A garden oasis and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River

Plant of the Week: Iris germanica ‘Florentina’ (Iris cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

This iris has been in cultivation for so long that it is not known where it originated. In fact, taxonomists cannot even agree on what to call it. Some consider it a natural, white-flowered variety of the bearded (German) iris and call it Iris germanica var. florentina, while others think it is a cultivar (cultivated variety) or even a hybrid. We’ve settled on calling it Iris germanica ‘Florentina’, for now.plant

It is one of the irises used as the source of orris root, the thick, fleshy rhizome that has been used for centuries as a fixative in perfumes and for medicinal purposes. The latter is not recommended these days because, along with most of its iris kin, the plant is poisonous.close-up

Grown in Italy since Roman times, it was particularly common around Florence, as alluded to in the ‘Florentina’ part of its name. A very stylized representation of the flower appears on the Florence’s coat of arms. The fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy is also thought to be inspired by the iris.

We have examples of this lovely plant in both the Herb Garden and the Wild Garden, where it can be seen in full bloom this week.setting

Plant of the Week: Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’ (Robin’s Plantain cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

In the wild, Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) is found over much of eastern North America. Often seen in rocky, wooded places, it is equally at home in fields and roadsides. Its small, daisy-like flowers are mostly white.

This selection, ‘Lynnhaven’, has a dense coating of tiny hairs over the foliage, giving the plant a slightly gray appearance and the flowers, which are opening now on tall fuzzy stalks, are larger and have a slight hint of lilac.close-up

Completely happy in poor and dry soils, it can also tolerate full sun or part shade and moist conditions. It spreads by underground stolons (shoot-like roots) and quickly forms a weed-suppressing thick mat—a far more attractive ground cover than a load of mulch!leaves

There are some large patches of this excellent, native ground cover plant under the linden tree in front of Wave Hill House.setting

I selected it as Plant of the Week back in early April 2017, and have returned to it this week in honor of National Wildflower Week. Although not a true wildflower, because it is a selection or cultivar (a cultivated variety), Robin’s plantain is a fine garden plant, originating from the wild.

Plant of the Week: Malus sargentii ‘Tina’ (Crabapple cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

There are many types of crabapple—more than 400, if one includes all the species and cultivars—and they reward the gardener with blossom in spring and ornamental fruit in fall.

We have several impressive specimens on the grounds here at Wave Hill, but most of them would be too large for the average home garden. Malus sargentii ‘Tina’, however, is compact enough for almost any yard. The normal form of the Sargent crabapple (Malus sargentii) grows to at least 10 feet high and can spread to about 20 feet wide, but ‘Tina’ tops out at only five or six feet and perhaps 10 to 12 feet wide.

Right now, our tree is covered in masses of red, densely-packed flower buds and they are popping open to reveal creamy-white insides.close-up-2

close-upIt is a wonderful display and can be seen behind the Perkins Visitor Center on the edge of the lawn, on your right as you head toward to Wave Hill House.setting

Plant of the Week: Stylophorum diphyllum (Celandine Poppy)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Native to much of eastern North America, the celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) is a welcome, self-seeding perennial that can light up a shady corner of the garden in spring. It can be seen in several places in the Wild Garden. Look for it in the right foreground of this first photo, taken looking north. It will likely be in bloom for some weeks yet.setting

Although not a true poppy, it is a member of the same family (Papaveraceae), and its blooms are very poppy-like in structure, with golden-yellow petals arranged around a large cluster of stamens at the center.close-up-2

The foliage is deeply lobed and covered with silvery hairs on its underside, making for an attractive ground cover, even after the flowers are finished.close-up-1

A dry spell later in summer can cause the plants to die back and go dormant for the rest of the year.

There are at least two other plants that have celandine as part of their common name. Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) is related and similar in appearance to the celandine poppy, but has smaller flowers and an invasive habit. Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)—also known as fig buttercup—is a much smaller plant, with glossy leaves and a more star-shaped, yellow bloom. Both are native to Europe and have become problem weeds in North America.

Plant of the Week: Asarum canadense (Wild Ginger)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

One could be forgiven for missing the blooms of this native woodland plant. Small, reddish-brown in color, and resting on the ground, they are not entirely obvious but, for all that, they are worth a closer look.


The flowers, despite their diminutive size, are quite beautiful and have an almost tropical appearance. Their color and location make them attractive to tiny flies, which, as they emerge from the soil at this time of year, seem to assist with pollination.

A further trick demonstrated by this plant is that when its seeds are ripe, they have a nutritious coating. Ants collect these seeds and carry them off to their nests, where they eat off the coating and discard the contents—usually in an ideal location for the plant to grow.

It is called wild ginger because the root was once collected to be used as a ginger substitute, but it does contain some toxic compounds and is no longer used as a flavoring. True ginger (Zingiber officinale) is a tropical plant and is completely unrelated.

Wild ginger makes an attractive ground cover in a shady spot in the garden. Its flowers and distinctive, freshly-unfurled foliage can be seen this week in the Shade Border, close to Wave Hill House.setting

Plant of the Week: Magnolia ×loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ (Magnolia cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

This spring has been kind to our magnolias. Mild days, cool nights (with no damaging frosts so far) have resulted in a fine show.tree

Among the group of small magnolias trees on the Great Lawn midway between the Flower Garden and Glyndor Gallery is Magnolia ×loebneri ‘Leonard Messel’ and this week it is in its full pink glory.setting

An accidental hybrid between two magnolia species—Magnolia kobus and a pink form of M. stellata—it arose at Nymans, the garden of Colonel Leonard Messel in Sussex, England.close-up

If the weather continues its current pattern we shall be able to enjoy our spring blooming magnolias for several days yet.

Plant of the Week: Leucojum vernum (Spring Snowflake)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

The spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum) is an enchanting flowering bulb. Its nodding, paper-lantern-like blooms appear in early spring. Pure white, the blooms have a small dab of yellow or green near the tip of each tepal (petal).the-plant

It can be confused with its relative, the more common snowdrop (Galanthus sp.), shown here.


Both have white flowers and a limited stature—they grow to barely 12 inches high—but the snowflake has wider, angular flowers compared to the more oval blooms of the snowdrop, shown below.close-up

Native to Central Europe, it thrives in shady spots in the Wild Garden, where it can be seen in flower for the next week or so. They are nodding away in the right foreground of this last shot. the-setting

Plant of the Week: Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica (Puschkinia Variety)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

The spectacle of thousands of blue-flowered glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa sardensis) captures the attention at Wave Hill at this time of the year, but tucked away in odd corners are small pockets of some closely related plants with equally enchanting blooms.

Among them is Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica (a type of striped squill). It has white flowers that are marked with a distinct, blue stripe in the middle of each tepal (petal). Puschkinia-close-upSmall groups of it can be seen in the border below the stone wall on the south edge of the Wild Garden. This next shot, looking west, should help guide you to them.WIld-Garden-southern-border

In the same border is Scilla mischtschenkoana (syn. Scilla tubergeniana), another striped squill with blue-striped pale flowers. The two are very similar but can be distinguished by their anther filaments—the little stalks that support the anthers at the middle of each flower. Puschkinia anther filaments are flattened and form a small “cup,” with the anthers almost entirely enclosed, as you can see in the first shot above.

Incidentally, Chionodoxa (glory-of-the-snow), shown here, also have flattened filaments in the shape of a cup, but the anthers are held just above the opening.cionodoxa-close-up

Scilla, on the other hand, have thread-like anther filaments that stand up like the points of a crown, as you can see in this next photo.Scillia-close-up

Puschkinia is named in honor of Count Apollos Mussin-Puschkin (1760-1805), a Russian chemist and plant collector, while the specific epithet of Scilla mischtschenkoana honors another Russian botanist, Pavel Mishchenko (1869-1938).

Lastly, in the next few days you might spot something that looks exactly like glory-of-the-snow but with completely white, not blue, flowers. There is indeed a white glory-of-the-snow—Chionodoxa luciliae f. alba—and we have patches of it under the hornbeam hedge near the Aquatic Garden and in other places around the grounds. The shot here was taken one spring along the trail in the Herbert and Hyonja Abrons Woodland.Woodlands

Plant of the Week: Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ (Iris cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

This diminutive iris (Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’) is a member of the Reticulata Group of irises. The group includes hybrids and cultivars derived from Iris reticulata and other small species of iris.

Their blooms appear early in spring, often at the same time as the first crocuses, and stand no more than six inches high. They are easily recognized as iris flowers, with three “standards” (upright petals) and three “falls” (sepals, set below the petals), arranged in a regular, triangular pattern.close-up

Both the standards and falls of ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ are a pale blue with white streaks, and the falls carry a yellow flush and dark, speckled markings. They can be seen in the Flower Garden, in the bed along the front of the Marco Polo Stufano Conservatory.

settingTheir companion in this next shot is glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa sardensis); its gentian-blue buds are just about to open.


Delicate as they look, quivering in a spring breeze, these blooms withstand the freezing temperatures of a chilly March night and still look fresh in the morning sun.

Plant of the Week: Hamamelis ×intermedia ‘Primavera’ (Witch Hazel cultivar)

Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.

Hamamelis ×intermedia ‘Primavera’ is one of the last of the winter-flowering witch hazels to bloom at Wave Hill. In fact, in most years it justifies the cultivar name—primavera is the word for spring in several languages.

In common with all witch hazels, each flower is formed of four, long and narrow petals which, in this case, are primrose-yellow and emerge from a glossy, dark-red calyx (the scales of the flower bud).close-up

Located close to the front door of Wave Hill House, it will be hard to miss this week, especially on a sunny day when its sweet scent wafts in the air.setting