Category Archives: Climbers

Hablitzia: from seed to flowering in 4 months

I’ve often noted that Hablitzia plants grow slowly the first year or so, but under ideal conditions (more warmth than we get outdoors here) they can grow fast…
I sowed seed in February, stratifying first for 10 days in the fridge and they germinated quickly in the living room. I grew them on indoors (it was too cold to put them out) and for lack of space I planted together with newly planted taro (Colocasia esculenta) tubers in a large pot. They grew quickly and they were about to start flowering yesterday when I dug up the plants and moved outside!

Hablitzia as a weed!

Hablitzia as a weed!
While researching Hablitzia tamnoides for my book Around the World in 80 plants (2014) I found the following simple entry in a 19th century encyclopedia of ornamental plants:
The author was clearly not impressed…..
Further Frederik Christian Schübeler (1815-1892) who was professor of botany and manager of the Oslo botanical garden at Toyen in Oslo from 1866-92 also noted from northern Norway that
At Maalselvdalens Vicarage (69 deg. 10 min. N), where it also grows very well, it reaches 8 feet (2.5m) and doesn’t only give mature seeds, but spreads even in the garden as a weed.”
I found this difficult to believe and thought initially that it had been confused with good king Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) which can be very weedy in a garden. I only had one plant at the time and I struggled to get more than a couple of seeds from it. Introducing a second plant, suddenly there was a lot of seed and seedlings appeared around the mother plants.
Nowadays it appears in many parts of the cultivated parts of my garden spread by the low friction seeds blowing around on ice in the winter and through my compost. Small plants often turn up as a weed in pot plants indoors which have been fed with compost. This is a plant which germinated in a pot with a bay tree (Laurus nobilis) some years ago. When the bay died, I let the Hablitzia grow on and it now uses the bay as a climbing frame!

Nevertheless, Hablitzia seems to depend on naked earth to establish itself here and there are no reports of it escaping into nature approaching 150 years after its introduction as a garden plant here.
Yesterday, I was weeding Hablitzia from newly emerged carrot seedlings!

Floppy Habby

It’s that time of year that Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach / stjernemelde) goes all floppy and needs help to go upwards rather than sideways! The floppiness you see here has nothing to do with the weather which habby loves although it’s never expereienced being snowed on for 5 days in a row in the middle of May in its short 18 year lifetime!



Hablitzia picture gallery

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere I eat more Hablitzia tamnoides (Caucasian spinach / stjernemelde) than any other spring vegetable and have eaten it every day now since the beginning of March (70 days). A friend mentioned on Instagram that she would love to see my plant! Well, I’ve just counted them and I have 36 harvestable plants and many different accessions now and more on the way…spread around the garden. About time then for an overview. They grow back so quickly even though we’ve hardly had a single day above 10C this spring that you wouldn’t have guessed that I’ve cut most of them right back!
They regularly self-seed but they only see to succeed in naked soil where there is little competition. All the plants I tried in the forest garden area didn’t make it (in competition with ground elder, Aegopodium).

Habby in the snow

I think that we ate Hablitzia (fondly known as habby) shoots every day this March as the mild winter and largely unfrozen soil brought them on about a month earlier than normal, even the plants in the shadiest parts of the garden, where frozen soil normally lingers longer, have been harvested regularly this year. They’ve been used in all sorts of dishes from pizza to quiche to salads to a soba dish, stir fry in green pasta sauce, in curry, in vegetable patties and baccalao. Tasty, adaptable and nutritious! We’ve had 3 or 4 heavy snow falls which have melted again in a few days but the Caucasian spinach (stjernemelde or star orach in Norwegian) is hardly affected. 
HABBY EASTER TO ALL MY FOLLOWERS :)

Hablitzia accession overview 2019

Hablitzia accession overview 2019

The following gives an overview of the sources of Hablitzia I know of (if I’ve missed any, please let me know!)

  1. My oldest plant is 17 years old and came from Sweden (unknown background)
  2.  Jonathan Bates received his plants from a German Botanical Garden. I contacted the German garden, but no reply. I think Jon and Eric Toensmeier lost theirs….
  3.  Justin West collected seed in the wild in Armenia. He struggled with them in New York and lost them before moving west.
  4. Tycho Holcomb and Karoline Nolsø Aaen in Denmark collected one accession in Georgia (found at the entrance to a cave)
  5. I received wild collected seed from botanist Sergey Banketov in the Russian Caucasus (near Pyatigorsk)
  6. I have one plant from the only relic Norwegian plant at Hadsel in Northern Norway
  7. I received seed of plants from two relic Swedish locations
  8.  #2
  9. I received seed from about 5 relic plants in Finland and Estonia
  10. #2
  11. #3
  12. #4
  13. #5
  14. I was given seed from a plant at the Uppsala Botanical Garden in Sweden in 2009.
  15. I also received seed from a Swedish herb nursery (pre-1970, unknown source).
  16. I’ve seen plants of unknown origin in the following botanical gardens: Gothenburg
  17. Oslo
  18. Copenhagen
  19. Chelsea Physic Garden (London)
  20. I have one accession from Arche Noah (Austria) – unknown source

Seed of many of these have been deposited with Nordgen (Nordic Genebank) who funded some of the collection work that I did. However, they have struggled with regenerating new seed of the different varieties as it seems you need more than one type to produce seed.

I’ve sent cuttings from several of my plants to Ronny Staquet of Wallogreen in Belgium. I have about 10 accessions in my garden, but they self-sow readily and have become mixed up in one place where I had several plants growing close together.

Oh no, sorry greenbrier…

Last summer I discovered a climber in a hedge in the garden.  It turned out to probably be  Smilax lasioneura, the Blue Ridge carrionflower, a species closely related to Smilax herbacea, which has edible shoots used like asparagus. I have no record or recollection of planting it here, but I have a record of being offered 3 seeds of Smilax herbacea by Samuel Thayer 10 years ago, so I can only assume it was one of these that germinated.
Yesterday, I was scything an area of the garden and, forgetting the Smilax,  I managed to cut right through the stem at the base and it was just coming into flower too, although, being dioecious, there wouldn’t have been any berries. Hopefully, this won’t kill it….and I’ve taken the opportunity to try to propagate it from cuttings!