Flowers with 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!

White-centred form of Catharanthus roseus

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.

Tibouchina multiflora

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.

Phlox paniculata Graf Zeppelin

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.

Sparaxis tricolor

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.

Hemerocallis Victorian Violet

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.

Dahlia Moonfire

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'!