11 September 2007

Calochortus

I imagine that anyone who knows that they are interested in Calochortus has already ordered the new Calochortus book. Information on this genus has been hard to come by, with the exception of Frank Callahan's excellent review in Bulbs of North America. If you have held back for some reason, don't: this is a superb example of the genre I call the lay monograph, with a detailed description of the morphology, habitat, cultural information (rather limited for many of these rare plants), and publication history of all 73 species. There is a discussion of the first phylogenetic analyses of the genus, and even biographical sketches of the men (and a few women) who discovered and described these plants, which forms a short history of the botany of Western North America.

But will it interest those of you who don't already know you want to grow Calochortus? The book is worth it for Ron Parsons's 175 outstanding photographs, largely in situ. The only reasonable complaint is that these are mostly printed too small. Of course, pretty pictures of plants we can't grow don't normally top the list of the gardener's expenditures.

So why not try them?* The authors admit: "plants of this genus are much more challenging than common bulbs." For the majority of species, this is an understatement, especially in areas with summer rainfall. But the biggest problem is the difficulty of procuring most of these plants, even from seed.

The briefest glance at this book is going to make you throw caution to the wind and give it shot. These are crazy flowers, incredibly intricate and variable and beautiful (usually -- some species are frankly hideous). For obvious reasons, the easier species are easier to come by; anyone who can keep a pot dry in summer should try C. superbus or C. venustus. Get them at Brent and Becky's or Telos -- which has the best selection of species available anywhere.

And while you're waiting for your book, the flickr Calochortus group will give you an idea of what you're in for.

*The title of Kline's Calochortus article in the 1990 NARGS Bulletin. I stole it because it reminded me of America.

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3 Comments:

Blogger lisa said...

Sounds like a fun challenge! But keeping a pot dry? Heh...I doubt that I could really do it!

9/14/2007 8:24 AM  
Blogger Ki said...

I grew some a couple of years back in NJ and they actually bloomed but didn't come back the following year.I planted them in the high spot on a berm but even if it drained well, I think it was still too wet during the summer for the bulbs to survive. Very beautiful flowers though so I'm sad to lose them.

11/01/2007 6:36 AM  
Blogger mmw said...

I honestly think they'd be easy in a pot if you just stuck it in the basement/garage June-October. I know Jim McKenney grows several species in Maryland, probably in a bulb frame....

11/01/2007 12:46 PM  

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