Alpine Snow Bells
a woodland path delight
In winter of 2001 I spotted a groundcover for sale which looked like the tiniest waterlily pads. I had no idea what the flowers might be like, I just loved those tiny everygreen umbrellas. I bought three small pots & put them on the side of a mound where they get morning sun underneath the PJM Elite Rhododendron hoping they would spread until that whole side of the mound had the tiny pads all over it. The size of the round leaves when I bought these did not stay quite so tiny, but slowly thickened into a pleasing fluffy patch.
Soldanella alpina rotundifolia is called Alpine Snow Bell, Snowbell, or Alpine Soldanella, & is known as Alpklocka in its native range. It is a one to three inch-tall member of the primrose family that grow in the Swiss Alps in damp fields, amidst riverbank brushes, & along the edges of melting snow paths. It likes sun but needs some protection, for in its native setting it would be very nearly the smallest plant & so somewhat shaded even in bright locations. Puget Sound has about the warmest weather in which snowbells thrive, but it will also do well in much colder places, down to USDA Zone 5, where it sometimes blooms before the last snows have completely melted away.
Those charming leaves would've been enough to please me. That it turned out to have swell blossoms was just a bonus. It sends up six inch stalks from which dangle pale blue frilly funnels April through June, with a briefer late-summer rebloom for us. In the April photo above you can see two colors of leaves. The lighter green ones are new spring growth; the darker are from the previous year.
The little patches don't spread rapidly, & they spread but little by roots alone. But by the start of their third year, a very few new small plants had sprang up in the vicinity, having successfully self-seeded.
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