Columbine does not do well here. I do no know why. It does well enough in Colorado to be the Official State Flower there. Yet, the mildest of climates is Colorado are harsher than the climate here. It does not get too terribly warm in summer here. Humidity is minimal, but not as minimal as in much of Colorado. Nor does it exceed that of other regions where columbine does well.
We have certainly tried to grow columbine. It just does not work. Some of it succumbs to powdery mildew. Some succumbs to rust. The last batch just succumbed. Because it was expected, I did not bother to investigate. I got the impression that it was taken out by both powdery mildew and rust. Flowers that bloomed so delightfully when planted went to seed on their way out.
That should have been the end of it. I would not mind if someone tries again to grow columbine for next spring, even if it last for only a short while. I just do not expect to see it ever perform well here. None was planted this year. Even if someone had considered it, there was no need to add any prior to furlough, while cool season annuals for winter continued to bloom so happily.
What I certainly did not consider was the few seed that the last batch of columbine tossed almost a year ago. Apparently, at least one of those seed fell from the ledge where its parent plants lived briefly in now absent planter boxes, and into the edge of a small landscape below. It grew into an exemplary specimen of columbine, which is happily blooming as if it were in Colorado!
It is surrounded by a concrete retaining wall, a perpendicular granite wall and a big granite boulder!
Seed for this species is all or nothing. The straight species of Mediterranean spurge, Euphorbia characias, seeds abundantly. It can actually be a bit too prolific. However, fancier and extensively bred cultivars either produce no viable seed, or produce only a few seed that are not true to type. Such seed grows into plants that resemble their ancestral species more than their direct parents.
Foliage of common Mediterranean spurge is slightly grayish green. Cultivars exhibit more distinctly grayish, bluish, yellowish or variegated foliage. Appealingly weird and generally greenish floral trusses bloom on top of upwardly arching stems about now. Mature plants are less than four feet tall and broad, with neatly rounded form. They slowly lean toward sunlight as they grow and bloom.
After old stems get cut to the ground in autumn, new stems develop through winter, to repeat the process. Established plants are surprisingly resilient to harsh exposure, warmth, wind and lapses of irrigation. They just dislike shade and constant dampness. However, even the healthiest live for only five to eight years. Those that toss seed can provide their own replacements before they go.
The seed is not really bad. At least I do not think that it is. It is merely misunderstood. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it is simply unidentified. I really do not know what it is. I do not say that very often, especially about seed that I bother to collect to sow elsewhere. I believe that it is of American bellflower, Campanula americana. If not, it is very closely related.
It appeared in part of one of the landscapes at work. Because it looked like some sort of campanula, we left it to see what it would do. It got quite tall, but never started to look like something we did not want to take a chance on. We were rewarded for taking the risk when it bloomed with these elegant spikes of small sky blue flowers. That was a little more than a year or so ago.
No one bothered to deadhead it immediately after bloom. It was only a few plants on the back edge of rather relaxed landscape, so was easy to ignore. By the time the dried floral stalks were noticed and removed, the seed had already been tossed. Consequently, there were many more of them through this last season, both in the same area, and in adjacent parts of the landscape.
In fact, there were too many to ignore when their floral spikes had finished blooming. I deadheaded them myself so that I could collect the dried floral carcasses in a small bucket. Some seed had already been tossed for next year. Nonetheless, there is enough dust-like seed in the bottom of the bucket to share with other landscapes. I intend to sow it just prior to winter storms.
So, this unidentified seed should be an asset to the landscapes.
Generally, that is how they are. Almost all perennial pea flowers bloom with the same bright purplish pink color of the bloom in the picture below. That is, of course, before their pods develop, but you get the point. We sort of know what to expect from them.
As I mentioned in the ‘Six on Saturday‘ post last week, from which the picture below originated, variants like the pink bloom in the picture above are sometimes observed. The rare clear white flowers are my favorites. There might be fluffier double flowers too; although, in my opinion, the single flowers are prettier and look more like pea flowers should look.
I also mentioned last week that, although perennial pea has a sneaky way of growing where it is not wanted, it typically does not grow reliably from seed sown intentionally where it might actually be desirable. I have tried. The seed just did not cooperate. I managed to get a few to grow, but only because I put out a few hundred to compensate for the expected minimal rate of germination.
Because I like the white so much, I took seed from a vine that had bloomed with single white flowers. I figured that they would be more likely to produce a few white blooming progeny. I would have been satisfied if only a single vine in a group of several bloomed white, but got only a few vines that all bloomed with the typical bright purplish pink. They were pretty nonetheless, but were ironically removed when the site was redeveloped.
I also collected seed from vines that bloomed with the common single bright purplish pink flowers, just in case the viability rate of their seed might somehow be better. They were sown into a different situation, so even if I happened to know how many of the seed that were sown germinated and grew, it would not be an accurate comparison. Regardless, I was no more impressed with the result. Perennial pea is best appreciated as weed.
Pampas grass, blue gum eucalyptus, giant reed, broom and Acacia dealbata are some of the best examples of the worst naturalized exotic species. They were imported for a variety of reasons or by accident, and now proliferate aggressively in the wild. With few of the pathogens they contend with in their respective native homelands, they have unfair advantages over locally native flora.
Such naturalization is a serious problem for native fauna as well. Monarch butterflies that swarm to the bloom of blue gum eucalyptus are amazing to observe, but are being distracted from native flora that rely on them for pollination. Both native and exotic rodents proliferate unnaturally within the protection of thickets of naturalized English ivy, and consume too many seed from other plants.
Fortunately, there is a difference between naturalization and sustainability. Many exotic yuccas can survive quite nicely in chaparral regions without irrigation or other intervention, but are unable to disperse seed and truly naturalize without the particular species of moth that are their exclusive pollinators in their respective native homelands. Cultivars of pampas grass are ‘supposedly’ sterile.
Some plants that seem to naturalize do not proliferate or migrate enough to become aggressively invasive or truly naturalized. That is why daffodil can be planted on roadsides to bloom annually, and hopefully multiply somewhat, but does not spread far from where initially planted. In fact, it is unfortunately less likely to naturalize, and more likely to slowly diminish through several years here.
Many plants that proliferate within the cultivation of our home gardens and landscapes will not migrate far from where they they get regular watering. Even after fancier and more colorful varieties revert to their most basic feral forms, they are delightful weeds that are more often left to bloom wherever they appear. Those that appear where they are not wanted are easy enough to eradicate.
These include sweet alyssum, forget-me-not, four-o’-clock, campion, cosmos and nasturtium.
Rarely planted but often found where the wildflowers grow, rose campion, Silene coronaria, has a way of sneaking in like California poppy or sweet alyssum do. It is so rarely planted that young plants are rarely available in nurseries. Seed is somewhat more available in nurseries, and quite available online. Although they self sow freely if allowed to go to seed, they are not really invasive.
The velvety gray foliage is pretty alone, and becomes a perfect backdrop for the surprisingly bright magenta, regal red or pure white flowers that bloom through early summer. Most of the foliage forms low mounds not much more than a foot wide, while flowering stems stand almost twice as tall. Flowers are ideal for cutting. Hummingbirds enjoy magenta and red flowers more than white.
Individual plants can last for a few years as short term perennials, but because they seed profusely enough to replace themselves annually, they are often grown as annuals, and pulled up before new seedlings appear. Those who last for a second year should probably be groomed. If seedlings are crowded, some can be pulled up and relocated while young. Rose campion wants full sun.
Of course, to the plants who do it, naturalizing is an advantage. To the rest of us, it is often a problem. The advantage to the plants who do it is that they move into new territory, make themselves at home, and probably do quite well with the new place. The disadvantage to everyone else is that naturalizing plants may not play well with others, and consequently interfere with the ecosystem.
Most of the naturalizing plants whom we are aware of are aggressively invasive exotic (non-native) specie, such as Acacia dealbata, pampas grass, blue gum, broom and reed. They move in and compete with or exclude native vegetation. Some might interfere with native fauna as well. (All those monarch butterflies who swarm blue gum are ignoring specie who rely on them for pollination.)
Locally native plants can not naturalize because they are naturally there already. Therefore, all plants who naturalize are exotic. However, not all naturalized exotic specie are aggressively invasive. Some who can not survive without irrigation in the local chaparral climate may never get farther than being a weed in landscaped areas. Some bulbs may not spread from where they are planted.
Rose campion, sweet alyssum, cosmos, forget-me-not, four-o’-clock and nasturtium can replace themselves faster than they die out, but only where they get enough water. Some of the seedlings are likely to appear in situations where they are not wanted. Some might grow into situations where they might be desirable. There is no shame in allowing the desirable ones to continue growing.
Many of the most extensively bred garden varieties eventually revert to something more similar to their ancestors. For example, most of the fancier modern varieties of nasturtium, after a few generations, will bloom with more of the basic yellow and orange than they did when they were new. Eventually, almost all flowers will be yellow or orange. Such seedlings are known as ‘feral’, because they are more similar to the wild ancestry of nasturtium, than to the genetically unstable modern variety that was originally sown.