Sunday, February 20, 2011

Candid comments

I wish I could say these clumps of Sternbergia candida were taken in my garden. The plant is indeed blooming today in my garden, but with only one flower per clump...but my clumps do look happy! The picture above was taken by Bill Adams of his Methusalah. My picture of the same plant a few days earlier is below (where it belongs!). I have no doubt the plants look just about the same this year, and I am publishing these for several reasons: first of all because I am going to copy this posting to Bill to remind him to divide the rascal this summer. When plants get this big and congested, they are apt to rot. And more importantly, I have a pretty good hunch that Bill has a goodly proportion of all the Sternbergia candida in cultivation in his clumps! It would be good to spread the bounty around (particularly since he is a nurseryman!)...I know people who would cheerfully spend $20 for a good bulb of that plant, in which case he's sitting on a small fortune... [ did the trick: he sent me the picture above and a note saying he promised to propagate this summer!]. Read on, however!

Yet another picture of Bill's marvellous Amaryllid. In case you are not aware, this is a plant that has quite an interesting history in cultivation: it was only discovered and described a few decades ago (restricted to a rather small area near Fethiye in Southwesternmost Turkey). Not long after it was found, a large proportion (it was feared that all) of the wild plants were mysteriously transported to Holland. Not soon thereafter draconian measures were enacted worldwide to stem to trade in wild bulbs (the despoliation of this plant likely being one of the reasons)...incidentally wild bulbs are still dug on a fairly large scale for commercial purposes in many countries. And lelt me underscore: that's not always a bad thing. Although what was done to this bulb was unquestionably criminal in my opinion.

I once wrote a dramatic account of how I was given several boxes of "Sternbergia lutea" at season's end by the late Gordon Koon of Englewood Garden Center (that operation has been defunct for decades, so we are talking the 1980's)...Over the following years those sternbergias mostly morphed into Sternbergia candida, although quite a few S. clusiana turned up in the mix as well. I know that in the Denver area alone, hundreds of sternbergia continue to be dumped at season's end every year by garden centers who never sell that many of this plant that's so poorly known to gardeners locally. I suspect this scenario plays out in hundreds of cities and towns across America, and who knows how many other countries: it takes a strange sort of intelligence to mourn the loss of plants like this: my own peculiar genius I guess...

I would like to know how many Sternbergia candida were simply trashed back in the 1980's when the big Dutch firms decided they'd pass off their collected sternbergias as "S. lutea" since a plant as rare as this white gem would never pass muster as a commercial item in the short term. At least that's the scenario I surmise...I could be wrong! Maybe those who collect Sternbergia lutea in Turkey just mistook the foliage of the white one for the commoner species as they collected for the export market? Very possibly. I doubt we shall ever know for sure.

I have read that more colonies of S. candida have been found in the wild unbeknownst to collectors, and perhaps the original colonies have regenerated from seed by now. That some day I may discover. And the novelty of this gem is somewhat faded. More importantly, at least one gardener in Pueblo is growing it superbly. (And most importantly, it seems to like my garden too!).

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