Monday, March 24, 2008

The Day Before Spring Flower

Yesterday was improbably cold and bitter, with a thin blanket of new snow in the morning, stinging sleet driven by swirling winds in the afternoon, and a high temperature barely above freezing... not the most propitious day to take the camera out to the garden to find what's in bloom. However, this little flower, Shibateranthis pinnatifida, has been out for a week, shyly and bravely just poking through the brown leaf litter. In its native land of Japan its common name is Setsubun-so, meaning literally day before spring-flower ; an apt name if ever there was one. On the ancient Japanese lunar calendar (in use until 1873, when Japan adopted our modern, solar-based Julian calendar), Setsubun was the third day of the second lunar month, and was recognized as the end of winter; the holiday was kept when the Julian calendar came in, but Setsubun was re-set as the day before solar spring and "so" means flower or plant; hence Setsubun-so became the day before spring-flower .
The delicate appearance of this little Japanese alpine is deceiving, because in fact it blooms in nature (and in our garden) just at the edge of the receding snow. The leaves that ring the base of the flower seem almost an afterthought, looking far too small and frail to sustain the plant, being just a finely cut little collarette of bronze-green which wilts and disappears at the first puff of early summer's hot winds. The basilar leaves are almost more lovely and frail than the flowers, and soon also disappear in summer's heat.
The genus shibateranthis was split off from eranthis, with the seven Asian species being placed in the new genus (Shibateranthis pinnatifida, stellata, siberica, keiskei, uncinata, albiflora and longistipitata), leaving the two European species in the original eranthis genus (hyemalis and cilicica... the winter aconites). In our garden we do grow S. stellata, which is just starting to bloom, and we grow both of the winter aconites, which I need to start looking for amongst the dead leaves.
Seen closely, the tiny flowers of pinnatifida are quite fascinating; the white "petals" are actually sepals, while the little yellow protuberances are in fact structurally petals. The anthers are bright metallic blue and break open to release sticky white pollen granules, as you can see on the left side of the flower above. The stigmas in the center are light grape in color.
These miniature flowers will never be used in a spring bouquet; they are not going to be a cover subject for any gardening magazine; you'll not see them featured in garden catalogs... but they do wonders for the spirit on a gray and wintry day in Iowa.

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Fabulous. Thank you!
New plant for me...incredibly gorgeous...especially this time of the year.

How long does it bloom for you? And is it difficult to get established?
I was looking about Leucosceptrum and saw that article. Very interesting indeed!
I am found of japanase plants.
Greetings from France.
From where did you acquire this petite beauty? I have a lot of days before spring when I need to be tempted outside.
Beautiful little flower. It's amazing how the smallest flowers can be the most intricate and interesting of them.
What a delightful little flower this pinnatifida is. Thanks for sharing.
Amazing little flower with a very important job .. some of the most delicate flowers are the hardiest in bad conditions.
It is simply beautiful though !
Thanks for introducing me to this early bloomer. Or maybe not. This might turn into one of those Grail-quests.
Well, if the Picks keep going they could at least make the front page of Blotanical, Don. This is an exquisite flower. Cheers for sharing it.
I am not familiar with this little Japanese alpine but you have captured its essence beautifully.
Jenn... thanks for your feedback!

Betty... its bloom time depends very heavily on the weather; this time of year is SO variable. In particular, if we run into a hot spell, it's gone. Overall though, it probably blooms two weeks... pretty ephemeral.

JPierre... thanks for stopping over; I am also enamored of Japanese plants, and would have a whole garden full if our climate was nicer.

Kathy... I got it from asiatica. Bulbmeister also carries it fall dormant (look under eranthis).

Vanilla... what's that old Emily Dickinson poem about seeing the universe in a flower?

Nancy... you are most welcome; I'm just glad to finally having some flowers bloom after a LONG winter.

GardenJoy... this little thing has to be the most delicate looking yet hardy flower in our garden.

MMD... see my note to Kathy.

Stuart... thanks. So far I seem to be getting picked up pretty frequently for the front page... no money involved, but there I am.

Joey... There are TONS of little Japanese plants you never hear about.

lovely plant!

Bainbridge Island florist
Hi Iboy,
What's your zone ?
Mine is 7 and I can grow a lot of japanese plants.
About the Eranthis you can also get it from seeds. Could be cheaper and not so difficult to get success.

PS In my blog (sorry for the publicity!) sometimes I am speaking about those plants from Japan. In some days I Should receive Ranzania from Japan. It will be a challenge because my friend from Hokkaido told me that the plant was not in a good health.
Kind greetings.
J.Pierre... In a good year, I'm 5a (which is worlds away from 7)! I can only dream about growing ranzania. Obtaining seeds commercially in this country of oddball plants is difficult; you pretty much have to belong to the NRGS (rock garden society).

I am so happy to have found your blog--having just bought a house in Tennessee (zone 7) with a blank canvas (landscape), and my son lives in Coralville--it will feel a little like I am visiting him when I read about your garden!
I googled this beautiful plant and fell upon a whole new world of plants and bulbs for the shade! Just wonderful......again thank you so much for taking the time to share these beautiful plants and pictures with all of us.........Nancy
I can well imagine how you might feel when this flower blooms so early! It is exciting when Anything grows and blooms... but this is lovely. What about the placement in your yard? Is it on the top of a slope in the sun, where the snow would first be absent? Near a building or in a protective area, of sorts?

I enjoyed your post -- nice pix.

My name is Jacqueline and I produce an online magazine about flowers for Teleflora: It has a wide range of posts about flowers and living well.

This week, I have pix from the Philly flower show, a chance to win free flowers, floral horoscopes, a flower happy-hour and perfect flowers for the Rolling Stones and Martin Scorsese in honor of their new movie, “Shine a Light.”

I hope you’ll check it out.

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