A Gardening Journal
Must Have: Adonis
- Published: April 14 2015
Can there ever be too many great plants? Here's a close-up of adonis, ornamenting an astounding stream-side moss garden in Matunuck, Rhode Island. The bright flowers emerge from buds sheathed in frosted-ebony scales. The ferny foliage might remind you of corydalis or astilbe, and it only looks delicate. Adonis amurensis emerges early, when nightly frosts and even late snows are still likely.
Below, the bud scales have started to relax, letting through the first hints of the bright yellow petals.
During warm days, mature flowers open wide, but close again for each cold night.
The flower below is mature enough to be open almost fully in the warming morning sun. These anthers each have a central stripe of ebony—a nice echo of the ebony bud scales.
In addition to bees, pollen-collecting beetles are the preferred pollinators. These comparatively large insects will unavoidably encounter the flower's large green pistil as they "work" the dense ring of stamens around it. From the pollinators' perspective, the pistil is just a big knob that's in the way. But, for the flower, all those scrambling feet and fast-flapping wings ensure that the stigma at the tip of the pistil will be showered with pollen.
Adonis is usually slow but steady to establish. This clump is over four years old, and is thriving under deciduous trees that provide the favored conditions of Spring sun and Summer shade. The nearby stream and low but still draining ground provide the necessary year-round moisture. And yet the clump is still under a foot tall and wide and, says the owner, is only this year displaying more than a few stems and flowers at once.
The grim Winter may have driven the deer to chew on everything else but the moss—but nothing touches Adonis: The plants are poisonous, and browsers can sense as much even without so much as a nibble.
Why aren't we all growing this beauty already? Ah, there's the rub: Adonis is famously touchy about being disturbed as a seedling. Clumps can be split just after they've entered dormancy in Summer, but would be a challenge for a nursery to sell as leafless, flowerless potted-up divisions. And they are often not happy in containers, anyway, so are tricky to grow on long enough to be sold the next Spring, when in leaf or flower. Worse, the seed doesn't have prolonged viability, so it's risky to purchase it to attempt germination in situ as an end-run around the frustrations of establishing Adonis via potted plants.
One hope is to buy plants from a specialist who has acquired the magic touch. And to pay the high cost without flinching.
I'm looking forward to profiling this perennial after I've had experience with it in my own gardens. My hope is to establish a clump this Fall.