Alpine Garden Society

Ulster Group

Plant of the Month, December  2017
   Corydalis chaerophylla (?) - by David Ledsham

This lovely yellow Corydalis was planted out some time during 2007/08, but the seed had been obtained as part of a share in Chris Chadwell's 2003 expedition to the North-West Himalaya.     My plant was grown from the only seed which germinated from that particular packet. Inevitably, I lost track of the label not long after planting, and thereafter I was at a complete loss to give the plant a more accurate name. It remained 'that lovely yellow Corydalis' for a considerable time. I searched in vain for a more precise identification only to discover that there are more than 300 species of Corydalis to be found in and around the Himalaya. It turns out that this part of the world is something of a hotspot for the genus which is probably still actively evolving - and Google wasn't very helpful either.

But then much more recently I discovered a copy of Chadwell's original documentation from the 2003 trip.   The collection numbers included 'CC4687 Corydalis chaerophylla', and,  better still, I had scrawled next to the number  '... only one plant germinated from this batch ... very strong growth ...' Success! - but doubts began to creep in as I read further.  

The accompanying brief field notes read '... Corydalis sp.  ... forests ... 33OO m.' Not that specific after all. In the very same documentation Chadwell himself admits that accurately naming a species in vast, complex regions such as the Himalaya can be very tricky. So much variability within certain genera can fox and frustrate any budding taxonomist. Chadwell warns  '... we would all like plant identification to be quick and easy, with all plants fitting into simple pigeonholes, but it does not work like  that.'  Food for thought - and doubt..


Anyway, weighing up all the evidence, I've decided to go with 'Corydalis chaerophylla CC4687' - for the moment at least. My final lingering doubt rests with the unwillingness of my plant to produce any seed whatsoever, unlike so many of its seedy relatives - so maybe there's at least a degree of hybridity ? But not to worry. As I sit writing on a dull, damp November day my yellow Corydalis remains in full flower and is busily romping all over the competition. It has turned  out to be an ironclad perennial and looks healthier than ever. It even possesses a  delicate perfume (reminiscent of a late flowering Actea). But I still wish it would  produce a modicum of seed. Perhaps next year ?