National Geographic : 1947 Jul
Western North America as a Source NORTH America is rich in potential orna mentals. But ours is a comparatively new country and its present culture came ready-made. With their faces turned west ward, the early settlers faced an unknown wilderness. When clearings were made for crops, all else had to go; any shoot which sprang up was a weed to be destroyed. But as the settlements grew and life became secure, flower gardens were planted. Because of the strong cultural ties, the first flowers raised were mostly European in origin; rarely in the early American writings does one encounter mention of a native plant being grown. The plant explorers who soon followed realized the potentialities of our native species and sent them back in large quantities to Europe. Many of these have since come back to us, quite different in form and in many beautiful selected varieties. Naturally, the plants of the eastern seaboard were introduced first into European gardens, and many of them have been in common cultivation there for well over two centuries. The plants of western North America began coming into gardens only about a century ago, and the majority of them even more recently. As a result, only occasionally do we see them in anything other than their original wild forms. Because of this they are less plastic, demanding conditions very similar to those under which they exist in nature. This makes them somewhat difficult subjects for general gardening. This is also why these plants, and especially those from the Pacific Northwest, rarely are found in southern, midwestern, or eastern gardens, whereas they are much more often grown in England where the climate is more like that of northern California, Oregon, and Washington. Anyone who has ridden the trails between the Great Plains and the Pacific will realize how deep is our regret that as yet we are unable to class more than a few of these worthy species as "common and widespread" garden flowers. The Bitter Roots (Lewisia): how some of them resent being moved! Acres of Avalanche Lilies (Erythronium montanum) in the Cascades, sometimes pushing up through the last three inches of snow so as to bloom on schedule; only to dwindle to nothing a few years after being brought into a garden. The tufted Eriogonums with their bursts of yellow, orange, pink, and white flowers-hosts of them growing naturally under all sorts of difficult and seemingly impossible conditions; yet how relatively few of them do well, even with the best of care and attention. And the Mariposas or Butterfly-Tulips (Calochortus); except for a few forms, they mostly spurn permanent sanctuary with humans. These and a hundred others ought to be widespread in gardens but seemingly refuse to be fully tamed, tolerating domestication usually only under very special conditions. But let us be a little patient; many will yet be broken of their wild habits, even as some already have been. For example, most of the newer blue garden Columbines are descended from the wild Aquilegia caerulea of the Rocky Mountains. And there are others with equal promise. Here, however, are a few Westerners already common in our gardens. CLARKIA (Clarkia elegans): This excellent annual now comes in several shades and also in frilly double forms; it is native in Cali fornia. The generic name commemorates Wil liam Clark, associate of Meriwether Lewis (for whom Lewisia was named), both explorers sent out by Thomas Jefferson to examine the country westward to the Pacific. CALIFORNIA POPPY (Eschscholzia califor nica): Originally yellow or orangey, this popu lar garden plant now displays several other colors. It was named in honor of J. F. Eschscholtz, a botanist on the Russian expe dition led by Kotzebue into the Pacific, 1823 1826. BLANKET-FLOWER (Gaillardiapulchella) : This gaudy annual is native from the Ozarks south to the Gulf and westward across the Great Plains to Arizona; it is now established more widely. Introduced into Europe from Louisiana during early colonial days, it was named in honor of M. Gaillard, French patron of botany. When one sees this plant in pro fuse, spreading masses in its native haunts, the origin of its common name becomes obvious. LUPINE (Lupinus, various species): Except for a relatively few kinds in Europe, Asia Minor, and Africa, the 300 species of Lupine are all native in the Western Hemisphere. Capable of making great displays, almost car pets, as shown in the background of our pic ture, or as the Bluebonnets do on the Texas plains, the wild species often are introduced into gardens. Also, various of them have been hybridized. Our more common perennial gar den forms seem to have been derived primarily from West Coast species, whereas the more showy annuals are descended from species wild in Mexico, Central America, and Andean South America.