Tuesday, July 16, 2013

America's great unknown alpines part one...Collomia!

Collomia debilis
To paraphrase Geoffrey Charlesworth, it's more important to have taken pictures than to merely have grown a plant. I have grown my share of collomias--a wonderful small genus in the Phlox family restricted to Western America (and just maybe South America too)...the one above originating in Idaho. It came to me as Collomia debilis ssp. trifidus--although Botanists have been busy lumping the subspecies into the generic species lately....I believe I grew this from seed sent to me by Betty Lowry: we're talking several decades ago! I'm glad I got the picture then--I kept it a year or two and it melted away...

Collomia larsenii
I have never grown the even more congested form of this wonderful plant from alpine heights on the Pacific coast--but these two shots should convince you that this is one of America's great alpines, with wonderful variation in color...

Collomia larsenii
All forms of this Collomia seem to grow on steep screes: "soboliferous" is the term used by botanists to characterize these plants. I have noticed that sobiliferous alpines are densely glandular and often intensely aromatic--often plants in different plant families can smell the same and have the same sticky hairs! And the seed seems to germinate sporadically in scree plants--who knows why?

Collomia ipomoea
This is the form predominating in Wyoming and Utah--a wonderful pink with longer trumpets. I have had the most success with this--perhaps because of its lower latitude and altitude...
Collomia ipomoea
These are all images scanned by Ann Frazier, a volunteer at Denver Botanic Gardens: I have not encountered this plant in either the wild nor in gardens since I switched to digital. I intend to be passing through its range in the next few weeks--and hope I can bring back a bounty of seed so I can see once again if these can be tamed a bit more permanently...
 There are other collomias--many of them annuals--well worth growing as well, but these three variations on the theme of debilis are the queens of the genus--and possibly three of the most promising wild flowers that still elude our gardens!


  1. What a great collection for the rock garden.

  2. I just saw a large colony of these growing with Penstemon montanus on the Timpanogos massif here in the Wasatch. Want it and want it bad. I'll post some pics soon.


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