Saturday, April 16, 2005

Crocuses and other bulbs

Our first snowmelt crocuses (crocus korolkowii) bloomed April 2 this year... March 31 the year before. (To have anything blooming in early April in Michigan's Upper Peninsula is wonderful!)

I ordered these crocuses and a few other things two summers ago from odyssey bulbs. I had to. The owner is a humor writer, linguist, botanist and music lover, trapped in a greenhouse. Though it does appear that he enjoys being trapped there. I love his plant descriptions:

Corydalis buschii
"Corydalis are like Vivaldi concertos: just when you think you've discovered them all, a few more turn up somewhere. This recent introduction is valuable not only for its bright red-purple flowers on 6-inch stems, but also for its time of bloom – late May. It flourishes in partial shade and non-alkaline soil, spreading by stolons to form colonies. Modified continental; E Russia to N Korea. Zone 4."

Dracunculus vulgaris
"The dragon arum, named not for its lush, marbled, clawed leaves on reptilian, purple-mottled stems, but for its spellbindingly bizarre (and thankfully short-lived) inflorescence, comprising a livid-purple, ruffled, 2- to 3-foot spathe and a protruding, black-purple, dragon-tongued, roadkill-scented spadix. Gratifyingly grotesque, but best kept downwind during the early summer flowering season. Well-drained soil required. Mediterranean; Corsica to S Turkey. Zone 6. "

Ornithogalum schmalhauzenii
"The cardinal rule of modern-day marketing: invent a catchy name. Hmmm. Let's go to rule number two: mount a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign. Okay, let's just describe the plant and trust to our customers' considerable intelligence. New to the catalog and perhaps to the U.S. trade, this ravishing and refined species bears numerous large, white flowers in a dense, umbelesque cluster that sits just above the attractive, narrow leaves. It is yet another early-blooming ornithogalum that can take on any of the snowflake/snowdrop tribe. We honestly don't understand why these plants are so seldom used. Modified continental; Armenia. Zone 5."

Tulipa whittallii 
"Outside, its solitary, cup-shaped flower – poised on a 10-inch stem – is a bit of a milquetoast, cloaked in subdued tones of pale yellow and green. But – surprise! – inside it's a startling, swashbuckling bright orange. Your inner child (as well as any outer children you might have) will love it. Mediterranean; Zone 6."

And the plants I got (though not the ones mentioned here) are still, two years later, as good as those descriptions.

Last year the tommy crocuses (crocus tommasinianus, above) tied for first to bloom; this year they were later by about a week. My daughter 'chickie' fell so in love with these flowers last year (at age 3), she claimed them all as her very own.

On the other hand, the crocus etruscus Zwanenburg (above) were earlier than last year... go figure.

Last fall I planted iris danfordiae, these from John Scheepers (alas, my fickle loyalty...there were a few bulbs I wanted to try not available at Odyssey Bulbs)... the iris nicely filled in the gap after the crocuses have started to fade. They started blooming about April 10. I wish I'd put them closer together.

I'm curious about the iris. The flower bud pushed itself above the soil before the leaves were even out... they looked very naked without their foliage, not at all like the Scheepers photo.

The same was true of the tommy crocuses last year, but not this year. I'm wondering if it happens to lush "tropical" zone six bulbs that are suddenly planted into zone five soil and left for the winter? Or perhaps it happens if the ground thaws too fast or the air temps go from 35 degrees to suddenly 60 degrees?

Today, April 16, I see the tops of crocus Vernus and asparagus peeping up. My new narcissus 'bulbocodium conspicuus' have had greenery since even before the crocuses.

The grass over the septic field is getting green, too. I think spring must really be here to stay.


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