Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rock Harlequin, a Native Corydalis

I first ran across Rock Harlequin, Corydalis sempervirens, while climbing around a rocky slope when I noticed the pink and yellow flowers poking up out of a crack in the rocks. It seemed so odd that such delicate flowers would be in such a seemingly harsh habitat. In fact these plants do very well in harsh conditions like exposed stone walls and shallow, dry soil conditions, but it does not like too much heat. Other common names for this plant are Pale Corydalis and Tall Corydalis. I like the Rock Harlequin name, since for me it pop out of the rocks like some kind of joker.

Its native range is all across Canada and south from Minnesota over to Georgia (in the higher elevations). C. sempervirens is found in throughout Massachusetts, excepting Barnstable County and the Islands. Its native habitat is in dry or rocky woods and often on sites after a disturbance.

It seems as if it can deal with poor soil better than it can handle competition with other plants on a richer site. This was borne out in my garden when I put a few plants on the edge of a mass of Yellow Corydalis , C. leutea, in cool moist soil. The Yellow Corydalis completely engulfed the Rock Harlequin within 2 weeks, never again to be seen. I had much better luck on a dry site on the edge of the driveway where not much else would grow.

Corydalis sempervirens is not so much an annual as it is a biennial or short lived perennial, producing a large amount of seed and moving around the garden. Like an annual it will flower in its first year from seed. The highly dissected gray-green leaves occur all along the upright, branched stem. The ¾ inch long pink and yellow tubular flowers are borne in panicles at the ends of the foot-long branches. Blooming time begins as early as May, for year old plants, and continues sporadically though September.

Fresh seed, or seed kept cool and moist, are best for starting this plant. Seed started indoors should be moist stratified for 60 days and then be planted shallowly as light is needed for germination. Seeds are available from a few sources, including Summer Hill Seeds. I have started two batches of seeds with excellent results, high rates of germination and strong seedlings.
This year I started seed, before I figured out if I had a place to put the new plants, since space around the garden is filling up. Then I remembered where I first saw the plants, so I put a little soil in the cracks in a garden wall (over a layer of landscape fabric) and stuffed in a few plants. After a few days they seem to be adapting to their new home. With any luck they should be blooming in a couple of weeks.

For more information on this plant check out this link to the Wildflower Center's Database.

1 comment:

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

What a lovely little plant. I like how it can be used to soften the edges of a wall or walk, where little else will grow.