Monday, March 14, 2016

Draba cuneifolia

For several years now, I have maintained a population of the uncommon winter annual, Draba cuneifolia, in a container filled with a substrate that superficially mimics that found in its natural habitat on the barrens. This artificially maintain colony has been thriving.

These interesting little plants have just begun to bloom. Previous year’s seed crops have allowed me to return a great quantity of seed to the barrens. Seed is always scattered in areas from which the original seed came.  The bounty of seeds from the container grown plants has far exceeded that which could have been expected from plants produced on the barrens. 

As with many captive plant populations, this one has refused to respect its defined boundaries and has dispatched its seed to produce new colonies.  I am now finding Draba cuneifolia growing along the concrete foundation of my barn…

from cracks in the decomposing concrete of the apron outside the barn door…

and even out of the drain holes of other containers.

In October 2014, I found some Draba cuneifolia seeds stuck in the folds at the bottom of my seed collecting sack. I scattered the seed in a garden bed that I am using for the production of Spider Milkweed, Asclepias viridis. Draba seeds need to go through a period of high temperature before they will break dormancy, something that apparently didn’t happen at the bottom of my seed sack. It wasn’t until November of the following year that I began to see Draba cuneifolia seedlings. The orange ribbons mark locations of the milkweed plants which will do most of their growing after the Draba has already set seed.

The Draba cuneifolia grow extremely well in the deep, fertile soil of the garden bed. Were I to discontinue removing competing plant growth from these beds, the Draba would not survive.

All of these plants are loaded with flower buds and will soon be in bloom.

We had three days in a row of extremely cold temperatures during a time when there was no snow cover on the ground. Several of the exposed Draba cuneifolia showed signs of freeze damage.

Those damaged plants survived, but as they grew, they abandoned their single rosette form. Growth from multiple points caused plants to take on the appearance of small shrubs with numerous branches growing in all directions.

Draba cuneifolia growing on the barrens also showed signs of cold weather damage. Both of these plants display dead leaves, but they are still growing. Unfortunately, life on the barrens is more stressful for the species and the plants do not produce the vigorous growth of those growing in the garden.

I enjoy seeing the genetic potential expressed by the plants growing in the garden, but it’s these tiny wild grown specimens that I admire most. They are poor competitors and can survive only where other plants fail. Life on the barrens is rough, but these little plants are tough enough to survive there.


  1. I have to say, your study of these little winter annuals is so fascinating. I've never seen any of these plants (and based on the range maps, I'm unlikely to) but I wouldn't be surprised if they were far more common than is popularly known. There's so many similar weed species that I'd bet these plants have been pulled up as weeds before.

    1. Hi, Jared. You're right. Many populations of these plants go unnoticed and unreported. At the time of year that these tiny plants produce their inconspicuous blooms, most people with a casual interest in botany are busy cruising the woods looking at the showy wildflowers, and would not likely explore the open areas containing the Drabas. It's also a problem that many private landowners view prime Draba habitat as being a wasteland and destroy the area through aggressive "land improvement" projects.

  2. Wow, I stumbled back onto your bolg again and re-added it to my list. You announced some time back that you were stopping, but glad you are back.

    I've also done a number of personal research studies on plants which most folks ignore, but I found had great tremendous value as polinator attractants, especially in the Predator category. People don't realize that many predatory insects to the pests while capturing prey for young to feed on, actually themselves as adults feed on nectar of wild flowering plants. This actually helped me when I selected landscape plants not only as native ornamental plants, but with a sort of ecosystem balance in mind. This actually further helped me not to have to purchase any synthetic pesticides for controls of pests. For me a beautiful California Shrub I would always add in new projects was the deep glossy green leafed shrub - California Coffeeberry. Most folks never plant this for it's flowers because as you alluded to, many plants have plain inconspicuous flowers. However on this shrub it produces sticky nectar with powerful pheromones we don't smell, but the winged insects flock to. All manner of every insect in the Bee, Wasps families show up. All sorts of flies and mosquitoes. Beetles, Butterflies, moths, etc. What I got a kick out of was the way these critters would crawl and stumble over each other on the same flower clusters. The shrub would be alive with loud winged activity. The butterflies were shy being touched by all the others and they would hover mostly. But what I found were those numerous tiny predatory wasps which most folks know almost nothing about. Those were the ones who kept the garden in balance.

    Thanks for reopening up again

    1. Welcome back, Kevin. I've noticed the same thing here with some of our native shrubs. The flowers go unnoticed by people, but insects swarm to them.