Field of Science

Not a rock, not a rose

Who needs a rationalization for planting all kinds of different plants? Let the Phytophactor admit to being a plant junkie, to having a certain penchant for strange but wonderful plants. And so while our estate is home to many native species, many exotics grace our gardens as well. Lately the cause of much interest among passersby is a low growing mound of an evergreen shrub covered with cheerful, colorful flowers, and it’s probably just about the only one around as our climate is a bit too cold, so it needs mulching and snow cover to survive our coldest temperatures. So far its luck is holding. This is a member of the rock rose family (Cistaceae), a smallish group more common around Mediterranean climates. This particular shrub is called Helianthemum, which means sunflower, so even scientific names can be a bit confusing and misleading (Helianthus is the other sunflower), but this isn’t one of our native species. Here the name refers to the plant’s habit of only opening its flowers when the sun is shining. Now think how much fun it is when you’ve got a class of plant taxonomy students who are thinking, Cistaceae, no way that shows up on a family ID quiz. Zingo!

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