Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Stealing the soul of the coral flower


We've acquired a rather planned and, so far, very neat back garden. This is somewhat of a novelty for us but an enjoyable one. Part of that orderliness are strategically placed heucheras from North America. There is a bronze-leaved one and a silver-green leaved one. The former has whitish flowers, the latter deep-pinkish. All very nice and neat.

(My wife) Lynda is keen to do a painting of its flowers, and maybe it more generally, so I was asked to take some photographs with my android-less camera. The enlarged images make it easier to see, and draw, the attachment of various floral parts and detail of important things like surface hairs.

Lynda was also trying to work out what was a petal and what was a sepal, to gain a deep understanding of the flower before she steals (or is it elevates?) its soul. First I needed to do much the same by giving it a name. The bronze-leaved forms were purchased as 'Marmalade', 'Peach Flambe', or perhaps a mix of both, but we had no name for the silver-green-leaved, deep-pink-flowered form.


I'm thinking it is one of the so-called Bressingham Hybrids, Heuchera x brizoides, crosses between Heuchera sanguinea and Heuchera micrantha. There is certainly some Heuchera sanguinea in there, such as having the male parts (the stamens) shorter than the petals, and presumably some Heuchera micrantha in the very long sprays of flowers.  


The flower is tricky to decipher but I think the two pictures above show the structure pretty well. The floral bits are mostly in groups of five. The sepals (the outer layer, sometimes called the calyx) and petals alternate along the top of a puffy pink cup, all covered in hairs tipped with glistening, deep red, spheres. The petals in the pictures above are thinner and attached behind the neat V of where the sepals join. In this next picture you can see the slightly weaker petals between the three sepals on the bottom half of the light pink flower.


In older flowers, like the couple behind the light pink one, the sepals redden up and the softer petals shrivel. You can see that clearly in this next picture, with not trace of the petals.


The common name for Heuchera is Coral Bell, or Alum Root. Coral Bell refers to the pink flowers of some species, particularly Heuchera sanguinea, and works well for what we have in our garden. Alum Root is apparently something to do with the roots being used in pickling, like alum (aluminium sulfate). The astringent properties of the roots also make it useful in folk remedies to 'shrink tissues' - blood noses, sore throats and piles are mentioned in dispatches.


All 55 or so species of Heuchera come from North America, where they grow mostly in woodlands, favouring crevices and hillsides. Like other members of the family Saxifragaceae you find them more often in cooler regions: I posted a story a few months ago about an alpine member of this family's namesake, Saxifraga.

It's now up to Lynda to represent the beauty and the structure of this tiny flower in a water colour painting, no matter what name I give the cultivar and no matter what each of those floral bits does. All that is the devil's work!

3 comments:

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Our garden is a mess. We are planning for a huge reformation in our garden policy. Your ideas are great and I would like to implement some of them.

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