Saturday, May 26, 2012

Telopea Truncata

     One of the joys of gardening is the search for, and the finally obtaining, of a coveted plant. For a long time, one of the plants on my most wanted list was Telopea truncata. This is an evergreen shrub native to Tasmania. Its sister species, Telopea speciosissima has a spectacular flower which is the floral emblem of New South Wales. Unfortunately for us here in the Pacific Northwest, it is not hardy here. I know because I have tried to grow it and killed it several times.
     The flower of Telopea truncata, while not as spectacular as that of speciosissima, is pretty good, however, as is evident from the picture above. And, Telopea truncata is hardy here. So, of course, I wanted it. But where to find it? Patience is the name of the game in finding coveted plants. Occasionally, a nursery in southern California which specializes in Australian plants (naturally, given their name), offers plants of Telopea truncata. They will do mail order.  I just checked their website and the plant is currently backordered. Sometimes The Desert Northwest,, a nursery in Sequim, Washington, has offered Telopea truncata, as well as Telopea oreades, which is very similar. I don't see either on their list right now, but they may have plants which are not listed. It never hurts to ask.
     Finding no plants available anywhere, the next best option is to grow them from seed. I have done this and getting them to germinate is not all that difficult. I have ordered seed from Wildseed Tasmania and have had good luck with it. The main problem is keeping them alive after they have germinated, since they are prone to die for reasons I don't know. My advice on this is to germinate a large number of them, watch them closely and hope some make it. Also, do not fertilize them with high nitrogen or high phosphorus fertilizers. Telopea is in the protea family, and such plants do not like high nitrogen or phosphorus fertilizers.
     As for growing Telopea truncata after you have acquired it, they like fairly moist soils and a fair amount of sun. Apparently they come from areas of Tasmania that are quite moist, so hot and dry is not their preferred habitat. I have had my plant in a moist (but not waterlogged), yet sunny part of my garden for about 10 years and it has grown from a tiny plant to a shrub over 6 feet tall. It has 2 blossoms on it this year and it bloomed once before this with only one blossom. So do not expect overnight gratification if you grow it.
     Now that I have grown this plant for a while, I have to say that I am not sure it is worth the trouble I went to to get it and grow it. It is an ungainly shrub which does not have a particularly graceful presence in the garden.  Perhaps it would have a better shape if I pruned it, which I haven't done. In its favor is the fact that it is evergreen and it has sailed through all the cold weather our climate has to offer in the last 10 years with no problem. Also, the flowers are quite nice, especially for lovers of red flowers, which I am.  But you have to ask yourself are 3 flowers in 10 years on an ungainly looking shrub worth it? Note: I have revised my opinion on this--see my post Telopea Truncata Redux,

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