“It is about the third week in September that the Asters in the pergola garden are at their best, and if the Vines on the vine pergola are doing their duty that season and have coloured well, the contrasts of colour are beautiful on a sunny day. A row of the lovely rosy-pink Aster… crosses the front of one of the square beds, hiding up the plots of bare ground where the Daffodils reigned in the Spring. Though the colour of this delightful variety is charming at all times, it glows out with an extra charm just at sunset, and increases in beauty every minute until the light has faded almost away….”
“From the early days of its cultivation it was known that this plant was a principal ingredient in the manufacture of Persian insect-powder; and its near relation, P. cinerarifolia, was used for the same purpose in Dalmatia. The powder is produced from the flower-heads, which are cut just as they are about to open, carefully dried, and pulverized; and Pyrethrum-powder as an insecticide has become of increasing importance in the present century. Pyrethrums are grown for this purpose in Kenya, and were considered a crop of the first priority during the last war, for their value in the control of insect pests and the prevention of typhus and other insect-spread diseases.
“The pyrethrums are closely related to the chrysanthemums…. The Greek name comes from pyr, meaning fire, and was originally given to a plant with a hot, biting root…. The root of this plant was formerly used as a cure for toothache….”
When I took this batch of photos, the sun had slipped behind some thin clouds, keeping shadows intact yet darkening the scene just a bit. The added saturation made many of these flowers even pinker than the previous pink ones. And — check it out! — the last one is waving “Goodbye” to you!
“The first reference in the Oxford English Dictionary of the word being used to describe pale reds is the late seventeenth century. Before then pink usually referred to a kind of pigment….
“Pink pigments were made by binding an organic colorant, such as buckthorn berries or an extract of the broom shrub, to an inorganic substance like chalk, which gave it body. They came in several colors — you could have green pinks, rose pinks, or brown pinks — but were, more often than not, yellow. It is an odd quirk that while light reds acquired a name of their own, pale greens and yellows did not for the most part (although several languages, including Russian, do have different words for pale and deep blues). Most romance languages made do with a variation of the word rose, from the flower….
“Although it is not certain, it is likely that the English derived their word for the color from another flower, the Dianthus plumarius, also known as the Pink.”
“I have in mind a long narrow border of which the only views are from end to end because, although there is a grass walk to stand on while appreciating it, there is also a hedge completely sealing off all frontal views. Passing behind the hedge, therefore, one uses the grass walk as a means of viewing the border from end to end. Along the front is an edging of Catmint (Nepeta X faassenii), which if clipped over in July will remain in respectable bloom until the autumn, contributing its greyish leaves and soft lavender flowers to almost any colour grouping. Behind it are pyrethrums, irises and lupins, all for June display. Pyrethrums (Tanacetum coccineum) have good parsley-like foliage until autumn….”
It can be a challenge to determine the names of some of the Asters I’ve been photographing, but I think I’ve correctly identified these very, very pink ones as the somewhat unpronounceable Tanacetum coccineum — commonly described by the easier-to-say names Pyrethrum, or Painted Daisies, or Persian Daisies. Even if I’ve gotten it wrong, they’re definitely pink! And the first one is waving “Hello!” to you!
“Almost everyone knows about Luther Burbank (1849–1926) and his russet Burbank potato, especially ardent fans of McDonald’s french fries. Making hand crosses in the manner of traditional plant breeding, Burbank, ‘the wizard of horticulture,’ created dozens of new varieties of fruits and vegetables, along with the much-beloved Shasta daisy and ninety-one other types of ornamental plants….
“Curiously, hybrid plant origins were something horticulturists often tried to conceal in the not-so-good-old days. In parts of Western Europe and America, hybrid plants were often regarded as ungodly, or certainly at least unnatural and to be avoided. Prideful man was not permitted to ape his Creator by producing a new kind of living thing….
“This sounds ridiculous today, but even Luther Burbank told a story about how a minister, posing as Burbank’s friend, denounced him from the pulpit for flouting God’s laws by creating hybrids. It seems that Burbank’s Shasta daisy, proudly grown in American gardens for more than a century, is not so innocent a bloom despite its many, pure-white ‘chaste’ petals.”
From “Adolescent Garden” in Red Clay by Eve Hoffman:
My garden is five years old, orderly and raucous, blurring the line between what we planted and what God planted….
A modest magnolia on the edge of the woods, an elm growing so fast its limbs have been raised twice. Oak leaf and lace cap hydrangeas the deer pruned down to the ground when first planted. White and purple beauty berries, tiny pale blue butterflies. Red rhododendron blossoms the size of white peonies next to them, blue iris….
Echinacea, shasta daisies, bushes with berries that invite birds and tree branches that fork to hold nests….
Summer wasps and weeds, wildness to be tamed, plants surrendering to the Georgia heat. And in the season of no blossoms a hortus botanicus of texture and green.
“Of all the patterns and forms of nature, the spiral has probably held the greatest appeal for mystics and dreamers. It is revered by adherents of ‘sacred geometry,’ who consider the patterns and forms of nature to embody spiritual truths of the cosmos. Spirals are found in ancient and indigenous art ranging from the carvings on the Bronze Age stones of Newgrange in Ireland to the paintings of Australian Aborigines.
“Nothing better exemplifies the apparent mystery and profundity of the logarithmic spiral than its manifestation on the heads of flowers such as sunflowers and daisies. The seeds of a sunflower head are arrayed in rows that trace out not just a single logarithmic spiral but two entire sets of them, rotating in opposite directions. The pattern that results has profound mathematical beauty: crystalline precision combined with organic dynamism, creating shapes that seem almost to shift as you stare at them….
“If you count the numbers of spirals in each set, you find that they only take certain values…. For smaller sunflowers there might be 21 spirals in one direction, 34 in the other. For very large heads, there might be as many as 144 and 233. But only these pairs of numbers — never, say, 22 and 35. Why are some of these numbers favored over others?
“No one is yet sure why the sunflower seeds adopt this arithmetical arrangement. One longstanding idea is that it enables the florets or seeds or leaves to pack most efficiently as they bud from the tip of the growing stem…. This is simply a geometric problem: if you want to arrange objects in an array spiraling out from a central source, what should be the angle between one object and the next? It turns out that the most efficient packing, which gives the double-spiral Fibonacci pattern of phyllotaxis, is one for which this angle is about 137.5 degrees — known as the Golden Angle.”
This is the first of two posts with photographs of white asters — most likely, Shasta Daisies (Leucanthemum × superbum) — that I recently took at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. Many of these Shastas appeared in large clumps — spanning fifteen to twenty feet horizontally — and (as you can see from the first three photos) were quite content to grow in the shade of an old Oak Tree, while edging their way toward sunnier positions on one of the garden’s sidewalks.
As is true for most of the flowers in the Aster family Asteraceae, the central disc of these daisies actually consists of many tiny, individual flowers — which gave rise to “Composite” or “Compositae” as an earlier name for Asters. While working on some of the close-up photos in this series, like this one…
… I became a bit obsessed with how the orange-yellow disc looks, where (below in a zoomier view), you can see how the center of the center is packed with flowers but the outer edges are not.
In my imagination (such as it is!), I thought maybe some little bees had come around, picked the flowers from the outer rings, and gave them happily to their other bee friends. Hey, why not? But then it occurred to me that they probably wouldn’t have managed such nearly perfect circles as they picked the flowers, so that might not be an accurate observation.
I wanted to learn more about why the central discs looked like this, and after a few abortive attempts, hit on a question I could ask one of my AI Assistants:
When I look at photographs of a daisy’s disc florets, it appears that some of them are empty, especially around the outer edge of their circle. Why do they look like that?
The response I got included several possibilities — including “removal” by insects (haha!) and wind or rain damage — but the most plausible explanation was that the disc fills with flowers from the center outward, and those in the outer rings had not yet matured. Armed with this knowledge, I went back a few days later and checked some of the same flowers again to see if the discs had filled in — but it was too late and the white Shastas were already beyond their flowering stage. Perhaps next fall, I’ll try that again.
That the central disc fills with flowers from the center to the outer edge was equally fascinating to me, and digging into that I learned a little more about what happens. The tiny florets actually grow in two concentric spirals — with one spiral running clockwise and the other running counterclockwise. Look again at the zoomed-in photo and you can clearly see the spirals. And once you see them, you’ll see them every time you look closely at a flower like this.
This arrangement is not only not random, it runs in a mathematical sequence among the flowers in the Aster family. Starting from the center outward, the number of individual florets follows the Fibonacci Sequence — where each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two numbers: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233. Most of the smaller Asters — like the Shastas in this post — have 34 or 55 individual florets (yes, I counted them!) in the outer ring. Sunflowers — also members of the Aster family — are often used to explain this mathematical sequence in nature, so if the subject interests you, search for terms like “Fibonacci sequence and sunflowers” or phyllotaxis (which encompasses the study of natural shapes, merging botany and math) on YouTube and you’ll find quite a few fun explanations.
“Behavioural studies in the twenty-first century have sought to provide a better understanding of the mechanisms by which bees forage. We know now that they do not ‘see’ shapes or objects but instead detect parameters and recognise places, and by using their 300-degree vision they are able to triangulate on just a few clues in order to find food. The patterns that we see in the flowers around us have evolved to play to such perception, and as our understanding of both plant and pollinator increases we are able to gradually unfold more details of the complex relationships that have formed between them…. “The yellow and black of the Rudbeckia petals is a useful clue to help us understand how bees respond to the colour signals from plants, as it tells us that the contrast between colours plays a significant role. There appears to be yet more evidence for the importance of this colour contrast, in the way that non-floral parts of the plant are seen, or not seen, by bees. As the green parts of a plant must be able to absorb light from the sun in order to photosynthesise, much of the UV light that falls on the leaves and stem is absorbed by pigments such as flavanoids and chlorophyll. As a result, for an animal who sees predominantly in the UV region of the spectrum, green vegetation appears almost black. The effect of this is that the UV-reflecting parts of flowers are heightened by the black background, making them more obvious to certain pollinators.”