Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tropaeolum Polyphyllum

Tropaeolum polyphyllum closeup

Tropaeolum polyphyllum sprawling

     As I mentioned that I would in my post on Scilla peruviana, I am going to tell you about a great, but little grown plant-- Tropaeolum polyphyllum. This is a relative of the commonly grown nasturtium.  It hails from high elevation areas of Chile and is perfectly hardy and grows well in our climate. As you can see from the above photos, it is a sprawling plant with blue-green foliage and yellow to orangeish flowers.  I have it planted by the lioness sculpture in my garden which is an open position that is pretty much full sun, although it does receive some passing shade during the day.
     I have grown this in several places in my garden but the current location seems to suit it best. Based on my experience, I can tell you that it should be planted in open sunny conditions. The soil should be well drained.  It is said that it likes scree and is often planted in rock gardens, but it does not require this; only that the soil be well drained. I would not plant it in an herbaceous border where it would be swamped by other plants.
     This plant is not easy to come by and the reason for that is probably not that it is difficult to grow, because it is not, but because its tubers (this is a tuberous plant) dive so deeply in the soil that they are very difficult to dig up. I have read that they can go down at least three feet. I can attest to the difficulty of digging them up because I have one of these that I want to move. It has been in its location for about 10 years and I simply cannot locate the tubers when I dig for them.  If I want to propagate this by the easy version--of digging up tubers--that is not really available. Thus, I would have to grow it from seed or buy another plant.  I have recently decided to try this in a pot, thereby ensuring that I can find the tubers when i want more plants.
     Once this plant is established and likes its position, it spreads out, coming up in many different places. I saw it at Dan Hinckley's garden recently where it is planted near a concrete paver patio and it is coming up between the pavers! While this could be a nuisance for a lesser plant, this one is so choice that I wouldn't mind it if it did that in my garden.
    I have gotten this plant in the past from Gossler Farms Nursery, but they do not currently list it. Perhaps they are trying to work up their stock.  I have also purchased plants of this from Beaver Creek Greenhouse, a rock garden nursery in British Columbia which does mail order. They currently have it on their list. I would highly recommend both nurseries. As for growing this from seed, it can be done, but I have not been greatly successful so far, although I have only tried it once or twice. A good place to get seeds that hail from Chile is Chile Flora. While I have not gotten seed from them, I have friends who have and they have been satisfied.


  1. Thanks so much for pointing us to Beaver Creek on this one! I'd been coveting this from looking at Chilean flora lists and thought I'd have to try to grow it from seed.

  2. Wonderful.. rare but easy going plant.. because of you, I want it now ^^
    Do you still growing it ? And what about for the ones in containers ?

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