"Kaleidoscope flowers"

I ponder on plants whose flowers change colour as they age.
Sunday, 06 October 2013     

Brunfelsia australis/latifolia

This spring has been a good one for the shrub colloquially known as yesterday-today-tomorrow bush (Brunfelsia australis/latifolia), which are showing off their multicoloured flowers profusely at the moment. This is a great shrub for Sydney gardens, growing to around 2 m tall with glossy green foliage. It comes into bloom around September and continues into October. Its simple, scented flowers open violet in colour, then change to pale blue and then white. The variety of colours on the bush at the one time gives an attractive effect. I recently acquired one from the Friends Nursery at the Royal Botanic Garden that has really large leaves and flowers (possibly Brunfelsia pauciflora 'Macrantha'). Another species, Brunfelsia americana, has white flowers that age to yellow. I do also have one of these, but it is a very slow grower and it has not yet flowered for me.

I began to think of other flowers that also change over time in this way - and to ponder: 'Why?' The marmalade bush (Streptosolen jamesonii, ht 1.5-2 m) is another easy-to-grow shrub for Sydney gardens that is in full bloom now, and it has flared-trumpet flowers that change from yellow through clear apricot to a deep orange-red as each opens then matures. Research suggests that this change may allow insect pollinators to accurately estimate the age and possible nectar content of the flower, benefiting both the plant and the insect. A similar process is thought to operate in the case of Brunfelsia flowers.

Where bees are the primary pollinator, the colour of the just-opened flower is often in the purple and blue range of hues - which bees are highly attracted to. The herb borage (Borago officinalis) for example, has new flowers that are bright blue and that fade to a lavender pink color once seeds have begun to form.

Flowers that have the species or cultivar name mutabilis or mutabile (meaning 'changeable' in Latin) usually show this colour-changing phenomenon. The spring-flowering perennial wallflower Erysimum mutabile (ht 1 m), from the Canary Islands and Madeira, and which does well in a dry, sunny spot in Sydney gardens, opens pale yellow and ages to purple. Another lovely plant is Nicotiana mutabilis, an annual or short-lived perennial plant for a sunny spot. It has a large soft rosette of basal leaves, and through much of the year, it sends up branched spires (ht 1-1.3 m) of pretty funnel-shaped flowers which change colour from white, to pale pink to rose pink as they age, giving a billowing, multicoloured effect that remind me of a packet of pastel marshmallows.

The rose of Sharon or confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis, ht to 3.5 m) is a shrub or small deciduous tree that grows reasonably well in Sydney gardens. The large single or double flowers appear in autumn and open white and age from pale pink to deep pink. The well-known China rose 'Mutabilis' (ht 2.4 m - to 5 m as a climber) is a popular plant in Sydney gardens as it flowers for so long and is robust in our climate. Its stunning single flowers open light yellow then change to copper-pink and then to deep pink.

Some of our native Chamelaucium have flowers that change colour from white to red, including C. ciliatum and C. megalopetalum. All 'kaleidoscope' flowers offer good opportunities for gardeners to create planting combinations with them of other blooms or leaves that echo one or more of the colours of the flowers as they age. I have been contemplating planting some purple, white and mauve violets underneath my yesterday-today-tomorrow shrub, for example! I have also sown some borage seeds in an area that has blue and pink flowers. I'd love to hear from readers any other examples of these sorts of blooms!

 Reader Comments

1/11  Anne - 2518 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 October 2013

that Nicotiana mutabilis sounds such a pretty plant. I have the green one Nicotiana langsdorffii which has been putting on a good show. Yes, it is beautiful - I also love N.langsdorffii, which self-seeds every year in my garden. Deirdre

2/11  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 October 2013

It is fascinating the way many flowers change colour over their time of blooming. Currently, I have a Clematis "Aumann", out. It has vibrant blue flowers, which gradually fade to a soft blue. It is an Australian-bred clematis, and grows well. Thanks, Margaret - I didn"t know clematis flowers could change colour like that. Deirdre

3/11  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 07 October 2013

I LOVE Nicotiana mutabilis. I lost my first plant after it literally flowered itself to death. There were some seedlings but they didn"t flourish. After securing a second plant , I received the best advice and that is that it grows well from cuttings. I"ll never lose it again, specially as it is very hard to come by in nurseries. It"s so useful in mixed borders as its height means it"s able to waft above other plants. An interesting blog Deirdre. Thanks, Peta. It is definitely a good idea to keep it going via cuttings. Mine didn"t seem to self-seed but in friends" garden it comes up everywhere. The little green one, however, is almost a weed in my garden! Deirdre

4/11  Chris - 2071 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 October 2013

does anyone know which Sydney nurseries stock Nicotiana mutabilis .....or any Nicotiana for that matter. I used to get it in punnets but haven"t seen it for years! See Peta"s and Rosemary"s notes below. Frogmore has several nicotianas listed, some as seed. Mine originally came from Sue Templeton. If you ever see one in someone"s garden, beg for a cutting! Deirdre

5/11  Peta - 2758 (Zone:9 - Cool Temperate) Monday, 07 October 2013

Chris try googling Sue Templeton"s nursery Unlimited Perennials. She occasionally has Nicotianas. I think the Nicotianas we used to buy in punnets got on the wrong side of quarantine. I could be wrong but as they are of course related to tobacco, importing seed/plants may threaten our tobacco industry - I"m assuming there is one in the NT - maybe others will know more.

6/11  Rosemary - 2750 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 07 October 2013

I have just purchased Nicotiana from Frogmores on the web Cheers Rosemary Thank you so much, Rosemary! Deirdre

7/11  Jean - 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 07 October 2013

While I love the Brunsfelsia, after about 20 years, they start to pop up everywhere. Right now we are having a huge job, trying to dig them out. Finally we decided to dig deep enough into ground and chop the roots in a circle. Hopefully this will stop them from sprouting. And each year around July, our Browalia shrub is stunningly thick with blooms. This is a very hardy plant and you cannot kill it. The one thing though, it doesn"t like water and I group it with Australian natives as its hardy Thanks for your feedback. Is the Brunfelsia suckering or seld-seeding? I have had a few seedlings from one species (B. pauciflora) but none from the other and no suckering. Maybe it is the warmer climate that causes the problem? Deirdre

8/11  Jean - 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 07 October 2013

By the way I live in Brisbane so the times for blooming of the Brunsfelsia and Browalia come into bloom much sooner than in NSW Years ago I had a Primrose thriving on the bank. It spread so rapidly and the blooms stood up embracing the sun. This is the evening Primrose. Sadly, when we went overseas for a while with neglect it died. But after a couple of years, it has sprung up again and is bringing so much joy to our lives. I love my garden!

9/11  Ian - 2506 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 09 October 2013

Hi Deirdre, Interested to read about the Nicotiana. Risky to grow if you are trying to also grow Tomatoes. Could be a host for Tobacco Mosaic Virus which destroys tomato and eggplant crops. There is no longer a commercial tobacco industry in Australia. It was phased out in the 1990"s Regards Ian Thanks for that thought, Ian. I haven"t had the problem but my tomato-growing is pretty basic! Deirdre

10/11  Marinka - 2041 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 November 2013

I"ve always loved plants with different coloured flowers - I have a camellia which has equal amounts of bright pink & pale pink blooms. Streptosolen is a favourite of mine too & so easy to grow from cuttings. I have several of them dotted around the garden. Another variable flower is mirabilis, which often has two different colours on the one bloom, sometimes divided down the centre, others mottled or striped in pinks, yellows & oranges. Thanks, Marinka. I remember the mirabilis from my mother"s garden - it was amazing, Your camellia sounds an interesting specimen. Deirdre

11/11  Marinka - 2041 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 04 November 2013

My mirabilis patch was particularly spectacular last year, so it will be interesting to see how it fares this season. It does seem to come & go a bit. I wish I could tell you the variety of that camellia, but it is an older specimen that came with the garden. Probably dating back to the late 60s or early 70s. I also recall a camellia at my childhood home that was mostly white, but would throw out random pure crimson blooms, or white ones splashed with crimson. It fascinated me at the time!

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