Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The Mystery Plant is Purple Toadflax
It may seem odd that on a rainy day I am reading a book about waterwise gardening, but I have pulled one of my favourite books off the shelf: The Xeriscape Flower Gardener: A Waterwise Guide for the Rocky Mountain Region by Jim Knopf. I feel a kinship with this book which I found tucked away in the corner of a thrift shop. I note it had already been marked down in the book shop with a "hurt" sticker. Maybe that's partly why I'm so attached to it. I also have a soft spot for the Rocky Mountains, having gone to summer camp in the Alberta foothills for many childhood summers. I have lovely memories of finding wild alpine strawberries on horse rides and sleeping on cushy layers of sphagnum moss in the forest. (Although in the middle of the night, you do tend to find there are rocks below your green "mattress.")
As someone who grew up on the prairies, conserving water was second nature to us. When I was really young we used to have to pump water from a hand-pumped well. It was ice cold and you could taste the stony minerals in it. People in Vancouver say "We live in a rainforest, so we don't have to conserve water. Duh." Yeah, well all that water has to be stored, filtered and treated. Duh. Also, excess water can be sent to places who need clean drinking water. Water is precious and live-giving. People who squander water make me very frustrated.
In the chapter called "Critters in the Waterwise Garden" there is a lovely photo of a monarch on a Pitcher Sage plant (Salvia Pitcheri), which resembles the plant above. So I thought eureka! Here it is, a Xeric plant that is great for hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. However, I noticed the photos on the internet had the flower looking more blue than purple. And looking at the two photos side by side I see that although the leaves are thin and straight and the blossoms are bilateral, the morphology is different and they are different colours. The plant I took a picture of looks like toadflax, I thought to myself, a purple toadflax. Bingo! That's what it is: Linarea purpurea, which may have originally come from in Italy. And the good news it is a relatively well-behaved toadflax. The common yellow toadflax is invasive here. Linarea purpurea is a good bee plant and it is a host species to some moths but it is toxic to livestock, so not suitable for pollinator borders on farms.