Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gardening: Corydalis "Blue Panda." Be blue but not sad...

Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into. – Henry Ward Beecher

Corydalis flexuosa
This is another flower that I believe will be AWOL from our garden come Spring. So I guess I may be a little sad. It was awfully leggy last season (nearly twice its normal height) and looked like it was trying to tell me something… That never bodes well. All that extra effort proves to exhaust some plants to extinction.

Corydalis (Greek korydalís "crested lark") is a genus of about 470 species of annual and perennial herbaceous plants in the Fumewort family. It is native to the Northern Hemisphere and the high mountains of tropical eastern Africa. They are most diverse in China and the Himalayas, with at least 357 species in China alone.

In Western medicine, corydalis are used to treat shaking and involuntary tremors and are used in treatment of Parkinson's Disease. Corydalis derivatives are also used as painkillers, diuretics, sedatives, and circulatory tonic. Occasionally it is used to treat mild forms of depression.

Research scientists have isolated several potent alkaloid compounds from corydalis. The strongest of these is corydaline. It has the ability to block certain receptors in the brain associated with the sensation of pain.

Common Types of Corydalis

Photo: framboise, Flickr ccl

Corydalis cheilanthifolia, ferny corydalis. 12". This corydalis has foliage resembling a delicate leafed fern. Bright yellow flowers appear in the spring. Plants come back readily from seed. Zones 5 - 6.

Corydalis elata, blue corydalis. 16". This upright corydalis has fragrant, cobalt blue flowers in May and June. Unlike C. flexuosa it does not go dormant in summer. Zone 4 - 8.

Corydalis flexuosa, blue corydalis. 12". Blue corydalis is a wonderful plant, as long as it is happy where it is growing. Plants often go dormant in the summer. Flower colors range from blue to purple with names like 'Blue Panda', 'Blue Dragon', and 'China Blue'. Zones 5 - 7.

Corydalis lutea, common corydalis. 12". This is the most common corydalis. It has lacy foliage and bright yellow flowers in early summer. 'Alba' is a white version. Zones 5 - 7.

Corydalis scouleri, purple corydalis. 20". This corydalis is a wide spreading plant in cool, moisture retentive soil. It has purplish flowers above finely divided, lacy leaves. 'Blackberry Wine' is a selection with nice purple flowers from spring to frost and 'Berry Exciting' is a yellow leaf form of 'Blackberry Wine'. Zones 6 - 8.

Photo: jacki-dee, Flickr ccl
From my experience and/or poor soil Corydalis seldom reach much over 12" tall. The leaves are reminiscent of Bleeding Heart, although much finer in cut. If anything they more closely resemble Dutchman's Breeches (reviewed in a previous post).

For me the most stunning of all are the blue Corydalis. 

Panda Blue was the first to reach North America. Plants form a clump with dangling tubular flowers in the most amazing electric-blue shade. The flowers of Blue Panda are like little 1" parrots, flying on the thinnest of stalks above the foliage, and they are fragrant. Corydalis do best in cool spots, where the plants have been known to flower from spring through to late fall. 

In warmers areas plants generally go dormant in mid summer, sometimes coming up again in the fall, or otherwise in spring. They require rich, woodland soil that remains evenly moist. They dislike drought, and appreciate part shade to full shade, which helps with keeping them moist.

Blue Panda shows up in Nova Scotia as both seed and plants, so check the local Garden Centres when they open on two months (at the beginning of May or earlier usually). Can you believe it, Spring actually IS coming. I can't wait.

If ours does make a reappearance this year, it will be moved to a well prepared spot and treated with more respect. I promise...please...


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