The Weather Is Better In… Florence!

In the Vancouver area, zonal denial is a part of life.  We have good winters and bad winters, and every year the garden centers and nurseries make a killing off of gardeners like me that insist on planting out marginally hardy plants.  I currently have 6 Phormium tenax (New Zealand flax) of various cultivars planted outside.  The oldest ones made it through last winter’s killing frosts, but just barely.  The newer ones have yet to see a winter as harsh, but it is only a matter of time.  I’m hoping this winter continues on in “good year” fashion.

The story is the same with cordylines. I had 2 die last winter, and the 4 I have left in the ground are tempting fate.  They seem to rebound from a harsh winter quicker than the flax, and in fact seem hardier the longer they’ve been in the ground.

Just a short drive west of Vancouver I can find both phormiums and cordylines looking great all year long.  The coastal climate influences of the eastern Pacific Ocean enable these naturally cool-weather denizens to thrive nearly within spitting distance of me, which I find incredibly spiteful and simultaneously relieving.  While I may tempt fate on a yearly basis, I know that my neighbors in the sand can keep me supplied even after a chilly winter.


One of the many giant cordylines growing near the Oregon coast.  I’m fairly certain that none of mine will ever come close to reaching this size. On a side note, most the photos in this post were taken with a cell phone camera. Less than ideal, but it was all I could do.


I noticed that several of the larger phormiums had recently bloomed.  This flower spike reached a good 8 feet above the ground.


New Zealand is the land of cordylines and flax.  Just outside of Nelson, NZ I was able to photograph them together.

My non-gardening half and I took a short trip to Florence, Oregon recently.  We had the time off from work and decided we needed a break.  As we drove through the tourist areas around Florence, I couldn’t help but notice the impressive and mature specimens that inhabited nearly every yard.  Pampas grass was a common sight, as were Pacific Wax Myrtle trees and wild rhododendrons. So much green life in the winter!


There were so many wild rhododendrons.  So many, that I couldn’t take a picture without including at least one in it.  That wasn’t a bad thing though, since they all looked great.

One of the reasons we chose Florence for the weekend was the chance to see some native carnivorous plants!  Darlingtonia californica, or Cobra Lily, is native to the bogs of northern California and southwestern Oregon.  DC is a hardy plant, staying mostly evergreen throughout winter.  It was a perfect time to visit Darlingtonia Wayside Botanical Garden.  The salal, sword ferns, wax myrtle, cedar and rhododendrons look good year round, so nothing looked out of place.

DC flowers in May or June, so we weren’t able to appreciate any flowers.  When they do bloom, they have brightly colored hanging flowers, with yellow sepals (the outer part of the flower) and red petals.  The leaves are even more impressive.  Each leaf raises up from the base of the plant like the head of a cobra, forming a hollow tube in which to trap insects. The top of the leaf, or the head of the cobra, has numerous transparent leaf windows that allow sunlight to reach the interior of the leaf. Colorful forked appendages hang down from where a tongue might emerge from a cobra’s mouth, lending even more to this plant’s common name.  Nectar forms on these appendages to lure prey into it’s “mouth”.  Once inside, the transparent leaf windows act to confuse the prey into thinking they are an exit.  The inside of the windows are very smooth surfaces and eventually the prey lose their foothold, falling into the digestive enzymes at the base of the leaf.They are then kept in place by downward pointing hairs.  It’s science!


The covered walkway allows plant geeks and nerds to enjoy the bog without walking through it.


A nice stand of Darlingtonia californica.  I wonder how many insects are trapped every day during the peak of mosquito season?


If there was a more interesting plant to focus an entire botanical garden on, I wouldn’t know it!

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