Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bokhara Fritillary

I doubt if it actually grows in the city of Bokhara. Maybe in the foothills nearby. For someone with a life long fascination with Central Asia, certain epithets reverberate and shimmer: kokandica, seravshcanica, bucharica, ferghanica, turkestanica and more all summon images of the heart of Asia. I have often imagined the glint on the golden domes of Samarkand, the shifting sands of the many deserts, the dull glow of a distant snowy peak on an overcast day. Central Asia is the American West on steroids (and the American West is big enough with five hundred mountain ranges). Our floras are twinned, the climate, ecology and landforms echo back and forth. But the depth and complexity of Asia, even just Central Asia, brings new nuance to Old World.

This past summer I spent three weeks in Central Asia: two weeks in Kazakhstan and a week in westernmost Mongolia: hard to believe I haven't blogged on this yet. It has taken months and months to sort through and organize my images and thoughts.

Along the path of my fascination with this part of the world, certain plants like the Incarvillea in my last post, and this Fritillaria have fanned the flames of my ardor. Fritillaria bucharica is one of relatively few white flowered fritillaries (most of the genus comes in strange, dark, brooding colors or else yellow and rarely red or orange). There are common white forms of the commonest European species: F. meleagris: these are pleasing enough, although just a tiny bit, well, dowdy. There is a strange white species sold occasionally in commerce which I've grown (but not bloomed) for a few years: F. involucrata: To my astonishment, it grew practically everywhere we stopped in the far eastern Kazakh steppe: it should be a fabulous plant for Colorado gardens judging by where it grew. We collected thousands of seeds, so this should one day be a commonplace.

But what of the subject of this blog? There are plants that flit and plants that sit and plants that tantalize and taunt. This is a tease of a plant: One of Britain's great bulb growers sent dozens of young bulbs (unsolicited by the way) of this lovely species fifteen or so years ago I planted here and there all over my last garden on Eudora. He had overproduced them and was curious how they would do. I'm talking fifty, maybe a hundred bulbs. This is the sort of dream gift that blesses those of us who pursue a hobby to ridiculous lengths. I've probably had a hundred gifts on this order--maybe more: they're the Christmas events of our lives...what do you do with a hundred relatively tiny bulbs? I tucked them here and there and everywhere in my Eudora garden. It took a few years for them to begin blooming. And bloom they did. They have grown and prospered and put on quite a show. This picture depicts a few of them one splendiferous year. And then we came to sell that house: It was early spring--how do you move a garden with two thousand kinds of plants? Of course you don't: the new owners bought the garden as much as the house. But you move what you can. I moved as many of this frit as I could locate that early in the game (I left plenty behind). And moved they did. This past spring they started blooming well at my Quince home.

But neither here nor at Eudora did they ever set a single seedpod. Huge plants boasting a mass of blooms, looking and growing well. No seed, no progeny in this case...I don't think it multiplies sufficiently to divide.

So I am left with as many plants as I was sent, only with the occasional attrition (mostly due to my slicing this or that bulb in the summer or fall as I plant something new on top of them)...

Perhaps some day I will figure out how to pollinate them: surely that's the hitch. Meanwhile, every April I relish and admire these steely white bells that ring a bit of Central Asian music in my garden.

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