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Springtime in winter at the UC Botanical Garden

by Bridget Lamp
The Mediterranean Garden No 32 April 2003

The University of California Botanical Garden, at Berkeley, is home to 9,300 species and 12,300 taxa. The majority of the collection has been grown from wild-collected seed, which is obtained from seed lists from botanical gardens worldwide.

The garden is nestled in the hills behind the University of California campus. This area provides several microclimates due to the topography within the garden. The collection is geographically organized: Southern Asia, Asia, New World Desert, California, Eastern North America, Australasia, Mexico and Central America, South America, and the Mediterranean. We also have several special collections: culinary and Chinese medicinal herbs, palms and cycads, old roses, and crops of the world. UCBG has three greenhouses for our indoor collections: arid growing plants, ferns and carnivorous plants, and tropicals.

As a Museum Scientist at the UCBG, I am responsible for the Mediterranean collection. This collection is located at the highest point in the garden, providing a fantastic view of the San Francisco bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. The location has a western exposure, which is ideal for growing Mediterranean native plants.

With the mild winter this season, as I write the area resembles spring more than winter. Summer dormancy has been broken with Euphorbia dendroides leafing out - some of them are even blooming! Phlomis russeliana has large new leaves, preparing to produce flower stalks that will soon emerge. Phlomis aurea is more stunning in fall and winter when not much color is present in the Mediterranean section. However, these plants have been in bloom since December! The oreganos (Origanum sipyleum, O. onites, O. syriacum) are also looking better with their new leaves, as are the teucriums (Teucrium flavum, T. polium ssp. areum), the hoarhounds (Ballota pseudodictamnus, B. hirsuta, B. acetabulosa), and Phlomis fruticosa. Rosmarinus officinalis started blooming at the beginning of February. It is currently in full bloom, displaying a cascade of light purple flowers behind a dark green backdrop, and is in company of busy bees. Two more shrubs that are in bloom are Erica arborea and Lavandula stoechas. From a distance, E. arborea has the appearance of a cloud with its clusters of tiny white flowers. Its fragrance is pleasantly sweet. Lavandula stoechas has small purple flames of flower stalks ready to bloom at any moment. It is really surprising to see these two shrubs in full bloom this early.

Narcissus cantabricus with its large white coronas and thin tepals and N. requienii with its small yellow flower clusters are blooming. N. tazetta ssp. tazetta bloomed in February with small flower clusters of white petals surrounding the small yellow cups of the corona. The Snake’s Head Iris, Hermodactylus tuberosus, is currently blooming. The shape of the flower resembles a florist’s iris. However, the sepals have black tips and a yellow stripe in the middle that travels into the center of the flower. Grey and white stripes are on the sides where the yellow stripe and black tip meet. The sepal is mostly covered by the grey-green pleated petal. These flowers are quite striking among the plants’ thin leaves. Arum purpureospathum is starting to bloom. The arrowhead-shaped leaves are light green with deep burgundy veins and margins. The spathe and spadix of the flower are the same deep burgundy color, creating a striking contrast against the green foliage. Muscari comosum is in bloom this month. Thin, strap-like leaves surround the flower stalks. Small, dark purple flowers are arranged in clusters that resemble a bunch of grapes. Another unidentified species of the grape hyacinth (Muscari sp.) has flowers that are light periwinkle in color that glow against the fresh green leaves emerging in the bed.

The bulbs that are currently blooming are creating quite a show, yet there are several more to look forward to. Eremurus olgae from Iran is showing medium-sized clumps of grey-green, fleshy leaves, somewhat similar to the look of the asphodel (Asphodelus sp.) which are also pushing through the rocky soil. Feathery, light green leaves of Ferula communis are emerging. Small, blue-green leaves of various iris species look like fans sitting upright in the bed.
It is difficult to be patient for the end of dormancy since we can easily be spoiled by such a mild climate. However, this year, spring-like weather has been teasing us all winter. I worry about an early onset of summer dormancy. However, I cannot waste time thinking about dormancy. I will appreciate the season now, as it is, and the beautiful early bloom that has been brought with it.

Since writing this article Bridget Lamp has moved from the UC Botanical Garden to Seattle Parks and Recreation.
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