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Recondite Plants: what are they? where are they? #1


The hacks of advertising and popular culture deem that the "common person" has a very low I.Q., Hence the fear of "elitism" and a desire to aim at the lowest common denominator. On the other hand, you must admit that there is a basic yearning for the rare, the unique, the recondite*. Hence treasure hunts,diamonds, unicorns and rare book rooms at libraries. For some of us the obscure, the novel and the strange invariably trump the common, the ordinary, the humdrum. I guess I have to admit I'm at elitist!

Early September boasts its share of recondite treasures. Some, like the western rock spiraea (Petrophytum caespitosum) are widespread plants in nature, clinging to limestone cliffs from British Columbia to Mexico. You can find this quite a few special places in  Colorado, but most wildflower lovers miss it because it blooms so late, and grows on relatively inaccessible cliffs. You can find this perfect specimen, however, growing in the Glenwood Springs trough in Wildflower Treasures at Denver Botanic Gardens, looking just as it does by the tunnel on I-70 just east of Glenwood Springs. Only for most of us, it's a shorter drive to the Gardens. I can't think of another public garden anywhere on earth with such a perfect specimen: I think that qualifies as recondite:

Dictionary.com defines recondite as:

1. dealing with very profound, difficult or abstruse subject matter: a recondite treatise.

2. beyond ordinary knowledge or understanding; esoteric: recondite principles.

3. little known; obscure: a recondite fact.


Mark Turner

You've opened my eyes to another member of this small alpine genus. From my Pacific Northwest perspective I only knew of the Olympic mountain endemic <em>Petrophyton hendersonii</em>, Olympic Rockmat. My interest piqued, I found that there's a second Washington state endemic in the genus, <em>P. cinerascens</em> that only grows along 17 miles of the Columbia River near Wenatchee that I've not seen. It also blooms late. There's another local one down in California. But the treasure in your trough is indeed widespread in the west, just not in my part of the continent.
Panayoti Kelaidis

Mark, Thrilled you checked in on our blog here: I am amazed I could introduce you to any new plants, you have gotten around to so many. I have really enjoyed your wonderful book you wrote (and photographed!) with Phyllis. And I didn't know there was an endemic rock spiraea in California: you have me scurrying to look it up! Panayoti
Kelly Norris

Panayoti, Is seed of this available through NARGS? Do you know of anyone propagating it commercially? --Kelly Norris
Panayoti Kelaidis

I have often offered seed of Petrophytum through NARGS: I have a vigorous strain from Colorado I have grown for many years. Several Seedsmen (Alplains and Northwest Native seed) also collect it on a regular basis. The seed is miniscule, and the seedlings grow slowly, but it is definitely possible to grow, although I think it will need trough culture in most climates, or at least a crevice garden. Plants in nature can grow to be enormous and must be decades--probably hundreds of years old: some of the real treasures of the West.
Gardening Seeds

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