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Chinese Gentians - Part 1

Chinese Gentians - Part 1

The recent expeditions of Czech seed collectors to China have brought us an explosion of new material that is proving surprisingly growable. Gentians are on everyone's list of desiderata; and, the Chinese species have the added feature of blooming later, which is a reason they are still relatively uncommon in culture. They can still be in bloom when the snows arrive in late September and October. Seed collecting is a game of chance with the weather. Throw in a dash of political unrest (always a threat), and it's easy to understand how special these collections are. Most of my previous experience was with named varieties (hybrids) of fall blooming gentians, and these, largely calciphobes cultivars, were not very practical for our soils. Not so with these new collections, as no lime intolerance is exhibited, even though I added carbonatite deliberately to the seed mixes. This is a big advance factor for growing.

This year we have plants large enough to bloom, both in pots and in the garden, and I can offer a glimpse of what will be showing up in specialty catalogues.

Gentiana szechenyi (G. georgei) - A monopodial type where all the stems emerge from a central stock, rising to ~ 10 cm with broad, lanceolate leaves making impressive looking clumps of dark olive colour. Single flowers - huge trumpets that stand erect and are some of the loveliest imaginable. Some are white or pale blue with greenish stripes. The pollen on the anthers is royal blue. Relatively rare in cultivation, it blooms late in nature. In our garden this year, it bloomed in July; but the season was advanced at least 2 weeks. According to Josef Halda, G. szechenyi is more chasmophytic in disposition. I planted most in narrow crevices with clay and with a raised aspect. This worked well and plants have bloomed and are now making secondary shoots - bringing the promise of some vegetative reproduction in September. One I put in soil, and it definitely does not like this richer, wetter environment. Halda advises also that it will grow better within a low mat. Silene acaulis will as will the smaller Arenaria spp. I find that Gypsophila aretioides 'caucasica' is perfect. Not too aggressive, ground hugging and very hardy. The mats protect both the crown and the surface roots from disturbance. New buds will form in the mat for the same reasons. Possibly, the mats encourage a more favourable soil microflora - that's speculation, but many gentians are found in alpine pastures growing with a variety of plants. Josef said that the darkest blue form is found on Habashan. A related species, G. stipitata is like a microform with flowers about 1/3 the size.

Gentiana futtereri - A trailing type, but the branches do not make aerial roots. Leaves are narrow and lanceolate, densely arranged on the stems. Flowers are single and held erect. The dark azure colour is complimented with green striping. Although the plants are relatively compact, the flowers are large ~ 40mm long x 12mm wide. Our first plant produced about 10 blooms. In checking the provenance of the plants, Halda's monograph, "The Genus Gentiana" was very helpful - especially the detail illustrations showing flower parts. Even so, there is some confusion with some of the Czech collections - nature is messy, and species can be quite variable. None of this uncertainty gives reason to "pitch the flat". I am sure that there will be many new and worthwhile plants. This is a species with bright colouring and it will demand a prime setting. Planting it with G. szechenyi would make bold statement. In the high alpine pastures, such pairings are not infrequent.

Gentiana arethusae - A smaller plant looking like a loose growing moss with its mass of tiny leaves held closely on the trailing stems. Terminal flowers that stand erect, the petals are tissue thin and coloured a delicate pale blue. Slow growing and well behaved, G. arethusae is perfect for a tiny wedge between rocks. Again, it gladly nestles in a mat of Silene acaulis. With this protection, the crowns soon go multiple and if you are game, they can be teased apart as new divisions. This was one of the first of the new collections I grew. I was apprehensive as I feared that they would not grow well for us. Using the elevated "clay/crevice" treatment works for the chasmophytic species.

I would venture that using this method, G. wardii and G. pyrenaica would be worth a shot. Success so far is such that I will try more collections - for as long as they are available. The political and social problems of this part of the world are constant. Halda's last trip to Burma in 2008 netted a stay in jail; so, no more Burma. The unrest in Tibet quickly sent a flood of refugees into Qinghai and "security" there soon tightened. As Josef said, "China is always ready to explode."

Seed Sources:-

Vladislav Piatek - list ready in October

Mojmir Pavelka - list in November

Vojtech Holubec - list in November

Josef Jurasek -e-mail list in December

(July 2010)

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