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The flora of the former Soviet Union consists of ca. 20,000 species, which is about the same number as in North America. While the North American continent is an important source of garden plants, with ca. 650 native species in cultivation worldwide, far fewer species have been taken from the former Soviet Union territories, mainly from European Russia and the Caucasus, fewer from Siberia and the Far East, and very few from Central Asia. Some regions are practically untapped resources of promising plants. The reader can find much more detailed analysis of the role Russia has played in world horticulture is presented in part 4.

Botanists can plumb the depth of this floristic richness from the Flora of the USSR, and also from many local floras, such as: Flora of the European part of USSR, Flora of the Caucasus, Flora Siberia, Flora of the Far East etc. (all included among recommended literature). Botanical gardens throughout the FSU horticulturally experiment, and their results show that many native species might succeed in cultivation. These species belong both to familiar genera as well as to ones unknown to horticulture.

Among widely known genera, there are some species in the FSU flora that are rare or completely unknown in cultivation. Examples of this first group are listed below. The total number of species in the world flora is taken from Mabberley’s (1987) The Plant-Book, the number of species in the flora of the FSU from Czerepanov’s (1995) Vascular plants of the FSU, which is an updated summary of the Flora of the USSR, or, as was said by its author himself, "is a critical list of the flora of the territory covered by the former Soviet Union".

Genus   World flora FSU flora
Latin name Common name (species) (species)
Abies fir 39 8
Acer maple 111 30
Actinidia kiwi 30 4
Aquilegia columbine 70 30
Campanula bellflower 300 154
Caragana pea tree 80 30
Crataegus hawthorn 280 88
Geranium cranesbill 300 69
Hemerocallis day lily 15 7
Iris iris 300 73
Juniperus juniper 50 22
Larix larch 9 9
Lilium lily 100 20
Malus apple 25 6
Paeonia peony 35 22
Primula primrose 300 83
Saxifraga rockfoil 300 133
Spiraea spirea 70 23
Tulipa tulip 100 78
Viola violet 500 127

Several genera (Tulipa, Paeonia, Campanula, Iris) are well represented in the flora of the former Soviet Union. Although horticulturaly significant, certain other genera are relatively unknown in cultivation. Among these to note are:

Genus   World flora FSU flora
Latin name Common name (species) (species)
Acantholimon prickly-thrift 120 99
Adenophora ladybells 40 18
Allium onion 700 328
Astragalus milk-vetch 2000 800
Corydalis corydalis 300 84
Eremurus desert candle 35 52
Leontopodium edelweis 35 14
Limonium sea lavender 150 42
Ornithogalum star of Bethlehem 120 28
Rhodiola rhodiola 36 21
Scilla squill 40 15

The two figures given under Eremurus are contradictory and reflect that Russian plants and Russian literature are sometimes unknown not only to gardeners but also to botanists from other parts of the world.

Finally, there are some genera which are extremely interesting but absolutely unknown in cultivation. Among woody plants they are Louseania ulmiflora (Rosaceae), a Central Asian shrub very spectacular whith pink flowers; Malacocarpus crithmifolius (Peganaceae) also from Central Asia and southern Russia, a shrub with prostrate branches that can grow in extreme environmental conditions; Spiraeanthus schrenkianus (Rosaceae), an attractive
Spiraeanthus schrenkianus
shrub with pink flowers in a long panicle from Central Asia. Among herbaceous perennials the list of unknown genera includes Alfredia, and Cladochaeta (Asteraceae, or daisy family), Nectaroscordum (Alliaceae, or onion family); Rhinopetalum (Liliaceae, or lily family), and Woronowia (Rosaceae, or rose family). These plants have been seen only in botanical gardens, however, they are of great horticultural value. Alfredia nivea with leather-like leaves in rosette is a wonderful plant for rock gardens. Cladochaeta candidissima is a beautiful groundcover with its grey leaves. Nectaroscordum is an unusual plant, closely related to onion, 1 m in height, that can be used for group planting. Rhinopetalum is a bulb plant with pink or white flowers that can be used for early spring decoration. Woronowia is a very attractive, bold foliage perennial with rounded large leaves. Annuals also add Russian herbs unknown diversity to the world horticulture such as Spryginia (Brassicaceae) from Central Asia, an extremely attractive long-flowering plant with numerous pink-violet flowers; Microcephala (Asteraceae) from Central Asian deserts, a low growing "daisy"; the poorly known Psylliostachys (Plumbaginaceae), from Central Asia, an annual plant with pink flowers in a long spike thriving in sites of low maintenance.

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