Monday, September 6, 2021

Biarum carratracense subterranean seed development

You know that feeling of anticipation when a small package that is long awaited arrives from far away? Someone in our household recently got a taste of that with the arrival of a new species of Biarum from afar (well, Oregon). This one contained a new to our garden species of Biarum!
If you've never heard of Biarum, that is because they are a pretty obscure bunch of plants found largely around the Mediterranean. The tallest ones are barely one foot tall in leaf, and they can be so inconspicuous that you can be walking through a field full of them and have the greatest trouble actually finding one. That is, if you nose is clogged or they aren't in flower. These are fly pollinated miniature relatives of the famous Corpse Flower (Amorphophallus titanum which has the largest flower structure of any plant). The flowers range through quite a range of intricate forms, from the jellyfish-vase-something-else shaped flowers of Biarum davisii
to the more conventionally shaped flowers of Biarum carratracense.
Both the photos above show plants in pots that are 2.825" wide at the top - so these are not large flowers! In fact, here is a photo of a Biarum flower just about to open (emerging from the small pot sitting inside the large pot) for scale next to a well-past-it's-prime flowering specimen of Amorphophallus konjac standing a bit more than four feet tall.
These plants tend to flower before or after the leaves have grown, so the flowers tend to emerge from bare ground. Most of the flower is below ground, and the seeds develop underground until they are ripe. In this way they resemble the completely unrelated genus Gethyllis from South Africa. This is the view down into one of the flowers of Biarum zelebourii earlier this year.
The seeds develop completely underground as a cluster of berries. The berries contain a single seed each. Clusters of berries are pushed above ground when they ripen, though the creatures that the berries are intended for are not well documented. Normally these in-development berries are hidden underground, and hence cannot be seen. While repotting Biarums recently that I expected to be fully dormant, I discovered this one with both root growth for the new year and developing berries:
If you want to try growing Biarum, there are very few commercial sources. These are some of the ones we have been able to get tubers from recently (we have used these sources, have no ties to them, and have no monetary or other kickbacks, affiliate programs, etc... with them for making the recommendations):

The Pacific Bulb Society - a nonprofit that has seed and bulb exchanges available to members several times a year, must be a member to participate

Rare Plants Nursery, United Kingdom Shipping is expensive, the plants are as advertised and always arrived for us in excellent condition

Illahe Rare Bulbs This one is tricky - they offer their catalog once a year, in late July into August, for a few weeks only. Often have excellent prices, quality is spectacular, and Mark is communicative if you need support or have questions. The old catalogs are posted for archival purposes - and the blog format to find the catalogs when posted is confusing, at least to me.

Seeds of Peace - Oron Perri runs this seed and bulb farm in Israel. He generally grows everything - the seeds and the bulbs. Often has several species unobtainable elswere. Quality I've received is excellent uniformly, seeds arrive in a week or two typically.

Telos Rare Bulbs - a California operation, catalog lists items when available, so order right then if you see something. Diana has always shipped me very high quality plants. One of my longest running an favorite rare bulb sources!

LIBERTO’s SEEDS AND BULBS Eleftherios Dariotis growing bulbs near Athens, Greece - I've always had excellent interactions and high quality materials from him. He sells on eBay sometimes, and directly other times. He also produces an annual catalog he emails out in Summer. You have to email him at eldaebay at to get on his email list. Ask him about Biarum - he may have some not in his catalog due to small quantities being available.

If you know other sources, please make a comment and I'll update this list.

To obtain a "Permit to Import Plants and Plant ProductsRegulated by 7 CFR 319 Subpart - Plants for Planting" from the US Department of Agriculture go here and apply - they are free and enable legal importation of foreign plants (PPQ 587 is the form you are looking for): for overview of the permit process> for a blank permit form you can fill out in your browser and print to send in. If you are going to do a lot of permits, you can get put into the online system for applying for and managing permits - you have to take your passport into the USDA and make an appointment and all that.

It all begins with a flower... or is it a seed... which comes first, the flower or the seed? Er, yes, the seed came first, perhaps by a hundred million years. Happy gardening!