Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Mystery Plant

At the start of March, I embarked on a new topic in my year-long quest to learn about flowers. I began to focus on plant identification. I read Botany in a Day by Thomas J Elpel, a wonderful book that teaches you to identify plants by learning about plant families, then went out walking, eager to apply my newfound knowledge.

Unfortunately, I ran into a snag right away. I decided to identify the plant on the left. I call it the snail plant because snails love to eat the leaves and it usually looks pretty ratty by this time of year (the one on the left is looking pretty good). I used the process of keying out described by Elpel and quickly established that this was a Pyrola or wintergreen. I was thrilled! I had identified my first plant. Wanting to confirm my conclusion, I Googled Pyrola only to find out: this is not a Pyrola.

I was relating this story over lunch to some friends and one of them after hearing my description (round leaves with scalloped edges, pink flowers on red stalks) suggested my mystery plant was bear's britches. Again more excitement.

I rushed home and Googled Bear's Britches, the common name for acanthus mollis, the ancient plant whose leaves often decorate the capitals of Roman columns. Unfortunately, my plant is not Acanthus mollis (although I did have the good fortune, now that I know about it, to find an Acanthus on my walk to work this morning)

So I was sulking and feeling like I couldn't post anything because I was such a failure as an amateur botanist. Then I realized, this is what the Internet is for. One of you will surely recognize this plant. Can you tell me what it is? I look forward to your wisdom.

One thing that has happened as a result of my quest is that I now love this plant that I used to hate. I'm much more intimate with it now, having pried apart the five pink petals to count the ten tiny white stamens. I admire the combination of colors the bloom displays as it fades: the vivid magenta of the petals, the greenish-purple sepals and the deep maroon of the stem.


Erynn said...

I think it's a bergenia hybrid. Here's one of the Siberian varieties http://www.senecahillperennials.com/index.php?page=plants-b-c -- bergenia crassifolia. I see them a lot in gardens and borders around the area.

Erynn said...

Here's a better image, with a common name -- Elephant's Ears http://www.floralimages.co.uk/pbergecrass.htm

It's one of the saxifrages.

wil said...

It's a snail plant. :-)

I'm kidding (sort of). Actually, I'm a huge fan of common names, and personal names: the name you give a plant before you learn the "real" name. I hope someone can identify the plant for you, but after you learn the "real" name, part of me hopes you'll still call it a "snail plant." :-)

Waverly Fitzgerald said...

Thanks. This is exactly what I hoped! You identified my mystery plant within an hour of my post. I am grateful to know it is a bergenia. That plant was not in any of my guides, probably because it is not native to the Northwest.

Erynn said...

I knew I'd seen it all over the place and when I couldn't find it in local wild plant books I figured it was introduced so went to some garden plant identification sites. Took me about 40 minutes ;)

Waverly Fitzgerald said...

Here's a great entry on bergenia from one of my favorite garden writers:

She provides among other things some delightful alternative common names like Elephant Ears, Picnic Plates and Purple Pigsqueak.

Erynn said...

Oh, that's a lovely article! Pigsqueak!


Poppy & Mei said...

Interesting post with interesting comments.
Fabulous double whammy! Xxx

KerrdeLune said...

Waverly, for some peculiar reason your bergenia goes by the names of Pink Dragonfly, Elephant Ears or Pigsqueak here. It is certainly a showy garden resident.

Waverly Fitzgerald said...

Pink Dragonfly is a great name for the plant. It makes me like it more. We had a plant in Southern California called Elephant Ears but it didn't look anything like the bergenia. I'll have to try to figure out what that was.

Kentishmaid said...

At last I know what this plant is called, and maybe feel better about it now- Pink Dragonfly and Elephants Ears are rather endearing. I have it all over my garden- great weed cover, and it growsin the shade too[UK]