En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
    
 
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
 
rate this answer
2 ratings

Sunday - August 30, 2009

From: Denver, CO
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: General Botany
Title: Geographic determination of flower colors
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, I'd like to find out if there are any correlation between geographic location and the statistic of flower(native) colors. Here in the Rockies, there seems to be a lot more yellow wild flowers than others. Would location and temperate zone encourage certain colors than others? Thank You

ANSWER:

This is an interesting question but, as far as I can determine, no one has done a study on floral color and its correlation with geography.  There have been some studies looking at geograpical separation of color variations within a species (e.g., M. Masco et al.  2004. Geographic variation in flower color patterns within Calceolaria uniflora Lam. in Southern Patagonia.  Plant Syst. Evol. 244: 77-91), but no studies across species. 

We can compare flower color percentages in geographically similar and different areas of North America using our  Native Plant Database.  The National Wildlife Federation estimates that there are 19,000 flowering plants in North America.  Our Native Plant Database contains 7,024 native vascular plants.  Among those are 118 non-flowering plants, the ferns, so we can figure that there are 6906 native North American flowering plants in our databases.  We can use the COMBINATION SEARCH feature to get some statistics on the commonest flower colors over all of North America and then for Colorado and its five adjacent neighbors—Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska and Kansas—that share some geographic features and, finally, for three states that are very different from Colorado geographically—Florida, Washington, and New York.

NORTH AMERICA

White = 27.8%  Yellow = 24.7%  Pink = 13.0%  Purple = 13.1%  Green = 9.9%  Red = 6.6% Blue = 6.5%    

COLORADO

White = 25.5%  Yellow = 28.3%  Pink = 11.5%  Purple = 12.2%  Green = 10.9%  Red = 6.3% Blue = 6.6%

WYOMING

White = 25.9%  Yellow = 27.7%  Pink = 11.1%  Purple = 12.1%  Green = 11.6%  Red = 5.5% Blue = 6.4%

UTAH

White = 26.1%  Yellow = 27.7%  Pink = 12.6%  Purple = 12.6%  Green = 10.7%  Red = 6.8% Blue = 6.2%

NEW MEXICO

White = 25.3%  Yellow = 28.4%  Pink = 12.3%  Purple = 12.1%  Green = 9.9%  Red = 6.9% Blue = 5.8%

KANSAS

White = 28.2%  Yellow = 26.7%  Pink = 11.7%  Purple = 14.5%  Green = 15.5%  Red = 5.5% Blue = 6.4%

NEBRASKA

White = 30.0%  Yellow = 28.0%  Pink = 10.5%  Purple = 13.4%  Green = 16.2%  Red = 5.0% Blue = 5.9%

FLORIDA

White = 25.8%  Yellow = 24.9%  Pink = 12.0%  Purple = 12.3%  Green = 15.9%  Red = 6.0% Blue = 5.5% 

WASHINGTON

White = 27.1%  Yellow = 25.7%  Pink = 12.7%  Purple = 12.5%  Green = 13.2%  Red = 5.1% Blue = 6.3%

NEW YORK

White = 30.1%  Yellow = 24.0%  Pink = 11.5%  Purple = 11.5%  Green = 17.1%  Red = 5.4% Blue = 5.2%  

If we look at Colorado and its three neighbors with mountains—Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico—the percentages of yellow and white are pretty similar, i.e., there is a greater percentage of yellow than white.  Compare this to the percentages of yellow and white in Kansas and Nebraska, Colorado's non-mountainous neighbors, and you see that they have greater percentages of white than yellow.  The three non-neighbor states all have more white than yellow flowers, too.  So, does this really mean anything?  Probably not.  This is an imperfect comparison at best since our Native Plant Database is a 'work in progress' and it doesn't yet include all North American flowering species; plus, we don't have the designation for flower color for all those plants that are in our database.  Furthermore, flowers of some species have multi-colored flowers and/or different color varieties.  There is also the problem of color perception—the same flower may be called pink by one person and violet or lavender by another.  Does a cream-colored flower go in the yellow or in the white category?  For more discussion of flower color differences and perception please see the answer to a previous question.

If our data were better, perhaps we could decide if there were significant differences in flower colors between geographic areas.  Then, what would we attribute those differences to—the temperature, the humidty, the soils?  It is a complicated problem to analyze so I guess this is the real answer—we don't really know if the predominance of a particular flower color correlates with geographic location, but we hope someone is studying this.

 

 

More General Botany Questions

Changing the pH of the soil
January 16, 2012 - Hi, We have a job that has mostly Texas native plants on it. The architect is wanting to drop the pH levels of the soils to acidic levels that we don't feel is good for the plants and the area. ...
view the full question and answer

Ruffly foliage on native lantana
November 05, 2013 - A native lantana in my front yard has developed ruffly foliage on one stem. It looks like miniature broccoli. What can this be?
view the full question and answer

Why plants grow in very hot or very cold areas from Edison NJ
October 06, 2013 - Why can some plants grow where very cold or very hot?
view the full question and answer

Appearance of plants
April 14, 2009 - What is plants appearance?
view the full question and answer

Have invasive plants no useful purpose from Anchorage AK
September 03, 2011 - Does the definition of invasive plants include that the plant has no useful purpose? Thanks.
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center