It happens quite often. A seed gets deposited – from the air, or by a bird or passing chipmunk – in the centre of a pot and a plant starts to grow proudly, looking for all the world as if I had put it there… until it reveals itself to be an imposter and is yanked out and consigned to the compost heap. But while I couldn’t put a name to this particular plant, it wasn’t one of my familiar weeds and it was so perfectly centred and so healthy looking I decided to keep it until I figured out what it was.
A week or so ago, it flowered. A lovely lavender blue, and I recognized it immediately as the Monkey-flower. What excitement! I had seen it on occasion at Tiny Marsh and thought it quite charming. In fact, it charmed its way onto the flyer for the recent Tiny Marsh BioBlitz. The corolla (which is the name for all the petals of a flower) has an upper and lower lip and a yellowish centre that, apparently, looks like a monkey’s face – though I can’t see it. No offence to monkeys, but it’s much prettier than the image that conjures up.
Its genus, Mimulus, used to have 150 species, but DNA-driven reclassification reduced the number to seven, of which two are native to eastern North America, both quite common in wetland areas. The one that magically appeared in my nursery is the Square-stemmed Monkey-flower (M. ringens); the other is the Winged Monkey-flower (M. alatus), which looks very similar. Both have opposite leaves, but the leaves of the winged version have short stalks, whereas those on the square-stemmed one do not. And the winged’s flowers grow close to the central stem, while the square-stemmed’s flowers each have their own little stalk. Read more