Three Cheers for Individuality

Not purple, but a pleatleaf nonetheless ~ Alophia drummondii

Slight variations in color, size, or shape are common enough among the flowers we enjoy, but more dramatic differences occasionally appear. Flowers typically associated with specific colors — bluebonnets, red Indian paintbrush, blue eyed grass, meadow pinks — all produce white variants from time to time, and discovering one always is fun.

Still, I was surprised to find this unusual purple pleatleaf tucked among a loose cluster of more traditionally colored flowers in east Texas’s Big Thicket. In this case, another name commonly applied to the plant — ‘propeller flower’ — seems apt.

The absence of the bold color and intricate patterning that usually mark the flower, shown in my previous post, made its membership in the iris family more obvious, and I enjoyed finding different ways to portray its beauty.


Comments always are welcome.

54 thoughts on “Three Cheers for Individuality

  1. I love your photos of this beautiful propeller flower and smiled broadly when I read the title of your posting. In my mind conformity is overrated–three cheers indeed for individuality.

    1. Vive la différence, as the saying goes. While humans seem increasingly determined to enforce conformity in every area of life, nature goes her happy way, providing reminders everywhere of variety’s beauty.

      1. I truly believe that there is beauty in diversity and I see that every time that I go out in nature with my camera. I only wish that we could all be more accepting of others who look different or think differently and stop viewing them as the enemy.

    1. Curiosity about white bluebonnets served to introduce me to plant genetics. White bluebonnets result from a mutation in one of the genes responsible for producing blue flowers, but the variants aren’t what’s called ‘true breeding’.

      In a field filled with bluebonnets, white flowers usually receive pollen from blue ones. This masks the mutation in the next generation, and blue flowers are the result. For a colony of white bluebonnets to emerge, white flowers have to be fertilized only by pollen that carries the mutation. I’ve seen this explanation offered for other ‘unusual’ white flowers, like those of prairie gentian and various Sabatia species, so it seems to apply across the board. For several years, there was a small colony of white prairie gentians that developed at the Brazoria refuge, but then the area was mowed, and I’ve not seen white flowers there since.

    1. Planning has its place — an important one — but surprises have a lot to offer. Like you, that’s one reason I love being out in nature; there are surprises around every corner and down every road. All it takes is a willingness to roam, and an attentive eye.

    1. I’d never heard of Adam Black, and I’m not on Instagram, but I found him and his photos. The images surrounding his photo of the white Alophia suggest he found it in the same east Texas area as I found mine. I was interested in the Texas Monthly article, too. I was surprised by how many of the plants mentioned are in my photo files, and how many names — Eason, Singhurst, — I recognized. Not only that, I found a confirmation of my ID of an unusual ladies tresses orchid I found a year ago!

    1. And of course the ten petal anemones aren’t obsessive about the number of petals they bear; seven will do, or eleven, or nine. I recently found a prairie nymph that had six equally sized petals, but none of that fussiness that usually marks the center. There’s always something!

    1. I do, too. White variants usually aren’t as ‘bright’ as flowers that are white to begin with, but they’re still interesting, and sometimes they’re quite pretty: like this one.

    1. Isn’t that something? I really enjoyed taking a good, close look and finding hints of the colors that predominate on the usual pleatleaf. It was fun to create different backgrounds, too; for me, it changed the ‘feel’ of the flower.

    1. I suspect, but don’t know, that part of that may be a result of the flower just beginning to fade. I’ve seen white flowers become a little ‘thin’ as they age, and it does change the texture of the petals. That translucency is one thing I wanted to capture; I’m glad you saw it.

      1. That translucence is something I find fascinating in flowers. You’ve caught that rather granular look that the petal surfaces have too. I suspect it’s also something that develops as the flower ages but I rarely see any mention of it.

  2. A pleatleaf by any other color. This reminds me of the white spiderworts, generally blue/purple, that I often photograph in our yard. We have daffodils with this color combination. Such delicate hues.Wonderful detail and highlight control.

    1. I found a yardful of white spiderworts last year; here’s one of them. I didnt’ see many spiderworts at all this year. I’m sure it had to do partly with weather, and partly with my inability to roam as much as I wanted.

      I was pleased with these photos, since yellow and white are the colors I have the most difficulty capturing. Sunflowers and white prickly poppies are fine, especially if the light is bright and they can be played off against sky or water, but these more subtle shades — or those glossy buttercups — are tricky.

      1. Speaking of buttercups, that reminds me: I was going to show you this page from the Arkansas Native Plant Society. They have a different plant featured each month, and the fellow who writes them up does a fabulous job. It’s good to see all of the plants’ parts displayed, and his explanations are like little courses in plant anatomy: especially good for someone like me.

        I thought about this when we were talking about digging plants up, etc. Doing it this way, so one plant can be seen by an entire native plant group, is really cool.

        1. You mentioned that blog some time in the past and I subscribed. Although many of his subjects are not found here some are, early buttercup being one of them which I found a few weeks ago although I did not post. We have a lot of the taller more seasonal variety in the yard. They are a little widespread but so far not invasive and we like seeing all that yellow. Re: digging, I am more concerned about rare plants or those that do not transplant well. While one should not dig wild at all, for education purposes such as the one linked it does make sense, especially with something as common as buttercups. I hope though that he does not do that for rare or threatened plants. I don’t imagine he does.

      2. I remember that post and our exchange. The lack of them this year could be for the reasons you mention but I do see variations from year to year. Lady’s slippers for instance take a time out to replenish themselves. This year seems to be one for the white variant of pink lady’s slippers as so far I have seen but the one I posted.

  3. Discovering the unexpected is one reason we keep returning to nature. How boring it would become if there were no surprises!

    It’s incredibly pleasing to see a wildflower. To encounter one that has declared its individuality – well, that is especially satisfying! (Cue the “oohs” and “aahs”.)

    Magnificent photographs!

    1. The nice thing about flowers is that they don’t fly off; I spent a good bit of time trying to get some decent photos of this one, and it cooperated nicely. There’s no guarantee I’ll ever see another, so I’m glad the photos turned out, and I’m glad you enjoyed them.

      There’s yet to be a day I haven’t found something worth ‘oohing and aahing’ over while I’m out exploring. Last weekend, it was a for real, no holds barred alligator fight. I didn’t manage to catch them in the midst of the struggle, but I did get a nice photo of the victor. I swear he was smiling.

    1. I can’t imagine that would happen, but you’ve raised an interesting point. If someone were offended by this pretty white flower, what would they think of a Mexican hat? a Blackfoot daisy? an Indian blanket? a Spanish Dagger? Indian paintbrush? Opportunities for taking offense are everywhere — which means that opportunities for amusement and eye-rolling are everywhere, too.

      1. I was stretching it a bit, but only a bit, given various other harmless things that malcontents have taken offense to recently. I wouldn’t be surprised if the other names you mentioned come in for their share of obloquy sooner or later, given how quickly the disease seems to be spreading.

        1. The operative phrase in your original comment is “looking to.” I sometimes suspect there are people who wake up thinking, “What can I find offensive today?”

  4. Lovely flower and photos; it definitely resembles an iris. I love to find quirky differences in plants. Conformity is overrated!!

    1. I carry my camera filters and extra cards in a little bag that declares, “Coloring Inside the Lines is Overrated.” The words may be different, but the meaning’s much the same! The wonderful thing about plants is no individual of a species ever looks exactly like the others, especially when seen in a different context. Similar? Certainly — but not identical.

  5. What a delightful flower! The petals have a slight iridescence or what I call “crystalline” look to them that I often associate with African violet blooms.

    1. I wouldn’t have noticed that resemblance to African violets had you not mentioned it, but once you did, I started digging in my files. My mother grew African violets, and at one point I took some photos of them. I found this photo of the white ones, and sure enough — that ‘crystalline’ look is visible.

  6. The veining and sheen of the petals is very like the bearded iris. I think an aberrant color is called a “sport?”

    1. I had to do a little digging after reading your comment: not in the dirt, but in online articles. Here’s one of the best non-scientific articles I found. While ‘sports’ and differently colored flowers both are genetic mutations, I don’t think this would be considered a ‘sport.’ On the other hand, the article mentions doubled flowers as examples of sports: this doubled coreopsis bloom would qualify.

  7. Propeller flower is a good name. As for the color, it reminds me of all those Purple Coneflower cultivars that are white, yellow, orange and so many other colors.

    1. I’ve never seen a white coneflower in my wanderings, but they surely must exist. The various white cultivars are pretty. The plant breeders can go a little crazy sometimes, but they’ve done well to keep the coneflowers’ charm, even when the colors differ from those found in nature.

    1. As the saying goes, “Keep it simple, stupid!” With a flower that lacked the color and intricate patterns of the original, I wanted a way to make its details shine, and eliminating background competition seemed a good way to do it.

  8. Alophia drummondii or propeller plant is lovely and even its botanical name sounds musical- to me at least. I always think of the white variants of a various flowers as an albino but that is merely in my thoughts and definitely not in botanical or scientific terminology. It reminds me of albinos in animals. I must say that you have found a number of very unusual and beautiful plants in the forest of southeast Texas.

    1. There is ‘something’ about that botanical name. I think you’re right that it has a musical sound. That may be one reason it’s a scientific name I can remember.

      This article about plants without chlorophyll explains things well. I thought this was especially helpful: “Albinism is not a truly scientific term. It’s a colloquial term for creatures lacking pigment. The word albino is derived from the Portuguese for “little white one.” Albo means “white” and the diminutive suffix -ino means “little.” As such, it applies equally to animals and plants that lack color.”

      There are plants that appear to be albino, like the coast redwoods, but they survive because of their connection to parent trees. A flower that appears white rather than blue, pink, or purple isn’t truly albino, because the plant still has the chlorophyll that allows it to live. Both kinds of white flowers involve genetics, but in a different way. Fascinating stuff!

  9. Surely it is one if the great benefits of a love of nature that we find these “oddities” now and then, oddities to our eyes only, of course, bound as we are by textbooks and classification, and descriptions of what should be. And no plant disparages another because it is a different colour. We could learn from that,

    1. One benefit of an immersion in nature is that, in the process of learning what’s usual — red cardinals, yellow sunflowers, ten-petaled anemone — we become more sensitive to the unusual, and recognize it more easily. This pleatleaf is a perfect example. Three years ago, I’m certain I never would have seen it in the midst of the tangled growth in the ditch or, if I had noticed it, I wouldn’t have realized what it was. We hear often enough that ‘familiarity breeds contempt,’ but familiarity also can lead to recognition and affection.

  10. Once you mentioned it as a propeller flower, I couldn’t help but imagine the petals spinning. Or maybe it was you, spinning the topic.

    1. When I read the ‘propeller flower’ name, the first thing that came to mind was the plastic pinwheels on a stick we had as kids. Now I see them as garden decorations, but kids have moved on to video games.

    1. It’s interesting, how the absence of those glorious colors and patterns let the overall impression of ‘iris’ really shine. It’s as though nature-as-artist decided to try a little abstraction, just to see how it worked.

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