Plant Forum notes – test post #2

Plant Forum notes – test post #2

This is a test of using shortcode display-posts within another post.

Below is code intended to pull in two specific posts using their categories and tags:
Cyclamen persicum

(Here is my code:
display-posts post_status=”publish” include_content=”true” wrapper=”div” category=”plant profile”

The Curiosity
By Seán A. O’Hara

Mallorcan-potted-PelargoniumsWhile visiting the island of Mallorca, Spain, my wife and I had just arrived at a friend’s house in a village in the Serra de Tramuntana. This was our first visit and we were at once captivated by the striking view, the beautiful house and the lovely garden. While greeting our host, I found my eye drawn to an assembly of pots on her entry patio. My wife noted my distraction saying, “Yes, I saw it too – you should take a closer look later”.

20 Years Prior

While weeding a section of our previous garden, I discovered a small Pelargonium seedling. We grew various scented types in pots on a sunny, south-west facing balcony and in a few places around the garden, so this was not surprising. But something was weird about this little plant. Unsure what it might become, I potted it up and placed it in my propagation area.

My original Pelargonium graveolens seedling.

Gradually, it turned into a nice little plant with the distinctive ‘rose’ scent of P. graveolens, but the leaves looked like they were unsure about how to form themselves. As the plant grew larger, the strange character of these leaves became more pronounced and ‘set’ into little fist-like crinkled balls. Flowering was similar to P. graveolens but the flowers never fully opened, remaining as little pink ‘tubes’ and then only one or two at a time.

After a few years, I gave a cutting to our friend, Robin Parer, owner of She called it ‘genetically-challenged’ and seemed aware of another similar form already in the pelargonium trade, so I didn’t think much about it after that.

Some time later, Robin contacted me and said she had successfully propagated my plant and now had a number of stock plants! She wanted me to name it so she could start selling it! Seriously? I was glad I passed it along to her and that she thought it interesting enough to sell. I came up with a few uninspired naming ideas, but finally Robin suggested ‘Colocho’, which means ‘curly’ in Spanish (Central American). Perfect!

Pelargonium ‘Bontrosai’ patent photo

The plant Robin had mentioned as already in the trade was ‘Bontrosai’. I eventually tracked this down to Richter’s Herbs in Goodwood, Ontario, Canada near Toronto. They had trademarked the name ‘Lemon Sculpture’ for Pelargonium ‘Bontrosai’. Later I found documentation of a 2005 US patent application for ‘Bontrosai’ by Klazina Boekestijn-Vermeer of the Netherlands. I don’t know the relationship between Richter’s and Boekestijn-Vermeer and, unfortunately, Richter’s is no longer distributing their Pelargonium ‘Lemon Sculpture’ (‘Bontrosai’).

The patent document states that ‘Bontrosai’ was a chance seedling, like ‘Colocho’. Unlike ‘Colocho’, it is said to have a ‘citron’ scent (‘Colocho’ has the classic rose scent). There is even a comparison between ‘Bontrosai’ and ‘Citrosa’, a well known lemon-scented pelargonium. Also mentioned is its upright, unbranched habit. Photos depict long petioles holding the curled-up leaf well away from the stem (‘Colocho’ has shorter petioles).

Robin continues to tell me that ‘Colocho’ is one of her best selling plants! Recently, I see that this cultivar is now being picked up by various other nurseries as well (e.g. Monterey Bay Nursery). In Europe, there seem to be two similar forms being distributed as well – one rose scented like mine, one lemon scented – but both going under the same cultivar name of ‘Bontrosai’. I wondered if the distinction of their fragrance might be due to one nose vs. another, but I’ve been in on-line contact with gardeners who have grown each and they talk about other differences between the two forms.

Pelargonium ‘Bontrosai’ plant being grown in Italy, with a  rose scent (rather than lemon).

Photos found in an internet search for ‘Bonstrosai’ show two distinct plants – one upright with spaced leaves on long petioles and another more sprawling and branching with the leaves nestled closer to the stems. The latter form looks just like ‘Colocho’ and sometimes a rose-scent is mentioned.

Whether or not the European Colocho-like form is in fact the same plant that appeared in my California garden or another independent mutation is unclear, but it is certainly in the realm of possibilities. If I ever get the chance to grow one of the European forms, perhaps I’ll know more.

Back to Mallorca

When I was able to closely examine our friend’s plant, it looked exactly like my ‘Colocho’ in every way, right down to the distinct subtle rose scent. Our host was pleased to think that her plant might have come from mine as it was one of her favorites. I’ve had Pelargonium seedlings appear in our gardens many times over the years, but this was the first to exhibit this strange leaf characteristic. It seems clear that this mutation appeared at least one other time in the lemon-scented form, but perhaps there were others. Meanwhile, this curious plant certainly has an appeal to many pelargonium fanciers!

That Mysterious Plant

By Seán A. O’Hara

Danae-rootsIt must have been 25-30 years ago. I was walking home from the office through a neighborhood adjacent to Lake Merritt in Oakland. This area was once full of grand houses surrounded by equally grand gardens. Vestiges of this elegant past can occasionally be encountered and one such property was being renovated the day I happened to walk by. All of the landscape had been scraped clean and a large metal dumpster on the street contained the unfortunate former plantings. Right on top, an unusual cluster of roots caught my eye. Obviously yanked rudely from its former home, it looked relatively alive and healthy. I could not resist saving it from its fate, carrying it home.

As I planted this unknown specimen in a pot, I thought the thick, fleshy roots and short rhizome looked reminiscent of an asparagus. There were fat buds seemingly ready to bust forth, so I was hopeful as I watered it well and set it in a shady spot. Over time, whenever I checked it, the plant seemed reticent to grow even though the buds continued to show great promise. Gradually, my attention became focused on other plants and projects and this rescue remained in its shady corner.

Lateral shoots have tiny leaves and flowers that are fully formed, gradually expanding to their full size

A few months later, while tidying up my menagerie of potted plants, I discovered my adoptee again, but it was unrecognizable! Several of the buds had sprouted and elongated into a number of shiny, bright green shoots! Each shoot had rounded leaf-like scales that covered miniature leafy branches tipped with a cluster of teeny-tiny flower buds. Gradually, these tender new growths expanded into a graceful stem, with multiple leafy side laterals each terminating with a short spike of rounded cream flowers.

The soft, chartreuse-green foliage gradually hardened and became a darker green. Over time, the rounded flowers gave way to bead-like green fruits that gradually turned red, and lasted for months. Eventually, these became raisined and dark maroon. Each contained one or two round, hard seeds. Casual sowing of these seeds never germinated, so I was keen to find its identity and learn more about what it needed.

Long lasting red berries gradually shrivel, making seed harvest easy.

Next time I was able to visit a library in those pre-Internet days, I perused various botanical references. I suspected this interesting plant was related to Ruscus (butcher’s broom) and Asparagus (asparagus ferns), though I also wondered if it might be of the genus Semele.

A few years later my wife and I traveled to France for the first time. While visiting friends in the South of France, our friend Olivier wished to show me was Le Jardin des Plantes de Montpellier, France’s first botanical garden (started in 1593). During that visit, we also entered the herbarium adjacent to the garden, which contained thousands of pressed specimens dating back hundreds of years!

Created with The GIMP
Pressed specimens in the Herbarium

Seeing so many interesting and very important herbarium collections was mind boggling. I recalled various plants I was currently researching and looked at whatever specimens I could find in the collection. In one aisle, right at eye level, I happened to spot a folder labeled Ruscus, with another for Semele. Grouped with these was a folder labeled Danaë. When I opened it, to my dismay, it was empty!

Histoire-des-plantesOur allotted time evaporated far too quickly and Olivier had to physically usher me towards the exit. As he said his “Adieu” to the herbarium manager, they began a short conversation in French. While I waited, I noticed a group of books on a shelf close at hand, including a set of Histoires des Plantes (H.E. Baillon, 1892-1894). Quickly checking the index, I was able to find a entry for Ruscus (Danaë) racemosa, including a drawing that looked exactly like my plant!!

Of course, once I had this name, locating information was far easier. Apparently this species was originally placed in Ruscus but later determined to be distinct enough for its own genus: Danaë racemosa. Most descriptions of this species spent time discussing the genus name, which is from Greek mythology. It was foretold that King Acrisius’ daughter, Danaë, would give birth to a man who would kill him, so the King locked her away to protect her virginity (and himself).

Greek ceramic depicting Danaë and Zeus’ golden shower, ca. 430 BCE

nd Zeus took up the challenge by inseminating her via a “golden shower” through the roof of her enclosure. She later gave birth to Perseus who did indeed kill the King.

The genus Danaë was created in 1787 by a German physician and botanist Friedrich Medikus (1738-1808). I imagine he was inspired to reference the above mythological tale by the clusters of small creamy flowers of this species dangling from their delicate spikes, borne on a graceful cascade of foliage. The ‘ë’ in Danaë tells us to pronounce it as ‘dah-NAH-eh’, which is meant to emulate the classical Greek name of our lovely virgin.

3 year-old seedlings
Jurassicplants Nurseries, North Wales

There is nothing virginal about my plant – it bears fruit copiously each year. I have tried germinating the seed periodically but have yet to sprout a single one. Recently, I happened to see a British nursery post a photo of a group of seedling on Facebook. In on-line conversation with them I came to find out that these little plantlets are three years old! I am told that it took a year for the seed to sprout and put down a root, and now each seem to have only two single leaves. It makes sense why this species is so uncommon in the trade! My plan is to experiment with various methods of stratification to see if the germination can be sped up, but seedling development will obviously be very slow going.

New shoots emerging in our garden in Berkeley

Here in Berkeley, it is March or April when my potted plant bursts forth with a new set of stems. Because, in its sheltered place, it receives little rainfall, I try to water the pot well during this time and sprinkle on some organic fertilizer to assist in growing as many new buds as possible. I also try to clear away any impediment to the tender emerging stems which can easily become deformed or break. Once the foliage hardens, the plant requires little water or attention. We keep it close to the well-traveled section of the garden so that we are aware of its cycle but also because the evergreen foliage is beautiful throughout the seasons.

Native to areas adjacent to the mediterranean climate regions in the Middle East – Iran, Syria, Turkey, Azerbaijan – this hardy plant is often grown in the UK and the Eastern US, where it is better known than in California. But its adaptability and interesting character would give it a place in our local gardens. Hopefully, as its propagation is mastered, this species will receive more attention.


What’s in a Name – Scilla peruviana

By Seán A. O’Hara

Scilla peruviana is a common bulb here in California, often shared among gardeners because of its horticultural ease and tendency to multiple and self-seed. I’ve met many gardeners who have grown it for years but had no idea what it actually was! Fully adapted to the mediterranean climate, during the dry season it goes completely dormant and is often forgotten about until a new set of leaves emerge with the fall rains. Typically, cultivated plants have rich blue flowers, though a pure white form is often sold.

The pure white form
of S. peruviana

This variant can produce white seedlings, but more often – especially if blue plants are close at hand, it crosses yielding various colored forms from pale blue to dark blue and even lavenders. Sometimes there is a different hue on the petal, the stamens, as well as the conspicuous pistil, making for a multiplicity of color arrangements.

This is exactly what I encountered years ago when I was hired to consult on a very old garden in Berkeley. These bulbs had seeded themselves around much of the large garden during many years of neglect (i.e. there was no one to remove the numerous seed-heads which formed after flowering). I still have a small selection of different types that I’ve grown since. Because each 10″-12″ flower spike can produce as many as 150 individual flowers, it makes a month-long display, but there can also be a copious amount of seed produced.

Scilla-peruviana-plantingThe fact that it does so well under our local mediterranean climate conditions is no surprise. Contrary to the scientific name, S. peruviana‘s range is from Tunisia to Morocco, Portugal, southern Spain, and Italy. In this last country, it has become increasingly rare, even though there is evidence that it could have been already under cultivation in ancient gardens in Sicily. Naturalization has occurred in other parts of the Mediterranean and even the world. It has become so common in Cuba, many people now call this the “Cuban Lily” with many new cultivars of the species bearing Caribbean inspired names.

Clearly S. peruviana is a Mediterranean native species, so how could it possibly end up with a name honoring Peru?

Munichoven, Clusius, and Linnaeus walked into a bar . . .

I was researching the commonly told story about how bulbs of this plant found their way to Northern Europe aboard a ship named Peru – this story lacks much detail and is often repeated almost verbatim, which always makes me suspicious. During my research, I discovered a reference to this story in My Garden in Summer, by Edward Augustus Bowles (1865-1954), written in 1914:

“They no more came from Peru than the pretended Charley’s Aunt did from Brazil, and they are plentiful as wild plants in Spain. It has been said that a ship named The Peru carried some bulbs of the plant, and from it they got their name, but I have not been able to hunt down this tale. Clusius seems to be chiefly responsible for the error as to its native country, for he records that it was brought from Peru and grown and flowered by Everard Munichoven, who made a drawing of it, a copy of which was sent to Clusius in 1592, and Linnaeus appears to have been misled by this statement, and to have saddled it for ever with its lying specific name.  But Parkinson [John Parkinson (1567-1650)] knew it came from Spain, and tells how one Guillaume Boel sent him bulbs from Spain in 1607. he tells us:

‘This hath been formerly named Eriophorus Peruanus and Hyacinthus Stellatus Peruvanus, being thought to have grown in Peru, a Province of the West Indies : but he that gave that name first unto it, eyther knew not his naturall place, or willingly imposed that name to conceal it or to make it the better esteemed, but I had rather give the name agreeing most fitly unto it, and call it, as it is indeede, Hyacinthus Stellatus Boeticus, the Spanish Starry Hyacinth.’

Well done, old Parkinson – You have given Clusius and his friends a nice rap over the knuckles.”

Well, that was fun and I know what you’re thinking – Charles de l’Écluse (1526-1609), a.k.a. Clusius, was born 180 years before Linnaeus (1707-1778)! (You were thinking that right?!)

A similar story appears in Curtis’ Botanical Magazine, Volume 18, 1803.

The drawing published by Clusius

“Linnæus might have been induced to give the specific title of peruviana, on the authority of Clusius [Charles de l’Écluse (1526-1609)], who received it with notice of its coming from Peru out of the garden of Everard Munichoven, a botanical dilettante of the day, but who certainly was mistaken in supposing it to have been brought from the above country, and has led both his friend, and through him Linnæus, into error.”

So Linnaeus’ mistake was to assume the information was correct, before placing this species into the genus Scilla.

Confusion has followed this misstep ever since, even to the point the following erroneous statement I found on a current nursery website: “The Blue Peruviana Scilla Flowering Bulb plant was gathered by early Spanish explorers in Peru and widely established and naturalized throughout Europe.” So, as we have sometimes seen in other cases, the Internet has done much to perpetuate this error rather than correct it.

I have found no further information about the ship named Peru – makes one wonder how this different tale came into being!

Back to today

Recent DNA sequencing has inspired a reorganization of the genus Scilla. This and a handful of related species are now seen to have a distinct branch in the evolutionary tree and all are now to be placed in the genus Oncostema. So instead of Scilla peruviana L. 1753 (Linnaeus and his publication date), our featured plant will ultimately be known as Oncostema peruviana (L.) Speta 1987 (renaming of a Linnaeus binomial by Franz Speta, published in 1987). But why not change the reference to Peru?! Unfortunately, the conventions of botanical nomeclature since 1753 (Linnaeus’ publication of his Systema Naturæ) state that a published name, unless an earlier published name is found, must remain, regardless of how inappropriate or incorrect it might be!!

Last year I happened to walk by a florist’s shop where the owner was fussing over a table of plants outside her door. I eyed some potted, dark blue blooming specimens of S. peruviana. I commented that I’d never seen these offered at a florist’s before. Thinking I did not know the plant, she explained carefully, “Its name is Scilla peruviana but it is not actually native to Peru. It is commonly called Cuban Lily because that is where it comes from.”

Helleborus orientalis

Ancient Greek – ἑλεῖν (heleîn) = to injure; βορά (borá) = food + oriēns = east

“The Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) arguably lays claim to the showiest flowers in the genus. They nod gracefully or are out-facing, held free of the leaves on branched stalks. Large, graceful flowers in a variety of colors give H. orientalis and its hybrids preeminent status. Long referred to as ‘Orientalis hybrids,’ modern garden hybrid hellebores (H. ×hybridus) are actually complex hybrids involving H. orientalis and many other species.” Not Your Mother’s Hellebores: A New Look at Species and Hybrids (Part 2), Pacific Horticulture, January 2008

Exhibited by Bart O’Brien, Richmond, February 2018
A double white form was presented.

Exhibited by Frederick Coe, Ross, February 2002
Fred brought two color forms, both blooming in 1 gallon pots. The darker one, a dusky purple-black was much admired. It had been purchased at a Seattle flower show from a grower on Vashon Island. Helleborus orientalis is long-lived in part-shade with moderate water and will self sow. The species is native to Turkey and The Caucasus. (text by Kristin Jacob)

Helleborus orientalis hybrids

Exhibited by Wayne Roderick, Orinda, January 2000
This is not a species but a hybrid swarm which continues to grow in popularity as a winter-blooming perennial. The range of colors is astonishing from shades of green and cream to near black and maroon.


Cyclamen persicum

Cyclamen = ‘circle’ or ’round’ (referring to the tuber’s shape) ; persicum = ‘of Persia’

Exhibited by Sean O’Hara, Berkeley, February 2018
A large, old, potted specimen with numerous blooms was presented.

Cyclamen persicum

Exhibited by Richard Turner, San Francisco, March 2017
This easily grown flowering plant is an important parent of the common ‘florist’s cyclamen’, with smaller, more graceful flowers. With handsome leaves and clusters of spring flowers, it is dormant in summer. Native to Turkey, Jordan, and Israel. Also found in Algeria, Tunisia, and some Greek islands, where is it though to have been introduced by traveling monks.

Exhibited by Wayne Roderick, Orinda, January 2000
This is the main ancestor of the “Florist’s Cyclamen”. A flower of the wild form was shown; a uniform light pink flower of c. 1.25″. Some forms of the species are deliciously fragrant.

Cyclamen persicum

Exhibited by William Blasdale, Berkeley, 1951

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