Bloom Highlights

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Sources for "What's in Bloom: Bloom Highlights" listings include the Chicago Botanic Garden's staff and database, as well as the publications and records of other botanic gardens, institutions, and the scientific community.

Harmony Reticulata Iris

This very early spring-blooming, fragrant reticulata-type dwarf iris features bluebird-blue standards and royal blue falls with a white-edged yellow blotch. The triangular-shaped leaves elongate after flowering to 12 inches in length and go dormant near midsummer. Over time, each bulb will produce offsets resulting in showy clumps with dozens of flowers.

This cultivar was created when Iris reticulata was hybridized with Iris histrioides var. major and has received the Award of Merit and a First Class Certificate from the Dutch Royal Bulb Growers Association.

Japanese Cornelian Cherry; Japanese Cornel.

Japanese Cornel dogwood (Cornus officianalis) is a separate dogwood species from Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas), but shares many of the same characteristics -- abundant yellow flowers in late winter/early spring, red fruit and exfoliating bark. The Kintoki cultivar is somewhat smaller than the species and notable for heavy flowering.

Members of the genus Cornus, commonly known as dogwoods, are welcome in the home garden for their multi-season interest -- be it flowers, fruit, foliage, and/or bark -- and their range of forms from small trees to suckering shrubs. The dominant display, however, varies among the species.

Dogwoods are native to cooler temperate areas of North America and Asia. The genus includes 45-60 species, divided into subgenera about which taxonomists disagree. The Chicago Botanic Garden's collection includes almost 100 varieties of dogwood from 20 species (7 of which are native) and over 2,400 plants.

Lenten Rose

Native to northeastern Greece, northern and northeastern Turkey, and Georgia, Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is quite at home in Chicago's chilly spring. It blooms for six to eight weeks, beginning in mid-February when snow is often still on the ground. Lenten roses grow to 18 inches tall, bearing cup-shaped, 2-inch, rose-like flowers, ranging in color from white to rose-purple. Hellebores in general tolerate a variety of soils, and they are an excellent choice for shady locations under trees and near shrubs in the home garden.

The genus Helleborus was a name used by Theophrastus for all medicinal herbs (including this genus). Later botanists honored this famous physician by officially adopting his name for this genus of plants. In the ancient world, extracts from Helleborus were used as dangerous cathartics and in veterinary medicine. The poisonous alkaloids cause a burning sensation in the mouth so are rarely accidentally ingested.

Yellow Mammoth Crocus

More than 2,000 yellow mammoth crocuses (Crocus flavus) and 4,000 white-and- purple Dutch crocuses (C. vernus 'Remembrance' and 'Jeanne d' Arc') are in spectacular bloom in the Evening Island meadow in April. This cultivar goes by many names, including 'Yellow Mammoth', 'Golden Yellow', and just plain Crocus 'Yellow'. It has been in cultivation for so long that its exact origin is unknown.

The meadows won't be mowed until all crocus leaves have fully withered. The leaves need plenty of time—usually about six weeks after flowering—to turn sunlight into the energy that each bulb will store until it is needed to power next spring's show. Crocus naturalizes easily, especially in well-drained soil that is kept on the dry side when bulbs are dormant.