Meeting Blue-Eyed Mary

For some plant species, pictures will never do them justice. I realized this when I first laid eyes on a colony of blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna). I was smitten. These lovely little plants lined the trail of a floodplain forest here in central Illinois. It was the blue labellum that first caught my eye. After years of reading about and seeing pictures of these plants, meeting them in person was a real treat. 

C. verna is winter annual meaning its seeds germinate in the fall. The seedlings lie dormant under the leaf litter until spring warms enough for them to start growing. Growth is rapid. It doesn't take long for them to unfurl their first flowers. And wow, what flowers they have! 

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The bicolored blooms are a real show stopper. The lower lip contrasts starkly with the white top. It's about as close to true blue as a flower can get. Not only are they beautiful, the flowers are marvels of evolution, exquisitely primed for pollination by large, spring-hardy insects. When something the size of a bumble bee lands on the flower, the lower lip parts down the middle, thrusting the reproductive bits up against the abdomen. This plant doesn't take any chances. 

Being an annual, C. verna can only persist via its seed bank. Populations can be eruptive, often appearing in mass after a disturbance clears the forest of competition. Most populations exist from year to year as much smaller patches that slowly build the seed bank in preparation for more favorable conditions in the future. Because of its annual life cycle, C. verna can be rather sensitive to habitat destruction. 

Seeing this plant with my own eyes far exceeded my expectations. It was one of those moments that I couldn't peel myself away from. I love spring ephemerals and this species has skyrocketed to the top of my list. Its beauty is made all the more wonderful by its ephemeral nature. Enjoy them while they last as it may be some time before you see them again. 

Further Reading: [1] [2] [3]

What is the Most Common Flower Color?

Have you ever wondered what the most common flower color is? If one were to tally up all the known flowering plants, what color or colors would come out on top? I have pondered this time and again and I for some reason have a bias towards yellow. I think it is a symptom of where I live. In fact, I think flower color in general can, in part, be considered a function of geographic location. Each region of the world has its own specific pollinators driving selection for flower color. I decided to finally try and track down an answer to this question. 

The truth of the matter is, no one really knows. There is simply no database out there that fully characterizes all the colors flowers can be, let alone rank them by abundance. When you really think about it in the context of real world examples, it makes sense that this would be a daunting task. The first question becomes "how do we define the color of a flower?" This may seem silly but think about it. How many times has a field guide said one thing and reality says another? This is the main reason I don't use Peterson's Field Guide to Wildflowers. Colors vary from genus to genus and heck, they even vary within a species. A plant growing in one area may look one way while the same species growing in another area can look totally different. Far from being simply a function of genes, flower color can be just as dependent on growing conditions. 

Also, what one botanist calls red may not be what everyone else calls red. Barring a persons ability to see all of the visible light spectrum, there is no set standard, for flowers at least, as to where we draw the lines between colors. What we end up with at the end of the day are lumped packages of color pertaining to a chunk of the spectrum visible to us. It is actually an easier question to ask "what is the rarest flower color?" To that, most botanists will probably say black. To the best of my knowledge, there is only one species of plant in the world with truly black flowers. The rest are more accurately deep shades of red or purple. True blue is another rare color among flowers for the same reason

After a few hours (more than I should have dedicated to the cause) I came up with one satisfying answer and to sum it all up, I will put it this way: We simply have no idea what the most common flower color is in the world but it's probably green. We tend to only pay attention to the showiest flowers. Big or small, we like bright colors and we like weird colors. All the rest just get glazed over. In reality, many plant species, especially trees, produce small, non-descript green flowers. For this reason I would say that green is a safe default until someone or a group of someones puts in the time that would be needed to put any meaningful numbers to this inquiry.

Photo Credit: Mor (http://bit.ly/1y0WnJd)