Monday, July 8, 2013

Even Farrer nods: a deceptive dragonhead...and convoluted tale!

Dracocephalum nutans in the Altai of Mongolia
 How irresistible! Such a compact, tiny morsel! Farrer would approve--albeit he did conflate the Southern Hemisphere Epacrid genus Dracophyllum with the Labiate Dracocephalum in the English Rock Garden a charming if astonishing solecism. Long before I photographed this wonderful miniature rendition of this extremely widespread dragonhead I had grown it for many years...

Dracocephalum nutans in Waunakee
 Here is that self-same morsel, growing in Wisconsin (in a garden I happened to have gotten married in--another story that). I must have sent Marlyn Sachtjen a packet of seed of this dracocephalum not long after I'd gotten it from Vera Komarkova (you really should click on that URL to find out who she was...)

Dracocephalum nutans at Denver Botanic Gardens ca.1988

Here were some of the original plants of the Dracocephalum I ever grew--in a garden built by Josef Halda a year or two before. Josef (likewise Czech) knew Vera (both mountain climbers). In most ways their differences were as profound as the difference between the tiny Altai version and the ordinary phase of this vigorous biennial...

You will have to take it on trust that the miniature in the first frame is the same as these latter two: I saw enough large nutans in the Altai to confirm my determination. It is amazing indeed that the same taxon can grow over such a vast area as all the Himalaya, the Tien Shan and the Altai--an area larger than the Continental USA, I'm quite sure. And be quite uniform throughout. But as we hiked over many many miles, I would see this taxon shrink and in the crevices of rocks I'd notice that it was no longer monocarpic. I suspect that if I should grow it again (and why not? It produces bushels of seed and grows over thousands of miles--we shall have another chance!) I shall sow seed into tiny crevices where I'll bet it will be dwarfed, become perennial, and enchant as much as the first picture...

Although there's nothing wrong with the robust monocarpic monster--except that we lost it..

We have lost much: Vera is long gone (she collected the seed originally high in the Arun valley near Mt. Everest). She not only mapped the entire ecology of the high Rockies near Denver, but climbed mountains across the world in her short, glorious life. Marlyn Sachtjen lived to be quite elderly, gardening on five acres on a Homeric scale for decades. But she too is gone, as is Mary Ann Heacock--Colorado's grand dame of horticulture who passed away a few years ago at nearly 100--whom I have somehow incomprehensibly never blogged about (she enters in because of the plicata form of Iris lactea pictured in my last shot--it was her's). All these remarkable women have had an enormous impact on my life, and the plant that ties them all together. Another remarkable woman I know (you know who you are Susan) complains that I don't pay women their due: this blog should help make up for it!

The dracocephalums must be blooming as I type by the million--or perhaps even billion--across the highest peaks on Planet Earth. They too, like my friends, have passed through my garden, and through my life: fortunately we have pictures to remember them by (thank you Ann Frazier for scanning these last two pics so beautifully, and bringing back the whole story!).

P.S. I wonder if Reggie was ever told he'd made such a comical and egregious mistake?


  1. Are you going to PPA this year? I'd like to pick your mind about Dracos. I saw a gorgeous upright group at Goodness Grows Nsy in GA several years ago, but only learned the genus. When I saw Dracocephalum ruyschianum 'Blue Dragon' for sale from a local plug vendor, I picked it up, but it's always been fairly flat to the ground rather than the gorgeous upright towers in your pics. Any idea if D. nutans will perform in foothills of the Blue Ridge in VA? And thanks for a great blog. You always delight!

  2. Thanks, Paul, for your kind comments: I will miss PPA, alas, this year (too many trips earlier--and other commitments this month). Would really love to go: British Columbia is plant heaven.

    I have no doubt D. nutans would grow most anywhere not completely tropical. This is a large and very worthy genus, and I know it has a lot of versatility. Not nearly enough in cultivation.

  3. Perhaps old Reggie was employing a taxonomic zeugma?
    Great work again Panayoti. Dunno.

    Still working on the Draco article and will use some of this- with your permission of course- as the thing evolves.

    Great obit by Adolf Ceska. Thanks for that link too.


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