Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Primula Juliae... And Where She Really Came From

You learn something new about gardening every day... or at least I do, since correcting the misinformation that I carry around with me is kind of a full time occupation by itself. For example, Primula juliae (jul-ee-ee) is a darling little primrose species that has been used extensively in breeding the common hybrid primroses that we grow in our gardens... I had always thought that juliae was named after, and therefore was endemic to, the Julian Alps, which in turn are named for Julias Caesar. I'm not sure whether I just got this idea in my mind on my own from the similarity of the names or whether I had some help by something I read somewhere. The Julian Alps are wondrous mountains of sheer white limestone, that extend from Italy into Slovenia, just north of the Adriatic. These mountains are host to many rare plants, including gentians, wild orchids, and Primula carniolica, but not Primula juliae, for that little primrose comes instead from the Caucasus Range far to the southeast, and is named after its discoverer, the naturalist Julia Mokossjewicz. Her father was a well-known botanist, and she followed in his footsteps, extensively exploring the Caucasus Mountain Range, discovering this tiny primrose growing in a mossy area amongst some rocks by a rushing stream, around 1900. The Caucasus Range, an arc of rugged, granite peaks, extends basically all across the Caucasus, the wild land between the Black and Caspian Seas, and these mountains form the boundary between Europe and Asia, with Russia to the north, and to the south, Azerbaijan, and Armenia, then Turkey and Iran. Primula juliae is as rugged as the mountains it grows in. It is tiny, with small, rounded leaves and covered with bright, pinkish red flowers with deeply-clefted petals. The plant is stoloniferous, so forms a dense little mat, and the flowers arise from the junctions where new stolons arise, rather than from the centers of the leaf rosettes as in other primroses. Seed from this little jewel reached Great Britain, where around World War I, it started to be used in hybridizing, and it is the source of much of the blue-purple-red end of the color spectrum in our garden primroses (primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii is also a major contributor of this end of the color range); juliae is also the source of much of the hardiness in garden primroses. Due to the extensive interbreeding, it is hard to be sure you are obtaining and growing a pure juliae species primrose anymore, and I know the above pictured plant, while purchased labeled as "juliae" is actually a hybrid; possibly a Wanda type primrose, which are hybrids between juliae and vulgaris, but still resemble the former species.
I have spent a fair chunk of my life wandering in one or another mountain range, but there are two mountain ranges I still would like to visit someday; the two mentioned here... the Julian Alps and the Caucasus Mountain Range. Apparently the latter is almost off limits due to various and sundry conflicts and free-lance bandits, but the Julian Alps are quite doable. Slovenia looks to be one of Europe's gems, being the most forested country on that continent, and being rather unspoiled and untouched compared with more developed countries. One concern is that the Slovenian language seems to be all consonants and accent marks, so learning how to ask for a bathroom or a beer while there might be a bit of a challenge. But, I can dream...

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that was an interesting read, my friend in Puyallup would really find this amusing.
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