Plants are remarkable things and I sometimes can’t understand why everyone is not captivated by them. From their chemistry, their adaptation to adverse conditions, their ingenuity to effect pollination and their sheer beauty, they are amazing. I always bang on about how much I love iris and their relatives but I also love the petunia family – Solanaceae. What a marvellous family of plants this is – an unforgiving mistress. It includes plants that feed the world (potatoes, peppers, aubergines and tomatoes), that add spice to life (chillies), that have us in her thrall (tobacco), that can seduce us (brugmansia, petunias etc), take us to higher planes (datura), and she can kill us stone dead (atropa).
But I also love Araceae, a bonkers family that has extraordinary diversity. But in all cases the flowers (or rather the inflorescences, because each ‘flower’ is really a cluster of flowers) are amazingly similar. A spadix, usually with male flowers at the base and female flowers above, is wrapped with a modified leaf – the spathe. Its a simple as that though size and colouring varies a lot and the family includes some of the famously most ugly and evil-smelling ‘flowers’ in the world.
But this simple structure, a pencil wrapped in a sheet of paper, has an asymmetrical geometry that is extraordinary in its beauty. I think it reaches its peak in the hardy Zantedeschia aethiopica. This easy plant gives me more joy than any other. It is elegant and swan-like and the flowers change as they open but are never anything other than joyous.