It’s been a funny old year. A spring that seemed like it would never arrive, a hot dry summer (please let’s have another one) and a mild autumn with fierce winds. It has almost been annoying how long the leaves have hung on the trees, as though they were making up for not appearing till May. Though I have no great desire to see bare trees it would be nice to clear up the fallen foliage on the lawns and get rid of those russet and gold piles of crispy leaves that move from one corner of the garden to another like puppets played by the wind.
Most plants have coped well and some have thrived but a few are doing odd things. In the past few months, after some much-needed rain a few plants have opened a few flowers ‘out of season’. A few rhododendrons are studded with pink flowers and some spring camellias are showing colour in their buds. But the real weird ones are those that are showing phyllody.
This is a catch-all term for when parts of the flower or inflorescence (flower cluster) change from being coloured and typically flower-like to green and leaf like. It can happen for many reasons including pests, diseases, virus and phytoplasmas – strange organisms like bacteria.
However, environmental factors such as extreme heat or cold, that can disturb the natural balance of hormones in the plant, can cause phyllody (from phylum – leaf).
What is interesting, at least to me, is that the turning of sepals, petals and ovary (rarely stamens) into leaves reminds us that flowers are merely adaptations of leaves and a flower is a compressed, modified stem. It is even easier to imagine if you look at a poinsettia – you must have one by now – with its petal-like bracts which are merely red leaves.
Anyway, back to the garden, the first plant to go ‘loopy’ was a lupin. These were raised from seed this spring and some have flowered and one produced a stem that started to open flowers but then the upper buds were replaced by shoots so that now, the stem has a cluster of small leaves rather like a Christmas tree. Even odder, there are now several plants doing the same thing though most have flowers dotted among the leafy shoots.
Just to get in on the act, some of the roses have started producing flowers with green centres. This is less unusual and some roses frequently have a green button in the centre but a few roses are doing it now including ‘Tickled Pink’.