Plants of Southern California: Species With Color Variants
Color variants in plants are always surprising and striking when one chances upon them. We were intrigued enough by them to begin keeping track of what typical color variants are produced, and which species are found to have them.
We began this page in 2005, and asked for input from others. We were quickly overwhelmed by input, and soon realized that it would better to make a list of species for which color variants had not yet been observed, since it seems that nearly every species produces color variants!
Hence we no longer update these tables. If you see a color variant in a species not in the tables, don't be surprised; color variants happen to nearly every species.
The following table gives the taxa in which we have observed, and usually taken pictures of, the color variants. We may add those pictures in the future.
Nearly all color variants are white, with a small number being pink or yellow. We have not yet found any darker color variants from white or yellow plants. Update in 2014: we have indeed found some species that almost always have white flowers, but occasionally have flowers of other colors. Possibly these are species in which the white color variant eventually became the dominant color for the species as a whole, with just a few plants that occasionally produce the ancestral flower color.
Most color variants being white is consistent with the hypothesis that something "goes wrong" in these plants, and they lose a pigment. In blue flowers, the loss of their main pigment usually leaves the flowers white, but sometimes pale pink. Interestingly, in the case of red flowers, the loss of their red pigment, anthocyanin, usually leaves them yellow because apparently red flowers typically have both pigments in their flowers. (See A red flower is red because ....)
Sometimes a color variant is common enough that botanists would like to make it a separate species, or is so striking that beginning botanists feel it has to be a separate species. Since these variants are similar to albinos that are not recognized as separate species, such recognition is not warranted. For a beautiful analysis of one case, see Flower colour in Chasmanthe floribunda.
Interestingly, the white version of Abronia villosa in the Borrego Springs area of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in early 2004 was reported on the Theodore Payne Foundation hotline as the species A. turbinata, even though A. turbinata does not occur south of the Sierra Nevada!
The following tables are sorted alphabetically by Latin Name.
The usual flower color is from the floras, or from our personal observations, if different. Some color variants are common enough that the floras themselves list the variant.
Taxa Producing White and Pink Variants
Latin Name Common Name Usual Color Observation Details Abronia villosa hairy sand verbena pale to bright magenta Kay Madore, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Springs area Anagallis arvensis scarlet pimpernel salmon to blue James Dillane, Daley Ranch, Rock Ridge Trail Antirrhinum nuttallianum purple snapdragon purple James Dillane, Daley Ranch, Creek Crossing Trail and Santa Margarita River Brodiaea orcuttii Orcutt's brodiaea purple Ken Bowles Castilleja densiflora owl's-clover purple Kay Madore, Santa Rosa Plateau, Vernal Pool Trail, 3/26/05; James Dillane, Daley Ranch, Burnt Mt. Flat (need to check species) Ceanothus tomentosus var. olivaceus Ramona lilac blue to ± white James Dillane, San Diego County, Valley Center Grade Centaurium venustum canchalagua rose-purple (white) James Dillane, San Diego County, North Escondido Delphinium parryi blue larkspur deep purplish-blue James Dillane, San Diego County, San Pasqual Valley Dichelostemma capitatum ssp. capitatum blue dicks blue, blue-purple, pink-purple, or white Kay Madore, Santa Rosa Plateau, Los Santos Trail, 3/12/05 Lupinus arizonicus dark pink to magenta, purple Tom Chester, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Coyote Creek Wash Lupinus bicolor dwarf lupine blue and white Tom Chester?, Santa Rosa Plateau, Vernal Pool Trail Lupinus breweri var. grandiflorus showy Brewer's lupine blue to violet Michael Charters? Mimulus fremontii Fremont's monkeyflower magenta to red-purple (yellow) James Dillane, Palomar East Grade (pale pink variants were also observed) Mirabilis bigelovii var. retrorsa wishbone plant white to pale pink James Dillane, Battlefield Monument Nemophila sp. baby blue eyes blue James Dillane, Volcan Mountain Penstemon heterophyllus foothill penstemon magenta to blue James Dillane, Milk Ranch Rd (pale pink variants were also observed) Penstemon spectabilis showy penstemon blue(-purple) Michael Charters? Phacelia crenulata heliotrope phacelia blue to purple Michael Charters? Phacelia viscida sticky phacelia ± blue Michael Charters? Sidalcea malviflora ssp. sparsifolia checkerbloom bright to deep pink James Dillane, Daley Ranch and Magee Truck Trail Sisyrinchium bellum blue-eyed grass deep bluish-purple to blue-violet, or pale blue, rarely white Andy Sanders, near Carlsbad; James Dillane, San Marcos vernal pools and Daley Ranch; Kay Madore, Santa Rosa Plateau Solanum parishii Parish's purple nightshade purple James Dillane, Daley Ranch, Engelmann Loop; Torrey Pines, Guy Fleming Trail Trichostema lanceolatum vinegar weed blue or lavender James Dillane, Daley Ranch, Top of Boulder Loop/ Cougar Ridge grade Vicia villosa purple vetch purple James Dillane, Daley Ranch, North Boulder Loop Grade, March 2005
Taxa Producing Yellow Variants
Latin Name Common Name Usual Color Observation Details Penstemon labrosus San Gabriel beardtongue (orange) red (rarely yellow) Justicia californica chuparosa dull scarlet (yellow) James Dillane, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Borrego Palm Canyon Trail Sanicula bipinnatifida purple sanicle purple or yellow Tom Chester, Santa Rosa Plateau, S. Los Santos Trail
Taxa Producing Other Variants
Latin Name Common Name Usual Color Observed Color Observation Details Lupinus excubitus var. hallii bush lupine violet to lavender virtually every shade of color from mostly white to pink to blue to purple to lavender Kay Madore and Tom Chester, Santa Rosa Plateau, S. Los Santos Trail, March 2005
Go to Native and Introduced Plants of Southern California
Copyright © 2005-2014 by James Dillane, Tom Chester, Michael Charters and Kay Madore
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to us at this source:
Comments and feedback: James Dillane | Tom Chester | Michael Charters | Kay Madore
Last update: 9 April 2005 (comment about nearly every species having a color variant added on 27 April 2014)