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Delicate Plant Dances in the Air

This article was first published on 02 Mar 2016.

Thalictrum delavayi

Thalictrum delavayi

The woodland garden is a recognised genre within horticulture.  Forms and textures range from strong and bold to soft and subtle. Some plants will stand out in a woodland garden and demand attention regardless of neighbouring growth whilst others benefit from the plants around them to reveal their full charm.

Thalictrum delavayi is one of the latter. Everything about it is light and delicate. Slender stems reach up, supporting a basal mound of light green foliage.   Leaves are delicate too, divided into 5 to 7 leaflets, with each leaflet itself further divided into 3 to 5.  Individual leaflets emerge oval but as they mature they develop three lobes to give the impression of 3cm long ducks’ feet. They are also widely spaced by thin, wiry leaf stalks which add to the plant’s delicate airiness.

In mid to late summer, sprays of small mauve, lilac or white flowers dance above the foliage.

Given support, the stems can stand up to 1.2 metre high. Rather than resorting to staking, which can distort their natural shape, or worse, give the wind a barrier to bend the stems over, it is best to let the whole plant lean on surrounding plants. Unsupported stems arch forward in a loose cascade of lilac and green.

On its own Thalictrum delavayi is certainly eye catching.  In Dunedin Botanic Garden it contributes to the woodland garden character in the Rhododendron Dell’s Pontica Area.  Its delicacy is highlighted by a backdrop of rhododendrons and a ceiling of the broad foliage and strong forms of mature Magnolia campbellii.

Doug Thomson is curator of the Rhododendron Dell at Dunedin Botanic Garden.