Sunday, October 15, 2017

Spikethrift envy: a little interlude

Acantholimon ulicinum (graecum) on Mt. Tymphristos
While I sift through and organize my images for a re-visit to Gothenburg, I thought I'd revisit a plant I saw there: Acantholimon "ulicinum"--a large complex of species really which I call spikethrift*...This time of year it seems as though more and more Denverites (and Americans generally) are placing pots of muffin-shaped Chrysanthemums in pots on their front stoops--in lieu of marble lions, perhaps? These mums have been painstakingly bred to a dense, mounding form like THIS below:

This "pulvinate" cushion form that so many alpine plants achieve without even trying very hard! My favorite cushion plants (although I advise you not to try using them as cushions--more like pincushions!) are found from Albania to Central Asia. We have a substantial collection at Denver Botanic Gardens, but they are not terribly fond of my home garden where I only have a few. One that has proved especially captious for us--but seems to be surprisingly widespread in European botanic gardens. I was very lucky to see it several places in north central Greece in the summer of 2015 where these pictures are taken. In many floras of Greece, the Greek spikethrifts are now split into three species (A. androsaceum, A. echinus and A. graecum). They certainly look very different from the A. ulicinum I saw on Ulu Dag and Kaz dag...which we'll get around to anon.

Acantholimon ulicinum (graecum)
A closer look at the Greek spikethrift in the first picture: they're charming in bloom--and just as fetching in silvery seed as you will see...

Acantholimon ulicinum (graecum)
I probably have twenty pictures I took on various Greek mountains of this plant--one more fetching and amazing than the rest: I'm restraining myself with just this one from there--pretty imposing isn't it? I've only seen four or five species of spikethrift: in Pakistan in 2001 (A. lycopodioides) and in Kazakhstan in 2009 and 2010 (Acantholimon albertii and another species) and of course ulicinum complex (possibly 3 subspecies/species) in Greece and Turkey. Which leaves one or two hundred more in Turkey, Iran and the Stans I may not get around to visiting in this life...but have compensated by growing dozens of species in cultivation. This is, of course, the most westerly--and is found (sometimes classed as Acantholimon androsaceum) on Crete where my parents were born--and where I have yet to see it!
Acantholimon ulicinum at Royal Horticultural Society's garden at Wisley
I was astonished to see this enormous specimen at R.H. S. Wisley last April--and regretted t wouldn't see the flowers...I was wrong!

Same plant on a Chinese Website (
You can imagine my delight when I stumbled on this image taken from likely the same spot the same year by a Chinese visitor and posted on the fantastic website I noted above...computers do have a way of complementing (as well as complicating) life!

Acantholimon ulicinum (graecum)
And here is the killer clump at the botanic garden at Gothenburg I also showed on my last blog post!

Acantholimon trojanum (A. ulicinum)
For a while I grew its segregate (usually lumped with ulicinum now)--A. trojanum endemic to Kaz Dag--the ancient Mt. Ida near Troy.

Acantholimon trojanum (A. ulicinum)
The Betty Ford Alpine Garden has done much better with this--here's a plant a meter across I photographed last summer--in ripe seed!

Acantholimon trojanum (A. ulicinum)
I have used this picture at least one other time on the blog--but it's my most fetching shot from a whole hillside of these on Kaz Dag I photographed in July of 2015 in Turkey: one of the most enchanting alpines imaginable. I imagine you'd agree?
Acantholimon ulicinum
And I end with this shot I took at the astonishing and brilliant garden at the University of Wurzburg in Germany: I had always prided myself on how well we grow Acantholimon in Denver--we have some stunning cushions at Denver Botanic Gardens and I had a mound covered with them at my old house (they're not as fond as my current house, alas!). But this is the finest display I have seen everywhere of this most amazing of European cushion plants. Now put a few of these in front of your house and you'll never have to buy another Chrysanthemum , Dendranhemum or mum!

*Spikethrift as a common name for Acantholimon hasn't really caught on: perhaps you can help me popularize it. I have also seen them called prickly thrift--and they are closely related to Armeria (sea thrift) which they rather resemble--especially Armeria caespitosa from Spain--which is also prickly!.Despite the fact that most acamtholimons are rather sharp to the touch, they're being grown in more and more alpine gardens worldwide--and they're a staple in Colorado rock gardens: they NEED a common name!


  1. I have one Acantholimon in my little rock garden. I was able to grow one plant of A. hohenackeri from the seed you sent me four years ago. The plant is less than three inches across now. I think this was the first year it bloomed. I wonder if they grow faster after they get bigger. If not, those plants in your photos must be really old.

  2. Each picture is better than the last except for the horrid mum. The mum makes me think of getting red roses for Valentine's Day. Impersonal and mass produced. I also like the fact that the first image in this post and the last post look lovely together when they come up on your blog when it loads.

  3. Great! This flowers looks nice. And photo is great. clear picture .


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