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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stink Bells

Lets take make this post an in depth look at Fritillaria agrestis, with all the resources I have at my disposal.

Fully open, all of the pictures I'm going to post are from the same potted plant, this is the first to open and all the pictures were taken on the same day, so I'm guessing, although I'm certainly no expert that the disparity you see is from the time line of opening, pehaps related to planting depth of the bulbs.

Lets go through the literature:

My very old and falling apart 1925 edition of Willis Linn Jepsons "A manual of the flowering plants of California". Certainly very dated, but when one reaches for a first description one should always try to find the first one written and the  standard by which all others are measured, besides, since evolution moves at such a slow pace, I doubt that any newer treatment is going to offer much more than this. Besides, Botanists must have had so much more time to actually look at and inspect plants before the distractions of computers, I-pods, Wi-Fi, Jet Airliners, vulcanized rubber, Hi definition Television, LED lights, Neon, tupperware, hairspray.....geez the list could go on and on.

Anyway, Willis Linn Jepson wrote this description in 1925, but just to give you a sense of time and place these other things happened in 1925:

)The Great Gatsby is published(
)Adolph Hitler writes Mein Kamf(
)Calvin Coolidge becomes the fist president to broadcast a speech by radio(
)the worlds first motel is opened in California(
)A major diptheria outbreak occurs in Alaska(
)Margaret Thatcher and Johnny Carson are born(
)the Chrysler Corporation is formed(

Again the list could go on and on, However, in  1925 Willis Linn Jepson, Professor of Botany at the University of California, Berkely took a long hard look at Fritillaria agrestis........did I mention that at the ripe old age of 25 he walked into an attorney's office alongside  John Muir and formed the Sierra Club?.......BAD ASS....in my opinion.

Fritillaria agrestis. Stink Bells. stem from a very deep-seated bulb 12-20 in. high. leafy on the lower half; leaves 8-12, oblong-oblanceolate to linear-lanceolate, alternate or the lower somewhat whorled......"I'm not going to write out the whole description so you'll just have to track down a copy of my aged manual"........so Jepson continues; style cleft to about the middle.-Grain fields, region of the lower San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers, Odor very obnoxious.

Theodore Neihaus, who unfortately the internet doesn't have much to say about, wrote one of my favorite field guides of all time, "A field guide to pacific states wildflowers, field marks of species found in Washington, Oregon, California and adjacent areas. A visual approach arranged by color, form and detail."
If you are interested at all in the showy wildflowers of the Pacific states and can appeciate illustrations over photographs you must take this book with you when you go into looking for wildflowers in this region.
Fritillaria agrestis: The 5-12 linear leaves are crowded on the lower half of the waxy blue stem. The nodding 1-5 bell like flowers are greenish-white outside and purple brown inside. Strong bad odor. 1-2 feet tall. Grasslands. Central Valley of California, California Coast ranges.
The final treatment I will offer comes from the 3 volume set Hardy Bulbs by Charles Hervey Grey published by E.P. Dutton and Co. 1938.

I won't go into what happend in 1938 but if you know your history and can extract a bit from what I offered happened in 1925.....well the rest is history.

Fritillaria agrestis: Found in the valleys of the inner coast ranges from Contra Costa to San Benito and Monterey Counties, California. the bulb is medium-sized ovoid, with several large fleshy scales; the leaves cauline, eight to twelve, crowded near the base of the stem, petiolate, oblanceolate, fleshy, three to four inches long; the stem erect, rigid, eight to twelve inches in length; the raceme two to five flowered; the flowers widely campanulate, segments ovate, acute, imbricate, flushed green and purple at the base, about an inch long; the stamens about three quarters of an inch in length; the anthers creamy white,; the style trifid above, overtopping the stamens. It flowers in May. It is easily grown and would be a very attactive  plant were it not for it's abominable smell, like that of rotten meat. it outrivals, I think, the most eveil-smelling arum.

There you have it, Fritillaria agrestis, the Californian Stink Bells. Be forewarned if you plan to cultivate this plant, what they say about the smell is true. It will attract flies to your greenhouse even in March when it is snowing outside. Many California bee keepers recommend it as an early seaon source of pollen for bees......can't imagine what they honey may taste like........carrion perhaps?


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