Friday, August 23, 2013
The genus Commelina was named for Jan Commelin by the great Carl Linnaeus. Jan Commelin and his brother Caspar were brilliant Dutch botanists, and it is said that Linnaeus felt that the plant's two showy blue petals represent the two brothers. The third petal - at the base of the flower - is small, whitish, and quite inconspicuous.
Given that this plant comes so close to Ohio - the map above shows its Indiana distribution - it would be no stretch to assume that Erect Dayflower occurs in Ohio. We certainly have seemingly suitable habitat, especially in the sandy Oak Openings of northwest Ohio, where many of the species associated with the dayflower grow.
Thus, when Arthur Cronquist's seminal botanical manual Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada emerged in 1991, I was surprised to see that he included Ohio in the range of Erect Dayflower. This was big botanical news - did the great Cronquist know something that we did not? Perhaps, with the vast collection of specimens housed at the New York Botanical Garden at his fingertips, he was privy to an old collection that had escaped the Ohio botanists' attention.
To my great surprise, not long after I sent my letter, I received the letter above, from no less than Cronquist himself! You can click the letter, expand it, and read it for yourself. He, in his humorous way, had taken precious time to answer the inquiry of a young botanist who had absorbed his manual like a sponge, and as it turned out, had found one of the few errors in the book.
I was of course delighted to receive a direct reply from Cronquist, and his letter trumped the lack of Commelina erecta in Ohio. The letter is a treasure to me, and is all the more significant because Arthur Cronquist passed away only 74 days after he wrote it. But I had never seen Erect Dayflower, and resolved to some day cast eyes upon flowering specimens, in the wild. Thus, it was a great pleasure and an especially momentous occasion to finally see the plant in its glory in the hot dry sand prairies of Jasper-Pulaski.