Sunday, April 18, 2010

Crown Imperial

What’s blooming in the area: Siberian elm, chokecherry, crab apple, tulips, daffodil, tansy and purple mustards, hoary cress, alyssum simplex, western stickseed, mossy phlox, oxalis, dandelion; local ditch running.

What’s coming out: Russian olive, stickleaf, horseweed, chamisa.

What’s blooming in my yard: Lapins cherry, Bradford pear, purple-leaved plum, peach, sand cherry, forsythia, hyacinth, puschkinia, vinca; buds on apples, grape hyacinth and yellow alyssum.

What’s coming out: Apricot leaves, purple-leaved sand cherry, pasture rose, Siberian pea, Japanese barberry, David phlox, Maltese cross, white beardtongue, Rumanian sage, catmints, pink salvia, sidalcea, ladybells, peony, Silver King artemeisa, perky Sue, goldenrod, muhly ring grass.

What’s blooming inside: Aptenia, bougainvillea.

Animal sightings: Guard bird back on my neighbor’s shop roof, small gecko in retainingwall, bees on peach.

Weather: Rain Friday night; afternoon winds all week; can still see some snow in the Jemez and Sangre de Cristo; 13:12 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: Jules Feiffer used to draw cartoons of a young woman’s dance to spring. There are times when I think it should have been an adagio for endurance or a largo of fortitude.

There are plants that can grow here in northern New Mexico, but they simply lack the resources to bloom. They can last for years, each season putting out new growth, but they never, ever take that final step to reproduction.

I ordered three crown imperials from a middling level catalog in 1997, a red, a yellow and an orange. Two came up the next spring, and continued to emerge until 2006 when only one appeared. That plant, which could be the orange, now puts up two short stems surrounded by long narrow leaves that John Gerard said would "grow confusedly about the stalk like those of the white Lily."

In 2001 some animal, probably a gopher, dug around the area where they were planted, and they didn’t seem particularly strong that year. However, the following year, more plants emerged than had in the past.

The bulbs, indeed the whole plant, is supposed to smell "very like a fox" and that stench is supposed to rebel moles. A group of chemists have traced the odor, that is especially strong in the yellow ‘Lutea’ cultivar, to a 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol compound.

I’m not the only one who’s been frustrated by Fritillaria imperialis. Every garden website has tales of woe and observations on the ones that grow. Fulton noted the only successful ones in his area of New Hampshire were growing in a low area by the road, under some sumac. He guessed there had once been a house, but the clump had persisted on its own for years.

The failure to bloom or to die out after a year is more than an irritant, when people who want the stately stalks topped with clusters of spring flowers continue to replace their lost bulbs. The plant grows wild from southeast Turkey, through Iran’s Zagros mountains, east to Kashmir, but is now endangered.

In one area of Turkey where two decades of war have destroyed the livelihood of cultures that herded animals, people turned to collecting members of the lily family from the wild, even after the government banned the practice in 1974. Attempts to introduce cultivation in the region are hampered by the existence of natural predators like narcissus fly larva, as well as the fact that collection is easier than farming.

High tech solutions like bulb scaling and bulb cutting don’t work because, while the bulb is unusually large, it has only three to five scales. Experiments are now being done with cloning plants from fragments of flowers and leafy shoots.

All this makes it more critical that growers know how to get their scarce resources to reproduce. One Dutch grower, Paul van Leeuwen, found flower formation occurs in September and October, and suspects temperature is critical. His team got its best results when bulbs were grown at 48 degrees F for twelve weeks, starting in mid-October. Then, the plants needed three weeks at 41 degrees, and three more weeks at 35.5 degrees.

I never know how to apply nursery conditions to my garden. Van Leeuwen could keep his temperatures so uniform there was no difference between soil and air, no concern if the optimum temperature was the high or the low, no questions about average or minimum requirements?

Of all the variables that can affect a plant’s health like moisture, nutrients, soil type, temperature is the one I can’t control. All I know is mine were probably too cold this past year. Early morning temperatures ranged from the mid 30's to the mid-40's when van Leeuwen said they should be in the high 40's. They were below freezing from end of the October until the past week.

Spring becomes the season I welcome back the survivors when I’d rather be rejoicing in flowers.

Fulton. "Orange Crown Imperial," 21 December 2007, Gardenweb website.

Gerard, John. Herball or Generale Historie of Plants, 1597, reprinted as Leaves from Gerard’s Herball, 1969, from a 1929 edition by Marcus Woodward; description of leaves and foxy odor.

Global Environment Facility. Small Grants Programme. "Cultivation of Fritillaria imperialis Threatened in the Nature," 2009.

Helsper, J.P.F.G., M. W. Bucking, S. Muresan, J. Blaas, and W. A. Wietsma. "Identification of the Volatile Component(s) Causing the Characterisc Foxy Odor in Various Cultivars of Fritillaria imperialis L. (Liliaceae)," Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 54:5087-5091:2006.

Kizil, Süleyman, Neset Arslan, Selime Ölmez-Bayhan, and Khalid Mahmood Khawar. "Effects of Different Planting Dates on Improving Yield of Fritillaria imperialis L. and Fritillaria persica L. Bulbs Damaged by Small Narcissus Fly (Eumerus strigatus Fallen)," African Journal of Biotechnology 7:4454-4458:2008.

Leeuwen, P. J. van, J.P.T. Trompert, and J.A. van der Weijden. "The Forcing of Fritillaria imperialis L.," Acta Horticulturae 570:165-169:2002.

Mohammadi-Dehcheshmeh, Manijeh, Ahmad Khalighi, Roohangiz Naderi, Esmaeil Ebrahimie, and Manoochehr Sardari. "Indirect Somatic Embryogenesis from Petal Explant of Endangered Wild Population of Fritillaria imperialis," Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences 10:1875-1879:2007.

Witomska, M. and A.J. Lukaszewska. "Bulblet Regeneration in vitro from Different Explants of Fritillaria imperialis," Acta Horticulturae 430:331-338:1997.

Photograph: Crown imperial with golden spur columbine, 17 April 2010.

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