Honeywort worrywart


The first time I saw Cerinthe major purpurescens must have been fifteen or so years ago in the garden of the fabulous garden photographer Andrew Lawson, which was open for the NGS. 

It was growing in a terracotta pot against the wall of the house, and had a sign saying ‘shrimp plant’ .  It was creating quite a stir, and I remember thinking I had never seen anything quite like it.

Fast forward fifteen years and I’m delighted to say I have numerous Cerinthe plants here which have survived the winter and as a consequence are bigger and better than they’ve ever been before.  However, what’s intriguing me, is why are they so different?

I believe I’ve sown seeds of (just) Cerinthe major purpurescens and yet I would suggest these three self sown plants of mine are quite different. 

In a quest for enlightenment, I found myself lost in The Plant List, “a working list of all plant species,” for some considerable time.  The Plant List suggests there are 65 plants listed under Cerinthe, but what’s intriguing is how many are “synonyms”, “unresolved” and some even “illegitimate” (shocking!)

Unfortunately The Plant List doesn’t provide photos, but Google imaging the six “accepted” Cerinthe plant names gives

Cerinthe glabra Mill (photo http://www.floraofromania.transsilvanica.net/)

Cerinthe Minor (photo http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cerinthe_minor_(7316907402).jpg)

Cerinthe palaestina Eig & Sam  (photo http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b4/Cerinthe_major_%28plant%29.jpg?uselang=ru)

 Cerinthe retorta (Photo http://www.anniesannuals.com/gardens/04/spring/index.asp?id=7)

Cerinthe Tristis, which I couldn’t find a photo for, and lastly

Cerinthe major

Clearly mine match none of the photos above, so does that mean mine are all Cerinthe major, but some more purpurescens than others?  And how can there be such variety when they can’t have crossed with anything else because i don’t have any other Cerinthes?  And how, when the slightest differentiation between (say) snowdrop markings can elicit significant excitement and a whole new name, can I have really quite fundamentally different coloured plants, still called the same thing?

Or are there bigger things to worry about?  I think I know the answer to that one, so I’ll stop now.

6 thoughts on “Honeywort worrywart

  1. Chloris

    I don’ t think you should be worrying, maybe you have your very own form of Cerinthe. Perhaps you should name it. Maybe ‘Jenny’s Delight’ ? Or ‘Jenny’s Dilemma’ if it is not delighting you?
    They are much more impressive if they survive the winter aren’ t they?
    I have seen Cerinthe retorta growing wild in Greece but I much prefer the blue one, it is such an unusual colour.

    1. jenhumm116 Post author

      Hi Liz – indeed they had gone into spam, thanks for alerting me. I found two from you, one from a lady about my Over the road oak, (so weeks ago) and one I don’t think I’ll go in to!

  2. Mie

    Hi there

    I just found your blog when I was searching for Cerinthe Major. What amazing colors they have. Did you ever try to sow some of the seeds from them to see what colors they would have?

    Kind regards


    1. jenhumm116 Post author

      Hi Mie, to be honest I just let them self seed and see what happens. I’m sure I should be more organised to save seed of the particularly dark ones, but life tends to get in the way.


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