Amazing annuals: Lopezia
Unusual and delicate, the mosquito flower is a neglected beauty
I have been organisiing my seed box over the past few months and my biggest regret is that it does not contain lopezia. It has been several years since I have grown this charming plant and I genuinely miss its curious little flowers. It is a robust, bushy plant with elegant (some might say insignificant) pink flowers and is in the Onagraceae, related to evening primrose and fuchsia.
The family resemblance is clear. There is an inferior ovary – set behind the flower – and four sepals and four petals. But while the flowers of fuchsias and evening primrose are actinomorphic – can be cut in half in many planes to give identical halves, in Lopezia they are zygomorphic – can only be cut in half in one plane – and have a definite upper and lower portion to the blooms. The common name of mosquito flower is immediately obvious when you see a bloom. I think it must be lockdown stress but I find the flowers really cute.
Plants are actually perennial but easily grown as half-hardy annuals, sowing in March or April. Plants are naturally vigorous and branching and make a fine-textured clump with alternate leaves (unlike (most) fuchsias) about 45cm high. The flowers are produced singly in the axils of the leaves and a countless stream of flowers opens, only one or two per stem, followed by round seed pods.
When I last grew it it self seeded gently, with seedlings popping up here and there for many years after I deliberately grew it – and every one was welcome. Did I say that I missed it?
I have not mentioned a species yet. This is a small genus, native to Mexico, and I think my plant (photo above from several years ago) is L. cordata. It is often sold as the cultivar ‘Pretty Rose’ but I doubt that it is any different to the species. The genus is named after the 18th century Spanish Botanist Hipolito Ruiz Lopez.
It has been cultivated for a long time. Robinson wrote ‘Pretty little Mexican herbs or sub-shrubs, formerly much grown but now seldom seen, spite of their beauty and easy culture. All grow fast, with a Fuchsia-like habit, neat foliage, and small attractive flowers in shades of pink, rosy-purple, crimson, and orange-red. .. All are useful for cutting, the flowers seeming like little insects hovering with wings outspread.’
For me, this is a new one.