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Neither scruffy nor scrophulous: Scrophularia macrantha

"Scrofulous" is defined as "morally tainted" by the dictionary...what this has to do with the genus Scrophularia escapes me. Over the years we have grown no end of rather scruffy little Scrophs: most have lacy leaves and blackish flowers. But there are a few beauties that show great promise. Queen among these is Scrophularia macrantha, a highly local plant from a few sky islands in New Mexico. It can be found many places at Denver Botanic Gardens, chiefly in the Plant Select garden where it is creating a spectacle (and attracting the occasional hummingbird). It is available at most independent garden centers locally as well. David Salman of High Country Gardens gave it the common name of "red birds in a tree"--so very imaginitive and it seems to be sticking!

The amazing horticulturists of the city of Lakewood have planted this "rare" plant throughout the hell strips of the city, as well as in many of the parks and especially in the extraordinary displays at Kendrick Lake and around the Lakewood Municipal buildings. The picture above was taken on Alameda Avenue.  

Scrophularia chrysantha

We have grown a handful of species of Scrophularia over the years, mostly with tiny black flowers and cut leaves. I have always been charmed with this early spring blooming species from Western and Central Asia. Alas, it is barely on the fringes of cultivation. But perhaps our propagators will grow lots of them for upcoming plant sales?



We love this plant and both is and Datura did really well in Breen in a courtyard garden. Alas, since we've moved closer to town neither one really does anything as spectacular as your fotos show that Red Birds, f. ex. is capable of. I'm guessing it likes gravelly soil and lots of sun- is that right? (Of course Russian Sage doesn't even do for us, but one of our neighbors has giant plants that can be seen from a quarter mile away. His are not under Ponderosas and have plenty of sun. Oh well- I can't grow a pansy to save my life either,...
Matt Pizzuti

Thanks for including pictures showing the whole plant! That's why I keep coming to this blog; so many garden sites zoom in on a flower or spike but you'll search through hundreds of images, yet its still impossible to figure out how the plant would look like in the context of a full garden - considering all possible variations in size, shape, and flower coverage that a plant can have. Flowers are just the reproductive organs of a plant; if you plant gardens for bloom only you end up with one that's looking discombobulated and floppy most of the time. ----- @Jeff^ I'd hate to repeat a lot of stuff you're already aware of. But you said you have a hard time finding plants that do well under ponderosas? I think unfortunately a lot of the xeric plants marketed locally prefer alkaline clay soils of the plains or Southwestern deserts and struggle in the acid soils under a conifer tree; most of Colorado's xeric areas are alkaline plains so the popular plants are selected to match the predominant need. But if you're willing to take a portion of your troublesome area under ponderosas and water it regularly, you can have a garden of acid-loving that plains gardeners would envy; rhododendrons, azaleas, astilbe, ferns, hostas, columbines, and some spring bulbs that are native to woodland areas. If you are looking for plants for areas under you don't want to water, I'd take a walk around your nearest open space and see what wildflowers grow naturally under the dry shade of ponderosas, note what species they are and try to find a showier hybridized version at your local nursery. The pH under a conifer tree is much more acidic than the surrounding soil, but reverts at the drip-line of the tree: or right where you may notice that the grass, killed by the acidity of decaying pine needles, comes back. so on the other side of that line you can plant your traditional plains plants. Also a century of fire suppression has left Colorado's ponderosa forests overgrown, but naturally the trees thrive when thinned and having big sunny gaps of open space between them.
Panayoti Kelaidis

Dear Matt and Jeff, Thank you both for your responses: I actually have never grown Scrophularia macrantha as well as Lakewood or DBG staff myself. Wish I knew why not. But I collected the original capsule (around 1992, I believe, on Cooke Peak) from a plant in a pine forest! So there... Surely, all pansies need is a good loam for you there in Durango, Jeff? and water, of course...they are positively gross in my yard (didn't pull them up yet and one pot must have hundreds of etiolated stems with fresh flowers)... Let's thin them Ponderosies...

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