White where yellow belongs
How strange it was for me to find this white
In places yellow’s thought to hold by right.
When I photographed along FM 20 east of Lockhart on April 30th, I found dense colonies of Gaillardia pulchella, known as firewheels and Indian blankets, which have had an abundant season in central Texas. Among the hundreds of flower heads that lined one stretch of the road, I found a few that were different from any I’d seen before: the tips of their rays were white rather than the normal yellow that you can see peeking through from a conventional flower head below this unusual one (and that you’ve seen more clearly in plenty of other firewheel photographs on this blog).
I wondered about this unusual white-fringed firewheel, so I asked someone from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, who sent my question farther afield. In short order we had a reply from botanist Thomas J. Watson: “G. pulchella is a highly variable taxon, especially in floret colors, and I have seen a broad variety of ligule coloration in the taxon. I have never seen the white tipped ligules before but I am not at all surprised. I doubt that it is more than an individual variant in a larger population of more typical color forms…. Turner and others have had students studying the genetics and morphological variation in pulchella over the years with very little learned about its sources. So the white variant is unusual, likely due to a mutation in the genome of a single individual and of relatively little importance to the taxonomy of the species. It would have to be correlated with other character differences and would have to have population integrity before such a variant might be considered for taxonomic recognition.”
So there you have it: a firewheel that’s probably of no botanical significance, but a rare and curious one you’re free to take delight in.
© 2013 Steven Schwartzman