Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Evolutionary Oddities

Ferns first appear in fossil records as early as 360 million years ago. They still seem ancient and mysterious when their leaves slowly unfurl each spring.

Ostrich Fern

So what accounts for this plant species success over time? 

It is perfectly adapted to a range of growing conditions for one. 

Alaskan Fern

Ferns can be found both in the tropics and in much colder climes. One might even say that ferns have evolved perfectly.

Donna of Garden Walk, Garden Talk has started a regular Word for Wednesday linking party which is an "exploration of words through pictures, where a word relates to the story in photos." This week's word is "Evolution" or "Evolve".

I thought that I might do something a bit unexpected with my interpretation of this week's word and expand on the notion of adaption, with a view to unique plant attributes that have contributed to each plant's successful evolutionary journey. In this post I will also look at plants that seem like through backs to some primeval forest; unusual plants that you might not necessarily expect to see growing in a northern garden.

One of the way plants succeed is to develop elaborate defence systems. 

Take this Cardoon plant, which I found growing in Brain Folmer's 5 acre garden near Walkerton, Ontario. Cardoon is a lesser known relative of the artichoke and is considered a delicacy in Mediterranean cuisine. Apparently, the flower stalks taste like artichokes, with a trace of licorice.

Everything about the plant's stalk says, "Don't mess with me!"

The plants seeds are well protected with a series of barbs that also seem to say, "Just you try and 
eat me and you'll be sorry!" 

Yellow Knapweed

Here is another unusual thistle-like flower that I found growing in the Lucy Maud Montgomery Garden in Norval, Ontario. What do you think? Is it pretty of just plain weird?

Scene from the classic movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial by Steven Spielberg, June 1982

My next oddity was found in Hamilton, Ontario's Royal Botanical Gardens.

E.T. phone home?

I looked everywhere in the flowerbed to find the plant's identification to no avail. Any ideas 
as to what this is? It is kinda bizarre looking don't you think?

Here is an unusual looking flower from my own garden. This is a Pasque flower or Pulsatilla. I am no botanist, but the plant's spring blooms, which are covered with a soft, feathery down, seem to make the plant look less appetizing (and perhaps also protects this native of mountain foothills and prairie meadow from cold spring winds. Think of it as a plant with a warm coat.) 

The plant's seed heads are the it's most unusual feature. They look rather like an 
octopus, don't you think?

 The flower buds of the herb Borage

Hairy things always are always a bit off-putting, but really they are a plant's way of protecting itself.

This is Bronze Fennel, which I found growing in a large pot at Humber Nurseries. Its soft, feathery foliage was a multitude of colors.

Now, let's take a plunge underwater and look around a coral reef.

The plant life and coral are amazingly diverse here in the warm waters of the world's oceans.

Now, let's come back up out of the water and onto dry land. Now, tell me if this hen and chick flower seem like a through back to its underwater cousins? 

I look at these tiny, star-shaped flowers and think of a coral reef.

Here is a surprise for you! A cactus growing in a Canadian garden! Colin Gosden, President of the Creditvalley Horticultural Society has a couple of varieties of cactus growing in his Mississauga, Ontario garden. They overwinter in the garden. Go figure!

I show this plant here because it has a similar shape to the hens and chicks (coincidence?). Cactus are yet another example of plants that looks after their own interests very well.

Meet Angelica archangelica 'Gigas'. The flower is housed in a small "cocoon" with a leaf shaped tongue.

On the right you can see the flower bud lifting up out of the leafy casing. On the left, you can see the empty cocoon, after the flower has risen.

And here is the deep burgundy flower.

Though I found this Angelica archangelica 'Gigas' growing here at Humber Nurseries, it is actually a native to Japan, Korea and China. It is a big plant reaching 4 to 5 feet in height and 2.5 feet in width. It is hardy to zone 5 and prefers moist, well-drained soil.

I don't want to go away without showing you that not all the exotic plants here in a northern garden are strange looking. Here is a tropical bloom that I have seen in a number of local gardens:

Hibiscus 'Plum Crazy' has diner plate sized flowers and is hardy to some parts of
southern Ontario (zone 4).

Isn't nature just amazing?

To see other interesting interpretations of the word "Evolution" of "Evolve", hop on over to GardenWalk, Garden Talk by clicking the link.


  1. What a great post about the evolution of some pretty strange looking plants. I have many of them but I love the octopus looking seed heads. I have borage growing and find it so fascinating. And hibiscus well it is just so unusual to grow and photograph...thx for sharing some new plants to explore too...

  2. Haha - these are too cool, nature sure is amazing! :-)

  3. Oh so cool and a great take on evolution. The odd and unusual courtesy of evolution and adaptation. I learned some things too. I love when a post has info that is really interesting and entertaining..."Don't eat me." And the photos to match. Great images and beautiful work. Thank you for this post.

  4. Nature is amazing. Loved all the photos. You made me laugh, and think. But I also wondered: So ferns have been around for 360 million years? Why they won't grow in my garden?

  5. Great photos Jennifer. I have a pretty strange fern on my north side. I call it the Dinosaur Fern but I know it has a big long name, looks so prehistoric.


  6. Great comparisons! Love those coral pics. Your first fern photo almost looks like a seahorse. Love that Plum Crazy Hibiscus --yum.

  7. I thought I saw a sea horse when I first arrived. Looks like I am not the only one. I like your weird looking plants and you captured them really well too. The coral plant is gorgeous. Giga reminded me of dill. I have photos of dill blossoming quite the same way.

  8. This is a great post illustrating Evolution and evolve to perfection. Those are really unique plants and I am amazed at your diligence in hauling them from your archive. Your photos are also outstanding which i envy. I confess i haven't seen most of them except the cactus, fern and Hibiscus, which are really adapted to a very wide range of conditions. I am sure Donna is glad in exhausting from us all the extent of thoughts emanating from just a word!

  9. I really enjoyed the shapes and textures you were able to capture...amazing! Ferns seem to make the most interesting forms as they are leafing out. This was a great idea for the word, evolve.

  10. Amazing photos. Laughed at the "ET" one haha. The octopus one was interesting as well. All were! I really enjoyed the post- very entertaining and incredible photos and plants!

  11. Great Post! It introduces the idea of convergent evolution - how patterns of development are repeated in various aspects of nature.

  12. Such a great post! It's amazing the way plants evolve and adapt. Just think we have some of the same plants and our climates are so opposite! The ferns for instance - just amazing!

  13. Eye candy for plantaholics but thought provoking also. Nicely done.

  14. Jennifer girl you made me so WANT that hibiscus now that I know it survives zone 4 !
    I always marvel at so many characteristics of each plant in my garden (I am a huge fan of ferns .. I have lost track of how many I have now .. but I want to conquer the Maiden Hair one .. mine died quickly due to my own fault .. lack of careful watering .. BIG sigh)
    I love seeing all of these wild and crazy plants and there is a Lucy M Montgomery garden in Ontario ? that is wonderful : )
    Great post to see first thing in the morning .. you gave me a few chuckles girl : )!

  15. A wonderful post! Your mystery plant looks like a Digitalis lanata (maybe D.ferruginea).

  16. Jennifer, each of these is wonderful, but that first one is truly amazing!
    It reminds me of a dragon.
    Beautifully seen and captured!
    Have a great weekend!

  17. Thank you for your comments everyone and HA thank you for the plant identification. I think the mystery plant is indeed Digitalis lanata.

  18. Oglądałam i czytałam i znowu oglądałam. Muszę przyznać, ze jestem pod wrażeniem tego postu. Trochę z tych roślin mogę oglądać u siebie (paproć, chaber, sasanka, hibiskus) ale na inne patrzyłam z zaciekawieniem.
    Twoje pieski już odwiedziłam poprzednio). Pozdrawiam

  19. What a wonderful collection of weird, beautiful mysterious plants. Ain't nature grand.

  20. Your photos are beautiful to look at; I love how close you were able to get to emphasize the detail. Also amazing were the underwater shots.

  21. Plants are wonderfully created and so amazing in all their details.

  22. beautiful shots!! I love how you've captured the architecture of many of the unusual plants

  23. Great idea for a post. I think I've seen everything now - a cactus
    overwintering in Ontario?! and hibiscus too. That certainly opens up a
    whole new realm of possibilities in the garden.

  24. When Mother Nature finds designs and structures that she likes, she will repeat them again and again, regardless of species or kingdom. BTW, I think the Yellow Knapweed is both pretty and weird, but not at all plain.

  25. Jennifer great post..... fantastic photos and I think I will have to make a visit to Humber to get Angelica next that plant...Rosemary

  26. What an incredible post! Coral are actually animals that just happen to look like flowers. The picture of the fern fronds spiraling around the stem is fabulous. Excellent and intriguing perspective. I wish I had more time to follow the weekly word meme. I'm hoping for a lot of snow days so I have time to catch up on: sleep, grading, blogging, reading, etc. Your blog gets better with every post!!

  27. What a creative post! Your photos are amazing, and they made me think about connections I'd never thought of before. Your mystery plant and E.T.'s finger have an eerie similarity. I love watching the ferns slowly unfurl each spring.

  28. Thank you again for your comments everyone. I am really enjoying Donna's challenges.

    Tammy/Casa Mariposa, I am sure if I had a science teacher like you I would have known that coral is not a plant, but rather an animal. Thank you for correcting my mistake.


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