A Blinking Black-eyed Susan

I’m a big sports fan, but only in the biological sense. In biology, a ‘sport’ is a mutation. Red Delicious apples may be the most famous sport — they all originated from one tree with a tasty (and profitable) mutation.

black-eyed_susansA lone Black-eyed Susan planted itself amidst a row of Peonies at T.C. Steele State Historic Site. Now that the Peony blooms have faded, the Black-eyed Susan’s yellow-orange blossoms really stand out. As I went to take a closer look I got a surprise. Two of the flowers were definitely different. Both were ‘wide-eyed’ and one had a wide, flattened stem as well.

If only I were a plant propagator, and could turn this weird wildflower into the next  All-America Selections® winner. Our financial worries would be over — assuming that gardeners would want to grow Blinking Black-eyed Susans. I’ve seen stranger looking plants in the seed catalogs each year though, so there might be a market for them.

This native wildflower is a biennial, so guess I’ll have to wait two years to see if the mutation carries over to the next generation. I don’t know much about how mutations work — perhaps a knowledgeable plant biologist could spare me the suspense of waiting to find out.

More likely, in two years time some other natural wonder will have caught my interest and I’ll have forgotten all about that wide-eyed Black-eyed Susan. Watching wildlife is a sport I’ll likely never tire of, and it doesn’t really take extreme examples to make nature interesting. Just a plain old (and pretty) Black-eyed Susan will do.

Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

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