The Fritillaria forest: Fritillaria eduardii in Tadjikistan
The article "The Fritillaria forest: Fritillaria eduardii in Tadjikistan".
Published in the magazine "Fritillaria" Nr13, 2003
of Fritillaria Group of Alpine Garden Sosiety, UK
As I flew out of Tadjikistan after fighting my way through the turbulent crowd of the people and having got, with the help of my friends, a place near the toilet in the plane, I felt like a clever mouse which had stolen a piece of cheese but had escaped from the stroke of the mouse trap. The city surrounded by mountains, recently sunny and peaceful with smiling faces, was dangerous and unpleasant now and we were like lucky divers returning to the sun and the air from the dark depths. In the last few days I had physically felt a pressure over Dushanbe. In the center of the town there were continuous demonstrations and volunteers searched pedestrians looking for arms.
Returning to Dushanbe by car we were twice stopped at road blocks. We were made to stand, legs apart and with our hands on the car, while they examined our possessions. The expression on the smiling faces of the boys with machine guns suggested that they might like to do a little shooting. My well-stocked rucksack attracted their attention. God knows what they were looking for but what they found amazed them. "What are these?". "Bulbs". "What are they for?". "Flowers, they are beautiful". Probably in their eyes I was not quite sane and it is likely that this was responsible for my safe arrival in the capital.
A friend, an expert on the natural history of Tian-Shian, had promised to show me interesting places for plant hunting in the area of the Nurek reservoir. I knew that many unique bulbous plants grew in this region and, moreover, it is the habitat of Pritillaria eduardii which I particularly wanted to see.
So there we were, driving along on a mountain road, passing yellow pyramids of flowering Eremurus rocked by the wind and at last the Nurek reservoir came into view; an incredible ultramarine bordered by wave washed red rocks and above were emerald mountains capped by glaciers. A fantastic landscape, like another planet!
I had drawn a flowering plant of E eduardii and was showing it to Achmet my guide. I was explaining that it grew somewhere around here and that we could fmd it if we searched carefully when he suddenly pointed and said "Is that it? ". Incredible! There in a three litre can used as a vase were some broken stems with orange flowers and characteristic tufts of leaves above them. I did not understand how I had not noticed them before. I smelt the plants and it was the smell about which I had dreamed in Vilnius - they had no smell. "Where does it grow?" "Here, above our kischlak".
An hour later I was climbing up the slope following hard onAchmet's heels, breathing the thin oxygen of highlands and hearing my heart gurgle in my throat.Achmet, looking on my white face, advised from time to time, "Stop, take the air". I sat down for some minutes looking down on the roofs of the village situated near the foot of the mountain -kischlak Razjon - I had no barometer and did not know precisely the height, but the experience and my feeling indicated approximately 2600-2700m.
It was when we came to some pistachio shrubs growing along a slope of a gorge that I saw the first fritillaries. Wild plants are often much smaller than those in gardens, but these plants were incredibly tall, and possibly because I was going towards them up a slope, I had the illusion that I was entering a fritillaria forest formed by great plants with flowers stacked above my head. The fritillaries were in full flower, almost all the flowers were open. The basic colours were shades of orange. While some plants were yellowish or reddish I did not see any pure yellow or pure red flowers although I was looking for such plants.A ground in which the plants grew was a thick layer of leafy compost so light that I could lift bulbs without any effort simply by pulling on the stem. I took eight bulbs and had arranged with Achmet, that he would return here later to collect seeds and send them to me in Vilnius.
I saw many other interesting plants during the week I stayed near kischlak Razjon, but the fritillaria forest remains as the greatest impression of my life.
All this was more than ten years ago. Now I can I look at hundreds of descendants of those eight bulbs. It took many years before I saw such great plants in my garden comparable to the ones I saw in Tadjikistan. Now they reach the height 1.6 m; we stand next to each other as equals and I need not stoop to observe their large flowers.Achmet never sent the seed. I understand; when a civil war is in progress, a person has many other obligations and problems. All my young plants are seed grown - children and grandchildren of my veterans. In addition to the plants brought from Tadjikistan, I have some plants of unknown origin grown in Lithuania for many years. These plants are similar to those I collected, but differ in the _eed capsules - they are longer. So I call the Tadjik clone "Short - Capsule Clone" and the Lithuanian clone "Long - Capsule Clone". Large plants of both clones have almost spherical bulbs weighing about 1 kg . From time to time they split into two new bulbs. The recipe for duplication is simple; to provoke the process one must produce very large bulbs. Remembering conditions which I saw in the wild, I plant bulbs in very, light, airy and neutral compost (sandy soil + peat + grass compost). The plants prefer semi-shade--and--under trees attain maximal size and beauty.
The flowering of E eduardii in my garden is a most impressive sight. The plants come up early and quickly and flower 10 - 14 days earlier than forms of E imperialis. During flowering the stem continues to extend and reaches its maximal height just when the first flowers are beginning to fade. In addition to time of flowering, the absence of strong, foxy smell and size, E eduardii differs from E imperialis by its more open flowers held at a slight angle.
Our climate seems very favourable for growing E eduardii and I never have problems with seed production. In fact I control this by breaking off many of the capsules to get the largest bulbs. Seed germination is very good but it is necessary to wait five years for the first flowers and ten years before you see the plants in full flower. In Lithuania night f_osts are common and cause problems with many bulbous plants, but the frost resistance of E eduardii is phenomenal. This species flowers at the same time as the earliest bulbs. The latter are usually short plants and the flowers are protected on a cold night by their proximity to the ground warmed by the accumulated heat of the sun. This cannot help tall plants and more than once I have seen plants of E eduardii after a very cold night standing like columns of ice but they always come to life under the rays of the sun. The leaves are never damaged, even by very heavy frosts, but if the plants have flowers these are protected since. the stem loses elasticity in the middle and consequently bends to put the top of the stem with the flowers on the ground. I have seen only one case of frost damage when the frost was so strong that the top part of stem supporting a heavy head of icy flowers simply broke in the middle.
Leonid Bondarenko, 2003 г.