This is my husband’s favorite driveway-crack flower because it is truly blue. Blue wildflowers usually lean toward violet or lavender or purple, but not this thing.
We’re talking Giotto fresco blue. Or Crayola crayon blue.
Asiatic dayflower, Commelina communis.
Several species of dayflowers and spiderworts commingle in Nashville, but this one may be the most abundant. Communis means communal, or colony-forming, which this is; and also means common, which this is.
Dayflower means a day of flower. One day and pffft: gone to seed.
It’s everywhere in suburbia, but the blooms are small. They look like two blue mouse ears, but there’s a third petal, too: tiny, white and hidden. There’s a story behind those three petals, which I’ll get to below.
Asiatic dayflower likes shady. It seeds itself in our driveway, in the north shade of the porch, and inside most flower pots. In the neighborhood we see it in shady edges of “real ” yards (lawns not poisoned with weed ‘n’ feed), beside shrubs, and along the secret sidewalk the city forgets to maintain.
The flowers make pretty garnish on salads, and the young leaves are edible, but they taste like grass to me.
Asiatic dayflower (C. communis) looks a lot like our native Slender dayflower (C. erecta). One big clue to which is how many you see at one time. The Asiatic kind roots at the nodes and spreads vegetatively, forms communities. The native kind doesn’t (or so I hear). The Asiatic kind has a flower tucked inside a green taco that opens from end to end. The native kind’s taco is fused at one end. The real name for the taco is spathe.
Speaking of my husband, this dayflower is a good illustration of our different Ways to Meet Nature. This morning, I’m getting all het up about spathes shut or spathes open and is the third petal white or blue and meanwhile he’s already posted on Facebook a comparison between the flower and Beethoven’s Opus 6, supplemented with the idea of native belonging; the idea of community; the idea of scarcity vs. plenty; and the idea of Goodness. In one concise, well-constructed paragraph, thank you.
THE STORY OF THE THREE PETALS
As I mentioned, the flower face has two blue petals and a smaller white one. And, as I mentioned, there’s a story there. Actually, there is more than one version of the story and I’m not certain which is true. I do know which one is the most colorful to recite on wildflower hikes.
Linnaeus—the guy who standardized binomial (two-name) classification—supposedly named the genus Commelina after three Dutch brothers, surname Commelin. Two brothers accomplished great things (thus the two big blue petals), and one brother either 1) died young or 2) was a lazy jerk or 3) both (thus the one tiny white petal).
Linnaeus says in Critica botanica:
“Commelina has flowers with three petals, two of which are showy, while the third is not conspicuous; from the two botanists called Commelin, for the third died before accomplishing anything in botany.”
But other sources indicate the Commelins were not brothers, but botanist Jan; Jan’s botanist nephew Caspar; and Caspar’s physician son, Caspar Jr.
And one source (at least) says Plumier named the genus. As Plumier died when lil’ Caspar Jr. was four, there’s no way the third Commelin was the puny petal.
But, “three brothers” and “died young” make good copy. As does the lazy slacker version below:
Vick’s Illustrated Monthly Magazine 1899, Volume 23
Three brothers, “two were useful and productive citizens, while the other was not highly esteemed by Linnaeus for the great father of modern botany has taken a subtle but unmistaken way of expressing his disapproval of the third brother. The plant that is named after the three brothers has three petals, two of which are plump and fair to see, being a delicate light blue, while the third petal is barely seen at the first glance, being smaller, and white or colorless. This colourless little petal is supposed to represent the brother whom Linnaeus held in disdain.”
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