Delphinium carolinianum, Rock Candy for the Garden

Delphinium carolinianum (Carolina larkspur) is flowering in my garden.  Since seeing it in Texas, it has scurried to the top of my list of favorite wildflowers.  The native stands out with unique form and color—lines of electric blue that pierce the hurly-burly of the prairie.  To me it looks like rock candy. You know, the kind that you used to eat as a kid where sugar crystals surrounded a wooden stick?  I ate it up then, and I’m eating this flower up, now.  Currently, the colors I have in bloom are the prominent rich blueberry and fewer of the light raspberry and soft grape.

Delphinium carolinianum  flowers are such a stark yet cheerful blue to see against the greens and golds typically seen in grasslands.

Delphinium carolinianum flowers are such a stark yet cheerful blue to see against the greens and golds typically seen in grasslands.

It wasn’t on the property when we arrived.  I’ve been collecting seed from local populations, and it’s thrilling to watch plants I started from seed erupt into bloom.  As the rachis elongates, it slightly sinews from node to node, each bend a place for an immature flower. As the buds develop, the long nectary starts resembling a horn, and upon unfurling I see the spur becoming a beak of a Belted Kingfisher; the flared petals to the sides are the wings and the two pointing down the tail.  

It has taken two years to get the plants from seed to flower.  I made the mistake of sowing the seed my first fall here before I learned how the winter shadows moved in our new garden. The spot received little sun.  The seedlings struggled, and I thought all was lost when they vanished last spring.  Imagine my delight when I found the little dissected leaves breaking ground last fall!  

Before the cold set in, I relocated the plants to sunnier spots.  Now, I and the fauna of my garden have been rewarded this year with blooms.  I’ve watched the inflorescences sway from probing by Ruby-throated Hummingbirds by day and hummingbird moths by night.

But, this larkspur does have an ephemeral nature.  Soon, the rock candy will dissolve with the heat of summer, leaving only seed behind.  But, I will collect them, coax the seedlings along, and hope for an even sweeter show in years to come.  

Pick your flavor. The classic vibrant blue, …

Pick your flavor. The classic vibrant blue, …

soft purple, …

soft purple, …

or, a light periwinkle. Or, do what I do.  Collect seed and you may end up with all three.

or, a light periwinkle. Or, do what I do. Collect seed and you may end up with all three.

Sowing Perennial Seeds

With the arrival of February and warmer temperatures, I've been sowing seeds in earnest this week, perennials in particular.  Seeds purchased or collected last year have the chance to sprout.  My goal is to get them started for easy propagation in years to come for planting prairies here at the house.  

Two species that I've had stratifying—a cool moist period to enhance germination in some species—in the refrigerator are Asclepias tuberosa 'Wild Orange' and Echinacea sanguinea.  I've checked on them weekly in the little baggies by opening the moist paper towels and inspecting them.  It's a nice way to also introduce some fresh air in the sealed vessels since seeds need oxygen for germination.  For the Asclepias, I noticed swelling in the seeds and some rupturing of the seed coat, a clear indication they were ready for planting.  The Echinacea seed held onto their dingy off-white color while the other detritus from the seed head turned black.  

Plump  Asclepias tuberosa  seeds. Seed the tinge of light yellow? The seed coat has ruptured on one near the center.

Plump Asclepias tuberosa seeds. Seed the tinge of light yellow? The seed coat has ruptured on one near the center.

Echinacea sanguinea  seed were mixed in with parts of the flower head. I decided to stratify them together and pull the seeds out when sowing.

Echinacea sanguinea seed were mixed in with parts of the flower head. I decided to stratify them together and pull the seeds out when sowing.

These made their way into seed trays earlier this week.  With the Asclepias I was sure to sow the seeds in a tray deep enough (approximately 5–6 inches) to allow their roots to grow down.  Allen Bush shared with me that shallow trays can cause their demise because the root doesn't have enough room to grow down.  

Along with the seeds that have been chilling in the fridge, I also scarified some seed this week and allowed them to soak for a couple of nights to prep for planting.  Scarification damages the seed coat and allows water to enter.

Last August, I collected some Baptisia sphaerocarpa seed from a location I saw it blooming several years prior.  Fingernail clippers make quick work breaking the seed coat on a few seeds.  

A few roots began to appear on  Baptisia sphaerocarpa .

A few roots began to appear on Baptisia sphaerocarpa.

Another species that I scarified was Amsonia tabernaemontana.  The seed came from my dad.  Years ago, I found an Amsonia blooming on the roadside near home.  The fear that it would succumb to the mower or herbicide like I had witnessed happen to many other plants inspired me to relocate the clump to our yard.  It settled in nicely and started producing seed.  A year or two ago, I asked my dad to collect any fruit he saw, and that Christmas I returned home to find the baggie on the windowsill.  Now that I have a house of my own, I felt it time to try growing the northern provenance here.  The germination requirements were unknown to me; however, from a quick google search, I discovered researchers at UGA demonstrated that clipping the end of the seed would allow moisture in to kickstart the germination process.  

Amsonia tabernaemontana  seedlings emerged from an intriguing cigar-shaped seed. With the embryos popping out, they look like    sea tube worms   .

Amsonia tabernaemontana seedlings emerged from an intriguing cigar-shaped seed. With the embryos popping out, they look like sea tube worms.

Today the seeds are in the garage instead of their cold frame.  The forecast showed below freezing last night, and I didn't want to take any chances since I've worked hard to get them all started.  Here’s to hoping they all germinate!