Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fat-headed Lizzie's parents

Visiting a friend in Byfield earlier today I had a surprise. My route took me down an alley (or jitty in Northamptonshire) connecting High Street and Church Street, a thoroughfare I use only occasionally. The surprise consisted of a fine specimen of Fatsia japonica. I must have passed it several times over the years but this, being a winter flowering shrub, had been overlooked. There is really no excuse for it has fine, attractive foliage, which can help to create a sub-tropical effect in the garden.
Fatsia japonica scrambles over a fence. Byfield, Northants.
6 December, 2017
The flowers of this plant, native to Japan, are rich in nectar and even in winter, given a spell of fine weather, they will attract a remarkably large number of flies. It is reasonably hardy and seems unfussy about soils. Unsurprisingly the Royal Horticultural Society awarded it a First Class Certificate in 1966.
If, on closer examination, it appears to resemble ivy, that is no surprise, for both plants belong to the same family, the Araliaceae.
Fatsia flowers are in globose panicles and are rich in nectar.
Sure enough, not more than twenty metres away, I encountered an Ivy, Hedera helix, and was able to note the similarities. In both plants the flowers are borne in globose panicles and although the leaf shapes are different both consist of evergreen, glossy and rather leathery foliage. You may, like me, be surprised that the two plants are placed in different genera, particularly as they will hybridise.
Ivy grew a short distance away. The inflorescences are similar.
Byfield, 6 December, 2017
Generally speaking plants only readily hybridise if they are in the same genus. Thus our two native oaks, Quercus robur and Q. petraea will form a hybrid, Quercus x rosacea, with characteristics intermediate between the two. The x, denoting a hybrid, is placed between the generic and specific names. Where hybrids occur between two different genera a different situation prevails. The cross between Hedera helix and Fatsia japonica is such an intergeneric hybrid and is called x Fatshedera lizei; here the x appears before the full name. The cross was first made in France in 1912 but has since been achieved on a number of occasions, each time with a slightly different result.
The relative ease by which these hybrids are produced seems to me to be an argument for placing the parents in the same genus - but then, I am not a botanist. Perhaps it is that one, ivy, is a climber and the other is not.
Unsurprisingly this hybrid is known, in the U.S.A. at least, as Fat-headed Lizzie.

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