Wednesday, May 20, 2009


There was a time I did not like white flowers. I found them bland, boring, not interesting, a waste of garden space. Several things happened to change my mind. I learned more science. I learned that flowers are there to attract pollinators and that often the thing that attracts them is a pattern or line on the flower that reflects frequencies we cannot see, in the ultraviolet range. Sometimes, people who have their lenses removed due to cataracts can actually see a bit into the ultraviolet range and see these lines! So that made me see flower color in a whole new light. Another factor in my appreciation for white flowers was learning to appreciate native ecosystems and native plants. Plants and flowers became less a matter of ornament in an ornamental garden and more a matter of a component in an ecosystem. And so many of our native plants have white flowers: From the ground up, there are trilliums, bloodroot, rue anemone, mayapple, Solomon's seal, Solomon's plume, black and red chokeberry, hydrangeas, various viburnums, elderberry, bladdernut, wild plum, serviceberry, hawthorn, Ohio buckeye, Kentucky coffeetree, black locust, lindens. All of these native plants have white flowers! Beautiful white flowers of many varied forms, some solitary flowers, some in small clusters, some in large clusters, tiny flowers, large flowers, symmetrical flowers, strange shaped flowers. Some with delicate petals and others with more substantial waxy petals. All of them beautiful in their own right. And all of them a challenge to photograph without having them come out ivory or blue or green or pinkish and without losing details, for the white tends to wash out to a pure block of light. The final thing that pushed me all the way to loving white flowers was seeing a few gardens deliberately designed to be night gardens. For at dusk and after dark, with the tiniest bit of moonlight or artificial light, the white flowers glow and pop out from their background. It is magical, how flowers relatively inconspicuous in the daytime become startlingly alive to our eyes in the dark. This flower, a bit of an oxymoron, is the white bleeding heart. A white mutation of the lovely pink plant called bleeding heart, for when colored pink, the large part does indeed resemble a heart shape and the smaller part, a drop about to fall from the tip. The white form makes the name seem silly, but is quite lovely nonetheless.

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