Friday, June 19, 2015

Farewell to Spring

Each month our Life Sciences team chooses one plant and one animal to learn more about. Often it's hard to choose just one of each, but this month our plant choice was unanimous: Clarkia amoena, “Farewell to Spring.” As we celebrate Pollinator Week and welcome the summer solstice, Clarkia seems a good choice.

Clarkia amoena is also called either “Summer’s Darling,” “Herald of Summer,” “Atlas Flower”, “Rocky Mountain Garland Flower,” “Godetia,” “Satin Flower,” “Red Ribbons,” or “Fairy Fans.” Horticulture Intern Sharette came back from a walking tour of our planting spaces knowing she had to tell more people about it.

Is it the brilliant colors or perhaps its sudden appearance on the scene that makes the flower so popular? Last week it was just some scrappy looking plants we thought might not have been intentional. Then overnight it splashed out in hot pink splendor.

The same eye catching color and simultaneous bloom that impress us have a similar effect on the bees and butterflies that pollinate it. One indication that this flower’s colors are primarily about attracting pollinators is that it closes up at night. The flower needs its visually oriented daytime pollinators to find it, but it keeps itself safe at night when its colors won’t be seen. Another hint is the patches of brighter red on the pink petals. Markings such as this help orient flying insects toward the center of the flower.

Sharette was initially sad to learn that this species is an annual, but its heavy investment in colorful blooms ensures pollination during its May to August bloom time. Clarkia will then begin to self-sow so that next year a new crop of these amazing flowers can grow in the same location.

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