Sunday, 24 September 2006

Crossing the rubicunda

The great quantity of New Plants etc, Mr Banks and Dr Solander collected in this place occasioned my giving it the name Botany Bay.
Captain James Cook

Among the plants gathered at Botany Bay was this species, Kennedia rubicunda. The dingy coral pea is one of the few Kennedia to occur naturally on the east coast. Like many other species in the genus, it grows well in cultivation. Although spectacular, the flowers are diffult to spot among the foliage. The stalks are narrow and do not hold up the blooms. They disappear behind the triplets of leaves, which are so crisp and glossy they look as if they've been cut out of wrapping paper.

As a common name, 'dingy coral pea' does this plant a great disservice. The petals are as bright as those of the other red Kennedia species. What tones down the colour is the patch on the standard (the largest petal). In other red species, that patch is acid yellow. Even in this tiny K. microphylla the patch on the standard is obvious. But in K. rubicunda it is dusky pink. There's little contrast to our eyes. But the flowers aren't there for human entertainment. The flowers are for the benefit of pollinating insects or birds, which see colours in ways that we cannot.

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