April 8, 2006

Corydalis wilsonii

Corydalis wilsonii
Corydalis wilsonii, makes a fine cultivated potted plant for the cold alpine house, or mild garden.
The story of Corydalis, is similar to that of Galanthus (Snowdrops) - it can be highly collectable, yet the everyday garden can easily become confused with the genus. Left to the collections of the hyper- experienced gardener, who lusts after the finer species, I still believe that many of you can try some easier species - but OK, not this one!

There are many choice species available, ranging from bulbous gems like Corydalis solida, now available in a wide range of named and un-named selections, and many perennial species. Generally speaking, the names cultivars and selections of C. solida and related bulbous species are both costly, and sell out quickly at the few European mail order sources who carry them ( most cultivate their own varieties from seed). Even though many Corydalis are collectible,  a few species can be weedy or even thugs. Related to our common garden perennial Dicentra, or the Bleeding Heart, a few Corydalis are quite rare and collectible, which as you know, I find very appealing.

Alpine house Corydalis wilsonii from seed
A more unusual Corydalis for the collector, C. wilsonii looks great in a pot for most of the year.

 This yellow flowered species looks just as stunning when not in bloom, as the foliage is blue and almost succulent-like, not unlike a fern.  First discovered in 1903 by Chinese Wilson himself, C. wilsonii bears his name, and as a cliff dweller,  the species demands excellent air circulation. Clearly this is not a plant for everyone, but if you are up for a challenge ( which, naturally, I always am), it can be very rewarding. I like to fuss, and this is a plant that rewards the consciencous grower by blooming and impressing other plant enthusiasts. It is a bragging-rights plants - what can I say.

 If you have a greenhouse, and wish to try it, seeds can sometimes be found with a Google search from European sources, or seed can be found in the seed exchange lists from the North American Rock Garden Society, or the Alpine Garden Society. My best advice to those of you who might want to try cultivating a specimen, would be to provide a cold environment, one with excellent air circulation. I keep an inexpensive fan on the bench, which dries of the foliage each morning, and I grow my plants in crushed Tufa rock, or porous limestone rock, with a bit of garden soil added in for nutrients.

Many collectors have shared with me their success stories as well as their disasters with this species. Most admit that the first find success, but shortly after lose their plants to botrytis - this is a plant which easily rots if exposed to warm and humid temperatures.  New England is not the ideal climate, obviously. I believe that it this plant is more of a biennial anyway.

C. winsonii is relatively easy when young, and grown from seed (my plant was raised from NARGS seed sown in 2004). In its natural environment,  it grows relatively dry, on rocky limestone cliffs. It has been collected at 3050m in Hubei province, China, which provides a hint to the sort of conditions required for any success. A true alpine house plant, growers in the UK may have the best chance of success, especially if plants are kept under glass. The good news is that C. wilsonii is not shy to set seed my plants form in profusion, and I've read that it will self seed around the greenhouse, (Liden,Zetterlund; 2007), but I seem to miss when the seed capsules are ripe. Still, I get seedings in the pot.


  1. I've enjoyed browsing your lovely collection of alpine plants, my wife and I live in subtropical brisbane australia, so most of these are new to us with the exception of clivias.good photos refreshing to see

  2. Hello Matt, love your blog. Great photos. I'm agardener/designer in the Seattle area. Check out my website and blog danielmount.com. If you ever have that glorious creamy yello clivia fro sale, even as seed let me know. I've started a clivia citrina, sold as a yellow clivia from seed. still needs a few years to bloom. Keep upthe good work i'llbe back for more. D.


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