• The Plantsman’s Advent Calendar Day 12: Astragalus laxmannii var. robustior

    First off, apologies if you received this post with no discernible text this morning.  I hadn’t loaded the text onto the blog yet, but had accidentally hit the ‘auto-schedule’ button.  Whoopsie!  Let there be words!

    I also have to admit that today’s post definitely falls in the ‘eye candy that you can’t have’ category.  Why are there no sources listed?  Because this plant, for all intents and purposes, remains unintroduced to modern horticultural commerce.  The genus Astragalus was a focus of mine while I was in northeastern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota this summer.  They’ve got a lot going on–all 375+ species that exist in the North American flora.  Members of the legume family, these often tap-rooted herbaceous perennials and subshrubs add up to every aspect of the label ‘tough plants’, hailing from environments as harsh and disparate as alpine meadows, rock crevices, and tallgrass prairies.  Plus, they look fab.  A. barrii looks like a rockstar fresh off a tour of America’s best rock gardens.  A. crassicarpus, which I love for its showy and ground-hugging ornamental fruits, was eaten by Indians and early settlers, though a footnote about the genus’s overall toxicity would be appropriate here.  Ethnobotanical accounts suggest that the fruit has the texture of garden peas.  I’ll take their word for it.  A. canadensis was the first species I ever knew, traipsing across tallgrass prairies as a kid and encountering its butterfly laden flowers with gleeful curiosity.  But overall–a genus that lives in obscurity.

    What’s more, the information that exists on the web is not only sparse, but when available is hardly relevant.  A page on a website called www.gardening.eu lists A. laxmannii var. robustior as “growing like a tree” and can reach “17 m in height.”  Riiiiiight.  Don’t always trust the interwebs, kids.

    Now don’t for a moment think that I’m surprised by this.  Propagating Astragalus isn’t exactly a walk in the park, given their tap roots, recalcitrance to division and root disturbance, etc.  Cracking this nut will take a little craftiness, if it’s going to happen at all.  It’s no fun for people like me to do, but sometimes we have to admit that some plants just may not fit the schemes we often use in horticulture.  Does that mean we give up?  Hardly.  It means that we keep finding ways to increase biodiversity in our managed landscapes, one plant and one horticultural solution at a time.  That’s what we do, and proudly at that.

    In closing, I’m hopeful that more species in the genus will eventually prove amenable to cultivation.  This species in particular forms lovely groundcovering mats of many, many flowers borne terminally on the ends of ascendant branches.  Plus, you get this delightful party effect with the spent flowers fading to blue while the freshest flowers still shimmer in pink (or in varying shades to white).  Maybe.  Someday.  (We’ll be together).

     

    Astragalus laxmannii var. robustior, ©2011, Kelly D. Norris

    Astragalus laxmannii var. robustior, ©2011, Kelly D. Norris

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