Friday, April 5, 2019

Cardinal Flower In Trouble

This is how Cardinal Flower looked here on August 2nd last year.  Last year in April it looked  Mostly Dead.  John Burroughs described this native plant as difficult to find in the Catskill Mountains more than a century ago.  It remains a seldom seen plant in this area today.  We have spent two decades  trying to reestablish this beautiful  native plant but most still require our assistance.  Two plantings at the base of north facings slopes hold the best chance for unaided natural survival.

This is the present condition of what was a sizable clump of about one dozen plants last year.  Our brutal March weather has turned nearly all of the evergreen leaves to crisp, brown, dead leaf litter.  These plants are not totally dead yet but warm days followed by frosty nights are just ahead.  It is not likely that many of these plants will survive.

This clump spent the past few years on the north side of a stone wall.  Chrysanthemum stems fell over providing some loose mulch protection for these Cardinal Flowers.  Snow cover lingered  protecting these plants from brutal exposed cold.  I chose this clump to rescue because of their condition.  Two nights in the basement allowed the frozen root mass to thaw.  Warm inside air allowed some natural healing of damaged leaves.  Driven by a strong desire to save these plants, I carefully wiggled fifteen free and placed them in individual pots right after they were dug.  Some damage was done and not all of those plants will survive.

Today these plants were placed in a dishpan containing cold water.  With both the ice and the soil washed away, the task of separating individual plants still required patient, persistent effort.  Successful transplants are a more likely outcome today.

This is one of today's transplants.  Frost damaged leaf tips can be seen but the time in the basement allowed this plant to repair itself.  All of today's plants are expected to survive with generous amounts of new growth visible.

This is the present condition of the best looking plant transplanted two days ago.  Much more frost damage can still be seen and the overall color is not good.  This plant is expected to recover and it will likely look as good as its neighbor by August.  Four of fifteen is my best guess of the number of dead plants potted up two days ago.  When that outcome becomes obvious, new transplants will take their places.

Last year four trays containing a total of sixty protected plants were ready to set out.  Many of those plants were given away to increase the chances that some would survive on their own.  We will try to repeat sixty plants again this year.  I am finding the trays of plants uncomfortably heavy to carry in and out of the basement.  Perhaps cutting the number back to twelve per tray will solve that problem for this year.


Indie said...

Mine look really sad after this winter, too. We had such little snow cover. I wonder where this plant usually grows, as one doesn't ever see stands of it in the wild.

Becky said...

A fellow teacher encountered a huge stand of Cardinal Flower, I have seen the pictures on his phone, as he was canoeing between lakes in the Adirondacks. Remember that 60 degree March day followed by days in the 20's? I believe that is what ends our plants. Cardinal Flower grows both north and south of us. We just happen to be located where both Alabama and Arctic winds blow in early Spring.