Country diary: a coral form with a fondness for dry stone walls | Environment
AOver a stone retaining wall at the front of my flower border, I grow mounds of a succulent herb known as rose root. Rising out of a sea of forget-me-nots, their rounded shapes resemble strange coral shapes. Their coloration of blue-green leaves and lemon-yellow flowers add to this underwater feeling; I almost expect small fish to take shelter in their rhythmic ramifications.
They are called herbs because the dried rose scent roots were used in perfumery. Succulents because their water-storing leaves allow them to live among dry rocks in high alpine conditions.
Native to the UK, rose root, Rhodiola rosea, grows mainly in the north and west, tucked away on the ledges of sea cliffs or in mountainous areas over 300m. The closest place I live is likely to be Cross Fell, the tallest of the North Pennine Hills.
My rose root lumps go back to an original that I have propagated over the years. Since it is dioecious, rose root bears male and female flowers on different plants; mine are all male so they don’t produce seeds. But break off a piece and stick it in the ground and it will take root.
I run my hands over the leaves and they feel cool on this day of intense heat. To be good, rose root must be grown in full sun. It is drought tolerant but also needs some moisture at the roots, conditions that mimic the crevices in which it grows wild. The well-drained, sunny location above my stone wall is ideal, and this is a very hardy plant that fits my frost basin in a garden and grows as far north as the Arctic.
Each tiny yellow flower has four petals and a star-shaped stamen. Insects have been attracted to them since flowering began over a month ago, and I’ve counted bumblebees, solitary bees, hoverflies, flies, and beetles. It’s also a favorite of the wine beetle, the plump white larvae that feast on their thick roots in winter before reaching full maturity in late spring. When that happens, I cut the damage from the fleshy branches, stick them in the soil where they will grow back – and celebrate the stamina of the rose root.
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