal; this little flower only has one.
Now, there are a lot of variations in the green markings of snowdrop petals that have been selected out by gardeners, so there are Galanthus elwesii cultivars with one spot to the petal, and there is one of these (Galanthus elwesii 'Barnes') that even blooms in the fall. However, I also today noticed that my plant blooms before the leaves are up, which is characteristic of Galanthus reginae-olgae ssp. reginae-olgae; a true fall-blooming species of snowdrop from southeast Europe (Italy to Greece to southwest Turkey). Also, though it is not apparent from the picture above, my little flower has kind of long, narrow outer petals which open rather widely (it appears a little more like an open umbrella than a hanging bell), and this matches the pictures I see of reginae-olgae. In doing some further research online, I find that this species is not quite as tender as most think it is, reportedly growing reliably in sheltered spots in zone 6a (we're 5a).
There are a couple of good things from all of this, and a couple of negatives. On the plus side, I now have a new species of galanthus in my garden (six total), and note that for a few pennies that I spent on what was supposed to be Galanthus elwesii, I have a bulb that is very pricey in the catalogues, and it is a bulb which will always bloom in late November when flowers aren't exactly fighting with each other to open first. On the downside, while reginae-olgae is marginally hardy, we are not, I repeat NOT zone 6a, and one of those monumentally brutal winters that we occasionally still get might be a real eye-opener for this little Mediterranean native. The other thing that occurs to me is that the elwesii bulbs (that I purchased from a well-known Dutch bulb company), were probably stripped from the wild; the native range of elwesii and reginae-olgae overlap slightly in Turkey (elwesii favoring more northward, colder regions). How else would this rare fall-blooming species get mixed in with the commercially common elwesii? Pretty sad, since elwesii is quite easy to grow in the garden, so only pure greed would cause anybody to still be taking these bulbs from nature.
At least Galanthus reginae-olgae ssp. reginae-olgae is thriving so far here in the gentle hills of eastern Iowa; if it misses its native rocky hillside overlooking the Mediterranean, it's not letting on. The final thing that occurs to me is that I have been proudly taking credit for having the first snowdrop blooming each year for the last few years; instead I have the last. Oh, piffle!!
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You are amazing and very informative You know so much more than the basic rudimentary facts about the many, many different types of plants in your yard as well as being able to distinguish slight variations in the different species of only one variety of plant... and knowing the background habitat, etc.

I must have a lot to learn. It is fun to read, at least. If I never remember all it, I'll know who does! :-)
Wow, that took some research to figure out. Funny thing, just yesterday I was reading in another book about how the collecting of wild bulbs in Turkey is (was?) a big problem, and that they were helping the Turkish people learn to raise these bulbs so they could be sold for relatively cheap, or something like that.
Shady... it takes a few years; I'm just getting to where I think I know some stuff.

Carol... I have a feeling there is still a lot of plundering taking place. Galanthus elwesii can be grown by the thousands easily, yet here somebody still stripped them from nature to squeeze out a few extra dollars.

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