Forktooth Ookow and 9 Other Weird, Strange & Hard to Find Flower Bulbs for Fall 2017
10 Weird, Strange & Hard to Find Flower Bulbs
For fanciers of the odd, aficionados of the outlandish and those who groove to the charms of the bizarre - this post is for you! Yes, as gardeners, we do love the classic beauty and fragrance of roses, tulips and peonies. But sometimes, we just want something a bit weirder, stranger, something you just don't find in other gardens. Here are 10 of my favorite botanical curiosities we offer this fall that seem to have sprung forth from the darker side of Eden.
Allium Vineale 'Dready'
Allium Vineale 'Dready' is an utterly bizarre, fantastical, and wonderfully weird allium - possibly the strangest in a widely fabled bunch of Dr. Seussian flowers. The flowers begin as small purple globes atop straight stems. Then each floret begins to develop long, twisting, twining green tendrils that reach out and curve around upon themselves. Over time, they mature to a vivid red. Amazing! Deer and rabbit resistant and drought tolerant, these weird and wonderful blooms are stunning planted en masse, and make fascinating cut flowers with a long vase life. Hardy zones 5-9.
Lachenalia African Beauty Romaud
Lachenalia produce jewel bright blooms and attractively spotted and dappled foliage. These South African charmers are ready to take center stage when most of the garden is deep asleep - in winter. Preferring cool temps in which to grow, they have been showcased on chilly window sills since the early 1800s. Hardy only to a light frost, lachenalia will thrive in northern climes if potted in the fall, and brought indoors to a drafty spot with lots of sun, like an unheated greenhouse, or patio. Whether growing them indoors or out (in very mild climates) provide good feeding during active growth, and a dry summer dormancy, and lachenalia will bloom for you year after year! Tender to frost, hardy zones 10 & 11.
Muscari Plumosum, or feather hyacinths, as this variety of muscari is commonly known, are a significant departure in form from the rest of this clan's petite blossoms that look like small bunches of grapes. With fluffy heads comprised of crimped and creased purple threads, like the results of entrusting your favorite sweater to the tender mercies of a crazed kitten (bad idea!). These are fun little plants that do well in containers or the garden bed. Gently spreading, deer resistant and happy in full sun to light shade, Plumosum grape hyacinths are hardy zones 4-8.
Urginea Maritima - Giant White Squill
Every single thing about the incredible urginea maritima - Giant White Squill - is truly bizarre. First, the bulb itself is larger than a soccer ball. The leaves grow about 3 feet tall, and look like a larger, loose artichoke. Then, these enormous flower spikes grow about 5 feet tall, covered with thousands of starry white, honey-scented blooms. The flower stems twist and curl and undulate as the grow, changing from one hour to the next. Where two bulbs are planted next to each other, or in a "double nosed" bulb with 2 steams, the two stems with mirror one another in a slow-motion ballet like two dolphins jumping, turning and diving together. Absolutely incredible! Hardy zones 8-11.
Ok, I admit it. The weirdest thing about this sweet little bloom is its name, but it really amazes me! Typically, a plant's common name is both easier to pronounce and more generally descriptive than is the plant's botanical name. Dichelostemma Congestum may be a bit of a tongue twister, but it is hard to see how Forktooth Ookow or Congested Snake Lily were considered an improvement (???) or in any way descriptive! This N. American native blooms just 10-14" tall, and is as resistant to deer and rabbits as it is attractive to butterflies! I am in search of a new name for this little charmer and am open to suggestions! :) Hardy zones 5-8.
What is it about "black" flowers that makes them so arresting in the garden? Fritillaria Fritillaria Camschatcensis or Chocolate Lily is prized for its deep, dark purple blooms that border on black, which is another common name - black lily. The 9-18 inch tall stem is topped by up to eight bell shaped blooms. Native to parts of N. America, as well as Japan, these are tough plants that shrug off deer and rabbits and can even tolerate some salt water flooding near the coasts. The chocolate lily targets carrion flies for pollination, producing the rank odor of rotting flesh to entice them to its blooms. Think this might be why the deer avoid it? :) Hardy zones 3-7.
Freesia Antique Alba
The lovely, incredibly fragrant blooms of the heirloom freesia antique alba do not seem weird or strange. But it is now so difficult to track down these bulbs, it has earned its place on this list. If you lament the loss of full fragrance as hybridizers have sought bigger blooms, more colors and longer stems, this one is for you! The original. The very most fragrant freesia and wonderfully so! This is the freesia gardeners first fell in love with, with its scent of Heaven, more than a hundred years ago. Blooms are an irregular mix of ivory and amber, rather small and borne on shorter stems, and the most fully, incredibly fragrant of all! Hardy zones 9-11.
Dracunculus Vulgaris has many common names like Dragon Arum, Dragon Lily or Dragonwort. There are more that some might consider highly descriptive of the bloom - but perhaps not suited to a family website! Whether you see dracunculus vulgaris as spectacular or horrific may well depend upon your point of view. For certain, it is a fascinating plant with a commanding presence! Huge blooms reaching up to 3 feet tall are formed by a nearly black spadix, surrounded by a flaring reddish-purple spathe. Highly fragrant with the scent of rotting meat to attract its preferred pollinators, dracunculus blooms are typically highly scented for just a single day. Highly attractive foliage forms atop patterned stems, forming a small forest of palmate leaves. Dracunculus are toxic, and highly resistant to gophers, deer and rabbits. Hardy zones 5B - 9B.
Anemone Bracteata Pleniflora
Anemone Bracteata Pleniflora is very hard to find, but well worth the effort! This low, creeping woodlands variety makes a charming and deer resistant groundcover in semi shady conditions. Bright white blooms are showy, with an emerald green collar of specialized leaves called bracts, often streaked with white. Unusual in that many blooms are semi-double, with some being single, and others fully double all on the same plant. Every bloom is different from the next, with varying amounts of green streaking and each is cherished in a woodland setting. Far more rare than strange, this beauty thrives in zones 4-8.
Last, but certainly not least - Allium Bulgaricum. The flower form of Bulgaricum is entirely unlike the classic globe shapes that most of this family exhibit and the colors are more complex. The individual florets begin in an upward facing position, and gradually relax to a draping cluster of tricolored bells in plum or purple, green and cream. When the blooms are spent, they are followed by tan colored, papery seed pods that first dangle as the florets did, only to straighten and again reach upwards as the seeds mature. Not to be outdone, the grey green foliage twist and turns into spirals. Just as attractive to butterflies and resistant to deer and rabbits as any of the more typical allium. Hardy zones 5-9.
I just love this quote by Ken Kesey "Plant a garden in which strange plants grow and mysteries bloom", and the plants on this list are some of my favorites for doing just that! What do you think? Do you enjoy the odd, the outré, the utterly strange, or do you prefer to steer clear of varieties that make guests say "What is that?" I'd love to learn what you think! Please take a moment to leave a comment and let me know!
- Kathleen McCarthy