16 February 2010
This is a Boneset Eupatorium perfoliatum. Really.
You've likely seen Boneset before, maybe in a meadow, moist prairie, shoreline, a roadside depression, or perhaps in native plant gardens ...often alongside its Eupatorium cousin Joe-Pye weed in late summer. If so, you already know the most distinguishing characteristic about a Boneset is its alternating *pairs* of leaves: two opposite leaves joined at the base perforated by the stem (hence the epithet / species name perfoliatum) aka "connate" leaves. That's right: Bonesets have pairs of leaves. But the youngster in these pictures? He was having none of that, instead he just kept unfurling leaves in *trios*.
What's the botanical term for "aberration"? When a plant deviates from the usual? i think the word i'm looking for is "atypical" or is it "aberrant"? The phrase seems to be "conversation starter."
What ever the terminology, this plant was a maverick. It appeared suddenly one year, out of a large existing clump of Boneset in my back yard, and though that clump is still alive and happy, this 3-leaver never reappeared. Or at least it never appeared with the "3 leaf" thing the following year. BTW: after it bloomed, I sowed its seeds, but I've had nothing like it since.
I've tried looking it up, but I never found images or accounts of another occurrence. To this day i still don't know what to make of it.
Do you? Myself, I've thought 1) more leaves = more photosynthesis & that could be an advantageous adaption, or not. 2) wonders wrought by post-landfill urban soil or possible contamination along the railroad tracks where i initially collected the seed from -- anything is those soils act like some kind of plant mutation catalysts? and 3) just, wow: evolution, it's always happening, never complacent, never a day off.
i know i miss the way that just seeing this guy in my yard every day often made me laugh to myself in a "Mother nature - you funny!" kinda way. Especially whenever i casually swept my hand toward him by way of introduction to native plant gardener friends -- who were inevitably just as surprised, put-to-wonder, and left smiling by this cowboy too.