Unusual Hybrid Sparaxis

John C. MacGregor IV jonivy@earthlink.net
Wed, 12 Jun 2013 16:05:24 PDT

On Jun 12, 2013, at 11:58 AM, Chad Schroter <Chad.Schroter@sandisk.com> wrote:

> This was posted to whatisthisplant on Reddit, it is growing in the Berkeley Hills area. I have never seen anything like it; could the pattern be due to a virus?
> http://imgur.com/l4swDk7/


I can see no evidence of virus.  The petal markings are indeed intricate but the pattern is completely uniform among the several blossoms.  Variegation due to disease is almost never regular.  One of the signatures of most plant viruses is the irregular (often random) pattern of color distribution in flower or foliage.  Also, in my experience this is well within the natural range of variation of Sparaxis tricolor.

It appears to me that this Sparaxis is just trying to live up to its common name "peacock flower" by mimicking the pattern of its namesake's tail feathers.

About twenty years ago I purchased a bag of 100 mixed hybrid sparaxis corms and planted them in a clump about six feet in diameter in Judge Cynthia Hall's garden in Pasadena.  The result was a mind-boggling kaleidoscope of color and pattern.  Individual blossoms ranged from deep and velvety through dazzling and psychedelic to occasionally drab--all reflecting the complex mixture of genes from myraid natural variants of this amazing species Sparaxis tricolor and its experiments with different color configurations preferred by the pollinators with which the species coevolved.  Most of these clones are promiscuously inter-fertile, and even when self-polinated produce variants that reveal their mixed heritage.

During each subsequent bloom season I have selected some of the most distinctive specimens from this ever-expanding clump and moved them in flower to spots where they fit in with the color schemes of specific areas of the garden.  Over the years these have produced individual clumps of uniform-color blossoms ranging from white to yellow through every shade of orange to blinding scarlet and deep wine-crimson, royal purple, and soft mauve every color but a true blue.  Most have a contrasting central blotch or ring of black or dark red and a few have feathery nectar guides like the specimen in your picture.  Even when new seedlings from these individual clones appear, they seem to mirror the color range of their progenitors, so  the result always appears harmonious.

Most of the so-called "mixed hybrid sparaxis" available commercially are merely open-polinated collections from the highly variable Sparaxis tricolor.  I know very little about the chromosome numbers or fertility barriers among the half dozen or so species in this genus.  I have often though it might be fun to experiment with some new crosses if I could manage to assemble a collection of these species with some of their natural variants.  But as long as we still have bees, I'm enjoying just watching these industrious little pollen-spreaders at work and selecting  from among the products of their handiwork.

John C. MacGregor IV
Horticultural Consultant
South Pasadena,  CA
USDA Zone 9  Sunset Zone 21/21

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