Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

One strange Mexican hat

with 44 comments

On July 20th near the Taylor Draper entrance to Great Hills Park I came across one strange dude of a Mexican hat (Ratibida columnifera). It had way more ray florets than a Mexican hat is supposed to have, and for once fasciation didn’t seem to account for it. Oh well, we take our weirdnesses wherever and however we find them.

I’m thankful to Dr. George Yatskievych at the University of Texas for providing an explanation: “Replacement of flowers is a bit different process [than fasciation].  Each meristematic cell on the receptacle produces a set of cells with the potentiality to become either a ray or disc floret.  Regulatory developmental genes in more than one gene family determine the outcome of the differentiation…. This accounts for ‘rayless’ mutants, as well as heads in which part of the disc has become replaced with rays.  This includes so-called ‘doubled’ heads in groups like zinnias and dahlias that have extra cycles of rays toward the periphery of the disc, as well as odder mutants with rays appearing in an atypical locations, such as the center of a disc.  In some cases, this switch to a different floral morphology is caused by something that disrupts normal development of the head (such as insects or micro-organisms), but in other cases there is a genetic mutation (in which case the plants will tend to pass the mutation to at least part of the next generation).  One of the more interesting mutations that I have seen pops up occasionally in Gaillardia, in which the marginal florets have corollas that are enlarged, but are still basically shaped like a disc floret at their tips. The bottom line is that there can be more than one cause, but it always comes down to the expression of regulatory genes during floral development.”

© 2020 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 5, 2020 at 4:45 AM

44 Responses

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  1. This looks more like a flamboyant Mexican skirt than a hat! I always find “different” to be more fascinating.


    August 5, 2020 at 6:33 AM

    • I’m glad you didn’t skirt the challenge of coming up with a good alternate name for this unusual Mexican hat. Two days ago I went back to see what had become of it but without the flamboyance of all those extra rays, which must already have fallen off, I couldn’t find it. Instead, I found another Mexican hat with strange long galls on it that had the texture of wood. May the weirdness continue.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2020 at 6:50 AM

  2. A Mexican hat that wants to be a flamenco dancer. Great find and shot, interesting explanation.


    August 5, 2020 at 7:15 AM

    • From flamboyant to flamenco. Anyone for flamingo?

      I, too, appreciated the scientific explanation. I hadn’t known that cells in sunflower-family plants have the potential to become either ray flowers or disc flowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2020 at 7:21 AM

      • You know, I think I’ve read or heard that somewhere before. I realized that after I posted–I’m much more focused on commenting about ruffly skirts. It’s just too early for all that sciency stuff.


        August 5, 2020 at 7:23 AM

        • “Too early for all that sciency stuff”? Better watch out or the science police will come after you.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 5, 2020 at 7:30 AM

          • My daughter Squiddy has a T-shirt that is one of my very favorites of all time. It says: “Stand back! I’m about to do science!”


            August 6, 2020 at 11:45 PM

            • The Turner Classic Movies cable television channel has lately turned movie into a verb by creating the exhortation “Let’s movie.” Can “Let’s science” be far behind?

              Steve Schwartzman

              August 7, 2020 at 6:45 AM

  3. Good find, and I really enjoyed the explanation, though I think I’ll have to reread it and perhaps do a little research to understand some of it. But that’s one of the draws to these subjects, the opportunity to learn something new. So thanks much for that.

    Todd Henson

    August 5, 2020 at 7:38 AM

    • You’re welcome. Yes, it was an exciting find.

      Learn is always fun. I’ve read the explanation several times and will probably read it again, though I think I understand it all. Genetics is coming to have great explanatory power.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2020 at 1:46 PM

  4. The lives of flowers are not so simple as we thought.


    August 5, 2020 at 8:04 AM

    • Definitely not, especially in the sunflower family (which includes asters, daisies, and much more), where each “flower” typically consists of many small flowers of two kinds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2020 at 2:09 PM

  5. Your Mexican hat may be strange in need of a long and detailed explanation of an expert but as presented is an exceptional beauty, Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    August 5, 2020 at 8:14 AM

    • I still keep telling myself that I’m primarily a photographer here. If I can learn about my subjects and impart that knowledge, so much the better.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2020 at 2:47 PM

  6. Fascinating… a flower with more flowers attached?!!!!! Great shots! 🙂

    marina kanavaki

    August 5, 2020 at 9:44 AM

    • All Mexican hats (and sunflowers and asters and daisies) are already collections of two types of florets. This specimen went beyond that with an extra helping of ray florets.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2020 at 2:53 PM

  7. I like the commenters above who likened it to being a Mexican skirt or Flamenco dancer. Which are much better thoughts than the one I had…is it trying to be a mum? 😀 It’s pretty with all its rays. Thanks for the explanation and lesson too.


    August 5, 2020 at 9:55 AM

    • You’re welcome. This was a pretty special Mexican hat (or skirt or dancer), and I didn’t even have to leave my neighborhood to find it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2020 at 2:55 PM

  8. Unless I morph into a scientist, I probably won’t understand 100% of that explanation, but it’s very interesting. Maybe you could keep a few shots aside for “Wonderful Weirdos Day” September 9th.
    Yeah I like these flamenco skirt ideas, too!

    Robert Parker

    August 5, 2020 at 11:18 AM

  9. Understanding why is always a great pursuit. But even without knowledge it is always exciting to find something new. No sombrero is your Mexican hat.

    Steve Gingold

    August 5, 2020 at 5:55 PM

    • No sombrero this time, that’s for sure. Lori (in the first comment) imagined a skirt. The quest for knowledge is indeed a great pursuit.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 5, 2020 at 7:21 PM

  10. Fascinating – so interesting how the natural world develops and evolves.

    Eliza Waters

    August 5, 2020 at 8:33 PM

  11. “We take our weirdnesses wherever and however we find them.” A quirky saying that applies not only to plants, but also, if not particularly, to homo so-called sapiens.


    August 5, 2020 at 8:50 PM

  12. GREAT POST! Thanks for the information. I haven’t seen any oddities in that family here but now I know why it could happen. Thanks for sharing!

    The Belmont Rooster

    August 6, 2020 at 12:58 AM

  13. Or a salsa dress too!


    August 6, 2020 at 4:34 AM

  14. I’ll be darned. I came across a sunflower that exhibited the same characteristics five years ago, and wrote about it. What I found as an explanation accords with the information you provided here. At least, I think it does. I need to read Dr. Yatskievych’s explanation a few more times to be sure. I was thinking of reposting the piece, because someone else posted recently about the cultivar known as the Teddy Bear sunflower; this is another good reason to do it.


    August 6, 2020 at 8:42 AM

    • Now that I see the Teddy Bear sunflower and the first of your two unusual ones again, I have the same reaction: they’re strange indeed, and I wouldn’t recognize them as common sunflowers. Maybe you’ll find some more sunflower weirdness you can include in a re-post.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 6, 2020 at 11:31 AM

  15. I have a quite a few images of mutant flowers (mostly Asteraceae, I believe–makes me wonder if they are more susceptible? Or perhaps the mutations are just more apparent?) that I have imaged in one of our local parks, including one that if I remember correctly was a Mexican Hat that looked rather strikingly like a mitten. Maybe I’ll put them all together in post……

    Johnny Crabcakes

    August 7, 2020 at 3:52 PM

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