Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Monkey flowers: summer opportunists when river water levels fall

In summer, when the water level in the upper reaches of the river Wear drops, its gravelly banks are colonised by a natural rock garden of plants. This year, after a long dry spell, its flora is looking particularly attractive. Many of the plants are garden escapes, most likely from garden refuse swept down the river from upstream. 

The most eye-catching are monkey flowers, whose creeping stems become woven into the coarse gravel and resist the flow of the current when the river rises again. The most beautiful is the coppery monkey flower Mimulus x burnetii, a sterile hybrid between Mimulus guttatus and M. cupreus, both from western North America.

It isn't very common because it does not produce seeds and only spreads from vegetative fragments, but wherever it does appear its warm coppery tones make it very conspicuous. 

This is one of the parents, monkey flower Mimulus guttatus, which does set seeds and is a colourful feature of the river gravels all along the upper reaches of the river Wear.

Both plants are very easy to propagate - just a short length of the creeping stem with a leaf node will produce new roots and shoots very quickly.

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