Wednesday Vignette – why ‘Alba’?

In horticultural Latin, “alba” means ‘white’, and yet… It always kind of annoys me when plants named ‘Alba’ turn out to be pink. The most obvious one that first comes to mind, is Fuchsia magellanica ‘Alba’.  The Joy Creek website even states to “… not let the Latin word for “white” in the name confuse you.” Well, I’m confused. If words mean what they are supposed to mean, a plant with a name like that should look like this.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, I was thrilled to find a Thalictrum delavayi ‘Alba’ for sale at a spring garden show. When it finally bloomed later that year, it was – you guessed it – not white. Instead, it had this pastel lavender color that was light enough to look like discolored white laundry, and dark enough to not be a blushed white. well, crap! I guess it was still pretty, but again, I was annoyed.


Here is a lavender portion of the plant. The photo was taken at the dusk blue-hour, so this is as purple as it gets.


Anyway, fast forward to last week. I noted that the pale, lavender flowers had opened. But, it wasn’t until a few days later when, morning coffee in hand, I noticed a spray of snow white flowers, emanating from another stalk on the same plant. Really?? What the hell…? My erring plant was finally starting to get it right, but….but HOW? What changed? This is one of those times when I feel like a total horticultural amateur. There has to be some explanation, but honestly, I don’t know it. Is this what is known as a sport? Or is there some other name for it? I’m putting the honest-to-dog question out here, because I really don’t know what to think. Do you guys know? Looking forward to some brilliant, botanical insights, here… 1,2,3, GO!


Here is the newly discovered white portion of the plant – photo taken on a sunny morning. Both colors are emanating from the same root. Cool that it’s finally living up to its name, but seriously – is there a name for this phenomenon?

Also, the memes clashed, so today I’m also  joining in with Carol at May Dreams Gardens for this month’s Bloom Day. Check it out to see what else is blooming around our struggling but still beautiful planet.


About annamadeit

I was born and raised in Sweden, By now, I have lived almost as long in the United States. The path I’ve taken has been long and varied, and has given me a philosophical approach to life. I may joke that I’m a sybarite, but the truth is, I find joy and luxury in life’s simple things as well. My outlook on life has roots in a culture rich in history and tradition, and I care a great deal about environmental stewardship. Aesthetically, while drawn to the visually clean, functional practicality and sustainable solutions that are the hallmarks of modern Scandinavia, I also have a deep appreciation for the raw, the weathered, and the worn - materials that tell a story. To me, contrast, counterpoint, and diversity are what makes life interesting and engaging. Color has always informed everything I do. I’m a functional tetrachromat, and a hopeless plantoholic. I was originally trained as an architect working mostly on interiors, but soon ventured outside - into garden design. It’s that contrast thing again… An interior adrift from its exterior, is like a yin without a yang. My firm conviction that everything is connected gets me in trouble time and time again. The world is a big place, and full of marvelous distractions, and offers plentiful opportunities for inquiry and exploration. I started writing to quell my constant queries, explore my discoveries, and nurture my curiosity. The Creative Flux was started in 2010, and became a catch-all for all kinds of intersecting interests. The start of Flutter & Hum at the end of 2013 marks my descent into plant nerd revelry. I occasionally contribute to other blogs, but those two are my main ones. For sure, topics are all over the map, but then again - so am I! Welcome to my blogs!
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14 Responses to Wednesday Vignette – why ‘Alba’?

  1. I’m no expert, put this makes me think of how hydrangeas change colour according to the soil

  2. Tina says:

    Alba-ish? That is weird and sort of wonderful, though without a full dose of caffeine, i’m sure the two-toned plant was jarring. Whatever is causing this, it’s a great effect, this two-fer plant. ‘
    Here’s my WV, also celebrating blooms, too:

    • annamadeit says:

      In the bright morning light, the whole plant is kind of sun bleached, so I had to put my cup down and look closely to ensure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. So bizarre… I plan to collect seeds later.

  3. Evan says:

    In the case of the Thalictrum, the most likely scenario is that 2 seedlings ended up planted very close together, so they look like one plant, and one turned out to be lavender and bloomed first. Then the alba form bloomed. If the plants were grown from seed collected from a garden where both the alba form and the regular species were both growing close enough for cross pollination to occur, this would explain it. The genes for alba forms are usually recessive, so the plants have to be isolated away from colored forms to keep their offspring uniformly white, otherwise you get offspring with colored flowers, too.

    • annamadeit says:

      Thanks Evan! Had to run outside and check again. That 2 seedling scenario is possible. It looks like they emerge from the same root, but there ARE two stems emerging from the ground, so maybe… even if it looks like one plant. I’ve had the plant for three years – if not more. Wonder why it took so long to show up…? Anyway, good to know about albas being recessive. I cut off the lavender flowers to try to ensure “clean” seeds. Fingers crossed! If they grow bigger, maybe I’ll try untangling them in the fall, to separate them. 🙂

      • tonytomeo says:

        Sports happen to be more likely among basal shoots than other growth. You would not know without digging the two stems out a bit. I do not know the plant, but the two seed scenario sounds more likely. The ‘Alba’ was just overwhelmed so far.

        • annamadeit says:

          Goo.d to know. It’s currently in too much shade anyway, so come fall, I will move it to a better spot. I will be sure to check when I dig it up. Fingers crossed…

  4. Lisa says:

    I can see if you were expecting white you’d be disappointed. I love the pale purple though. It’s nice plants come in so many colors for so many tastes! Yes, Wednesday is supposed to be “Wordless Wednesday,” but that didn’t work today!

    • annamadeit says:

      It seems there are so many purple Thalictrums, so yes, I was definitely bummed when I got another one. You are right, it’s pretty, and there is nothing wrong with it. I bet in the right spot, it would look fantastic. Sometimes Bloom Day gets in the way, but I really don’t mind. Thanks for commenting, and Happy Bloom Day, Lisa!

  5. Kris P says:

    That’s interesting but I can offer no explanation. I hope you’ll post an update if you get more information.

  6. I don’t have an explanation, except for my deeply held belief that plants enjoy confusing us.

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