Victorian striped snapdragons re-visited

February 19th, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 2 Comments

Striped Victorian antirrhinum (1839)Striped antirrhinums have been around for a long time. This one is from the 1839 edition of Paxton’s Magazine of Botany and Register of Flowering Plants. That’s Joseph Paxton, who designed the original Crystal Palace, was the first to cultivate the variety of banana that we all eat today, was an MP for more than ten years and who, in the end, made his fortune speculating on the development of the railways.

Anyway, the plant then known as Antirrhinum majus var. caryophylloides was illustrated in his magazine in 1839 and the latest snapdragon of this type, the scarlet and yellow ‘Picasso Splash’ (below), has just been in introduced. It joins the popular tall purple and white variety ‘Purple Twist’.

The distinctive flower pattern is caused by two things. Primarily it’s the influence of a so called “jumping gene” (more correctly, a transposon). This is a small piece of genetic material that moves around on the chromosome causing different effects, depending on where exactly it lands. In this case it disrupts the even colouration of the flower.

Antirrhinum 'Picasso Splash'So you’ll see in the picture of ‘Picasso Splash’ that the pattern on the two plants in the picture varies. It’s down to the art of the plant breeder to try to ensure that all the plants have at least some patterning and that the flowers are not entirely one colour or entirely the other. It’s a matter, if you like, of making sure that the jumping gene jumps where you want it to jump.

The other factor is the weather. In warm conditions, the pale background colour may tend to dominate while in cooler weather the darker colour may tend to take over. The plant breeder works towards limiting this effect.

So, apart from the pleasure of being able to grow a modern version of an old Victorian favourite, both ‘Picasso Splash’, and ‘Purple Twist’ are excellent for cutting. Try mixing them with other flowers in the two colours in the snapdragon flowers to create a harmonious arrangement.


2 Responses to “Victorian striped snapdragons re-visited”

  1. Can I grow these Snapdragons indoors? Do they have some scent? I’d be really happy to change the flowers in my window boxes, as they have started looking really boring to me. I need something new in those planters.

  2. Graham Rice says:

    Yes, you can start the seeds of these snapdragons indoors, you’ll find instructions on the packet. Unfortunately, these snapdragons are not scented.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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