Skip to main content
You are here
Facebook icon
Pinterest icon
Twitter icon

Spring arrives in the Alpine House

Kit Strange
1 March 2012
Blog team: 
The last few warm days have brought a lot of bulbs into flower in the Davies Alpine House - from all over the world!

The Davies Alpine House at Kew has suddenly burst into spring. The last few warm days have brought a lot of bulbs into flower, after having been sitting there anticipating the impending warmer weather.

Plants from South Africa

A lot of plants from South Africa have been putting on a show, notably Gladiolus gracilis with its amazing graceful, pale blue trumpets, looking every inch a summer visitor. Sitting in the sand plunge bed to protect it from cold and fluctuating temperatures we have Daubenia aurea var. cocccinea, which in the wild would be beetle pollinated. It has very sturdy tepals (similar to a petal) which will not be easily broken by an attack of hungry bugs. This plant is found in the Roggeveld Mountains of South Africa and the flowers can be yellow or bright red. 

Left, Gladiolus gracilis, and right, Daubenya aurea var. coccinea


Synnotia variegata, a South African Iris relative, is also flowering well, and has amazing, unreal flowers, which are zygomorphic, meaning symmetrical in one plane only. The flower narrows into a long tube and they must be pollinated by something with a very long tongue, either a bee or a moth. At the base of the flower are hairs that almost feel like real animal hair. 

Synnotia variegata

Plants from Chile

From Chile we have two very unusual flowers: one green and one almost black. Miersia chilensis has very small flowers, all green but for the purple stamens. The general appearance of the plant is of a mass of green, with each flower immaculately sculpted to look like a small insect, and probably attracts insects to aid pollination. The blackish flowers are of Gethyum atropurpureum, and look almost bat-like, with long, brownish black petals. This plant has a very unusual smell, and can fill an entire glass house with its unpleasant odour, but it is probably very attractive to prospective pollinators, as it sets lots of seeds every year. 

Left, the strange, fly-like flowers of Miersia chilensis,

and right, the dark flowers of Gethyum atropurpureum

Plants from Central Asia and Europe

 Lots of very attractive corydalis from central Asia are flowering now. Corydalis popovii is a particularly good example of a tuberous, semi-desert species which comes from Tadjikistan. 

The Central Asian Corydalis popovii


Also from Central Asia, one of the first tulips to flower is Tulipa orthopoda. Its buds have amazing purple-blue outer markings and open when the sun comes out to reveal a lovely white, starry flower with a bright yellow centre. A stunner. A bit nearer to home we have Narcissus assoanus from Spain, which has been flowering for weeks now, making the house look bright even on a dull day.


Variations on classic spring bulbs:

Tulipa orthopoda on the left and Narcissus assoanus on the right 

- Kit -


4 October 2012
I am behind the times discovering these delightful blog entries by the Alpine & Rock Garden team. I regret that there are none more recent than March 2012. Will the team be blogging again soon? These photos and information on unusual alpines are worth a visit.

Browse by blog team