Today is Blue Monday – reckoned to be the most depressing day of the year, though I’m in a very good mood: just back from a great 9am seminar with my final year students taking the Biodiversity & Conservation module. They presented some really interesting, diverse and thought provoking papers as part of their assessment for this module; it’s a great group to teach.
But if you are suffering from the blues this morning, here is a photograph to cheer you up. As far as I am aware Tweedia caerulea (also known as Oxypetalum coeruleum) is the only known blue flowered asclepiad (that’s to say, a member of the family Apocynaceae subfamily Asclepiadoideae – what used to be the family Asclepiadaceae*).
No one is sure why blue is such a rare colour within the asclepiads (and indeed the Apocynaceae as a whole) and it may be connected to the pollination system of this plant. However we don’t know what pollinates Tweedia caerulea in the wild so it’s hard to test that idea; other species within this group are variously pollinated by wasps, bees, flies, moths, etc. Truly blue flowers (as opposed to some shade of purple or violet) are relatively uncommon generally amongst the flowering plants and the source of much interest and excitement in those groups where they do occur, for example the Himalayan Poppies (Meconopsis).
Tweedia caerulea is easy to grow from seed but not so easy to get through the winter in the UK, so in the past I’ve grown it as an annual in the garden. Apart from the colour, one of the other reasons I like this plant is that it’s named after the 19th century plant collector John Tweedie whose life I’ve been researching over the past 20 years or so – see this paper for example.
*The asclepiads are my favourite group of plants, and one that I’ve published quite a bit of research on, so I was a bit miffed when the taxonomic rank of the family was relegated to subfamily. But it makes evolutionary sense and now gives me a much larger family of plants on which to research, so every cloud etc. etc.