Exotic Gardening with Rare and Strange Plants

podophyllum hexandrum

Spring is upon us and busy days are the norm. After a long day at the nursery it’s always a pleasure to take a rest in the garden with a cold beer in hand. Even though I work with plants all day everyday, I still find sanctuary in my garden whenever I get the chance to take it in. The air is cool and fresh, all the abundance of life soothing. It’s interesting watching a garden develop over the years. While it almost never stays the same, a few old standbys inevitably show up right on cue. The stranger the collection, the stranger the visitors. A rare or strange plant need not be difficult to grow, some come back year to year almost as easily as any other garden perennial. During my Sunday in the garden I took a moment to photograph a few of my favorite strange visitors. Let’s take a look shall we?

Spring garden
Spring lushness

Primula and pulmonaria
Primulas and pulmonaria reliably show up every spring right on cue.

arisarum griffithii
This will be the third season these Arisaema griffithii have popped up for me. It’s hard to get bored of their incredible patterns and markings. Put side to side they make quite an unusual duo. It’s hard to believe these are easy plants to grow, requiring little no special treatment, completely hardy in our climate here in Victoria.

Arisaema griffithii
When I first received the bulbs in the mail I would have never guessed they’d end up being two different colors. This one is quite dark.

Arisaema griffithii
While the other is quite light in comparison. Often referred to as cobra lilies you can easily see why. They look like a cobra ready to attack.

podophyllum hexandrum
I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with podophyllums but I am. Their unusual emergence in spring intrigued me from the get go. Podophyllum hexandrum waking up from it’s winter sleep.

Podophyllum 'Spotty Dotty'
Although Podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’ has remained evergreen all winter, now that spring is upon us it’s been putting out a succession of new leaves. Photos don’t do this plant justice, it’s a real gem in the garden.

sanguinaria canadensis & Jeffersonia diphylla
Sanguinaria canadensis & Jeffersonia diphylla all leafed out now. Their previous similarities aren’t as apparent at this point.

Saxifraga umbrosa
All of the saxifraga in the garden have started to flower, Saxifraga umbrosa is just starting up. For those seeking alpine treasures take a deep look into the genus saxifraga, you could spend a lifetime exploring their unusual diversity.

Hellebore 'Winter Moonbeam'
If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time you’d probably notice me talking about the same plants year by year. The truth it they never cease to amaze me, it’s hard to not give recognition to incredible plants. Here we have Hellebore ‘Winter Moonbeam’ and Euphorbia polychroma.

Spring tulip
I have a smattering of tulips throughout the garden, at their freshest their absolutely vibrant. The color almost glows, I was worried it would overload my camera. Incredible!

dicentra canadensis
A less commonly cultivated bleeding heart; Dicentra cucullaria is also doing it’s thing this time of year. Much smaller and delicate than the common dicentra spectabilis, it’s little flowers and fern like foliage are pleasant indeed.

Lewisia tweedyi
Something a little different from your everyday Lewisia cotyledon;  Lewisia tweedyi is in full spring bloom. From what I’ve read they are somewhat susceptible to winter rot so these stayed bone dry all winter long. About a month ago I started watering them again and in a matter of weeks this plant went from a dryed up susk to this beautiful pristine wonder.

Gardeners. We’re a lucky bunch.
Thanks for joining me on this week’s tour.

The other day while doing my regular garden walk, I noticed the fruit on my Himalayan Podophyllum had finally turned red. While the entire plant is quite poisonous the fruits WHEN RIPE are supposed to be edible.  Quite frankly I don’t know why anyone would eat a May Apple as the flavor didn’t do much for me at all. As soon as it touched my tounge I spat it out, it’s doubtful to be showing up on the cooking channel anytime soon.

While this plant is a little lack luster in late August, podophyllum hexandrum is a worthy garden ornamental, and looks spectacular emerging in spring. For more photos of this plant in it’s full beauty, search Google Images.

Being the complete plant nerd that I am I decided I’d try my hand at germinating some seeds. Furthermore research online tells me that this won’t be an easy process, but perhaps possible with a little preparation. Let’s give it a try.

First I picked the podophyllum fruit.

Ripped it apart (or bit it open, YUCK!)

Then continued to clean off the pulp in warm water with some paper towel. Beautiful scarlet red seeds!

From here we need to do a little research. It turns out Podophyllum hexandrum has been attracting some serious attention in the medical world for it’s potential cancer fighting podophyllotoxins. These chemicals are found in the  roots of the plant. Mix over-harvesting with dwindling natural habitats and the outcome is as predicted. Podophyllum hexandrum’s are becoming quite rare in their natural habitat, in fact, the plant is now considered endangered. Studies have shown that the Podophyllum hexandrum is a difficult plant to grow indeed, and mass scale grow ops of the plant have so far proven a failure. There is low germination from stored seed and the dormancy of these seeds seems inconsistent and hard to crack. They hypothesize that due to the plants having a highly specialized natural habitat, they’ve evolved to require that for proper reproduction. The plants grow at high altitudes and some speculate that this plays are role in successful germination.  P. hexandrum contains almost three times as much “active ingredient” as it’s relatives in North America, making this plant more then just a garden ornamental.

There are loads of scientific journals on the subject and I’ve done my best to take the best from them. Many studies suggested that giving the seeds a hot water treatment prior to sowing could help germination rates. So after cleaning up the seeds I put them in a glass of close to boiling water for 60-120 seconds, drained them, rolled them in some garden sulfur and sowed in 4″ pots filled with 2/3 soil 1/3 garden manure substrate. The seeds will take 3-6 months to germinate (if everything goes smoothly) and should poke out next spring.

Plant Science! Hopefully I’ll have a success story next spring, stay tuned!

Mr Nat. Gardener, Plant Nerd
Tips and tales about gardening in one of the most mild climates in Canada. Specializing in rare and strange plants from far out destinations, this is the story of an obsessed young gardener in Victoria B.C. Let's create more tropical gardens in the garden city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.