Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gardening: Springtime "Daisy," Leopard’s Bane

You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming. – Pablo Neruda

Among the first "non-bulb" flowers of spring. Photo: Auntie P. Flickr ccl
There will be no leopards appearing in my backyard this spring. Of that I am certain. It’s because I have Leopard’s Bane blooming (That, and leopards in Nova Scotia would be a bit of a miracle…) But it’s good to be certain.

Photo: Scamperdale, Flickr ccl
Leopard’s Bane, Doronicum orientale, is a perennial yellow daisy-like plant. Depending on what zone it is grown in, it can have a blooming period anywhere from mid-spring through fall. Here it only blooms in spring.

Leopard’s Bane is hardy to Zone 4B to 8A, although I have seen posts by people who have successfully kept it alive in Zone 3. I would imagine with a little winter protection...

The flower stems on this cheery little plant can grow to heights of between 12-18” (30-45 cm). It prefers the sun, with some moisture, although will tolerate partial shade. The 2” wide blossoms appear on the tops of rigid stems. The insects love them. 

I have seen one very large bee checking out the few blossoms I have already. This is to the great consternation of Henry, our Bouvier, who – despite his size – is deathly afraid of all insects. Go figure…

A young Leopard's Bane in dappled shade. I wouldn't have planted
it in that exact spot. Photo: Team Tanenbaum, Flickr ccl
Leopard’s Bane has a long history of use in flowerbeds. Before that it was plentiful in the woodlands and meadows of Eurasia where it originates. There are thirty-five species of Doronicum, but only a few are available in garden centres. Those you can buy should be available now, or very soon, in our local gardening establishments.

Leopard’s Bane likes to stay where you put it, if its light and water conditions are met. It will spread if given the opportunity but  is not at all invasive. To really increase your plant numbers you have to dig it up and and divide it. Another good feature is that deer and other wildlife do not bother it because all parts of it are toxic. I wonder how animals knows what is poisonous and what isn’t?

After the plant blooms the leaves continue to grow. They can get fairly large and heart-shaped with sort of sawtooth edges. Leopard’s bane also prefers cool night temperatures. It grows best in rich, organic soil because of its shallow roots. The plants in my yard have been dwindling lately. I can guess the reason why.

Leopard’s Bane is an easy to grow perennial. So if you can give it fairly even moisture and some good amended soil you should have plants that you can enjoy for years to come.

One last point. Don’t confuse Leopard’s Bane with Arnica montana. Arnica is a homeopathic plant with many medicinal uses. All parts of Doronicum are poisonous. 

The confusion arises because of a few factors: the flowers are somewhat similar, and so are many of the common names. Arnica is also called leopard’s bane, or wolf’s bane, or many other names associated with Doronicum o. by many gardeners.

Photo: edgeplot, Flickr ccl
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