Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Louseworts, aka Pedicularis

Pedicularis ornithorhyncha, or bird's beak lousewort at Paradise, Mt. Rainier

Bird's beak lousewort by a stream at Paradise, Mt. Rainier

More bird's beak lousewort at Paradise

Probably Pedicularis contorta at Paradise

More Pedicularis contorta at Paradise

Pedicularis groenlandica, aka elephant's head lousewort at Reflection Lakes, Mt. Rainier National Park

     I have done a fair amount of hiking this summer in both Mt. Rainier National Park and in the Olympic National Park, both of which are just a few hours drive from where I live now.  One of my purposes in doing so was to see and photograph wildflowers, and in the process, I became aware of a genus that seems to me to hold great promise for the home gardener.  That genus, of course, is Pedicularis, which, until this year, had been completely unknown to me.
     As it turns out, there are at least 8 species of Pedicularis which are native to the Pacific Northwest.  A listing of these can be found here.  And a review of those species reveals that almost all of them are very striking plants.  In particular, Pedicularis groenlandica is very showy.  I have posted above, as the last image, an iPhone photo I got of this in a marshy meadow at Reflection Lakes in Mt. Rainier National Park.  This was taken at the end of the flowering period for these, so even though there were many of them at that location, I was only able to get the one shot you see above.  However, if you want to see more amazing images of these plants, here is a good link.  This plant is found in the high mountains of western North America, and in Canada and Greenland (hence the name groenlandica).  It grows in moist marshy areas.
     These plants are in the Orobanche (commonly referred to as broomrape) family, and they are parasitic or hemiparisitic on other plants.  It is probably the case that these Pedicularis are hemiparasitic in the same way that castillejas are hemiparasitic;  that is, their roots gain nutrients from the roots of nearby plants.  It is for this reason, probably, that they have not been cultivated much in gardens, just like castillejas have not been cultivated much in gardens.  But as we saw in my earlier entry on castillejas, castillejas have proven to be amenable to cultivation, so why not Pedicularis?  Indeed, I have uncovered various protocols online for growing Pedicularis from seed, including one here.
     These plants are showy enough, it seems to me, that even if great care must be taken to get them to grow from seed in the home garden, such care would be warranted.  I can remember when Dactylorhizas were considered difficult to grow and hard to find.  Not so any more, simply because gardeners have taken up their cause and lo and behold, it turns out they are not so difficult after all.  And many of the Pedicularises rival Dactylorhizas in showiness.
     I recently acquired seed of some Pedicularis from Specialty Perrennials Seeds, and I intend to directly sow the seeds into some moist beds I have in my garden.  I can only hope that at least some of them come up!

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