Thursday, January 17, 2013


Canarina canariensis is a tuberous vine endemic to (the 7th grade geography students out there are probably way ahead of me) the Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco. It's a member of the family Campanulaceae, the bellflowers. The straggly stems produced by the tuber bear one to several large and strikingly colored flowers at their tips, during the depths of winter. The flowers lack any fragrance but literally drip with sugary nectar, which together with their shape and coloration suggest that they are primarily pollinated by birds. The flowers persist for an amazingly long time, with individual blooms lasting for almost a month.

The Canaries mostly have a Mediterranean climate, and the plant life from the islands is generally adapted to a winter-rainfall regime. Canarina canariensis is a strict winter grower, with the tubers sprouting in autumn, growing for six months or so, then shedding all of their above ground parts as the days get warmer and longer in the spring. I store the Canarina pots almost dry for the summer dormant period, with just an occasional splash of water to keep a little moisture below the soil surface. During the winter, the growing plants are kept in a cool, sunny greenhouse, given a shot of balanced liquid fertilizer every few weeks and watered to keep the soil consistently moist. Canarina shoots are waxy and somewhat succulent, and the plants are fairly thrifty with water even when in full growth. 

The C. canariensis plants here at UConn derive from seed collected by Dr. Greg Anderson on the island of Tenerife. The seed packet had been sitting around an office for seven years before Greg handed it off to me, and I planted the entire batch at once in a single pot, hoping to maybe get a couple of seedlings, if I was lucky. The pot was soon a lawn of little green shoots; it seems that Canarina seed remains viable for a long time. Separated out into individual pots of loose, well-drained soil, the plants reached maturity after one or two winters.