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Scoliopus bigelovii

Scoliopus bigelovii comes from moist woodland areas in Oregon and California, flowering in late winter and early spring. It is proving to be hardy in British gardens when grown in cool acid woodland or peat-bed conditions, appreciating partial shade where it may gently seed itself about. When grown in the open garden, protection from slugs is advised as the seed pods push themselves downwards towards the soil prior to releasing the seed, making them  virtual gastropodic picnic baskets. This seed dispersal method resembles that of Trillium rivale and although the floral parts of Scoliopus superficially resemble those of a Trillium, both are thought to be coincidental;  they are not botanically related, Scoliopus being closer to the genera Calochortus and Tricyrtis in the Liliaceae.

The colour of the beautifully marked flowers, with their broad recurved petals, can vary not only in the shade of yellow in the background  but also in the amount of brown streaking and spotting.  Unerringly constant however, is the reminder of its colloquial name  'Fetid adders-tongue'....... it stinks! Just a few open flowers in my greenhouse was enough to announce their arrival. The odour is best described as that of a wet dog (that has also rolled in something nasty), necessary to attract carrion beetles, its putative pollinators.

Despite this failing, it does make an excellent pot plant for the alpine house giving a much needed lift to the cold dark days at the start of the year. Early shows would also be the poorer for the lack; a pan full like this, shown by Rannveig and Bob Wallis is a joy to be seen (if not smelled!)


Ray Drew

Ray Drew