Kent Alpine Gardener's Diary
This entry: 24 March 2015 by Tim Ingram
Patagonian Alpines - Joanne Everson
'Violas, Verbenas, Potatoes & Orchids' - talk to the East Kent Group of the AGS, 13th March 2015
For the plant geographer the flora of South America holds an especial fascination, just as does that of Australasia, for the long isolation of the continent and the very distinctive plants that have evolved there. Couple this specifically with alpine plants, the geologically 'young' Andean mountain chain, extremes of climate, soil and topography, and the result is species in these four families that Joanne Everson described that are unique and different to any that gardeners will be more familiar with.
Joanne's talk was on a trip to Patagonia with the AGS, led by Martin Sheader, and underlain by that accumulated knowledge of the flora which is so comprehensively presented in the AGS field guide 'Flowers of the Patagonian Mountains'.
Rather than look generally at the mountain flowers, Joanne took these four families of plants and examined them much more closely - especially the extraordinary rosulate violas. Coming from Kew, with that precision of botanical description and recording of plants, she also gave a fascinating historical perspective - notably showing the extensive information given on herbarium specimens (her example was one of the annual violas) and how this may become updated by later studies and understanding in the field. Most of all though it was the wonder of these plants growing in such extreme environments that came across, and the variation - sometimes within a single species (such as Viola atropurpurea) or within a genus (such as Junellia, which includes tight mat-forming species, stronger shrubby plants and closely related forms now placed in separate genera).
Some of the plants she showed grow at Kew and a few, Fabiana imbricata for example, more widely in gardens. Very many though are difficult to cultivate, like high mountain alpines the world over, and even more difficult to flower well, so to see them shown in habitat was intriguing for anyone unlikely to travel to these regions. The prospect that some, such as the highly scented Jaborosa volkmannii (a relative of Mandrake) could come into cultivation is enticing. This is especially true of orchids in the genus Chloraea, which are showy and relatively robust plants.
We have had many fine talks on alpines in natural habitats and these are always enthralling if you are captivated by their beauty and the landscapes in which they grow. Joanne took this a step further with a more botanical viewpoint. She not only enthralled the audience but also informed us, and shared the thrill of seeing these plants for the first time in their wild state.