Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Lomatium Columbianum

Lomatium columbianum plants at Rowena, near the Dalles, Oregon

Path through Lomatium columbianum plants with balsam root and lupines at Rowena

Lomatium columbianum seedheads

Lomatium columbianum flowers

     One of the native plants of which I am currently enamored is Lomatium columbianum, aka the Columbia Desert Parsley.  This plant is endemic to the easterly parts of the Columbia gorge, meaning that is only place in the world in which it is naturally found.  It can be seen in great abundance if one visits Rowena, near the Dalles Oregon when the wildflowers are blooming.  A description of Rowena can be found here.  I visited there this last April when the balsam root and lupines were in bloom, but as you can see from the images above, taken during that trip, this lomatium was pretty much through blooming by that time.  So, it can be concluded that this Lomatium comes up relatively early in the spring and finishes blooming well before many other springtime plants.  It has probably adopted this strategy because it grows in a fairly arid climate, and it grows and blooms when there is adequate moisture, and then, like many of our western natives, it goes dormant for the summer.
     In my opinion this plant is one of our most beautiful native plants, and it puzzles me why it is not more commonly offered for sale.  It is not a difficult plant to grow,  but it does require well drained soil, and it does have a growth habit that requires some advanced planning in deciding where to grow it.  This growth habit is as I have already mentioned, i.e., it starts its growth early and then goes dormant in the summer, meaning it disappears from the garden in the summer.  Furthermore, as you can see from the pictures above, a mature plant of this is not tiny.  It can be up to a couple of feet tall and several feet in diameter.   So one must plan for an ultimately large plant, which then leaves a bare spot in the garden.  This growth habit, however is not unique to this Lomatium.  Ferula communis, the giant fennel,which is a much more commonly grown plant (also in the same family as Lomatium columbianum) from the Mediterranean has a similar growth pattern, yet that does not deter people from growing it (or maybe it does).  One just has to figure out plants which will fill in the holes left by the Lomatium's dormancy.  Possibilities are various annuals or various bulbs. such as Tigridias.  Indeed,  if one has successfully grown Ferula communis, then I would surmise that one can successfully grow Lomatium columbianum, and in much the same conditions.
     As you can see from the pictures above, one of the most striking things about this plant is its very blue, feathery foliage.  Even if it never flowered, its foliage alone would make it worth growing.  The flowers, in my opinion are a bonus, and the fact that they are (usually) a deep, dark pink is the icing on the cake.  The picture of the flower in my image above is not a very good one, because the flowering season was almost over when I took it.  If you google this plant, you will be treated to many better images of the flowers,  some of which can be found here.  I have been told that the flower color can be somewhat variable.  Some of the flowers are a deep rich magenta, almost, while others can be a washed out pink.  So I would hope some aspiring plant breeders could perhaps develop a strain of darker flowered Lomatium columbianums for the good of mankind!
     I have grown this plant for a few years now in my garden. They can be acquired from Far Reaches and from Humble Roots Nursery.  They are also grown by Seven Oaks Native Nursery, a wholesale native plant nursery in Albany, Oregon.  I have found that it takes them several years in the ground to reach maturity, so one must be patient.  That was also my experience with the Ferula which I mentioned above.  Also, as I mentioned above, they should be planted in full sun in well drained soil.  They should also be protected from slugs when they first come up, since the slugs can devour all their new growth overnight, it seems. 

2 comments:

  1. I adore this plant as well--and have one measley one so far. I shall never forget finding these in full bloom one March on the dry side of the Columbia gorge. I MUST see your garden some day soon!

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    1. I would love to have you visit! And I need to get out your way sometime.

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