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.
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 -
Several people contribute to the Alpine and Rock Garden Team blog. Richard Wilford is the Collections Manager in the Hardy Display Section at Kew. His responsibilities include all the areas where alpines are grown at Kew Gardens. The three team leaders, Joanne Everson, Graham Walters and Katie Price, each have their own particular parts of the Gardens to look after. Between them, these four experts have over 55 years experience of growing alpines.
Alpines at Kew Gardens are not only grown to create colourful and informative displays, they also play an important role in the research Kew carries out around plant naming, classification, biodiversity and conservation.
Mountains are found on every continent and each range has its own unique alpine flora, but these plants are under threat from climate change. As temperatures rise, alpines are forced higher and will eventually have nowhere to go. The alpine collections at Kew are studied to help us all understand the mountain flora better and make informed decisions about protecting its future.
"Probably the most beautiful glasshouse in the world is the Davies Alpine House at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew", John Hoyland, Gardens Illustrated, April 2011
Richard Wilford has written a book on alpines, 'Alpines from Mountain to Garden', published by Kew Publishing. You can buy it in the Kew shops or from Kewbooks.com.
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