Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Pink Mountain plants trial project

I first heard of Pink Mountain B.C. a few years ago through an acquaintance, Ron Long.  Ron is an accomplished photographer of plants,animals, insects and landscapes.  He in turn was led to this remote northeastern spot on a tip.  Since then preserving this special place due to its rare plants, butterflies, Bison and others has become his passion, and now I'm charged with stewarding a handful of its plants...

Due to Pink Mountain's remote distance from civilization - 3 hours drive from the nearest town, and a wearying 18 hours from Vancouver - I have not been there!  Yet I recently became the beneficiary of some of its plants.  Much of Pink Mountain's flora is special because its broad flat top supports a geographically isolated alpine tundra environment.  At about 1550m elevation, this high plateau is home to some plants that aren't found as far south anywhere in B.C.  Many boreal, arctic and alpine plants live here and nowhere else for hundreds of kilometers.

The plants I have taken charge of are grown from seed collected in situ by a UBC researcher.  She raised about a dozen kinds and once they became a reasonable size, she then hoped to see how they would react to life here in the relatively warm south.  Last Fall I received six flats of seedling plants for trial in the alpine garden.  These were put in a cold frame over winter, and now with Spring coming on it is time to pull the largest ones and plant them out.

The trial site in the alpine garden under preparation
This week I spent time pulling tiny annual weeds in order to start with a blank slate.  This spot is northwest-facing, sloping, and soil is gravelly and rocky.  I hope that it will provide the new plants with the best possible conditions I can deliver:  not too hot, well drained and in proximity to summer irrigation.  In Vancouver we are summer-dry, so plants that need it must rely on supplemental water.

Polemonium boreale, awaiting planting out

As I pulled plants from under cover, I found only three taxa were big enough for planting out.  The remainder await warmer weather under glass until they have gained greater size.  Perhaps some won't be planted out until this September, I hope.  In any case, the planting site is small, about 8 feet long x 4 feet wide, so the plants have pretty much already filled the space. Yesterday I installed 21 Polemonium boreale, 14 Silene involucrata, just    1 Papaver sp. and 2 Artemisia aff. ludoviciana.  A Potentilla sp. awaits planting for the moment.

Artemisia aff. ludoviciana

Some of the remaining taxa growing on are
Arnica lessingii, a Ledum sp., Saxifraga triscupidata and so on.  What makes all these plants exciting for me is the wide and northerly distributions of many of them.  For example, Silene involucrata and Polemonium boreale are prominent in the Flora of Svalbard Islands beyond Iceland, a mere 3500 miles away!

Even as I look forward to seeing flowers on the plants in their first full season, upon considering the collection as a whole I have definite reservations about climate.  Two big points:  bringing tundra plants 1400 kms south and growing them in a coastal setting (USDA Zone 2 to Zone 7b, essentially); and introducing them to Vancouver's snowless, yet soggy winters.  The freeze-thaw cycle plants endure here is difficult for mountain plants.  Oh, and of course the difference in UV here at sea level, and a much longer growing season.. significantly more than two points, and some huge challenges!  So am I optimistic for their longevity in cultivation?  No.  I simply want to grow them to flowering for now and collect seed, as any responsible alpine plant curator would do.
The trial bed during planting: Polemonium is promiment
Here are a couple of links which will help to ignite some interest:

Ron Long and the Pink Mountain initiative

The Alpine Garden Club of BC has closely followed Ron's work as well:
Pink Mountain rare plant information

And my UBC Botanical garden collegue, Daniel Mosquin, has a great plant portrait of Polemonium boreale!
Botany Photo of the Day: P. boreale


  1. Brent - Thanks for the great blog about Pink Mountain. Readers can get the full story at Two of the plants you are growing, Polemonium boreale and Silene involucrata, are blue listed in BC. I'm super impressed with the size of the Polemoniums in your photo. The last time I saw them they were just barely out of the seed. I share your concerns about their survivability in a garden setting but I'm hoping that they can be grown in more controlled environments by members of the Alpine Garden Club. Club members currently do not grow any native alpines because they are not available. Seed produced by the Pink Mountain collection will eventually be important both for interested growers and for rehabilitating Pink Mountain after the damage that seems inevitable from resource extraction. Ron Long

  2. Ron, thanks. I feel as if I've but a small part to play, but if this is it, then I'm glad to contribute. Good point about the rarity of these plants as well. I didn't want to overdo the information in a short blog post. I hope to revisit it with an update during this growing season, or later still. I'll do my best to harvest seed. I don't have any other species nearby so I should get pure seed, but first let's get them growing well!