Saturday, March 8, 2014

Temperamental tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii)

I love tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). It’s a biennial, i.e. it flowers in its second year of life, sets copious amounts of seeds and then dies. I have four of these Canary Island natives planted in the ground. Two of my plants are adults that will bloom this spring, and two are juveniles that will bloom next year.

Except now I only have one juvenile because the other one has croaked. Until very recently it looked like this:

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Now it looks like this:

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What happened?

I wish I could tell you so you can make sure it doesn’t happen to you, but I just don’t know. This particular plant had made it through the winter just fine, but I suspect our recent rains did it in. Which is ironic considering it’s planted on a mound in freely draining soil. Something similar happened in the fall of 2010 when another specimen died, seemingly from one day to the next. Echium wildpretii is definitely a temperamental thing!

Here is the surviving juvenile—small but looking healthy.

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And here are my two adults. Their rosette has already started to elongate into what will become a 6 to 8 ft. cone of flowers.

140307_Echium-wildpretii_003 140307_Echium-wildpretii_002

Last week I found a prime specimen on the UC Davis campus. It will be a monster when it’s done shooting into the sky—maybe as tall as 10 ft.

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In a couple of months I’ll be able to enjoy one of the more spectacular sights in nature: a flowering tower of jewels!

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And with any luck, there’ll be seedlings popping up come fall to keep the spectacle going.

10 comments:

  1. Why do you have to keep posting these photos? I said I'm not going to try with this plant again, but I just discovered that I have a few seeds left, and the thought of getting something like this, well, it just spurs me on (probably to failure again). Need to do more research...

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    1. LOL, that's how I feel about many posts on other blogs. I have more seeds if you'd like more.

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  2. Echs can be so disappointingly particular. I lost two E. wildpretiis last summer after a tiny dab of warm rain, and they looked much like yours, gradually shrinking and drying up. Root systems eventually lost muster, but they hadn't rotted out nor had that tell-tale smell (Mephistophelean stench of sulfur).

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    1. You confirmed what I thought: that's is moisture during a time when they'd rather be dry. However, rain at this of year is very common for us, and Echium wildpretii generally grows very well here. Let's face it, some plants are divas by nature :-).

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    2. Very true. They're worth it, though! Glad you've still three to enjoy.

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  3. I feel your pain. I've bought two of these this spring. Yet to be planted they've been in the shade pavilion greenhouse when we had a chill and just removed this Friday when it was sunny and dry. I was sad to see neither one is looking good. Thankfully there is still some green but the lower leaves looked just like your sad plant. I hope they hang on until I can plant them out, but then again I wonder if that is best they could be kept drier if I didn't plant them. Oh silly plants why must you be so difficult?

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  4. Those two adults will look amazing when they bloom! Shame about the other juvenile but things like that happen for inexplicable reasons, all part of gardening. You'll be rewarded with lots of seedlings hopefully once the two adults have finished blooming :)

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  5. I am so sorry. I tried to grow one of these in a large pot once but it died in the second year so I give up! I hope the ones left do good.

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  6. Mine died after coming in contact with hose water. They must be sensitive to chlorine or something in the city water.

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    1. I've talked to other gardeners who have seen theirs die just like that. Who knows why? It could definitely be something in the water. I have three blooming right now (April 2016) and a bunch more that will bloom next year so things are going well at the moment...

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