Selfheal phenotypes

I have mentioned phenotypes before. In biology they are the characteristic traits expressed by a species and are generally thought to be an interaction between genes and the environment. It can seem a bit complicated.

Here is an example of two selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) phenotypes. Both have been raised from seed here at Reading University. One comes from a wildflower seed company and is the generic selfheal they provide – it’s the taller plant on the right. A taller plant like this does best in meadow type environments. It also is easier for seed companies to harvest from.

The one on the left is from seed collected from a lawn that has seen regular mowing for over 20 years. The environment (a regularly mown turf lawn) has influenced the genes that are successfully expressed by the selfheal. A shorter and more compact form of selfheal is the result.

This compact form is widely found in most old lawns across the UK, but I don’t know of any seed company that offers compact lawn selfheal as wildflower seed – yet. It is not as easy to harvest seed from this form and there has not been any specific demand for it – until now.

If you want to successfully include selfheal in your own grass-free lawn, you might want to think about collecting your own seed first.

Two Prunella vulgaris phenotypes

Two Prunella vulgaris phenotypes

As you can see, I think this is all rather amusing!

All quiet on the lawn

The lawn got a haircut a week ago. There were just too many seed heads browning in the August sun. It was an aesthetic decision rather than a height based one. The yarrow was in flower and looked quite nice, but I’ve learned that yarrow can get a bit woody and look rather unattractive when cut. I made the call – time to snip.

Here we are eight days later:

August lawn

August lawn

The strongest flush of flowers seems to have passed, particularly the natives. The non-natives continue to put through a few flowers and will continue to do so ( I have hopes for an autumn bloom of the blue pea – Parochetus communis),  but inevitably they are small and almost insignificant in their current small numbers. It is only eight days since mowing though.

It’s at this time of year that the foliage of a diverse species mix plays a greater role than the flowers. Here are a few random photos of the lawn in close up to show what I mean.

August lawn close up 1

August lawn close up 1

August lawn close up 2

August lawn close up 2

August lawn close up 3

August lawn close up 3

I am biased of course, but I still think that this wonderful mix of shapes, tones and leaf colours is more interesting than monotone blades of grass.