Any idea what teratology is? I’ll tell you: “the study of abnormalities of physiological development”. And for almost twenty years Martin Barber, from Wiltshire in the west of England, has been producing a newsletter devoted to abnormalities in plants. It’s called That Plant’s Odd. Says it all, really.
The newsletter deals with unusual forms of mainly wild plants and, as the introduction to the very first edition in 1993 says: “The scope of the newsletter is to include any material concerning native plant aberrations.” That is: odd plants. Variegations of various kinds feature often, as well as yellow- and purple-leaved forms, and there are plants with flowers in unusual forms or in unexpected colours; as well as plants with contorted branches or with strangely formed flower spikes. Anything that is, frankly, just a bit odd. The yellow-leaved form of the British native stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus ‘Chedglow’ (above, click to enlarge) is one of Martin’s finds.
That very first issue of That Plant’s Odd includes records of a white annual corn poppy with red blotches at the base of the petals (sounds gorgeous), of wild elders with pink flowers and another with purple stems, while issue two discusses two variegated wild roses, variegated dandelions, and forms of the classic British native bluebell with leafy growth amongst the flowers.
I’ve found a few plants that qualify, over the years, including two or three very attractive lawn daisies with yellow leaf veins one of which was in a lawn at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Last spring, at the Barnack Hills and Holes Nature Reserve, I came across just one plant of the common British woodland flower, Dog’s Mercury’ (Mercuralis perennis) which was almost completely yellow (left, click to enlarge).
It’s also worth remembering that many of today’s most dramatic varieties of Heuchera are derived from unusual forms collected from the wilds of the American forests.
As well as publishing That Plant’s Odd, which I have to say is more appreciated for its content than for its elegant design, Martin also runs a small nursery specialising in these unusual plants called Natural Selection and is the author of Appreciating Lawn Weeds and of Botanical Monstrosities: A First Step in Plant Teratology though both these are hard to find.
A two year subscription to That Plant’s Odd (six issues) by costs just £7.00 for British subscribers. Send a cheque to: That Plant’s Odd, 1 Station Cottages, Hallavington, Chippenham, Wilshire, SN14 6ET. Martin hopes to be able to deal with international subscriptions soon.