Dec. 6: Floral advent calendar: Tweedia coerulea

The specific epithet of my next flower, Tweedia coerulea, gives away that it is yet another of my favored elusively colored blooms. “Coerulea,” quite simply, means blue. This plant is sometimes seen under the synonym Oxypetalum caeruleum, but the meaning of the specific epithet stays the same.

This is another South American native photographed at Derry Watkin’s amazing nursery near Bath, Special Plants. After meeting Derry during her talk at the Parham House garden weekend, my husband and I stopped in to visit her on a weekend trip to Bath this August. It was hard to take a step in her nursery without oohing and ahhing, and the visit got even better with a walk around her unique garden, which is the work of 20+ years by a serious plantsperson. Derry, an American, married a British architect who designed her a house with a wall of Streptocarpus instead of curtains. I’ve stood in this house, and seen this wall and…be still my heart.

Derry has long lived in the U.K., starting her world-renowned nursery at age 40. She told me the nursery business doesn’t make any money but sure is a fun lifestyle. Of the myriad fascinating plants that stood out to me that day, this Tweedia has a color, uniqueness, and vivacity that can’t be ignored, much like Derry herself.

True blues

Last month Japanese reserchers announced they'd genetically engineered the first truly blue flowers by modifying Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium) with genes from Canterbury Bells (Campanula medium) and butterfly pea (Clitoria terniata).

First genetically modified blue chrysanthemums. Image by Naonobu Noda/NARO.

Blue flowers are rare, occurring on fewer than 10 percent of the world's 280,000 plant species, and they come about by a complex interaction of colour pigments called anthocyanins, growing conditions, and ambient light. What's more, the plants that produce "blueish" flowers aren't common in the commercial horticultural or floristry trades. The Japanese researchers claim their discovery means we could some day see blue roses in wedding bouquets or blue carnations lining the garden path. 

Australian Bluebell, Billardiara fusiformis, photographed in Australia

Why anyone would want to breed a flower that looks like one of those horrible dyed jobs languishing in cellophane at the supermarket is beyond me. I prefer to appreciate my blues as nature made them, even if they are considered some variation of pink or purple according to the RHS flower colour chart. There's something special about blue flowers, and their relative scarcity makes them that much more affecting.

The photos in this post show some of my favorite blue flowers as I've encountered them. There are just few enough to make each sighting special, which is something that I suspect will be lost if more commercially available blue flowers flood the market. 

Field forget-me-not, Myosotis arvensis, photographed in Scotland

This spring I spent some time photographing the Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis 'Slieve Donard')  at the Botanics, and as each visitor turned the path to see them I heard audible gasps. If blue flowers are more common, will they elicit the same response? I doubt it. 

Meconopsis 'Slieve Donard' at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Brunnera macrophylla 

Corydalis flexuosa 'Balang Mist' 

Muscari azureum

Borago officinalis

There's no need to get too worked up yet, though, as genetically modified plants are still banned in the E.U. Given the rising concern about genetic modification in horticultural plants, spurred on by this year's orange petunia kerfuffle, I suspect GM chrysanthemums will not be welcome here any time soon, true blue or not.