Some die poorly: that guy who goes to the toilet in Jurassic Park. Some die well: Samuel L. Jackson in Jurassic Park. Corydalis ophiocarpa dies well. It’s short biennial life cycle is vigorous and floriferous (yet somehow unimpressive for all it’s abundance of flowers), but it’s most attractive feature is it’s bronze-hued senescence. Old leaves bronze before withering, as does the whole plant, as it heads into the autumn of it’s second and final year.
This plant is a curiosity rather than a stunner. It’s stems have strange ridges on them (think Euonymus alatus); the crinkled seed pods start to dingle-dangle whilst the flowers keep appearing at the tip of the shoots; the whole thing grow out at angles, like it’s forgotten which way up is. Personally I’m dead keen on that sort of thing, but I accept that it’s an acquired taste.
Although C. ophiocarpa’s pale yellow flowers are not particularly showy, they are produced in abundance. If you are the sort of person who demands that plants earn their place in your garden, rather than exist in their own right, perhaps Corydalis ophiocarpa could be used to imbue a dull spot with a bit of subtle colour. It rarely complains about it’s position, so despite not being a show-stopper, it seems deserving of a small piece of ground to call home. C. ophiocarpa’s biennial nature needn’t be a deterrent: it seeds prolifically. Once you have it, you won’t be without it.
All in all, this is one for the connoisseurs. It isn’t particularly showy or well behaved. It has strange habits, but is a source of fascination for those who like to look in detail. The flowers display the classic Corydalis form, the seed pods are decorative in their own right, the stems have those aforementioned ‘wings’, and the leaves fade to red in the autumn. I have a few seeds available in the shop, should you wish to experiment!