Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Asarum splendens Surprize

Leah Ramsay photos

Blooms in February are always a bonus, but usually when we have them pop up in the garden its the product of deliberate planning...we've chosen a plant for its early bloom on purpose. So it was particuarly surprizing when I discovered a plant in bloom yesterday that I had no idea flowered so early in the season. And they are bizarre blooms at that.

While clearing away a weeds I disturbed some Garry Oak leaves that had fallen on our plant of Asarum splendens, a wild ginger species from China. I was surprized to see a flower, and then as I cleared away more leaves, I was even more surprized to see more than a dozen of them..We had no idea that this species bloomed so early in the season.

Now they aren't the type of blooms that your going to see from across the driveway, or even at a distance of a few meters, but up close the purpled mottled flowers are subtle and decidedly wierd.

Our plant of this species had been purchased orginally as Asarum magnificum however, now that it has bloomed I know that it was mislabelled and is indeed A. splendens. It is a great plant for the shade, with large shiney leaves mottled with silver. It looks to be a variable species with many different forms in cultivation, and despite the fact that it has been grown in western gardens for only a short time, several good forms have already been selected to be introduced to gardeners as named cultivars.

Despite its decidedly tender looks, ours sailed through the cold winter of 08/09 with little problem. Frosty nights turn the leaves an omnimous black but they resurrect themselves with every thaw. For the first three years in the garden the deer showed no interest in our specimen at all, but this fall they took off most of the leaves - which if they hadn't done I likely would have missed the early bloom entirely as the flowers peek out between the bases of the petioles and full foliage would have hidden them.

Our plant came from Brentwood Nurseries. Thimble Farms on Salt Spring carries the species as well.

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