By BARRY GLICK
I don't know....call it good Karma, dumb luck or just plain old being in the right place at the right time, but just when my super-inflated ego takes control and I get over-arrogant, thinking that I know it all, bored with everything in the woods, etc, etc, something wonderful happens.
This time it was a new discovery. Well new to me anyway. And so it seems new to about 99 % of the people that I talk to. Once again I am inspired to seek, my soul is renewed and all is right with the World. At least until the next time that boredom reaches out and grabs hold of me.
What is my discovery?, you are asking about now.
I'll be the first to admit that the Generic name is pretty choppy and really doesn't roll off the tongue like let's say uh, Tiarella, Viola or some of the other duo syllabic Genera of plants native to these mountains, but with all due respect to E.R. von Trautvetter (1809-1889), this plant is pretty cool.
I took my kids to the "ol swimmin hole" about 5 miles East of my farm on Spring Creek. This is a really idyllic spot where the "crick" makes a sharp bend and over the centuries has created a deep chasm etched out of the hard shale cliffs on the South bank. After depositing the youngins in the H2O, I waded across the creek to the cliffs in faint hope of seeing something unusual. I was slowly emerging from the ice cold water, reaching out to grab hold of the slippery rocks as I smelled a sweet fragrance. It as a new scent to this large proboscus. Something slightly familiar but yet somewhat mysterious. Glancing up, I spotted the origin straight ahead.
At first glance, I thought I'd discovered a new species of Thalictrum. We have 6 species in West Virginia and I thought I knew them all. Immediately my mind raced ahead to the future,
Thalictrum glickii. Wow, what a nice ring it has. At last!, my fifteen minutes of fame. But that was until I got beyond the icy white, fragrant, feathery flowers. Looking at the foliage I was still positive that I was in the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup) family, but the glossy dark green deeply lobed leaves sure as hell looked like a Trollius. Now in WV, we have no Trollius species, so the mystery deepened. In fact the only Trollius species that I know of that is native to the US is Trollius laxus and I think that the closest station for that is in PA. Anyway thats a much shorter plant with soft, muted yellow flowers and it blooms very early in the Spring.
So with thousands of seedlings growing in every moist crack of the cliff, I had no qualms about borrowing a few to bring them back to the nursery for identification, evaluation and growing on in the garden. As soon as I got home, I ran to my library, grabbed the copy of Flora of West Virginia and began to confirm my knowledge of the genus Thalictrum. There, on same page as Thalictrum, I discovered my new find.
I realized that I was't that far of base in thinking that it was a Thalictrum, as the common name for Thalictrum is "Meadow Rue" and Trautvetteria's common name is "Tasselrue" . In the description it cites 20 of our 55 counties as home.
With this initial phase of my investigtion coming to a close, it was time to start thinking about this new plant in the sense of garden worthiness. To be sure, there are many wild plants that are better left in the wild and for what I initially suspected would be the same reason that I would be unable to find a suitable spot in my own garden for Trautvetteria, no real wet area. It would have been the same lament as for not being able to successfully grow Veratrum viride, a sexy bog plant in the lily family, or what you may know in the common realm as "False Green Hellebore". Why it has that common name, I don't know, but thats the problem with common names. We'll leave that topic untouched for a future rant.
Anyway....I posted an Email to the Alpine Group Listserve on the Internet. Don't let the name fool you, these folks cover the gamut of the plant world and I've never seen any question about any plant go unanswered. Sure enough I got about a dozen Email replies to my question regarding experience growing Trautvetteria in the garden. Overwhelming confirmation that it does not require a particularly wet area, just good garden soil, rich in organic matter and a good mulch to conserve moisture in dry periods. One person on Long Island said that it "gently self sows" in her garden.
I also called Dr. Dick Lighty, director of the Mount Cuba Center in Greenville Delaware. Dick said that they've been growing Trautvetteria succsesfully for many years in the garden and wondered, as did I at this point, why it was unavailable in the nursery trade. In fact, while looking in the most comprehensive plant availablity directory in the US, Andersons Source Guide, I noticed that only one source was listed for the plant. In the Plantfinder, the source book for the UK, there was no entry.
Trautvetteria forms a 6"-10" plant with a much taller flower stem. Some seemed to reach up to about 18"-36". It prefers light to medium shade but could probably take some direct sun. It flowers over a long period and seems to peak in late June to mid July.
I went back to its home this weekend and placed several muslin drawstring bags over the flower heads to collect seeds. After seeing all of the seedlings under the plants, I'm confident that its easily grown from seed.
This plant deserves some publicity and a home in every
native and wild garden.