We were doing the usual summer maintenance on our stock and my daughter Esther commented, "...look at all the androsace. You don't need to bother with saxifrages, the variety here is just as good." And so it is. The Chinese collections have doubled or tripled the number of species. Despite their delicate looks, they have proven surprisingly easy to grow. Their beauty is second to none. Two for your consideration:
Androsace tangulashanensis - This tiny species is found in the north of west China, Qinghai and in Szechuan. Josef Halda also collected on the other side of the Mekong river in Upper Burma. Stony screes described as slate or limestone which are rich enough to support short grasses and mat forming plants, in high elevations over 4000m. seeds germinated readily and the small plants grew well and never showed any indication of fussiness. The tiny leaves are a dark, green with a smooth sheen. The individual rosettes are only 6mm. across, and arranged in a tight, overlapping fashion. Impulsively one feels the need to touch the undulating mat, so unlike any other androsace I have seen.
The white flowers with yellow eye must come very early in nature, with the receding snow. In the greenhouse it blooms late February/early March, fully 3 weeks ahead of other androsace. The flowers are large when compared to the cushions they barely sit above, and filled the greenhouse with a breathtaking fragrance - a real bonus as many androsace are not so agreeable in this respect. Through the summer, the cushions have grown well in troughs and in the tufa garden. It enjoys conditions of part shade to full sun, and so far neither heat nor humidity have affected it - an advantage of the green leaved species.
This plant is going to be one of the better introductions. Its easy nature and versatility will allow us to use where small mats are desirable - I can see it in vertical crevices as a "plug" specimen much like silene acaulis - but it will have a more refined look.
Androsace muscoidea - Not from China, this came from a 2005 collection that Pavelka made in the Garhwal Himal of India at ~ 3700m. Again the seeds grew readily and we soon had over 60 different seedlings and one could see variation in this population. The collection site was described as being, "...drier places of alpine meadows." The compact cushions made silver/green domes of matted, hairy leaves. Most forms of a. muscoidea have white flowers though the a. muscoidea ssp. longiscapa is pink. Although the plants grew beautifully, no flowers were produced until this year - a long wait, but worth it as there were all shades of pink with the prettiest being a lavender/pink shade that is not so common with androsace. We made some selections for colour and form and will name the best. In the 4 years it has grown here, it has shown itself to be adaptable to our climate and able to withstand the heat. All this waiting bears out what it's like to grow something new. The best way to avoid impatience and irritation is to grow lot's of variety and don't obsess on the ones that fail to make the grade. There will be more to come.