Monday, November 14, 2011

Dragons in the garden...the Dragon Arum anyway!

Time slips by almost imperceptibly, but it slips by. Some time in the 1990's I was working in the Rock Alpine Garden and a couple from Arkansas struck up a conversation...somehow the topic of the Dragon Arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) came up: this widespread Mediterranean is sold by mail order nurseries nowadays, but back then it was a sort of mythical plant that was not available commercially anywhere. The picture cannot begin to convey how elegant the leaves are, and how immense and striking the flowers are as well: they both can be nearly 2' long! Steve Marak asked if we'd grown it yet: well sort of! We'd gotten some seed that year form a European botanical garden and were nursing the plant along. He said he thought had a particularly hardy strain. It may have been a year or two later, even, but Steve eventually sent us a box full of a dozen or so fat roots late one summer. I planted these with some trepidation...worried I (or Colorado's fierce winters rather!) might destroy them...

Well, I believe every corm lived, and most bloomed the next year or so. Nowadays, every June we have quite a spectacle. I have counted a dozen open simultaneously (you have to be courageous to get close enough to count accurately because they stink to high heaven!)...Dare Bohlander planted white Gas Plant among them: they do overlap in bloom time and the contrast is more than stunning.

As I was sorting through this summer's pix I noticed I finally got a passable picture of that outrageous seedhead they produce: I have a dozen or so super pix of the plant at my work computer of course...the one above was taken last June and is passable, I think. Almost a half year has elapsed since they bloomed, and hard to believe in half a year the spring time will be slipping away again.

By the way, by the time Steve's Dracunculus were blooming, the ones we grew from seed started to bloom as well: they are both rather green leaved forms. There are wonderfully striped and stippled leaf forms out there, and even an albino! Dan Johnson purchased bulbs, and his are self sowing in his front yard (I believe there are seedlings showing up here and there at the Gardens as well): obviously the plant is suited to Colorado!

Another year has slipped by, and though we have grown these for almost two decades, I keep forgetting to get some for my garden, even though they are not expensive (and I could doubtless beg some seedlings from Dan).

Look at that spadix! We probably had ten like that. I did remember to collect a bit of seed: but why haven't I suggested we grow lots of it for our plant sales? Why haven't I sown it myself? Are we so sated, so glutted that we allow wonderful, alluring and strange plants like this to languish beneath our noses? I confess, I haven't quite figured out where to put this at home: it is a monster if not an out and out dragon, and one must place smelly (if glorious) things like this with a bit of care...

But truth be said, we have had an enormous influx of hundreds of exquisite ornamentals in our local industry, at the Gardens and sometimes it gets challenging to find a way to shoehorn them all into a garden, even a sizeable one like mine...

I remember seeing this along the roadsides in Greece in April of 1994 (my last trip there): it grows near both my parents villages and lots of other places as well...another compelling reason for me to get it!

I am beginning to compile my lists of acquisitions for the coming year and this will be near the top of the list.

I know Steve frequently haunts cyberspace and might stumble on this some day...and if you do, know you were absolutely right. This is one of our most spectacular plantings in bloom or in majestic seed! Thanksgiving is nigh, and I am indeed thankful to Steve Marak! And to my lucky stars!


  1. Awesome. At first I thought this post might be about Dracocephalum, a wonderful rock-garden genus, but this Dracunculus post is inspiring... I must grow this dragon someplace.

    Mark McD.

  2. Remind me next summer, Mark,and maybe we can get another batch from Steve for both of us! Dracunculus actually is "little dragon": a bit of a misnomer since this is anything but little! I do love the dragonHEADS as well. I shall have to see what pix I have in the poke for these and blog thereunto soon! Hope your garden is recovering! I shuddered when I ready your post about your snow.

  3. Ah yes...if only we had room for EVERYTHING we wanted!!!