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Saturday, March 22, 2008


Before we moved here, I had never heard of Eranthis, but Mary told me they would come up and bloom late in the wintertime - in February. I had no idea what she was talking about. But when the time came, she called me and asked if I had Eranthis yet. She called them Eranthis, so I called them Eranthis.

When I try to think of the name of a plant, the name that comes first to my mind is whatever name I heard it called
first . That might be the common name or the scientific name - whatever I heard first. If I'm talking to someone, sometimes they want to know another name for it. I have to stop and think, give my poor old slow brain several seconds, then if I'm lucky up comes the second name.

There are probably other names for them, but this is all I know:
Eranthis hyemalis (common name: Winter Aconite)

They grow from tiny little bulbs, and I have read that they are difficult to get started in the garden, for by the time an order has arrived if they are not planted immediately the small bulbs tend to dry out and die.

Once established, as in this garden, they seed about and spread if allowed. They do get seedy looking (unattractive), and it requires patience to permit them to remain until they have dropped all their seeds and the little plants turn yellow, die down, and vanish. They taught me the meaning of the old saying "seedy looking".

But, those tiny seeds sprout and the little plant, over time, forms its little bulb. In a few years, once enough energy has been collected and stored in the bulb, the plant will bloom. Then the ragged, unattractive stage is happily forgiven when I accept its gift of spring.

When they did come up and bloom that first spring, we were enchanted. I try to protect them from foot traffic and let them spread.

These may be the first flowers to bloom. I can't think of anything blooming earlier here. Frequently, they are covered by snow, but that does not phase them. They just snuggle under.

When the sun is not shining they stay closed, protecting their pollen from the weather. When the sun shines they fling open their petals and welcome the little bees; the bees are ecstatic during these orgies.

Then the day comes when I don my wool hat and puddle-duck shoes and walk out to inspect the little yellow flowers that have bloomed in sheets. The first flowers - and there are sheets of them!

I told Mary that the prettiest colony of them was in the far back border near the property line fence. I asked if she planted all of those. She asked, "Where, honey?" I explained and described again, and she said, "Oh, honey, that's where I threw my pullin's."

And, that is what happened! She had a large brush pile back there where she threw everything; including her pullin's full of clinging seeds.

And, that is where one of the loveliest colonies grew.


Entangled said...

Wow, I wish my winter aconites liked me as much as yours like you! Mine survive, but don't thrive and increase. I wonder if it has anything to do with the acid soil we have?

Barbee' said...

Entangled, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I don't know about the pH they need; this place does have a lot of limestone. One trick is to be sure to leave them until they die down naturally. That way they have plenty of time to drop seeds.

I don't know how old your planting is, but this garden is quite old so they have had years of spreading. I don't know when Mary started them. It is possible they were started 40 years ago or more. There is nothing like the investment of years. That is why I wanted to buy this property in 1989.

Kathy said...

You've got me wondering about the pH, too. The only eranthis I planted that ever did well were at my parents house, probably the first bulbs I ever planted. The flowers thrived, and my folks have limestone soil. I have gardened on acid soil ever since leaving home and I've never had much success with them.

Barbee' said...

If both of you are gardening in acidic soil and they don't spread for you, that does seem to be a clue to the problem. And, here I am longing to have azaleas and several other acidic conditions loving plants... Sigh.

Blackswamp_Girl said...

Wow... what a beautiful show of eranthis! They're so cheery in the springtime with that beautiful bright yellow. I hope mine get started here okay, even if it takes 40 years to get to the sheets that you have. :)