It’s not often that one is present at the discovery of an undescribed species but I was lucky enough to be in the field with my friend the botanist Aaron Floden, when he noticed that the population of Trautvetteria we were examining was distinct from the populations of T. carolinensis that we had seen elsewhere in Tennessee in the preceding days. Subsequent field and laboratory work has confirmed Aaron’s suspicions that this population and several more that he subsequently located are distinct, both morphologically and at a molecular level. The proposed name for this new entity is T. fonticalcarea, which rather beautifully means “˜little limestone spring’.
There are two reasons for growing this species: foliage and flowers. The leaves are coriaceous, shallowly-lobed and glossy. They remain attractive over a long season, from their emergence in spring, to their disappearance in autumn, often after a fine display of colour. The flowers are reminiscent of those Thalictrum species with caducous petals and resemble small, bright white starbursts. These are produceed in profusion in mid summer on stems about one meter tall. Like Thalictrum, Trautvetteria can be used as a “˜veil’. The inflorescences are effectively transparent, and do not conceal planting behind them. It’s a very useful trait in a garden plant.
Almost no-one seems to grow Trautvetteria currently, which is a great shame. At a recent lecture to a group of extremely knowledgeable planstsmen I asked anyone who’d heard of this genus to put up a hand. Only one person out of 40 did so and, as I immediately confessed, I’d have been among the ignorant, were it not for my encounter with this species in Tennessee. I am confident that it will enter the ranks of “˜must have’ plants for shady or woodland gardens.