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Flower of God

Fringed pink (Dianthus monspessulanus)
Fringed pink (Dianthus hyssopifolius subsp. hyssopifolius L.)

I came across this lovely flower on a grassy promontory on the eastern side of a beach (Playa de Esteiro) in Galicia, NW Spain.  It is a site above some cliffs, with lots of wild flowers.

 Cliffs near Playa de Esteiro, Galicia, NW Spain

Cliffs near Playa de Esteiro, Galicia, NW Spain

I had not come across this plant before, which was flowering in early July.  It took me a little while to work out that it was a Dianthus (‘pink’) species called Dianthus hyssopifolius subsp. hyssopifolius L. The species also goes by the name Dianthus monspessulanusIt is flower which occurs widely in Europe, across northern Spain, into southern France, Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy (and beyond).  However, this is a subspecies found only in northern Spain, including Galicia, where these photos were taken. It is commonly found in grassy habitats, from sea level up to high altitudes. The Fringed Pink, to give it its common name, typically occurs in calcareous sites in mountains, such as the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Fringed pinks (Dianthus monspessulanus)
Fringed pinks (Dianthus hyssopifolius subsp. hyssopifolius L.)

There are a bewildering number of synonyms (different names for the same plant) and subspecies, which I do not pretend to understand. For more details, see the excellent botanic website: Flora of Galicia.

Fringed pink (Dianthus monspessulanus)
Fringed pink (Dianthus hyssopifolius subsp. hyssopifolius L.)

One interesting fact about Dianthus flowers is that they are polyploidal; meaning that they have more than two paired sets of chromosomes.  For example, it appears that the cells within a particular species can contain up to six separate sets of chromosomes, although subspecies with only one set – like us humans – are also known; other populations have four or six sets.  What does all this variation in chromosome number mean?  It probably has something to do with the evolutionary history of these plants, which have undergone rapid changes and ‘radiations’ (i.e. rapid evolutionary diversification into different species) during the  Pleistocene glaciations – the recent ice ages.  Being able to double, triple or quadruple up their numbers of chromosomes may have helped them to take advantage of the rapidly changing conditions, e.g. when the glaciers retreated and they could spread out from refuges (refugia) where they survived the long ages of cold.  Individuals with different numbers of chromosomes could perhaps hybridise with each other and thus create more genetic variation, which would enable them produce a range of different plant types, capable of surviving in different environments as the conditions changed.  In any case, being able to multiply up the number of your chromosomes is, it appears, a distinct advantage, and may explain why gardeners have been able to produce such an amazing range of Dianthus varieties.

 Fringed pinks (Dianthus monspessulanus)

Fringed pinks (Dianthus hyssopifolius subsp. hyssopifolius L.)
Cliffs at Playa de Esteiro, Galicia, Spain
Cliffs at Playa de Esteiro, Galicia, Spain

1) Weiss, Hanna, Dobeš, Christoph, Schneeweiss, Gerald M. & Greimler, Josef (2002).  Occurrence of tetraploid and hexaploid cytotypes between and within populations in Dianthus sect. Plumaria (Caryophyllaceae). New Phytologist 156(1), 85-94.

2) Ryan Folk. Polyploidy and Evolutionary Radiation in Carnations. See reference therein.


rcannon992 View All

I am an entomologist with a background in quarantine pests and invasive invertebrates. I studied zoology at Imperial College (University of London) and did a PhD on the population dynamics of a cereal aphid (Metopolophium dirhodum) in the UK. I spent 5 years with the British Antarctic Survey studing cold hardiness of Antarctic invertebates and 17 years with the Food and Environment Research Agency. My main interests now are natural history, photography, painting and bird watching.

6 thoughts on “Flower of God Leave a comment

  1. I agree with your identification – even though this flower is named after Montpellier, capital of my department here in France, I see it rarely and it’s always a thrill, such a striking flower. Polyploidy is a fascinating subject – do you know Stephen Jay Gould’s essay ‘The Ant and the Plant’ (in Bully for Brontosaurus)? It seems to me to bear out his often repeated assertion that one searches sometimes in vain for the evolutionary advantage – organisms have just evolved like that. Flies (Diptera) have few chromosomes, birds have many. The fern Ophioglossum has ‘about 630 pairs of chromosomes’, according to Gould. You stimulate me to do a post on the various Dianthus species I’ve seen and investigate this polyploidy thing a bit more.

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