Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ranunculus Lyallii

Ranunculus lyallii in flower at Froggy Bottom in 2008

Closeup of Ranunculus lyallii leaf

Baby Ranunculus lyallii recently acquired from Far Reaches Farm
     There is a triumvirate of plants from New Zealand that always seem to me to be the holy grail of  difficult to grow, but lusted after plants.  These are Aciphyllas, which I previously wrote about here, Celmisias, which I have yet to write about (I have not successfully grown these, yet),  and last, Ranunculus lyallii.  This ranunculus is commonly known as the Mt. Cook lily, and it is the world's largest buttercup.  The leaves, as you can see from the pictures above are large and round with a somewhat leathery texture.  These leaves have been recorded over a foot across in some cases. 
     I previously wrote about another buttercup family member from South Africa, Ranunculus baurii here, and although the leaves on that plant are somewhat similar to the leaves of R. lyallii, they are not quite as large, nor do they have the leathery substance of the R. lyallii.  In addition, the flowers of R. lyallii are more attractive in that they are the white ones pictured above, held in a very attractive way over the plant.  On R. baurii, the flowers are small yellow dandelion looking ones, and not very attractively held, in my opinion.
     So the main questions in a plant nerd's mind, on learning about this plant is (1) how to acquire it and (2) how to grow it.  Acquiring it is not easy.  I got the plant pictured above from Far Reaches Farm because I had the foresight to buy seed from Jelitto a few years ago and then give it to Far Reaches.  They managed to get a few plants going from that seed batch, and hence the plant you see in the picture in the pot.  They don't have many, and I doubt if they have any for sale, but it would not hurt to inquire if you are interested.  The big plant you see in the top picture came from Skagit Gardens (I think),  7 or 8 years ago.  They apparently grew lots of them and sold them to retail nurseries in the local area.  You can imagine my surprise when I saw these (well grown, large plants) for sale at local retail nurseries, as if they were common ordinary plants!  So of course, I bought mass quantities of them and planted them in various parts of my garden.  I found that they did the best in good garden soil that was well watered and well drained.  Also, they liked full sun.  These grew well for about 5 years in my garden, and even self sowed, but one year I had to neglect my garden so it wasn't watered all summer, and then we had a cold winter after that, and that was the end of these plants.
     Even before I had acquired these plants from Skagit Gardens, I had gotten some of them from (where else?) Heronswood.  These were much smaller plants, and when I planted them I didn't know much about how to grow them, so I planted them in a woodland part of the garden.  They didn't thrive there, although they lived there for a long time--at least 6 or 7 years.  I even divided them on one occasion and they tolerated that quite well.  They never flowered growing in the shade, however.  When you see pictures of these growing in their native habitat in New Zealand, such as here, you can see why shade might not be their preferred situation, since they appear to be growing totally out in the open, with no trees nearby.
    So how best to grow these?  I would say give them an open position in good, but well drained soil (this seems to be the recipe for all these finicky New Zealanders).  They might appreciate growing beside a big rock, or even better in a crevice (if you have such a thing in your garden), although that is not how I grew them at Froggy Bottom since I didn't have many big rocks there.  They need summer water in our climate.  In a very cold winter they might appreciate some cover.  They would probably also do well in the skirts of some other plant which could provide them winter protection, as long as that other plant was not so big as to shade them too much.
     Failing to find these for sale in nurseries, which is almost certain, you must be prepared to grow them from seed if you want them.  As I mentioned before, they are available from Jelitto, and that is where I would recommend you get your seed.  You can find them from other sources such as New Zealand Tree, but I have found that Jelitto seeds are almost always good and that they germinate well, provided their instructions are followed.  These seeds usually require a period of cold stratification and Jelitto provides detailed instructions on this.  They should be grown in a gritty mix, and you must protect the seedlings from slugs.