A Flock of Phlox

All I want to do these days is chart plants. I see the world in little squares, in shades of DMC. Did Gerda have a list, I wonder, of the plants she wanted to do?

I remembered recently that at the last local Wildflower Day, last year in the B.C. (Before Covid era, when people could still gather in public places and DO things) I kept myself busy between queries in my little “Ask a Botanist a Question” booth by drawing some of the wildflowers that were so abundant. Drawings ready to chart!

I did two plants of Phlox cuspidata, Pointed Phlox, so-named because of the pointed (cuspidate) petals.

Phlox has its center of diversity in Texas, meaning that it has been here longer and probably first arose here. There are multiple species in Texas. P. cuspidata is by far the most common locally. It grows only in sandy soil. In fact, if you see a swath of bright pink-purple phlox in the spring, you can say with 98% certainty that the soil is sandy without even getting out of the car to check. If you see Drummond Sandwort and Dwarf Dandelion as well (future charts, for sure!), that figure rises to 100%.

Drawing them wasn’t hard. Coloring them was. I had access to maybe a dozen colors of pencil, and the pink-purple of fresh phlox flowers wasn’t one of them. I had to do quite a bit of mixing and still didn’t quite get it.

Interestingly, pointed phlox flowers dry a very pretty light blue. I could always tell when students had made their “field” notes after the fact when they recorded the flower color as blue in their plant collections…

The plants were fairly easy to chart up. Here is the design in ink. Notice that I played a bit with the anatomy of the right-hand plant, as it was a bit top heavy on the left side.

Choosing colors was a little problematic. As I feared, DMC doesn’t have the exact shade. I’m not sure any manufacturer does! I have made this color, though. When I was doing natural dyeing with my last section of Plants and People, we made the color on wool by making a dyebath with Brazilwood (also known as Pau-Brasil or Pernambuco), with washing soda added to raise the pH of the liquid.

I suppose I could blend colors, using one strand of pink and one of purple in the needle, but that would produce a tweedy effect that would be distracting. Also, specifying two colors means a stitcher would still have to pick one if stitching with one strand of floss over one fabric thread. Finally, blended colors was something Gerda never did, so that is simply not an option. At any rate, it looks as if the stitched phlox is going to be skewed a bit toward the pink, using floss in the 3607-3609 range.

The computer actually has the color more nearly correct than the actual floss:

Pointed phlox flowers can have any of several different types of markings in the center. Sometimes there is a darker dot or small chevron at the base of each petal. Sometimes there is a paler or whitish “eye” with or without a darker “star”. In the end, I made a third flower with no pale eye and a darker star on the fly, in the charting program, by mirroring and then tweaking the first plant. This might actually be the most common colorway among local plants.

Here is how they might look, stitched on a golden fabric, more or less life-size:

There’s a little wiggle-room with “life size” for this plant, as there is quite a bit of variation in nature. Early-season flowers tend to be larger. Later in the season, some of the flowers are noticeably smaller, and anomalous, four-petaled individuals, such as the oddball in the photograph above) are not uncommon. You can also find the occasional six-petaled beauty which, taken together with the narrow leaves, inevitably has the students lost and wandering in the monocot section of the key!

Fun botanical fact: One of the key characters for phlox is that the stamens, borne on short filaments ,are attached at different heights inside the corolla tube.

This was a fun, fairly quick project. I can see myself charting up two other species, P. roemeriana, which is a lovely rosy pink with a yellow eye, and P. drummondii, which comes in every color from white to pink, purple, rose, cherry, and even a bright blood red. Won’t that be different?!


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