Just As Pretty In Pink


The flower commonly known to Texans as Indian blanket or firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) generally blooms in combinations of red, yellow, and orange. A close relative, the maroon blanket flower, or maroon firewheel (Gaillardia amblyodon), can cover a hillside with — what else? — lovely sweeps of purplish-red flowers. In some parts of Texas, there are yellow gaillardia, and a little beauty called sweet gaillardia, or perfume balls, often arrives with only tiny ray flowers, or none at all.

When I stopped for a better look at a patch of unfamiliar pink among the traditionally yellow and red gaillardia lining the roadside near the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, there was no denying it; nature had provided yet one more in an apparently inexhaustible supply of surprises. The little pink patch was gaillardia.

While seeds for a pinkish gaillardia cultivar now can be obtained through catalogs, none seems as attractive as these unusual flowers, provided by nature herself. Their clear, pure pink was delightful, and if I’m lucky, they’ll reappear next year. I have the spot marked.


Comments always are welcome.


49 thoughts on “Just As Pretty In Pink

    1. The information you received from the botanist was even more interesting this time around: not only because I have my own example of the phenomenon, but also because I understand more of his explanation. After looking at your flower, I noticed that this one seems to have that white tip, too. It’s not as obvious next to the pink, but it’s there.

      On the day I took the photos, I counted about two dozen pink-flowering plants, but that might be enough for them to reappear next year. Two colonies of white prairie gentian I found last summer were exactly where I expected to find them this year. One had diminished in size, probably due to aggressive mowing in a developing area. But the other patch was blooming away, surrounded by lavender/purple flowers.

      As I understand it, if there are enough of the differently-colored bluebells for pollinators to move from white to white, the strain will continue. I presume the same would be true with these gaillardias, although the odds probably aren’t in their favor. Next spring will tell the tale.

    2. I came across this interesting and amusing thread about color variation in English bluebells on a BBC connected gardening forum. I had to laugh — it could be titled “Spanish-English Flower Connections.”

      There is an interesting comment by chrissuffolk5 halfway down the second page about pink being a dilute form of albinism.

    1. It’s an interesting pink, and the day was perfect for capturing the color: overcast but not dim, with no harsh shadows.

      It was the kind of experience I’m sure you’ve had with your birds. You notice something, realize it looks out of place or unexpected, and stop to have a closer look. Annie Dillard talks a good bit about how our expectations shape our perceptions. We see what we expect to see, and training ourselves to see what is rather than what we expect can lead to any number of discoveries: like pink gaillardia.

    1. A field filled with them would be exquisite — no doubt about that. On the other hand, if there were fields filled with them, the sense of wonder that comes with discovering that nature has produced something unusual — perhaps even unique — might lessen, or even disappear.

      One thing is certain: there’s no predicting what’s going to turn up in a ditch on any given day!

    1. I understand that completely, GP. The first time I flew into Houston and looked down on a pine forest during the approach to the airport, I wondered whether I’d gotten on the wrong flight. It took years for me to begin to appreciate the diversity and beauty of the state — and there’s still so much I haven’t explored.

    1. You just can’t trust those plants. Turn your back on them, and there’s no predicting what will happen. Maybe we need to rescript the old PSA: “It’s 10 a.m. Do you know where your pollinators are?”

      These really were remarkable flowers. And to think: three years ago I couldn’t even spell ‘gaillardia.’

      1. Spelling it is one thing, pronouncing it another. Everyone I’ve ever heard say the word pronounces it guh-lard-ee-uh. Because I know French, I can’t say the word any other way than guy-are-dee-uh. As Shinners and Mahler’s book notes, the genus was “named for M. Gaillard de Charentoneau, 18th century French magistrate and patron of botany.” The use of Gaillard as a name followed from its use, back then and still today, as an adjective meaning ‘lively, springy, sprightly, spry.’ Those are coincidentally apt meanings for this flower, especially in its normal colors, don’t you think?

        1. It’s interesting that, while reading about the flower, I read the name Gaillard in the French way, but gaillardia as everyone pronounces it: guh-lard-ee-uh. However it’s pronounced, it certainly is springy, sprightly, and spry: an apt description for a flower that can bloom for months at a time.

      2. I came back to comment, but was once again struck with just how beautiful that photo is. Your capture of the bloom and its companions is just gorgeous! Those flowers would make any self-respecting purple coneflower jealous!

        1. Tina, thank you. Every now and again I manage a photo that I can’t stop looking at, and this is one. I have a half-dozen photos that vary just slightly one from another, and I’m thinking that I might use one to make notecards for my flower-loving aunt. At 93, she still writes her notes to family and friends by hand, and I think she’d enjoy them.

    1. I understand. I’m not so fond of pink myself. But there’s something about this pink that doesn’t remind me of cotton candy, or the Pink Panther. It’s more complex than plain-old-pink. I can imagine the first gaillardia to give pink a try saying to its orange and red brethren, “You think you’ve produced some fabulous ray flowers? Hold my beer.”

    1. It’s hard to say. If the pink doesn’t appear in this spot again, it might show up somewhere else: or something even more odd might arise. Of course, even without the occasional mutant, the usual color combinations among Indian blankets are delightful enough.

    1. And you’re right that there are “hues” here, not just “pink.” At first, I thought their tips were a plain white, but now I see there’s a faint bit of yellow there, too. It’s that family resemblance coming through.

  1. Think pink! I think we have the pollinators to thank for the pink ones. Wonder what combination of the other varieties combined to make the pink ones?

    1. My understanding of plant genetics is so limited as to be laughable, but I suspect the pink gaillardia, like white bluebells or white basketflowers, arose as a natural variation. There’s a short, understandable few paragraphs about it here.

      I’ve read that these natural variations often disappear within a generation. On the other hand, the white bluebells I found last year showed up in exactly the same spots this year, thanks in part to those pollinators you mentioned.

      It’s also worth noting that field guides and websites sometimes describe the bluebell as having “purple to blue to lavender or white” flowers. I need to keep reminding myself that just because I haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it’s not more common than I imagine. But I’m sure pink gaillardia are pretty high up on the ‘unusual’ scale.

    1. There’s nothing like discovering a novelty: something that we’ve never seen, either in life or in books. It certainly argues for keeping a camera around, so these little gems can be ‘captured’ and shared.

  2. Absolutely gorgeous, Linda. (and a very nice photo of it too). That’s one Gallardia I wouldn’t mind having in my garden.

    Personally, I think I’ve only ever seen the red/yellow variety.

    1. In our area, the various combinations of yellow and red are more common, although I’ve seen some that are almost completely orange. In the hill country, I found a large colony of the deep red ones, but they were a different species.

      There are so many little details in this one that help to make it appealing: especially the gradations in color, and the obvious veins. If it could be propagated, it would make a fine addition to a garden.

    1. Any flower that can get you to wax poetic is a keeper, Gerard! Your little verse has kept me smiling all through coffee making, bird feeding, and clothes washing: that’s quite a feat.

    1. I was thrilled, Yvonne. I was happy with the photo, too. I was looking last night at some of my photos from 2015, and had to laugh. I’m not the photographer I’d like to be, but I certainly have improved.

      I’ve improved in my ability to see things, too. It never would have occurred to me, a decade ago, that we have to learn to see, but now I believe that. Remember the bear who went over the mountain? I’m working on a post right now that involves that fellow, and the wisdom he exhibited. His only reason for going over that mountain was “to see what he could see.” He didn’t have any set expectations — just expectation-in-general. It does make a difference.

    1. When I look at some cultivars — like those of sunflowers or coneflowers — I think the plant breeders could have exercised a little self-control. For one thing, varieties like the so-called Teddy bear sunflower don’t set seeds, and providing wildlife with seeds is one reason to have sunflowers in the garden. Of course, gardeners sometimes have concerns that differ from those of native plant enthusiasts.

      For me, it’s the discovery that’s so enjoyable. I’ve never gone out — whether to a nature preserve or a vacant lot — that I haven’t found at least one treasure. This time, I struck gold pink.

      1. Yikes, that Teddy Bear Sunflower is more like a furry allium. I grow a few cacti. When looking at the garden center for a new specimen I am dismayed by the moon (Gymnocalycium ) cacti grafts.A little self-control with those would have been a good idea too.

  3. Such a lovely, sweet color! It must have been breath-taking to see a whole field of these beauties. Thank you, Linda, for sharing them with those of us who aren’t familiar with gaillardia. Google tells me that even hybrid forms can grow in my neck of the woods — perhaps I should look for one of them next year and see how it turns out?

    1. It would have been lovely to see a field filled with these, Debbie, but there were no more than a few: perhaps two dozen plants. What makes finding them especially fun is that I unearthed only one other reference to such native pink ones, and that was from several years ago. They’re a rarity, for sure.

      You ought to have good luck with them, since there are three species native to your state. The nice thing is that once they get established, they’re long bloomers, and will provide color all through spring and summer. The common name of Indian blanket is apt, since they can blanket the hills with color.

    1. The good news is that if they don’t appear again, at least we know they’re capable of getting up to such tricks. They’re just one more reminder to pay attention: not to assume that what we’ve seen in the past is what we’re going to see in the future. Sometimes it works out that way, but most of the time it doesn’t!

    1. I had great fun with this one. What tickled me most was thinking about these flowers blooming away by the side of the road without a single expectation of ever being seen. But I saw them, and now you have — just think how many things are all around us that no one ever sees!

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