"Flowers with eyes"

Many flowers have 'eyes'!
Sunday, 25 February 2018     

Browallia americana

No, I am not (yet) talking about the various senses that plants have (though it is a fascinating topic that I hope to explore before too long), but about flowers that have a different coloured spot around the centre of the petals, giving them the appearance of having an eye.

In general gardening parlance, such a feature is usually known as an 'eye zone'. The Latin terms 'oculatus', 'oculata' or 'oculatum' somewhere in a plant name indicate this feature, but there are many such flowers without this epithet. Some of the eyes are sharp and well-defined; others are a little blurred and bleary: but all are attractive!

Somehow the addition of such 'eyes' gives added interest to flowers. White-coloured 'eyes', as in the dainty, self-seeding, blue-flowered Browallia americana (pictured at the start of the blog) seem to sparkle and give the blooms an added liveliness and lightness. Another annual (or short-lived perennial) that has forms with a white eye is Catharanthus roseus (pictured at left), often known colloquially as vinca, a heat-loving performer that comes in a variety of pinks and purples. One I am currently growing has lavender petals with a white eye zone; other forms include white flowers with a bright red centre. Both these annuals have sailed through our torrid Sydney summer without turning a hair.

A delightful shrub in full bloom in my garden at the moment is Tibouchina multiflora. Growing to about 1.5 m in height, it is smothered in sprays of small blue flowers, each with a white eye zone that ages to red. The white centres of the blooms seemto make them really glitter in the sunshine. The flowers are held above large, silvery-tinged leaves that are almost as attractive as the blooms. This plant has not suffered during Sydney's hot summer and seems well suited to our climate.

A cute little plant with flat white blooms and a pink eye is Silene coronaria Oculata group (syn. Lychnis coronoaria Oculata Group) - a vestige from my cottage garden days. It is a lovely specimen, with the pretty spring flowers complemented by felted silvery foliage. It enjoys a hot, dry position, and will self-seed from year to year, behaving as an annual rather than a perennial in my garden. The more commonly seen varieties of this plant have cerise or white flowers. Perennial phlox (Phlox paniculata), pictured above, also has forms with a distinct eye zone, and these are very ornamental in the summer garden, blooming over a long period if deadheaded after the first flush.

Amongst bulbs, a number of tulips have distinct eye zones, but alas, I cannot grow any tulips in my Sydney garden. However, Sparaxis tricolor, a South African corm related to Freesia and Babiana does well, and these can often have a black and/or yellow eye zone that gives them a jaunty appeal.

Dayliles, available in myriad cultivars of many hues, often have distinct eye zones, giving them a dramatic look. The different colour in the eye zone gives scope for creating colour echoes with daylilies: matching the colour of their eye zone to that of a neighbouring flower of leaf, giving a satisfying combination. Two of my favourites are 'August Flame' (brilliant orange with a yellow eye zone, and 'Victorian Violet' (pictured above: salmon pink petals with a violet eye zone).

Members of the vast Asteraceae - or daisy family to us non-botanists - all have a prominent centre that is in fact called a disk ... or an eye. The central disk of a daisy is a composite flower made up of hundreds of miniature fertile tubular florets with short petals. What we'd consider to be the petals of the flower are called rays. The centre of every daisy is a decorative feature in itself and really does look like an eye, seeming to animate the flowers and give them a happy, friendly look. These daisy centres also offer opportunities for colour echoes in the garden. Though usually yellow, sometimes they are near-black, green or other hues.

Some daisies, such as Dahlia, have contrasting eye zones as well as their disk, giving them even more of an ocular look, and offering opportunities for making plant pairings. My all-time favourite is Dahlia 'Moonfire': golden petals with a rich red-orange eye zone (pictured at left); I grow this with red-orange daylilies and zonal Pelargonium. Dahlia are stalwarts for our hot summers, blooming on and on, as long as they are deadheaded regularly.

Gazania and Arctotis - tough ground-covering daisies - often have dark central eye zones like thick eye liner around their disks, giving the flowers a sultry look; pairing these blooms with dark foliage, such as that of Persicaria 'Red Dragon' or Alternanthera dentata, gives an exciting effect.

I'd like to hear about other 'flowers with eyes'!

 Reader Comments

1/9  Janice - 2069 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 February 2018

Thankyou Deirdre, a very interesting and helpful blog .Janice 2069 Thanks for your interest, Janice. Deirdre

2/9  Kerrie - 2104 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 February 2018

Hi Dierdre, i have a beautiful little Babiana with a deep dark red almost black "eye" that i just love. I"d pop out into the garden to look at the I.D. tag to get an exact name but finally here on Sydney"s northern beaches we have rain & it is pouring! Yaaaa! I can hear my plants singing "Singing In The Rain"! I love that Dahlia moonfire! Gorgeous! I have seen photos of that Babiana -- it looks gorgeous. Yes the rain has been wonderful -- proper soaking rain, the like of which we have not had for months in Sydney. Deirdre

3/9  Pam - 2159 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 26 February 2018

I love the deep blue colour of the little Browallia. It looked great in some Queensland gardens last year. Unfortunately mine succumbed to the dry heat in January, but will replace. Hopefully it may self-seed. Mine started from a single seedling given to me by a friend and it has produced hundreds if not thousands over the years! Deirdre

4/9  Helen - 7256 (Zone:10 - Mediteranean) Monday, 26 February 2018

Great topic Deiedre, I think a coloured eye adds a lot of interest. Currently being tempted by roses with an eye eg " Eyes for You" described as pale pink ageing to white, with a purple blotch at the centre of each petal, giving the effect of a purple eye. Looks almost like an oriental poppy. I am also planning to order some phlox for a sheltered spot in part shade. havent grown them before. In my first garden I removed several large clumps not knowing what I was doing. That rose sounds lovely. And yes, many poppies have pretty eye zones. I find perennial phlox do well. They need dividing every so often. Deirdre

5/9  Annette - 4306 (Zone:11B - Tropical) Monday, 26 February 2018

Hello Deidre, If you wish to purchase the Pachystachys coccinea check out this web site El Arish Tropical Exoctics of Maadi Nth. QLD. I purchased two of these plants under the name of The Cardinals Guard. The nursery sells quite a few plants suitable for our climates. The plants I have bought from the nursery have always been good healthy sizes. As with a lnumber of plants for sale they are listed with the more common name hence we are unaware that sometimes we alreadyhave the plants Annette Thanks so much, Annette! I have just ordered one, plus a few other interesting items. Will look forward to seeing how they go. Deirdre

6/9  Laurel - 4179 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 26 February 2018

Hi does anyone know where to buy a Tibouchina Multiflora. I have looked in the past and haven"t been able to find it. I live in Brisbane. Regards Laurel Maybe try the Nambour Garden Expo or try our Plant Share facility on this site? Deirdre

7/9  Jean - 4035 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Monday, 26 February 2018

Hi Deirdre, Absolutely struck with the Browalia Americana. Havent seen anywhere around Brisbane nurseries. I have the orange one that is one of the most striking shrubs when in bloom. Its so hardy and needs little care. Its in well drained soil. Si I can visualise the B Americana in my garden. Will go on a hunt. Thanks Jean Hope you find it, Jean. I was given one seedling from a friend"s garden years ago and it has self-seeded since then. The orange shrubby browallia is such a good plant too. Deirdre

8/9  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Thursday, 01 March 2018

Really enjoyed this blog about flowers with eyes, some of which I grow. Walking around the garden, I found some pentas which have a different coloured eye, from the petals and also the Mirabalis (4 o"clock plant, whose perfume is exquisite at night. Pleased to hear from Annette, of a web site to investigate, and perhaps from which to purchase some interesting plants. Thank you. Thanks, Margaret. Yes, some of the pentas plants have nice eyes and also I have a pink hibiscus with a red eye. I don"t grow Mirabilis but they grew well in my mother"s garden many years ago! Deirdre

9/9  Lorraine - 4510 (Zone:11A - Sub-tropical) Saturday, 03 March 2018

Jean 4035 I have the three colours of the annual Browallia and they are sprouting in the garden now after the rain. I have the dark purple with the white eye, mauve flower and the pure white flowering form.Get in touch if you would like some.I have a relative in postcode 4034 and could leave some with her for you to pick up.If you like. Those other colours sound fantastic, Lorraine! Deirdre

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