The Mysterious Erodium x lindavicum

Allan Robinson , UK

 

Erodium x lindavicum has populated catalogues and gardens for many decades, grown for the silvery grey, cut foliage and flowers that can be shades of white, cream, yellow, apricot and pink. It seemed improbable to me that so many different coloured forms could be found in one cross between two species of Erodium. Then I had the thought of reproducing the original hybrid made by Franz Sündermann at Lindau in Southern Germany . Theoretically, this should confirm the characteristics of the first E. x lindavicum.

  I then started to research the original cross, in several old books plus the Alpine Garden Society’s “Encyclopaedia of Alpines”, the parents are given as Erodium chrysanthum and Erodium absinthoides var. amanum. The formula seemed easy enough to understand, assuming Sündermann had the true species of Erodium chrysanthum and not the imposter that is found in nurseries the world over. 

  Then I needed to correct the nomenclature of the parents into their modern day equivalent, so I consulted the online “Plant List”. At this point, the situation started to go downhill rapidly for there is neither any mention of Erodium absinthoides var. amanum nor any reference to that name in the list of synonyms. I started to wonder as to what exactly was going on and realised I had opened yet another Erodium “box of horrors”.

  Erodium x lindavicum was described in 1912 and would have been raised a year or two before.  Sündermann organised his own plant collecting expeditions to various countries between 1908 and 1912, it may be he collected his own material to enable the creation of this hybrid.

  The best person to consult at times such as this is Reginald Farrer, as he was our eyes and ears at the time Sündermann was producing his new botanic hybrids in the early 1900s. First of all Farrer mentions that at one time Erodium chrysanthum was considered a form of Erodium absinthoides, so in his view crossing two forms of the same species didn’t really result in a true inter-specific hybrid. As for his comments on the actual plant, Erodium x lindavicum, he obviously doesn’t consider it an improvement as he states that the hybrid has “kept the broader leafage of E. chrysanthum and turned chrysanthum’s yellow to an obscurer note”. Is he describing the plant now sold as Erodium chrysanthum ?

(We did notice that plants of E. chrysanthum seen on Mt.Ziria have broader foliage than those found on Mt. Parnonas , so this is a variable within the species).

  Farrer gives us a description of Erodium absinthoides var.amanum, so we find that this plant has “hoary leaves each showing short white hairs”. The flowers are “pure and brilliant lucent white in a lax spray” and he gives the provenance as Akma Dag in Northern Syria .  Today, these ancient mountains are referred to as the Nur Mountains and the mountain in question is in fact well within Turkey .  Akma Dag is some distance from the Syrian border, whether or not the boundary has been moved since Farrer’s time, I have no idea.

  So now we know a yellow flowered species was crossed with a white one. At this point we can probably rule out all the pink and apricot cultivars associated with E. x lindavicum. They are not plentiful but they are encountered from time to time when perusing plant catalogues. As usual, raising Erodium species and hybrids from seed will have lost the true plants known and written about years ago, we are left guessing as to which mongrel is closest to the truth.

  Erodium amanum, which has no affinity to Erodium absinthoides according to the “Plant List”, would seemingly be our second parent. I have found a photograph of this species, please type in the link below and view the upper photo on the website.

http://www.asianflora.com/Geraniaceae/Erodium-amanum.htm

  Then, searching for Erodium species native to the Amanus or Nur Mountains , we come across Erodium absinthoides subspecies haradjianii. This is also a white flowered plant very similar to E. amanum. It seems rather strange that we have two similar white flowered Erodiums from the same mountain range both with downy foliage. The link below will provide a photo.

http://botany.cz/cs/erodium-absinthoides-haradjianii/

  Any attempt at reproducing the original “ lindavicum  hybrid nowadays seems immediately thwarted. Very few nurseries list E. amanum and those that do, offer a pink flowered plant. On close inspection, these turn out to be the same as the plant sold as Erodium chrysanthum ‘Roseum’ or ‘Pink Form’, another impossibility as the species, E. chrysanthum, does not naturally produce pink flowers.

(Elizabeth Strangman of Washfield Nursery introduced Erodium chrysanthum ‘Roseum’ into the UK years ago, a Dutch nurseryman originally gave her the plant).

  So until the white flowered Erodium native to the Nur Mountains in Turkey is re-introduced, further investigation will have to be shelved. It would seem that the term Erodium x lindavicum has been used as a dumping ground for any hybrid that is surmised to be in that cross. The common denominator seems to be the attractive silvery grey cut foliage associated with this hybrid. Often as not, seed was raised from a plant bearing that name; sadly no thought was given to the chances of open pollination having taken place. The Erodium x lindavicum complex would have developed new characteristics as time went on, a gradual process for a hundred years.

  As with most hybrids between two different species, there will be variation when the role of seed and pollen parent is reversed. There will also be variation when different, distinct forms of each species are used in the cross. I think it is fair to say that today we do not really know what the original plant Franz Sündermann raised would actually look like.  It will be interesting to see the true characteristics of Erodium x lindavicum at some point in the future.

 

Allan Robinson, Sutton Bridge , The Fens, England .   August 2015

 

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