• The Plantsman’s Advent Calendar Day 22: Oenothera macrocarpa ssp. fremontii

    Happy Winter Solstice!  The day of reckoning, the shortest of them all thankfully, is upon us.  Let the march (trudge) towards spring begin…

    On this the first day of winter, I think it’s appropriate to celebrate with something silvery.  Some of you in the Mountain West and northern plains today get to enjoy another less comely version of silvery white and to you all I offer my condolences.

    Onto silver.  Oenothera macrocarpa is a fascinating species for a couple of reasons.  First, it’s just a great garden plant.  I’ve grown forms of it since I was a kid, back when I just thought it was pretty and got excited at its rampant vigor.  Second, the variation across its range is marked and pronounced.  Fremont’s Evening Primrose (ssp. fremontii) grows in chalky, rocky soils (read: hell) in northern Kansas and south central Nebraska.  At one point it was considered a separate species, owing to its smaller, more abundant flowers and slight differences in the shape of its seedpod when compared to other provenances.  But bringing it back into the fold of O. macrocarpa makes plenty of sense taxonomically and helps to underscore the importance of collecting and evaluating germplasm of broadly distributed species from across their geographic distributions.  Enough with the provenance soapbox…

    In the garden, O. macrocarpa ssp. fremontii rues a silver day, flirting with my wandering eyes from its emergence in May to its disappearance in late fall.  The plants I grow don’t have cultivar names, but rather owe their origins to wild-collected seed.  In other words, variation abounds, and I love it.    These silver salvers serve up yellow flowers, sunny and tastefully lemony, on the eve of high summer; an eloquent way of saying that these flowers show up when it’s blisteringly hot out.  Though I don’t have any specimens worth of higher selection, I enjoy the undercurrent of pewter that moves through my rock garden each time the wind rustles through their foliage (and thankfully for once not due to powdery mildew).  Can you tell I’m just a little struck with puppy love here?

    But there are several nice forms and selections of this showy Great Plains native available, carry image-conjuring names like ‘Shimmer’, ‘Silver Wings’, and ‘Comanche Campfire’.  I can attest to the fact that all of them deserve a place in American gardens.  Of these, ‘Shimmer’ takes top honors for its dazzling foliar presentation, floriferousness, and high ‘hot or not’ score (plant-style).


    High Country Gardens

    Jelitto Seeds

    Plant Delights Nursery

    Oenothera macrocarpa ssp. fremontii, ©2011, Kelly D. Norris

    Oenothera macrocarpa ssp. fremontii, ©2011, Kelly D. Norris

4 Responsesso far.

  1. Panayoti says:

    I had a great treat last June finding this subspecies in its native habitat at Monument rocks in nw Kansas. ‘Shimmer’ is supposedly a selection, but acts like a distinct taxon with much smaller seed pods: what the hey! They’re both essential! As are all subspecies and the type of this grand American native. You’re on the money with this one. But Kelly, you are always on the money: are you sure you aren’t a banker? Merry Christmas, pard’: see you in a few months!

  2. Kelly Norris says:

    I would love to see this ssp. in its native condition some day. Also, such a permanent plant. That taproot ensures its existence forever. Mine just keep getting bigger.

  3. Brian D. Morley says:

    Nice post Kelly, Happy Winter Solstice! I’m not sure if the species is the same in Eastern Kansas…much taller, but as you said-lots of variation! I hope you have a great Christmas! Brian

  4. Kelly Norris says:

    Brian–yes, O. macrocarpa occurs throughout Kansas. In Missouri and e. Kansas, you’re most likely to encounter O. macrocarpa ssp. macrocarpa (the largest of all the ssp.)

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