Helenium

Helenium, one of the last flowers to bloom in my garden.
Helenium, one of the last flowers of summer to bloom in my garden.

Most of the flowers in the flower garden are finished or almost finished with blooming for the year. The yellow and peach hollyhocks that open a few flowers every day are just continuing down a path they started back in July. This orange Helenium is one of the last to bloom, but even it will be fading when the New England asters open next month.

A Flower for Chiron

Centaurea

 

As part of a gardening update huge clumps of yellow basket flower (Centaurea macrocephala) were going to be thrown out so I asked for a plant. I dug it a large deep hole and watered heavily and thoroughly. I’d obtained the plant when it was in full bloom in the middle of the summer two of the worst things when it comes to transplanting. But the yellow basket flower plant lived and has bloomed very beautifully now for three summers.

Yellow basket flower has been in cultivation outside of its native mountains of the Caucasus since at least a few years before 1810 in England. Translating from Ludwig von Willdenow’s 1803 botanical Latin description, the yellow basket flower is described by John Sims on page 1248 in Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, Volume 31 (1810) thus,

“Stem erect, simple, somewhat hispid, thickly clothed with lanceolate entire leaves, of which the lower ones are decurrent and a little toothed, the upper ones smaller, less decurrent, and quite entire, very rough on the upper surface. Calyx solitary, terminal, globose, very large: scales, at the lower part, smooth, green, oblong-ovate, the upper lax part orbicular, scariose, rust-coloured, irregularly fringed. Flower solitary, yellow, floscular without radius. Filaments hispid: anthers, in our specimen, so firmly adhering together, that the style, unable to perforate them, is frequently turned to one side. Pappus of the germen simple, purple-tipped.”

It is also noted in “Curtis’s Botanical Magazine” that yellow basket flower had been in cultivation in one English garden belonging to Messrs. Loddiges for several years and that the species comes from countries south of Mount Caucasus.

 

 

Cultivation

Yellow basket flower can be easily propagated by ripe seeds collected in late summer or early fall and sown where the plants are to grow. Plants can be divided but this is risky as they do not like root disturbance. The best time for division is when the plant is dormant and not actively growing either early spring or late fall. The mature height is between three and four, rarely five, feet so this is a plant for the back of the garden. A clump-forming plant, yellow basket flower makes a good specimen planting. The leaves are long near the base of the plant becoming smaller further up, undulating with mostly entire edges, and rough textured and covered in long and short hairs. Flowers are yellow and borne individually at the top of the plant. The bracts enclosing the flower heads are composed of slightly overlapping brown to reddish-brown, fringed scales. Flowering time is from July to August.

Centaurea– healing plant

The genus name Centaurea is from the Greek word “kentauros” (centaur) and is probably a reference to the knowledge of medicinal plants of the mythical centaur Chiron (Kheiron, meaning “hand” and a probable root word of “kheirourgos” or “surgery”). Many species of Centaurea have been used in traditional folk medicines. The genus Centaurea has been investigated for possible anti-inflammatory compounds (Talhouk et al. 2008, Khan et al. 2011).

References cited or consulted

Blackie, J. S. (1866). Homer and the Iliad, Vol. IV, Notes Philological and Archaelogical. Published 1866 by Edmonton and Douglas, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Centaurea in Flora of North America.

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine or, Flower-Garden Displayed: in which The most Ornamental Foreign Plants, cultivated in the Open Ground, the Green-House, and the Stove, are accurately represented in their natural Colours. Vol. 31 (1810).

Hosoki, T. and Kimura, D. (1997). Micropropagation of Centaurea macrocephala Pushk. ex Willd. by Shot-axis Splitting. Horticulture Science 32(6):1124-1125.

Khan, A. N., Fatima, I, Khaliq, U. A., Malik, A., Miana, G. A., Qureshi, Z., and Rasheed, H. (2011). Potent Anti-Platelet Constituents from Centaurea iberica. Molecules 16:2053-2064

Reznicek, A. A., Voss, E. G., Walter, B. S. (2011). MICHIGAN FLORA ONLINE. University of Michigan.

Talhouk, R. S., El-Jouni, W., Baalbaki, R., Gali-Muhtasib, H., Kogan, J., and Talhouk, S. N. (2008). Anti-inflammatory bio-activities in water extract of Centaurea ainetensis. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research Vol. 2(2):24-33.

Honeybee, syrphid, and poppy

Honeybee, syrphid, poppy

 

A honeybee and the syrphid fly Toxomerus geminatus foraging for pollen from a pink and white flowered poppy. Syrphid flies do not collect pollen but eat it directly. It is a trade-off for the plant which produces nutritious pollen in abundance, some for the flies and bees, some for itself.

On the back legs of the honeybee in pollen baskets (corbicula) are a thick clumps of fresh pale pollen which will be brought back to the hive to feed developing larvae. As she moves around collecting pollen from the poppy some will scatter across the green sunburst-shaped stigma and pollinate the flower. The movements of the syrphid fly among the stamens as it feeds also scatters pollen onto the stigma but less efficiently. In a few weeks the flower will have turned into a hard, brown dry pod full of white, soft poppy seeds for halva and other sweet treats.