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

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Tuesday - May 13, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: General Botany
Title: Pure white primroses (Oenothera speciosa)
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hello MS. Smarty Plants! I have wildflowers instead of grass in my backyard (mow once a year and it's spectacularly beautiful) and I noticed some pure white primroses (the rest are all pink or with light shading of pink but there are a few plants that are absolutely purely white except the yellow in the middle). I'm writing to you just in case you know of someone who has been trying to develop a white primrose or someone that would be interested in such a phenomenon. If not, I will enjoy them by myself, but thought that I should put the information out there that a pure white primrose exists in Austin.

ANSWER:

Thank you for letting us know about your white Oenothera speciosa (pink evening primrose), but as startling as they are to see the first time, they are not very rare. In large colonies of evening primroses you are likely to see white ones among the pinks and it also possible to see colonies with only white ones. There are other varieties with white centers and pink edges on the petals.

According to Shinners & Mahler's Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas, the genus Oenothera is "well known for its complicated genetics" so describing how these different color variations arise is not a simple process. R. L. McGregor in Flora of the Great Plains says (according to Shinners & Mahler) that "in the Great Plains, the white evening-opening individuals are diploid," (i.e, have two sets of chromosomes) "while the rose-purple, morning-opening individiuals are tetraploid" (i.e., have four sets of chromosomes).

No matter how complicated the genetics are that produced them, you can enjoy the beauty and variety of your primroses!


Oenothera speciosa

Oenothera speciosa

Oenothera speciosa

Oenothera speciosa

Oenothera speciosa

Oenothera speciosa

 

 

 

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