The flora of South Africa is so different than the flora of North America. In our arid regions we have cacti, plants in the Cactaceae family characterized by stems swollen into water reservoirs and leaves reduced to sharp spines. In the arid regions of Southern Africa the members of the Crassulaceae or Stonecrop Family rule; in an excellent example of convergent evolution, the Old World Stonecrops have evolved fleshy moisture-holding leaves rather than the swollen stems of the cacti.
You don’t have to walk far to encounter examples of South African succulents. There are many cultivated varieties, many of them species in the genus Sedum. Some are creeping ground covers while others, like the Autumn Joy sedum, are upright flowering plants (although the species from which Autumn Joy was derived has recently been given a new genus: Hylotelephium. Those taxonomists — always tinkering!)
In general I’m fond of Latin binomial plant names (look at the URL of this blog). Sedum, though has never sounded good to me; I prefer to think of such plants as Stonecrops, which has a pithy and earthy Anglo-Saxon sound to it.
It’s all too easy to pay scant attention to very common and easily-grown cultivated plants. People tend to like the rare and novel. It can be an interesting aesthetic exercise to force yourself to pay close attention to a scorned commonplace plant. Take a close look at the finely-wrought blooms of the ground ivy sometime, as an example. The plant might be invasive as hell but it has its humble virtues. Ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) is in the Mint Family and betrays that relationship with a musky-minty odor; the plant was an ingredient of early English beers during the centuries before hops became popular.
I tend to overlook the commonly-encountered clumps of Autumn Joy sedum. This morning I was at the garden plot watering young plants, as it hasn’t rained here for the past month. I was shutting off the faucet when I happened to notice that the neglected foundation plantings of Autumn Joy were beginning to bloom. I took a closer look:
Such a delicate flower structure! These small flowers will be attracting a multitude of butterflies and moths this fall. I got even closer, camera braced upon my knee:
Look at the brilliant scarlet stamens in the partially-opened blossom towards the right-center of the cropped photo. Once the flower has completely opened the stamens’ color darkens to a ruddy brown. It’s as if the stamens are igniting fireworks. I’ve looked at Autumn Joy flowers many times over the years but I have never before noticed this!