Spring Flowers (article)

Spring Flowers (article)

by Arcangelo Wessells

I took a class in making paper flowers. I loved it. But it still couldn’t put a dent in my obsession with seeds. Robin had a great idea that I should make paper flowers of the plants whose seeds I wanted to buy. This, in theory, would stimulate my creative expression and slow my acquisitive tendencies. I made Brachysiphon fucatus, but then I couldn’t get the seeds.

We got married at City Hall in San Francisco in 2013. Six guests were allowed. I made paper corsages for the guests and one for a dear friend. I also made Robin’s bouquet, a paper Pelargonium endlicherianum. It took two and a half years to bloom, and is just sending up its flower spikes now, at the end of May.

Right next to it is Eriophyllum confertiflorum, Golden Yarrow. I had always admired this plant, scattered among the rocks of  the Serpentine Grassland of Ring Mountain in Tiburon. The form that grows there and throughout the Bay Area, is a low shrub about eight to twelve inches high, with a spread of two to three feet. Its foliage is not as flawless as a grey Santolina, but they share an unwillingness to grow upright. They are woody, but the wood lays flat on the ground, sending up annual stems that eventually become more prostrate. The leaves are small and finely lobed, not as threadlike as Artemisia californica, but still soft and lacy to the eyes. The local form is Eriophyllum confertiflorum var. confertiflorum.

Throughout the state there are two other varieties and geographical differences as well, and some of the forms have thicker, greener foliage. Golden Yarrow becomes covered with tiny yellow sunflowers at the end of May. As it is aptly named, flowerheads are presented in dense clusters just over an inch across. It makes for excellent bee watching on a warm afternoon, although that is a rare occurrence on Ring mountain. Many species of native bees, hoverflies and smaller butterflies are attracted to its nectar and pollen.

Golden Yarrow and developing Pelargonium buds

The first Golden Yarrow to appear in my yard was a surprise. The seed must have been tossed out or arrived with some serpentine rocks. It planted itself right on the edge of a concrete wall, and has started to spill over the edge after three years. It gets full sun from spring through fall, but passes the winter in full shade when the sun dips down and our house casts a shadow over part of the garden. I had another plant in a hotter spot, and although it slowly died away, it contributed to a good crop of seeds that were not collected. It self sows, but plants take two years to bloom, so it is easy to choose who gets to stay. My plants are all in average soil, perhaps with some sand and gravel added for drainage. They have a three inch layer of serpentine, which acts more as a fast draining mulch than anything else, It adds some mystique to the garden and unfortunately, is very popular nesting medium for earwigs.

The offspring are acting as lovely filler and provide a bit of shade for a few even smaller plants that are getting established in the barrens. One of these plants is Pelargonium endlicherianum.

Most of the 250 species of Pelargonium come from Southern Africa, especially in the winter rainfall area of the Western Cape, but there are also species from East Africa and Yemen, Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. While most Pelargoniums are not very frost
hardy, the two species from Turkey are very cold tolerant plants. Pelargonium endlicherianum is from the Taurus mountains of Southern Turkey and Northern Syria, and extends Northward towards Georgia. It seems to grow at 4,000 to 5,000 feet. Most rock gardening sources say it occurs naturally on limestone, but it is documented to grow on serpentine as well.

Most every description of P. endlicherianummentions two or three things: it dislikes winter wet; it needs hot dry summers to survive; and that it needs winter cold to bloom well. I have chosen to ignore the recommendations about winter wet. Last winter was dry and warm, while this year was wet but not extremely cold, but the plants seemed indifferent. They are in sunny situations and the soil has improved drainage. In some parts of their range, the heaviest rainfall occurs in May. I have been irrigating them once every two weeks, and they are planted at the base of rocks (and an Eriophyllum) to keep the roots cool. Pelargonium endlicherianum makes a woody caudex which some growers expose above ground. This may occur naturally as the plants grow on crumbling stony banks.

Pelargonium flowers (left) and the paper bouquet (right)

Besides growing on serpentine, Pelargonium endlicherianum has large showy flowers held up on strong stems. The basal leaves are fairly round and grey green, with crenate margins. While not exactly quilted, they have a muscled undulation to them. The leaves are just over an inch across. The flowering stem has a few cauline leaves that are reduced in size but are more strongly dentate.

The basal leaves are only about four inches tall, but the stems can be eighteen inches high. The flowers are interesting in that the upper two petals are very big, and bright magenta, while the other three petals are reduced to about the size of a pinhead.

Pelargonium endlicherianum can be found at Geraniaceae.com and many nurseries that specialize in Alpines. Seed can also be obtained from Alplains.com, an excellent source for wild collected seeds of Western North American plants, including Alpines, California native plants, and Cacti.

Eriophyllum confertiflorum is available from many growers, including Watershed Nursery in Richmond.


This article was originally published in our June 2017 Bulletin.