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
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.