Dog’s Tooth Violets–Erythronium

It is the opinion of many that the Dog’s Tooth Violets are amongst the most outstanding of all spring flowers. Like the Chionodoxa they are at their best during March and April, while they increase rapidly both from their offsets and also from seed, both self and artificially sown. The plant is known as the Dog’s Tooth Violet on account of its long, pearly bulb or tuber which greatly resembles a dog’s tooth. The great value of these plants is in their liking for a cool, shady position.

Plant the aconite in a slightly damp position, the crocus and chionodoxa in the sun, the snowdrop in partial shade – and in a position of almost total shade, sheltered from the prevailing winds but where the sun does not often reach, e.g. a north or east border, shrubbery or window-box, there plant the dog’s tooth violets. As the various species vary in height from 6-14 in., they should be planted in such a way that the taller-growing species should be at the back. They grow easily if they are given a soil containing a very high proportion of peat or leaf mould, in fact they will flourish only in such a soil.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Not only will the plants flourish in a shrubbery which contains plenty of leaf mould (they are never at their best in the usual town garden with its soil almost entirely devoid of humus), but they make a brilliant display in my garden under a row of silver birch trees, planted on a bank which slopes away from the sun. There against the silver-white bark of the trees and in grass which is kept closely cut, the plants thrive and bloom to perfection shielded from the hot summer sun by the foliage of the trees and the grass which is then allowed to grow taller.

By a stream or pond, provided the ground is not too moist, the plants will flourish and look particularly attractive planted amongst primulas of the Juliae types. With Primula Juliae itself plant Erythronium species dens-canis, Snowflake, which will produce its pure white flowers on stems held just above the dwarf-growing primula. Or reverse the contrast and plant E. dens-canis Franz Hals with Primrose Harbinger, an early white or even with the yellow woodland primrose. Or plant with Viola biflora which is very dwarf and comes into bloom about April 1st bearing tiny golden blooms and like the Erythronium loves a cool, shady position, but here plant under trees where no grass exists or its charm will be missed.

INDOOR FLOWERING

This year for the first time I tried Erythronium dens-canis in the house and for three weeks whilst the ground outside was clothed in snow and ice, this delightful little plant was enchanting. The peculiar long-shaped bulbs were lifted during the last week of February as soon as the tips could be seen pushing through the soil. Great care was taken to lift and transfer the bulbs without exposing them to the cold atmosphere a second longer than necessary. Into shallow bulb bowls they were placed, six to a bowl containing leaf mould and soil to which was added some coarse sand. They were placed in a warm room in a window where they could enjoy what winter sun there was, watered only when the soil began to dry out and within a week the bowl was a mass of the brilliantly marbled leaves and the dainty violet-red blooms of the variety Franz Hals hovered above the foliage like butterflies. They remained in bloom about three weeks and were admired by all who called at the house. But next year I look forward to lifting many more of these lovely plants for they love to be indoors safe from the fierce North Sea spray and they are so inexpensive too.

PLANTING

Care of the bulbs is most important for they will quickly deteri- orate if out of the ground too long or exposed to sunshine or wind. If allowed to become too dry they will shrivel and no amount of careful planting will nurse them back to health. September is the ideal month for then the weather is cool and if possible the bulbs should be lifted and planted within a few days whilst still moist. They will then quickly become established and increase rapidly. Even more so than most bulbs they appreciate a regularly yearly mulch with peat given during August. To guard against conditions which may be too dry during summer the bulbs should be planted 3 in. deep.

If the soil is not disturbed, the plants will naturally sow their seed and increase rapidly. Or they may be increased by sowing seed in shallow pans or boxes during May in a cold frame which is shaded from strong sunlight. Sow the seed into a compost containing z parts peat or leaf mould, I part loam, I part coarse sand. Merely press the seed into the compost, water thoroughly and cover with a sheet of glass. The seed should germinate evenly and when large enough to handle the seedlings are transplanted to boxes and allowed to remain there over winter, before being transferred to a shady position the following April. There they will bloom in two years’ time when thoroughly established. It is not advisable to lift and divide the clumps other than when they become absolutely overcrowded and to, prevent damage to the bulbs when exposed to the air any dividing should be done on a calm day.

SPECIES

  • Egtbronium californicum. This is a most striking spring flower. The creamy white bell-shaped blooms, which are blotched with orange and brown are carried on stems i2 in. in length. The foliage too, is attractive being deep green mottled with brown. There is a species, Helenae, which has fragrant petals of white, lined with deep yellow. Both are expensive and should be well cared for at planting time.
  • E. citrinum. Also a connoisseur’s plant, and exceedingly lovely the lemon-coloured flowers being carried on 9-in. stems. They remain in bloom over a long period.
  • E. dens-canis. Dog’s Toothed it is named, not from the shape of Erythronium Hendersonii the bloom, but of the bulb. The variety Franz Hals is of a richer red-violet shade. It is carried on 6-in, stems which are also of a red colour, whilst the leaves are attractively mottled. Blooms mid-March to mid-April. There are two other lovely varieties, Pink Perfection, which bears flowers of a bright shell pink – and Snowflake, blooms of the purest white. Together they make a lovely trio for the shady garden or on a rockery facing away from the south.
  • E. Hendersonii. Found growing naturally in the Oregon district of the U.S.A., this is a dwarf edition and bears its flowers of a pure lavender colour in great profusion during April. The flowers are almost identical with that of a hardy cyclamen.
  • E. tuolumnense. A plant for the connoisseur, producing its rich daffodil-coloured blooms on I 2-in. stems throughout March. This is a hardy species bearing shiny unspotted green leaves and is happiest when planted in short grass under deciduous trees.
  • E. revolutum. Flowering very early in March this is the first of the species to bloom and the most expensive to obtain. The white flowers are unique in that the petals are rolled back revealing a crimson centre. It increases rapidly. From California, the main breeding-ground of the Erythronium.

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