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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Pitton de Tournefort’

2 days of bright sun light and everyone is out mowing their lawns, the garden centers a full of shoppers buying plants, then back into the grey. It has been grey and dreary almost everyday this year! It is not surprising at all that we rush out into the rare spots of sun and then slump around the rest of the time in a mental fog. Is it no wonder that brightly colored flowers appeal to us so much, at this point any garish and screaming color at all is welcome. One of the brightest groups of plants that bloom at this time are the deciduous Azaleas which come in the purest oranges,tangerines, golds and yellows. Rhododendron luteum (Pontic Azalea) says it all in its name –  I have brilliant yellow flowers and I am here to seduce you out of your fog with my fragrance.

 Rhododendron luteum has brilliant flowers which have a wonderfully sweet fragrance

Rhododendron luteum has brilliant flowers which have a wonderfully sweet fragrance

Here most people associate Rhododendrons with the evergreen types and do not realize that the Azaleas are actually Rhododendrons as well. The ‘so-called’ Azaleas often are seen to be a poor plants you see in mass plantings used to landscape large shopping centers, townhouse complexes and other institutions and are often poorly maintained.  Rhododendron luteum represents the deciduous Azaleas most often found in parks and often have the reputation of ‘smelling skunky’. Pontic Azalea does not have the ‘skunkiness’, people often wonder were the wonderful scent is coming from and find out it’s from that yellow Azalea!

The elusive fragrance of the Rhododendron lutuem flowers entrance the bees and our noses, but be wary as the pollen and honey is poisonous.

The elusive fragrance of the Rhododendron lutuem flowers entrance the bees and our noses, but be wary as the pollen and honey is poisonous.

Pontic Azalea is a fairly wide-spread plant and is found in Poland, Austria through the Balkans, Southern Russia running into the Caucasus into the southern tip of the Black Sea, an area once called Pontus. The first reference to Rhododendron luteum comes from Pliny and Doiscorides ( circa 40-90 AD) who refered to the works of Xenophon(430-354 BC). Xenophon participated and chronicled the conflict between Cyrus the younger(and gardener) and his older brother who would become Artaxerxes II. They went to war and Cyrus died and his army retreated to the Pontus Hills near the Black Sea. The plan was to collect supplies there and escape by sea back to Greece. While the troops where there the ate the locally collected honey which came from the Azaleas which grew there. The army became ill and seemed drugged. This mystery of what happened was blamed by Dioscorides on the Pontic Azlaeas and the honey which was consumed there.

As Rhododendron luteum is often grown from seed there is some variation in the flowers such as the vibrancy of coloring and width of the petals.

As Rhododendron luteum is often grown from seed there is some variation in the flowers such as the vibrancy of coloring and width of the petals.

Many centuries later French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort(1656-1708) travelled to examine the geography of the area as he was studying Dioscorides. There he wrote a description of and did a drawing the Pontic Azalea which he named Chamaebodobendron Pontica Maxima flore lutea, this was just the first of the names this plant has been given.

The bright yellow color of the Pontic Azalea is pleasing and blends well in many plant combinations.

The bright yellow color of the Pontic Azalea is pleasing and blends well in many plant combinations.

Rhododendron luteum went through several name changes until in the 1830s it was decided to give it the name it is known by now. Most recently the claim to fame by the Pontic Azalea is that it is an important contributor to hybridization of Azaleas in creating a wide range of pleasing colors for the softest pastels into most vibrant colors. Pontic Azaleas are particularly associated with the Ghent group of hybrids which were developed in Belgium over 150 years ago. More than 100 were named and at least 25 are still available to buy now. The other use for Pontic Azaleas is for a understock to graft weaker growing forms onto.

This small Pontic Azalea is part of the extensive Rhododendron collection at Glendale Gardens.

This small Pontic Azalea is part of the extensive Rhododendron collection at Glendale Gardens.

Rhododendron luteum is an easy and adaptable plant to grow. It likes dappled light and rich, slightly acidic moisture retentive soil which does not dry out completely in droughts. This helps promote a larger number of blooms the following year. Good air circulation is important to help ward off any chance of mildews or fungus which can develop later in the season. Established plants do not need fertilizer but appreciate a light mulch of pine needles or other acidic material applied every year. Do major pruning as soon as the plant has finished blooming to avoid cutting of next years blossoms.

Playfair Park has several areas with Pontic Azaleas included in the gardens.

Playfair Park has several areas with Pontic Azaleas included in the gardens.

Rhododendron luteum  grows 3-4 m(9-12 ft.) tall and is narrower in width. It is not densely branches and is light and airy in the garden. In autumn it give another show of red and yellow foliage colors. It can be used as a specimen or accent and as a mass planting. It is a good plant for a woodland or wilder setting or can be used in more formal locations. It is said to take -15 c. (5 f.) which makes it one of the more hardy deciduous Azaleas available.

Some Azalea Madness for you:

A good technical description of the plant: http://www.rosebay.org/chapterweb/speclut.htm

Toxicity of Rhododendrons: http://rhodyman.net/rarhodytox.html

A Pdf file from Arnold Arboretum on Ghent Azaleas http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/1355.pdf

Xenophon, Greek historian,  soldier and mercenary:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenophon

How this Rhododendron almost stopped an army   http://www.atlanticrhodo.org/kiosk/features/misc/luteum.html

…..Will you follow my trails through the plant world?……

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When I was a small child bright and vibrant colors excited and fascinated me.  There was the clear yellows of the Daffodils out at the lake, the brilliant blue of the Siberian Irises at home. Near the end of the school year i would see the crimson-red of some Oriental Poppies (Papaver orientale) in a yard as I passed by. The silky smooth red petals with their black basal blotches always made me want to pick them for my mother…but I knew I would get in trouble so I did not.

This amazing Oriental Poppy is most likely called 'Harlem'

This amazing Oriental Poppy is most likely called 'Harlem'

Oriental Poppies are not one species but are bred from several species which are very similar and found in the same general area. The first species was Papaver orientale which we know came to us in the early 18th century, it was sent to  European gardens by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort(1656-1708) who was a French botanist. He is important for first defining the concept of genus and species in plants. The next poppy species was Papaver pseudo-orientale which was introduced in 1788. The final species was Papaver bracteum which was introduced in 1817.

The Poppy of my childhood is most likely called Papaver orientale x 'Allegro' and has the common coloring of the species.

The Poppy of my childhood is most likely called Papaver orientale 'Allegro' and has the common coloring of the species.

All these species are found in the same general area ranging from northern Turkey and the southern Caucasus through into north-west Iran where they grow in isolation from each other. No one knows where they were first crossed or if  it was on purpose. The red-orange Poppies were grown in gardens through the Victorian times but  they were not really favorite types of flowers. Collectively in trade these crossed species are called Oriental Poppies and sold as Papver orientale.

I am always a sucker for white flowers and the same hold true for this pure Papaver orientale x 'Royal Wedding' flower.

I am always a sucker for white flowers and the same hold true for this Papaver orientale 'Royal Wedding' flower.

Interest in Oriental Poppies did not pick up until 1906 when Amos Perry(1841-1914) found a salmon colored flower blooming in a crop of the common orange-red type. He carefully saved it and named it Papaver orientale ‘Mrs. Perry’. Soon he had a plant everyone wanted to buy. From finding this one plant his nursery embarked on a careful breeding program to select new flower colors to sell.  The next named color also came by accident in 1913, people complained that their salmon ‘Mrs Perry’ Poppies were blooming white. the Nursery quickly apologized and replaced the plants for the white ones and named the newly found form ‘Perry’s White”.  From this time into the 1930s many new colors from deep maroons to   some forms with unusual leaves and buds were named, many have not survived through until now.

A big, fat bud of Papaver orientale x 'Harlem' is going to bloom in a few days.

A big, fat bud of Papaver orientale 'Harlem' is going to bloom in a few days.

More recent program of breeding Oriental Poppies has been successful in Germany. A nursery of Helene Countess von Stein- Zeppelin has breed  some glorious named forms which include ‘Aglaja’(‘Alglaya’), ‘Karine’, Derwisch’and ‘John III’ to name some of the better known ones.

Papaver orientale x ''Turkish Delight' does not have a dark basal blotch at the base of each petal.

Papaver orientale 'Turkish Delight' does not have a dark basal blotch at the base of each petal.

In the last few years the dark mauve purple Papaver orientale  ‘Patty’s Plum’ has created a sensation in the Poppy world. it was discovered  by   in Somerset, England in the compost dump at Kingsdon Somerton Nursery which is owned by Patricia Marrow. it has been known since the 1990s and sold to the public since 1999.

The color of Papver orientale x 'Patty's Plum' varies somewhat with the weather conditions.

The color of Papaver orientale 'Patty's Plum' varies somewhat with the weather conditions.

We are so fortunate that so many colors of Oriental Poppies are now available and  are easy to grow. Papaver orientale can take the cold and survive nicely at temperatures of -40c(-40f) zones3-9 which why I saw them in my childhood in chilly Prince George. They like poor soil which is well-drained to produce less foliage. For the best flowering full sun is a must. they like a weak feeding of fertilizer or mulching in the spring as well as ample watering when they are in full growth mode. Remove spent flowers and water less later in the season. Their size ranges from .75 to 1.2m (28-48in) and spread is similar as they often are floppy if not staked up.

Papaver orientale 'Picotee' is one of the more interesting flower forms  which is commonly seen.

Papaver orientale 'Picotee' is one of the more interesting flower forms which is commonly seen.

Many color forms are readily available at local nurseries or you can grow them yourself from seed, they are easy to germinate and will bloom in the following year from seed. There are several fine seed forms in reds, salmon, pink and white available. Division of clumps is only done in the fall as they do not like having their roots disturbed.

Peruse Poppy information here:

The back story of Oriental Poppies: http://overplanted.com/profiles/oriental-poppies.php

Joseph Pitton de Tournefort: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Pitton_de_Tournefort

The book I recommend if you are interested in anything related to the Poppy family: http://books.google.ca/books?id=f4Bv56KX_mMC&pg=PA9&dq=papaver+orientale&hl=en&ei=b9H4S-37GpXqNZKksYQI&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=papaver%20orientale&f=false

Until we meet again here deep in the plants….

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