Saturday, August 18, 2012

I hasta have this Shasta Daisy!

Species name: Leucanthemum x superbum

Common name: Shasta daisy

Location: Ontario

The Shasta daisy is a common garden plant that's a special hybrid cultivar (in this case, probably the most common cultivar which is 'Becky') created through traditional breeding for larger flowers. Most members of the Leucanthemum genus are native to Europe and northern Asia, and this hybrid is no exception. Where it has been planted in North America it has taken off, spreading readily into prairie habitats and becoming an invasive weed. You can find this species (and both of the plants from which the hybrid is created, L. lacustre and L. maxiumum, as well as the oxeye daisy or L. vulgare) on the noxious weed list of many provinces in Canada and many states in the USA. Each "flower" of the daisy isn't actually a flower at all; it's a group of flowers (an inflorescence). Each yellow dot of the disc part of the inflorescence is a flower itself, called a disc floret. Each white "petal" of the inflorescence is also a flower, called a ray floret.

Interestingly enough, this flower has a terrible odor. That fact in and of itself isn't all that interesting, since many plants have terrible odors. The interesting fact is that this flower is still so popular not just as a landscaping plant, but also as a plant used in flower arrangements. Most people wouldn't think of taking the odor at the bottom of a dirty garbage can and rubbing it all over carnations to make their arrangement smell nicer, so the fact that these flowers are used at all is somewhat mind-boggling. Also interesting is that some people seem not to be bothered by the smell. There's probably some sort of genetic basis to that, but I'm not sure if it has been investigated at any length.

Aside from its obvious ornamental use, this plant also has an interesting culinary use in some areas in Europe. When the flower bud appears on the plant but has not yet opened, they can be picked and pickled in a manner similar to capers (or cucumber pickles for that matter) and used in much the same way. Since I absolutely detest the smell of these flowers, I sure hope the pickling could cover the odor!