Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rose Queen Salvia

What’s blooming in the area: Hybrid tea roses, rose of Sharon, Russian sage, buddleia, silver lace vine, red yucca, datura, sweet pea, Heavenly Blue morning glories, purple phlox, cultivated sunflower heads bending, Sensation cosmos, alfalfa, pampas grass; red tomatoes visible.

Beyond the walls and fences: Apache plume, leatherleaf globemallows, blue gilia, scarlet bee blossom, white and yellow evening primroses, bindweed, ivy-leaf morning glory, goat’s head, white sweet and purple clovers, stickleaf, toothed spurge, prostrate knotweed, lamb’s quarter, Russian thistle, amaranth, pigweed, ragweed, native sunflowers, snakeweed, spiny lettuce, gumweed, Hopi tea, áñil del muerto, Tahoka daisy, golden hairy, strap-leaf, purple and heath asters, sandburs, muhly ring grass, crust, moss, mushrooms; buds on broom senecio.

In my yard, looking east: Garlic chives, Autumn Joy sedum, hollyhock, winecup mallow, sidalcea, large-leaf soapwort, pink evening primrose, Shirley poppies, Maximilian sunflowers, tansy.

Looking south: Floribunda and rugosa roses, reseeded and new Crimson Rambler morning glories; sweet alyssum, moss rose and zinnia from seed.

Looking west: Caryopteris, calamintha, sea lavender, lead plant, perennial four o’clock, David phlox; buds on Silver King artemisia.

Looking north: Golden spur columbine, Mexican hat, chocolate flower, blanket flower, yellow cosmos from seed, black-eyed Susan, chrysanthemum.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, pansy, moss rose, nicotiana, impatiens, tomato.

Inside: Aptenia, asparagus fern.

Animal sightings: Small bees, hornets, harvester and small black ants.

Weather: Rain several days, followed by morning temperatures in the 40's and fog on the river; last rain 9/17/11; 12:23 hours of daylight today.

Weekly update: What with drought and fire and heat, it’s easy to forget that much of this year was dominated by unusual cold. When you’re still cutting dead wood from Dr. Huey roses, it’s even harder to remember that cold is essential for many plants.

Still, when autumn brings cooler temperatures and shorter days, some spring and early summer blooming plants, especially members of the rose family, resume flowering. It’s the time plants like chrysanthemums and cosmos, whose incipient buds need long exposure to daylight, begin to bloom.

Perennial salvias need both cold and long days to flourish. My Rose Queen didn’t do well until last year’s cold winter, and did better last summer than this. I bought four seedlings in 2006, but only one appeared the next year to put up a few stalks with two-lipped tubes jutting from their bases. The same scant squares appeared in 2008, not the flowered-filled stems one sees in catalogs.

Then, the winter of 2010 was cold and the moisture lasted until early May. A seedling appeared. The stalks were never full, but they continued to lengthen to accommodate new stamen-spitting florets into September. Instead of a great flourish, they were bits of color all season.

This past winter was cold and dry. The volunteer joined the parent, but they went out of bloom by the middle of August. Last week, with rain and cool temperatures, a new raceme appeared under a hollyhock leaf on the seedling. It now bristles with flowers, while several conical buds have appeared at the tips of other stems. I can’t find the older plant.

I’ve had the same disappointing experience with the more common blue flowered varieties. East Friesland and May Night didn’t survive a full season. The three Blue Queens I planted in 2007 are all still there, but only one ever bloomed, then just in June.

This summer, for the first time, they threw up a number of thin rods. Unlike the fat Rose Queens, each was dense with flowers. By July, only bare stalks remained with single flowers waving at the tops. While mine finally prospered, the ones in the village, that had produced the past two summers, were invisible, either shorter than usual, darker colored than normal, or intimidated by the weather.

Whether lavender pink or deep purple blue, for rose is a wistful misnomer, they’re all derived in some way from Salvia nemorosa, a clump forming European species more popular in Germany than elsewhere. In the 1930's, Louise Beebe Wilder noted it was rarely offered in this country. Thompson and Morgan offered no seeds in 1955, the year Ernst Pagles introduced Ostfriesland. He’d begun working with the species in 1949 at the suggestion of his mentor, Karl Foerster, who brought out Mainacht in 1956.

Both Foerster and Pagles relied of rigorous selection techniques to develop cultivars that could survive with little maintenance in the cold climate of East Germany. If their plants involved multiple species they were usually the result of unsupervised matings.

Blue Queen has no history: it’s simply described by Tony Avent as “an old seed strain.” The pink is equally obscure: Jelitto Seeds lists Rosakönigin without taking credit for it. Both were being offered by Thompson and Morgan in 1986 when I first got their catalog, but the pink flowered variety wasn’t sold by nurseries like Lamb or Milaeger’s Gardens until 1991, a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Some taxonomists believe nemorosa is the same as Salvia sylvestris, a species found from middle Europe down through the Balkans and east into Kazakstan. Others believe sylvestris is a natural child of nemorosa and Salvia pratensis, which grows in much of temperate Europe. When Jay Walker’s team tested the DNA from a number of species in the mint family, it found pratensis and nemorosa so similar they must have had a common ancestor.

Whatever the differences in parentage, they’re expressed in the ways different varieties respond to the environment. When the Chicago Botanic Garden tested salvias in the middle 1990's, they found May Night much better than East Friesland or Blue Queen, and all were superior to Rose Queen which winter killed, had few flowers, and decreased in vigor over the years. While their experience with the pink variety paralleled mine, their luck with the others in a muggy, prairie lowland was the reverse of mine in a dry, high mountain valley.

Grete Waaseth found the interplay of vernalization and photoperiod for Blue Queen didn’t follow simple, predictable patterns. When Blaukönigin were not exposed to cold winter temperatures, then imitating high sun light with photosynthetic photon fluxes increased their ability to flower at the expense of developing normal levels of crinkled grey-green leaves. However, if the perennials were exposed to 41 degree temperatures for six weeks, then the added energy impulses made no difference when they were later exposed to light for twenty hours a day.

Blue Queens could survive the absence of cold if the sun was more intense, but if they had cold, greater amounts of light didn’t matter.

In contrast, a group led by Todd Lasseigne found that East Friesland, May Night, and a pratensis could all stand days with 104 degrees without injury, but that Ostfriesland and the pratensis didn’t flower, either because they hadn’t been winterized or hadn’t been exposed to the appropriate day lengths. If cold alone wasn’t enough, then neither was heat.

Garden suppliers, unlike botanical gardens, don’t truly care if a plant survives the first winter; they want it to be blooming when they sell it in the spring. Species that don’t bloom until days are long present a problem. When May Night finally did become popular, Avent says, “unscrupulous nurserymen found a plant that would propagate faster” that didn’t perform as well.

A team led by Gary Keever considered the possibility that a long day flower was simply a short night one, and tried to force plants to bloom by interrupting the darkness of their nights. The group shortened the time to first bloom for Blue Queen by seven to twelve days, but only if it treated them in February in Alabama. At other times of the winter, the trick didn’t work.

Why anyone would go to the trouble of growing perennial salvias in the deep south is another question. Both Allan Armitage, in the Georgia piedmont, and the Missouri Botanical Garden, in Saint Louis, say the plant needs cooler nights than they have. The spikes get tall, then floppy, making only the shortest varieties aesthetic.

So why does anyone bother? The pictures, of course, are always tempting, and blooming clumps always look so nice in places like Santa Fé where elevations are higher elevations and moisture greater. But after finally having some winters cold enough for mine to bloom in our long summers, I’m not sure they’ll be worth replacing when they die, which they most assuredly will, sooner or later. They’ve held on, but never acclimated.

Armitage, Allan M. Herbaceous Perennial Plants, 1989.

Avent, Tony. “Perennial Salvia: Ornamental Sages for the Garden,” Plant Delights Nursery website.

Chicago Botanic Garden. “A Performance Appraisal of Hardy Sages,” Plant Evaluation Notes Issue 14, 2000.

Keever, Gary J., J. Raymond Kessler, Jr. and James C. Stephenson. “Night-Interrupted Lighting Accelerates Flowering of Herbaceous Perennials Under Nursery Conditions in the Southern United States,” Journal of Environmental Horticulture 24:23-28:2006.

Lasseigne, F. Todd, Stuart L. Warren, Frank A. Blazich, and Thomas G. Ranney. “Day/Night Temperature Affects Growth and Photosynthesis of Cultivated Salvia Taxa,” Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science 132:492-500:2007.

Missouri Botanical Garden. “Salvia x sylvestris 'Rose Queen',” available on-line.

Waaseth, G., S.O. Grimstad and R. Moe. “Influence of Photosynthetic Photon Flux on Floral Evocation in Salvia x superba Stapf ´Blaukönigin´,” Acta Horticulturae 711:235-24:2005.

_____, _____, _____ and R. Heins. “Effect of Photosynthetic Photon Flux and Temperature on Floral Evocation and Development in the Vernalization Sensitive Ornamental Perennial Salvia x superba `Blaukönigin’,” Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science 131:437-444:2006.

Walker, Jay B., Kenneth J. Sytsma, Jens Treutlein, and Michael Wink. “Salvia (Lamiaceae) Is Not Monophyletic: Implications for the Systematics, Radiation, and Ecological Specializations of Salvia and Tribe Mentheae,” American Journal of Botany 9: 1115-1125:2004.

Wilder, Louise Beebe. What Happens in My Garden, 1935.

Photograph: Rose Queen salvia seedling blooming under hollyhock leaves, 11 September 2011.

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