When spring springs, a myriad of plants emerge to take advantage of this all-too-short season of colour.
The most colouful of the colourful flowers are the annuals. These short-lived plants emerge each year to reproduce as quickly and as prolifically as possible. As they escape from their seed cases they are genetically programmed to grow, mature, flower and reproduce before finishing their lifecycle in a great hurry. Many of these plants originate from climates that are not too kind. Climates that have long sub-zero winters or ridiculously hot and dry summers. Annual plants get around the harsh seasons by living life in the fast lane.
Australia does have its share of annuals with the lifecycle of some of our desert and arid region plants shortened to as little as six weeks. The annual riot of colour in the Western Australian wildflower fields is beautiful evidence that this mode of lifecycle works well in low rainfall and high temperature locations. Australian annuals include paper daisies and everlasting daisies often living alongside the fluffy spires of Mulla Mulla, Swan River daisies and egg and bacon daisies.
Gardeners have long enjoyed using annuals to heighten spring colour. Plants from all over the world have become part of the gardeners lexicon: pansies, petunias, salvias, marigold, phlox, forget me knots, alyssum, livingston daisies, poppies, stock, snapdragons, toad flax and poor man’s orchid to name but a few. Whether used to create large swathes of colour, intricate patterns like a Persian carpet or just to fill a shady corner, annuals are used to celebrate the return of warmer days. Toowoomba’s Carnival of Flowers displays rely on the pulling power of annuals each year to bring thousands of visitors to both public and private gardens. Even though a garden without annuals could theoretically win Grand Champion Garden in the acclaimed garden competition, it never has. It seems that people love colour, and annuals can deliver this in nearly every shade and pattern possible.
Every year in spring, many news outlets run stories reporting that all of these flowers are causing grief for asthma and hayfever sufferers. They have the wrong plants! The real culprits are the very plain flowered, wind pollinated plants, including many deciduous trees, grasses and conifers. These plants release countless millions of relatively small pollen grains to be carried by the wind and chance to reach a receptive female of the same species. In contrast, plants that produce highly coloured and patterned displays of flowers do so to attract pollinators such as bees and many other insects and birds. To make this work, the pollen produced by insect pollinated plants is quite large and sticky and does not fly far on the wind. It is designed to be picked up and stick to insects for transportation to other flowers to make pollination happen. The good news is hayfever and asthma sufferers can enjoy colourful spring flowers with impunity.
Slightly longer warming days, new soft green foliage and an explosion of floral colour joyfully herald the arrival of spring.
Words and images by Brian Sams