Friday, June 14, 2013

The Things You Discover While Gardening.... by Irene Shonle

As I was working in our demonstration garden a couple of afternoons ago, I admired the lacy blue-green foliage and abundant yellow flowers of the golden smoke, or Corydalis aurea that had seeded its way around the garden.  It is a native pioneer plant, readily colonizing disturbed, open soils.  Given how the pocket gophers routinely take out parts of the garden every year, I am grateful for its willingness to fill in and cover that bare ground.   It is pretty short lived, and can start to look ratty in the garden later in the season, but while it is at its prime, like it is right now, I let bloom merrily away.
Golden smoke or Corydalis aurea

This is all probably familiar to many people who grow in the mountains.  What's the discovery, you say?  It has an unusual, sweet smell!  Somehow, I had never realized it until the other day when I was weeding.  I kept smelling something sweet on the air that I couldn't recognize.  I kept looking around at all the plants, but most weren't blooming yet, and most of them weren't fragrant, anyway.  It finally dawned on me that it was the golden smoke, and I confirmed it by getting down on my knees and putting my nose in the plant.  Who knew? 

Another fun factoid about this plant with which I was already familiar is that the seeds are ant-dispersed.  The seeds have a tiny little nutrient-rich appendage on it (an aril or elaiosome).  Ants gather the seeds, bring them into their nests and feed the elaiosome to their larvae.  The seeds are left intact (and safe from predation) to germinate later.  Cool little mutualism, there.

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