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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 22 January 2012 by John Richards

California and Oregon, Final Episode. Entry 204.

Fumariaceae from the Pacific North-west

After a cold week (but it had warmed up by Wednesday), things have slowed down here; the cold snap was just enough to quell the intemperance of some overenthusiastic early bulbs. Consequently, there is relatively little new to report on outside here. I had noted that the transparencies I had scanned in from my North-west States trip ten years ago would probably stretch to a third offering, and a few encouraging comments have led me to believe that this would be welcome. It really is an amazingly rich area to visit in late April, and I was shown wonderful plants, many of which I had never heard of.

First, three dicentras and a corydalis. Of course, I knew of the dicentras, and have grown all of them at various times. I no longer grow D. cucullaria, which unlike the others is not the easiest I believe, but I am fond of D. oregona, and spend half my life trying to curb D. formosa.

We found Dicentra cucullaria in the wooded valley of Eagle Creek in the Columbia River Gorges area. I was taken here by a party which included Dave and Jan Dobak, and David and Donna Hale. David Hale has of course acquired a considerable reputation as a result of his travels in South America, and the alpines from there that he has introduced to cultivation (and persuaded to grow!). In this photo David and Donna are to the left, and Dave Dobak to the right of them.


Fumariaceae from the Pacific North-west

This a very scenic area, to put it mildly, and there were some exciting land-forms, not least this waterfall, known I believe as the Punchbowl.

It was in this humid, forest environment that we found Dicentra cucullaria, the so-called 'Dutchman's trousers'.

Dicentra formosa also grew in humid deciduous woodland near a rushing mountain river, but this time by the McCord River Falls, also part of the Columbia River Gorges, near to Portland, Oregon. Its chosen habitat may well help to explain which it is such an aggressive colonist (although with lovely foliage and a handsome ground-cover) in this sheltered garden. Certainly, it also covered acres of ground in the wild.

My personal favourite amongst the dicentras of the Pacific North-west is D. oregona.  We found a very good form of this further south in Oregon State, in the 8-Dollar reserve in the Siskiyou. I would guess that although a woodlander, this species tolerates warmer dryer conditions than the other two. It is well-behaved, and beautiful, in this garden, and can have the most amazing blue foliage. I see that it is often treated as a subspecies of D. formosa, but it seems distinct enough to me.


It came as a considerable surprise that there grew a Corydalis in this area. We found this in  woodlands,  close to the City of Portland. I can't remember where, but possible near the McCord River Falls.This is C. scouleri. It scarcely measures up to the great wealth and pulchritude of Asian, and even European species, but interesting, none the less.


One of the other exciting species we saw in the Eagle Creek woodlands was the little slipper orchid, Calypso bulbosa. Although I have seen this exceptionally widespread and dramatic little orchid on several other occasions, in Colorado, and around Yellowstone National Park, this is the only time I have seen it in full flower, and even then the flower was just starting to go over.


In the first of these accounts, I introduced the subject of the frequency of scarlet flowers in the Pacific North-west, due to the prevalance of their pollinator, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird which migrates north almost as far as Alaska. Scarlet frits are matched by many other flowers of this colour. It is no surprise that many parasitic Castillejas, the so-called 'Indian Paint Brushes' are scarlet, and here I am featuring two. First, another species from the Columbia River area,this time at Losier Loop, where Castilleja hispida grew.

Most castillejas favour relatively dry open areas, but at 8-Dollar in the Siskiyou, there was a good deal of dry coniferous woodland.

Here we found another scarlet castilleja, C. brevilobata.

This habitat was not that dissimilar to that further south into California where at Shingleton we found another scarlet parasite, but this time a lousewort, Pedicularis densiflora.

Another well-known scarlet flower grew at Shingleton, one that I have grown several times in the past, but have always found monocarpic here; after it flowers it dies and usually without setting seed. This is the scarlet Delphinium, D. nudicaule, which was famously hybridised at the John Innes Institute many years ago with border delphiniums to form a race of fertile polyploid hybrids which allowed red delphiniums to become established in in the border. 'Delphiniums red and delphiniums blue', as Christopher Robin had it.

Mention of delphiniums allows me to escape from the colour scarlet, and to figure a blue species I saw near the start of my journey, in the meadows near Eastwood, south of San Francisco. Doubtless, these meadows dry up later in the season when this species, D. patens, aestivates.

Although unrelated botanically, it is somehow not a long haul from delphinium to lupinus, and we saw several lupins (or 'Lupines' as the Americans inexplicably call them). Here are a couple, first Lupinus succulenteus, quite a tall species growing at Shingleton, northern California.

Much more desirable to the Alpine eye was a dwarf silver-leaved plant which grew in the Haywood Hill Reserve in the Cascades, east of Seattle. This is Lupinus leucophyllus.

I had already featured violas and hesperochirons from Haywood Hill, but the lupin gives me the lead to illustrate two more desirable plants we saw there. First, quite the nicest Mertensia I have ever seen, certainly the equal of the difficult M. alpina, or M. sibirica. This is Mertensia longiflora, a delightful dwarf, only 5 cm high. In the distant shot it is growing with Claytonia lanceolata. 

Another delightful plant here was the little-known Hydrophyllum capitatum, member of the type genus of the Hydrophyllaceae to which the better-known Phacelia belongs. I think the hydrophyllum is often polymorphic, with either blue or white flowers.

I am finishing with a couple of real north-western heavyweights. The first has made a real impact in gardens with a large pond, lake or stream, Lysichiton americanum. It was a real treat to see the Skunk Cabbage growing in the wild, and at a spectacular venue, in sopping wet ground amongst rocks almost within the spray zone of a waterfall  at the McCord River Falls.

The other is that remarkable sarracenia-relative, Darlingtonia californica,the 'cobra lily', the hooded leaves of which do look amazingly snakelike as this insectivore rises from the hillside stream-trickles where it forms vast, impenetrable colonies. Does anyone grow this? I think I have never seen it in cultivation. You would need a hillside seep to grow it in, but many big Highland gardens can do this. Perhaps they are too cold.

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