Saturday, December 14, 2013

MORE Danger! Spikethrift alert!

Acantholimon venustum

You may not be overly impressed with this on first glance--acantholimons (like cacti) you get "stuck" on over time. They start off innocently enough, like little tufts of dianthus...and grow and grow. Many people think they're just prickly dianthus until you point out the papery texture of the flower, and they see the resemblance to other thrifts. I have called them spikethrifts as a common name--which doesn't seem to have caught on. Or how about "prickly thrift". Of course, most people aren't aware that thrift is a common name for Armeria, ("sea thrift" which grows wild at 13,000' in Colorado!)--and these are very much like very prickly armeria. You may or may not have noticed that I adopted the generic name of spikethrifts as my avatar. That's how much I like them!
Acantholimon araxanum
I grew them exuberantly and well once at the Rock Alpine Garden (where Mike Kintgen has assembled a wonderful collection--and they continue to impress). The one above slipped through our net, however. I don't think we grow it any more, although it is very close to Acantholimon caryophyllaceum and also A. armenum, both of which are still around. This color and form I'd say is pretty much par for the course in the genus. Pink was the color of choice ten or twenty years ago--nowadays it's rather passé--which means I can revel in it (I find fashion annoying).

Acantholimon glumaceum
This is the workhorse of the genus: I saw huge mats of this in various gardens throughout Scandinavia and Central Europe last spring--it tolerates lots of water. But we can grow it unwatered in Colorado. I have not one but TWO vast mats of this in my rock garden which refuse to bloom. How annoying is that?

Acantholimon litwinowii
This may not impress you much, but it is much more loveable in person (or should I say "in leaf") I obtained seed of this through Index Seminum from a botanic garden in the former Soviet Union and have grown it ever since. Like glumaceum, this tolerates more water (those are alpine gentians and drabas it's growing with). This plant gets bigger and bigger with time, and the silvery lavender flowers are very fetching. It can also take it dry. 

Acantholimon lycopodioides
I remember as we crossed over Babusar Pass (over 4000 m.) in our jeeps a week or so after the fateful 9-11 (Babusar Pass is in the Pakistan Himalayas) I peered down a steep slope that plummeted thousands of feet, and it was humped with innumerable dark mounds that were undoubtedly this--some of them a meter across. It was snowing hard, and the driver refused to stop. I later got a closeup of it on an outcrop, the base of which was apparently the latrine of choice for the sizeable village nearby (need I say more?). I did not linger. This is not the closeup--this was in my garden. The closeup is still a transparency I must have scanned...

Acantholimon hohenakeri (back) Acantholimon gloumaceum (front)
This is my old front yard on Eudora, where these persist and have persisted for decades (and shall probably persist for some time to come) since they thrive in Colorado with no care. I miss them terribly (my new garden doesn't grow them nearly as well).
Acantholimon trojanum
Here is one I CAN grow, that must presumably come from Western Turkey, near the ancient Illium. It must be very close to Acantholimon ulicinum. Which is a synonym of Acantholimon androsaceum, which grows on the crags around the village where my paternal grandfather was born (the ancestral homeland of those bearing my surname, as a matter of fact in the Sfakia). I have sadly never been there, although I hope to go there in fifteen months--when this should, in fact, be blooming. If you are a real rock gardener, click on this link and you will be wafted to the heights of Crete and see what I mean..and why I love these so.
Acantholimon bracteatum var. capitatum
Here is the wonderful capitate headed species that comes from northeastern Turkey--gracing my garden now. 
Acantholimon spp. at Dare Bohlander's house
A friend of mine in Littleton grows acantholimons the way I wish I could: it is a stunning display when they are in bloom, believe me.

Acantholimon ulicinum at University of Wurzburg Botanic Garden
I am just a tad annoyed that the most magnificent display of acantholimons in cultivation today is at a botanic garden in the heart of Germany. Frankly, it's just plain WRONG that they grow these so wonderfully well (not to mention acres and acres of other treasures--one more rare and wonderful than the rest.) Some day I shall have to do a series of blogs on my magical visit to Wurzburg last May: their alpine collections--like those at Gothenburg, Kew, Edinburgh (and a handful of Central European botanic gardens I shan't list now) are really to die for.
Perhaps Larry Vickerman--who with the help of Lauren and Scott Ogden as designers, and with the magical touch of Emilee Vanderneut as gardener have created the most stunning Prairie gardens around the Chatfield Visitor's center...perhaps Larry, with a lot of help from Dan Johnson and the amazing team at York Street (and a few more gardeners to help Emilee as long as I'm dreaming), can design an awesome Steppe Garden to outshine Wurzburg at our gorgeous and wonderful site at Chatfield...these are the sort of daydreams that keep me chugging away....  
Signed wistfully..."Acantholimon"


  1. Hi Panayoti, This is one of those great rock garden genera that are on my list but are not yet represented in my garden. Another genus that I do not currently have in my garden is Saxifraga. Honestly, I think the sheer number of saxifrage varieties intimidates me. How could I ever pick among so many choices, but I digress. Regarding Acantholimon, would you suggest starting plants from seed or purchasing from a nursery? Your photos are inspiring. I'm surprised other readers have not given you praise by the time I posted this comment.


  2. People are very busy, James, especially at Christmas. But I do appreciate your feedback: Blogger lists the hits (and even the countries they come from and the type of computer used!)--so I know that there's lots of traffic on my site--which is why I continue to post of course...There are not too many nurseries that sell Acntholimons--so if you are serious you have to just plunk down some cash. Seed is notoriously unviable: few have plants that set fertile seed in their gardens. My old garden would often have very high viability seed-- I used to get very good seed some years in my old garden. I haven't tested his year's to see: perhaps you can test some for me?

    1. Hi Panayoti, If you send me some seed I will sow it and report back any results. I sow most all my seeds with outside treatment. With some species, it is a year or two before I get any germination.


  3. James, if you live in Denver I believe you can find Acantholinum at the April Rock Garden Sale, april 26 at the Botanic Gardens.

    1. Thank you for the information. Unfortunately, I live all the way across the plains from Denver in a suburb of Chicago, IL. The Chicago area seems to be void of any organized rock gardening. I would have to travel to Milwaukee or eastern Michigan to find a concentration of people dedicated to rock gardening. This is not to say people do not make good use of rock in landscaping locally. There are many wonderful examples that would be great rock gardens if only plants were added.


  4. There are a couple of mail order groups like Arrowhead Alpines , or Wrightmans Alpines that carry wonderfull varieties . Plan accordingly , these will grow from base ball size plants to basket ball size in a very short time .

  5. Hi Panayoti,
    Other than seed is there any other way to propagate Acantholinum?? Will they root using root hormone ?? Thanks Domenique

  6. It is possible to do some Acantholimons from cutting or layering--but it takes a while and it's not turnkey. Seed is prolific, and some years, some places it is very viable and you can get enormous numbers of seedlings--which take off gangbusters. Trouble is, if you grow a few species you are apt to get hybrids with time. The Czechs collect many Acantholimons in Turkey and Central Asia, and these are true to type (if not to name!).Beaver Creek Greenhouse also offers many kinds most years, and Laporte and Sunscapes have both offered them too.


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