Corydalis Tubers and General Massacres

This post was originally written back in November so it’s a couple of months out of date. Seeing as I went to the effort of writing it, I’ve decided to post it anyway. For your entertainment and bemusement:

I’ve been doing much digging up and moving things over the past year; re-evaluating, over-thinking, procrastinating and generally shovelling piles of muck from one place to another. All of the above have been taking place in the second half of the garden, the half of the garden where my collection of Corydalis (and their relatives) dwell, and the half where my enthusiasm and eccentricism reigns supreme. The plan has been – and still is – to move away from a series of beds laid out like an unimaginative botanical garden and towards a more naturalistic series of micro-habitats suitable for as wide a variety of plants as I can manage. Perhaps more on this topic another time; today’s post concerns a number of unfortunate plants whose quiet, carefree existence was thoroughly disturbed, nay destroyed, by my actions.

The whole area in question is littered with self sown Corydalis tubers. Mostly Corydalis solida, but also a few C. malkensis and the odd C. packzoskii. Whenever I came across one of these opportunists during the aforementioned digging, I’d throw them into a little pile on the surface of the soil. I couldn’t quite decide what to do with them: re-plant, grow on elsewhere or discard. My indecision on the matter has meant that several of these piles of tubers have stayed where they are, on the soil surface. Intrepid little souls that they are, they’ve had a good go at growing anyway, despite being about six inches higher – and a good deal more exposed – than their usual tastes demand. As their subterranean activities are usually hidden from view, I took the opportunity to have a closer look at what they’re up to.

Corydalis tubers

All of the blighters are showing some real intent. Each tuber seems to be taking a slightly different approach, dictated partly by their situation but also, I like to think, by their inclination. I dug out the ol’ macro lens and inspected a little further.

Shoots

Roots

Corydalis tubers shoots

On all of the Corydalis tubers, the buds had broken open. Usually, the shoot would have to extend a good deal further before the leaves can unfurl. Here the leaves have already begun to do so, having already found themselves at the surface.

Corydalis tubers roots

The roots were all making their way into the soil to some extent. Some tubers had already developed a substantial network, whilst others had only just begun their explorations. Whether the differences in root growth were down to the variety of tuber, their position, or some other idiosyncrasy, I couldn’t tell you.

Going the Full Charlie

By which I mean Doing a Darwin. I refer to his penchant for slaughtering the native fauna to slake his thirst for knowledge (and presumably also his bloodlust). I’m currently reading Volume I of Janet Browne’s mighty biography of the aforementioned Charles Darwin, just to put this all in context. I thought, after a close examination of the Corydalis tubers, that the next step ought to be dissection.

When it’s all laid bare, you can see there’s a core of vascular tissue running through the middle of the tuber connecting the shoots to the roots, and vice versa. Surrounding this vascular bundle is all the starchy storage tissue that provides the nourishment for the shoot to make it’s long journey to the soil surface. In the photo above, you can also distinctly see the flowerhead; almost fully formed and ready to go.

Having dissected vertically, I thought I’d try for a horizontal dissection on one of the remaining tubers:

You can clearly see the vascular bundles on each slice of the cross section, with three distinct cores visible. I presume that when the tuber re-forms as the plant dies back in early summer, the tuber would split around these bundles, forming two, possibly three, new tubers as it enters it’s dormancy.

Here’s a view of both sides of the top cross section…

… and of the bottom section:

It’s not quite as clear from the photos as it was in the flesh, but there are three separate clumps of roots connected to three vascular bundles leading to three separate shoots. (Two out of the three are very close together, possibly still connected.) There are essentially two or three plants within the same entity. In some respects, the tuber is housing three separate plants. Looking back now, I should have also found a younger tuber to dissect horizontally to see how early in the tuber’s existence this separation begins.

As is so often the case, a generally anthropologically inclined approach to biology fails to recognise the reality of life in the plant kingdom, where the distinction between the individual and the multiple is fuzzy at best.

At the end of this wholesale slaughter, I looked down upon the destruction I had smote:

Corydalis tubers mess

My, my! Next time I’ll try to keep things a little more sedate.

4 thoughts on “Corydalis Tubers and General Massacres”

  1. The favoured species here is galanthus and we have them in quite big numbers now and they can dominate the garden. Earlier purchases now number in the hundreds of bulbs and when, as you must, they are lifted, separated, spread out and replanted, they seem to take up more and more space but I find that very welcome at this time of the year when there is so little else in flower. Like the corydalis I have regularly found bulbs which were left on the surface putting down roots into the soil and flowering.

    1. I just have a few snowdrops here and there, but they’re a welcome sight at this time of year.

      The will to live give can be impressive, and the results intriguing!

  2. Another interesting post, and am feeling comforted that someone else is inclined to be inquisitive about plants in their dormancy. I have learnt a little more, so many thanks for sharing. Now I would say, plant those sections particularly the bit with the roots on, and see what comes of it. By the way the link from the email may need a tweaking to take one straight to the blog section.

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