Howell's Lewisia Howell's
Cliff Maids


"Little flower, but if I could understand, what you are,
root & all in all, I should know what God & man is."

-Alfred Lord Tennyson
(1809-1892)

   

Lewisia cotyledon howellii as a broad generality tends to have pale pink flowers that are larger than on regular lewisias, & leaves that are shorter & wavier. But variations especially in domestic strains are so broad that every specimen has its own personality traits.

I grabbed this one because the flowers were a larger softer pink compared even to other Howell's, & with a stronger satiny glow. Most Howell's Lewisias have well-defined separation of white & pink striping in the flower petals, almost like peppermint candy stripes. But each petal of our nursery-grown specimen has a diffuse lilac-pink coloration that fades slowly to white edges.

Howell's LewisiaIt's one of the nicest flowers on any of our lewisias. I chose it from a large number of lewisias because it stood out as the only one with each flower petal "split" at the tips. It's only too bad that it can never be guaranteed that the next ten Howell's will be just like it.

The first photo was snapped in August (2004). The second photo was snapped on the first of October, with several more buds getting ready to open. Most of the latest-blooming of the lewisias were spent by August or September, but this one's October rebloom made it one of the last of them to flower for that year, though a few bright pink ones will always burst into flower in November.

Wild Howell's Lewisias grow only in the northern region of the Klamath Mountains, from Shasta County in California to southwest Oregon, at lower elevations than Lewisia cotyledon cotyledon.

It is rare in California, & extremely rare in Oregon, but sufficient numbers exist in the Klamath range that it is not presently regarded as endangered. To keep it that way, they should never be collected from the wild, being now easily available from strictly nursery-grown stocks.

The preferred habitat of Howell's Lewisia is upon rocky canyon walls near the vicinity of oak forests. In the garden they require rocky ledges that have dramatically sharp drainage so that the roots never stay wet long at a time. Though they shrivel & go dormant if left too dry, they rot & die if they get wet, so what they need is occasional to moderate watering in soil that dries out soon after each wetting.

T. J. HowellIt was formerly called Calandrinia howellii but the old genus name has no modern standing. It's one of many North American plants named after after Thomas Jefferson Howell (1842-1912), a pioneering botanist & collector in Pacific Northwest.

Self-taught & impoverished, Howell committed his life to botanical studies out of the sheer love of native flora. A portrait from his latter years is shown here, courtesy of the Oregon State University Herbarium archives; I'm sure you too can see a certain sweetness to the glimmer in his eyes.

He emigrated to Oregon from Missouri when only eight years old, his family settling on a land-grant on Sauvie Island in the Columbia River. His Catalogue of the Known Plants of Oregon, Washington, & Idaho (1887) documented over two-thousand species. His Flora of Northwest America documented over three thousand plants, 89 of which had never been described before. It was completed in 1897 but not published until 1903. It remained the standard work on Northwest flora for half a century; not until 1955 with publicatiohn ofVascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Hitchcock et al was Howell's work superceded.

In order to save on the expense of the publication of his final monumental work, & apparently also because no one else could read his handwriting, he learned typesetting just so that he could personally handset the type for this important book. Though he was certainly more than a hobbyist & gained an international reputation in his lifetime, botany never supported him. He married late in life & worked at sundry jobs struggling to support his family as a postmaster, store clerk, laundry worker, & even by sewing mittens for seven cents a pair.

Continue to
Lewisia cotyledon 'Sunset Red'

   



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