Old Yeller, Troughs and Alpines

Nope, this is not a post about the Newberry Award winning children’s novel or the Disney movie.  For sure, Sedum grisebachii might be called “old yeller” in Tennessee;  since it is no doubt old (an alpine sedum species endemic to the mountains of Greece and Bulgaria) and as you can see very, very yellow!

Sedum grisbachii sparkling in a trough

Sedum grisebachii sparkling in the morning sun in a hypertufa trough

I’ve had this tiny sedum around for years, sometimes in terra cotta pots and lately in this small trough I made about eight years ago.  The trough, pictured below is about a foot long, eight inches wide and five inches deep, making it an alpine world in miniature.

trough bound sedum

A mixed trough home to sedum grisebachii, sempervivums, and a dwarf fern

I love this size trough because it’s so easy to pick and move. Bigger troughs have their appeal, but their weight can introduce some challenges. Many alpines require excellent drainage and resent our relatively warm wet winters here in Puget Sound. So larger heavy troughs require some sort of canopy in months of heavy rain (you can’t just pick it up and put it under an eave or similar rain protected location) as you might with a smaller trough.  Troughs are made of a mixture of mainly Portland cement and various other ingredients in smaller proportions (like perlite, vermeculite, peat moss, sand, fiber mesh, etc.).  Exact recipes abound on the internet.

Obviously cold temperatures are not the problem. In their natural habitat alpine roots reside below layers of snow and ice.  They may have long root runs in rocky scree or are tucked in crevices. Most are in positions where their roots are protected from mushy conditions.  When temperatures warm and water is abundant, the plants begin a new cycle of growth.  Many of these little gems have spectacular flowers rivaling any hybrid.

Online sources, like the British Alpine Garden Society, say the perennial Sedum grisebachii is found in mountainous regions of  Northeastern and Northwestern Greece and at elevations as high as 1000 meters (3,280 feet) in Bulgaria.  For plant hunters in Greece, Mt Athos and Mt Olympus are likely habitats.

Beware of imitations or mislabeled plants in nurseries.  Grisebachii may be mistaken for Sedum flexuosum and similar tiny, yellow-flowered species.  Visually, grisebachii is distinct in that its leaves are crowded toward their tips and have tiny distinct nubbins at each end, which can really only be seen (at least by me) with a hand lens.  These bumps are more properly known as apical hyaline papillae.

As soon as the flowers fade on my plant, I’ll try to update this post with a picture using the Macro setting on my Cannon G10, which is still a point and shoot camera, but might just allow me to get close enough to make out the nubbins.  Stay tuned.

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