April 4, 2013

Rocky Mountain Douglasia

Rocky Mountain Douglasia
Douglasia montana
Primulaceae (Primrose Family)
What's in a Name?
There are 11 species of "Dwarf Primrose" in the genus Douglasia, named after the Scottish collector for the Horticultural Society of London, David Douglas.  Douglas came to Oregon in 1825 on a botanical expedition, and ended up introducing many Pacific Coast plants to English gardens.  He was killed at the age of 36 in a bizarre accident in Hawaii where he fell into a wild-cattle pit.  Reading through old accounts of such wild nineteenth century expeditions, one gets the feeling botany was once a much more dangerous sport than it is now.
Quick ID:
Look for dense cushions blooming now on rocky foothill slopes, and through July in higher alpine areas.  The foliage is lance-shaped with tiny teeth, and often hidden behind masses of bean-sized flowers.  The rosy-pink blooms are borne singly or doubly on short (1") upright stems.

Easy to mistake for a common companion, Silene acaulis (Moss Campion, left) but look close and you'll see the difference.  Douglasia petals are fused to form a tube at the base, whereas moss campion's only appear to be tubular.  The stamens and style of Douglasia are hidden within the petal tube, while Silene's flare out beyond the petals.

Range:  Found only in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and the Waterton Lakes area of Alberta.

The resourceful David Douglas is credited as one of the greatest botanical explorers of his time, introducing some 240 plants to Britain.  Among these were Flowering Currant, Penstemon and Lupine, as well as Ponderosa, Lodgepole and Western White Pine, Sitka Spruce, Grand Fir, and many other conifers that transformed the British landscape and timber industry.
He was memorialized in the naming of the Douglas Fir, considered to be the most commercially important tree in Western North America.  The scientific name of Doug Fir, Psuedotsuga menziesii, honors a rival botanist, Archibald Menzies.  A naval surgeon, Menzies was long remembered by Hawaiians as "the red-faced man who cut off the limbs of men and gathered grass."

Wild Gardening:
If you're going to try growing Douglasia from seed, collect them when the mature, dry capsules split open (late summer).  Like many seeds, they need to go through several months of winter temperatures in order to germinate (a process known as cold stratification).
The Native Plant Nursery at Glacier National Park reports that their seeds germinate the second spring after planting, and develop strong root systems shortly thereafter.
Douglasia makes a nice, creeping addition to rock gardens.  Space 9-12" apart in full sun.  Once established, plants are very cold- and drought-tolerant.  Grow them in scree (broken rock) conditions or in an alpine trough like this awesome one here.
This blog post was originally created for the Montana Natural History Center. View the original post here

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