psychedelic spring: in praise of anthocyanins

peony-emerges2I LOVE THEM IN FALL, AND IN EARLIEST SPRING, TOO: ANTHOCYANINS, the plant pigments that paint the early and late seasons in a psychedelic palette. Looking for me this week? I’ll be crawling around on my knees in search of another hit of the good stuff, like the species peonies (above), which are really wild right now. Meet some more colorful characters:

The common bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis (epecially the gold-leaf cultivar ‘Gold Heart’), gives the peonies a run for their money; so does Jeffersonia diphylla (twinleaf) and many heucheras. Scientists postulate that in some cases anthocyanins, flavonoid pigments which are often masked in the main growing season by the green of chlorophyll, may either serve to deter herbivores from nibbling tender new shoots or perhaps help attract pollinators, a kind of lurid “come hither” ensemble. If you don’t look like a leaf, maybe nobody will eat you–and looking like a flower extra-early increases your chance of getting pollinated when your flowers come not too long afterward.

These pigments probably taste bad, too, compared to green ones–another deterrent to nibbling–and may help also tender young leaves cope with excess light (meaning the pigments are “photoprotective“).

Whatever the particulars, I am happy to crawl around enjoying it, camera in hand. Crawl around with me in a quick slideshow? (Click the first thumbnail to start the slides, then navigate from image to image using the arrows beside the captions.)

  1. Susan says:

    I love to garden, but I have tons to learn about names and such. My detective told me that I have these ” heucheras ” in my garden. Similar to the one pictured. Learning the names is the hard part, but loving to plant and enjoy is the easy.
    Thank you

  2. Becky says:

    April 17th, and we are getting SNOW!!! I am glad for the moisture, but I want to be crawling around, looking for what is poking their little green heads up. I am so glad I have not gotten ahead of myself and cleaned up last years debris. That will provide some little micro-climes.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Becky. Yes, it has been very cold here, too, especially in the mornings. Crazy. Thanks for your visit and do stop back again soon (if you take a break from crawling around outside). :)

  3. Janice says:

    I love the psychedelic green of euphorbia wulfenii. It blooms quite early here, and for quite an extended period, so is a welcome jolt of brightness when its otherwise a bit dull.

    1. margaret says:

      How are you, An Aesthete’s Lament? Nice to see you here. I am crazy about this time of year because of what happens in the pigments…so much wild energy of all kinds. Glad you like.

  4. Jeff says:

    Mine are showing!

    My cheap little two year-olds have little groups of three or four shoots. I threw them on the wrong side of the house – full morning sun and partial shade in the afternoon. A winter storm took out most of the shade evergreen, so they should do better this year. I told myself I would never ask for blooms since I love the leaves. I lied.

    The four I spent ridiculous money on last September have come up huge in comparison (yes, I found the source on this site). I’m expecting great leaves this Summer.

    Susan, when it comes to plant names, I always pretend it’s an Agatha Christie novel; give me enough context and I usually figure out what is going on, but I’m not going to lose the story trying to sort all of it out.

    1. margaret says:

      How nice of you to say so, Mike. What a great group that was in Baltimore! So lively. Really helps me as a speaker when the group is so keen and engaged.

  5. I love that you, to use your own words, “speak serious botanical Latin”. Your article prompted me to do a little research on the word “anthocyanins”. Have fun crawling around today (I might do the same!) :-)

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