Gymnospermium albertii - plant of the month Feb 2011
Gymnospermium albertii comes from rocky hillsides in what was once Soviet Central Asia and is fairly common in the Chimgan Valley of Uzbekistan, making this a very hardy plant. At flowering time it stands around 15cm tall with its poorly developed, bronze-tinged leaflets rolled lengthways showing their undersides. Despite the appearance of their underground storage organ, a corky tuber-like structure, Gymnospermiums are actually herbaceous plants in the Berberidaceae family (compare the last image on this page with a berberis or mahonia flower). As you can imagine from where these plants grow in the wild, they require a well drained, sunny position that will allow for a degree of 'drying out' during their summer dormancy, though Brian Mathew reports that he has grown this species in the open in a well drained position (The smaller bulbs; Brian Mathew).
The picture shown is of a young plant, grown from seed sown in 2004 (seed is set freely and germinates well). Janis Ruksans talks of plants that are ' .....quite good growers and I have some tubers even 20cm across that in spring produce up to fifty flowering stems' (Buried Treasure, Janis Ruksans).
Gymnospermium albertii (sometimes listed as Leontice albertii) is certainly the best of a number of fairly similar members of its genus, best seen when the flowers are just opening and the foliage is still unfurled. After flowering the leaves tend to overtop the flowering stems and take on a more sombre grey-green colouration.