Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Crocosmia by Gardener Dave

Occasionally when I find a plant I like and am curious about, I like to research it for more information. Many years ago on a trip to the British Isles, I saw a plant in a garden that attracted my attention because of its bright color and unique bloom shape. I saw a name on a label, and determined to find out more about it when I returned home.  I found that most of its cultivars are not really hardy hereon the Front Range, but wanted to try it anyway.
Crocosmia – a perennial in the iris-gladiola family – is a South African native.
They grow from underground corms which are unusual in forming vertical chains with the youngest corm on top and the oldest buried the most deeply.  The leaves are linear and parallel-veined. The lowest corm is reported to “…have ‘contractile’ roots which try to drag the corm chain deeper into the ground”.  I have had mine for 3 years and have not yet dug them up to examine the corm chain structure, but they may have had problems “sinking” in our mostly non-loamy soil. They like enriched sandy loam soil with good drainage and moderate moisture. They grow 2-4 feet tall in a season in our climate.  I plan to dig mine up this fall after blooming and replant some of the corms. I am curious to see what they look like. The corms should be easily separable for propagation, and should be fall-planted for next season blooms.  Although hardier than glads, they are semi-hardy in our Front Range climate, and should have winter mulch if planted in the open garden. Otherwise, dig and store them like gladiolas.
More than 400 cultivars of crocosmia – mostly ranging in color from yellows to deep reds – have been developed around the world, but to me they are relatively new and intriguing.  My cultivar is called “Lucifer” – a fiery red color – a real standout in the garden. “Lucifer” is reported to be hardier than other cultivars. The flower stems are quite stiff and can make interesting, tall additions to bouquets. Insects and birds (Hummers) seem to be attracted to them. They are also known as “Coppertips” and “Falling Stars” in the U. S.  You may also find them called “Tritonia” or “Monbretia”, which are more traditional names elsewhere. The latter name is after the French botanist Antoine Francois Ernest Conquebert de Monbret (Wow, put that on a botanist’s convention name tag!), who accompanied Napoleon on his 1798 campaign into Egypt.  I am not sure how they first got from South Africa to Europe, but they were hybridized in France and then in England, since the latter 1800’s. They have not always been widely planted, despite their beauty and ease of care, and it is estimated that about two-thirds of the cultivars that were developed have by now vanished from cultivation.

Hey out there! – I would like to find out if any of you have transplanted crocosmia corms, and what luck you have had with hardiness and reliable blooming in this area.  Also, if you have cut blooms for bouquets, do they bloom for you repeatedly through the summer?  Bloom time for my “Lucifers” here in western Lakewood starts in mid-July.  Blooms last on average about 2-3 weeks, opening from the bottom towards the top of the stem. They add welcome interest and “pizzazz” to my front garden. By the way – the way I remember the “crocosmia” name is by the way the blossoms grow along the stem rather like “croco-dile” teeth – but then I am strange in other ways too.  Try them, you’ll like them

Cheers!   Gardener Dave