Thursday, April 22, 2010

Variegated honesty returns

One of my favourite garden plants is the variegated form of honesty, Lunaria annua, an introduced species whose origin is unknown, though the perennial subspecies is found in Italy and the Balkans.  It has been grown in Britain since at least 1570.

20100421 SV honesty 017

The plain green form is attractive, but this version with cream edging to the leaves is quite spectacular as it rises into flower in spring.  There is also a white flowered variegated form.

Despite its scientific name, this plant is a biennial here: seed sown later this year will flower next year.  The seedlings are markedly variegated when they appear but quickly turn wholly green.  The variegation reappears as the plant develops towards flowering at the end of winter.  Then, of course, there is the later benefit of the silvery, penny sized seed pods.  The fact that these seeds can be seen through the thin walls of the pods is the reason for the name 'honesty'.

The leaves and roots are said to be edible and the ground seeds have been used as an alternative to mustard.  The scented flowers are attractive to insects and orange-tip butterflies will sometimes lay their eggs on the plant and, so far as I know, the caterpillars flourish on it just as much as on cuckooflower, Cardamine pratensis, their usual pabulum.

We used to have quite a number of self-sown plants in the garden every year and I thought I had lost them way back in the last century, so I was very pleased when this one appeared.  It is in an area where there was much deep shade under a Lawson's cypress removed last summer.  Clearly the advent of light and warmth has triggered a long dormant seed.

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