Close-up View of Spiked Speedwell


A Close-up View of

Spiked Speedwell

Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles'

by Brian Johnston   (Canada)

The genus Veronica is the home of a particularly beautiful group of wildflowers, the speedwells.  Unfortunately, most speedwell flowers are relatively small, and often grow unseen amongst long grasses in the wild, or even in our lawns.  This article looks at a Spiked Speedwell cultivar which, although larger than the common wildflower, is still considered a ‘compact’ variety growing to a maximum height of about 25 centimetres.

Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles’ is a hybrid described as Veronica spicata x longifolia ‘Glory’.  Its extraordinarily colourful blue-purple spikes of flowers stand upright above a dense clump of light green foliage.  As can be seen above, the plant certainly produces an abundance of these spikes!

The images that follow show the main characteristics of the cultivar.

As always, it’s hard to believe that a 10 centimetre high flower spike could grow from such a tiny bud-stage.

Early on, the tiny flower buds are completely enclosed by a great many whorls of tiny, pointed, pale green bracts (modified leaves) which are positioned almost parallel to the main stalk.

As time passes, these bracts bend out until they are almost perpendicular to the stalk.  This allows the actual flower buds to be seen.  Close examination of a bud reveals that it is surrounded by a whorl of short, green sepals referred to as the calyx.

The spike blooms from bottom to top, and near the tip, the flower buds are still hidden by many narrow bracts.

Although one would expect the top of the spike to be rounded, in most cases its tip is strangely flattened in the manner that can be seen in the three images that follow.  Note that the upper surface of the spike is usually white in colour.

Near the base of the spike, the flower buds are packed much less tightly than higher up, and this allows us to see the longer bracts, and shorter sepals which are associated with each bud.

Even before the buds bloom, the spike is an attractive structure.  Notice the hairiness of the surfaces of both bracts and sepals.

Images follow that show the middle section of the spike at a later period.  In the final image in the sequence it is just possible to detect the edges of petals which are tightly packed in a whorl at this stage.

Still later, the length of these petals, (that form each flower’s corolla), has increased.

The colour intensity displayed by flowers increases as they bloom.

Eventually, the bottom section of the spike is in full bloom.  From a distance, its deep purple colour, with accents of green bracts, makes an exceptional impression.  Up-close, the flower packing is so tight, that it is difficult to distinguish one flower from another.

If you look closely at the images below, you may be able to distinguish the occasional reproductive structure peeking out from between the forest of purple petals.

Compare the colouration of reddish-purple buds with that of deep purple, blooming flowers.

Even with much higher magnification, it is difficult to find a particular flower’s reproductive structures.  In the three images that follow however, many pistils can be seen growing from the centres of the blooms.  (Each flower possesses a single upright pistil, and two stamens which are positioned at right angles to the pistil, and are therefore in the plane of the base of the corolla.)

The plant’s leaves are opposite, and lance shaped, with distinctive serrated edges.

Higher magnification views of the upper surface of a leaf show its serrated edge in more detail.

A leaf’s under-surface is slightly lighter in colour, and has a raised system of veins.

Other Speedwells look dramatically different than Veronica spicata ‘Royal Candles’.  For comparison, here are several images that show Thyme-leaved Speedwell, Veronica serpyllifolia, a plant that grows in between blades of grass on my lawn.  Each flower is about 3 to 4 millimetres in diameter!

In this species there are four petals, united at the base, with the lowest one being much narrower than the others.  The central stigma is light pink to red in colour, while the two anthers are blue.

The genus name of these plants, Veronica, is thought by some to derive from Saint Veronica.  Others say that it is derived from the Greek words ‘phero’ meaning ‘I bring’, and ‘nike’ meaning ‘victory’.  This alludes to the plants’ supposed ability to combat diseases.

Photographic Equipment

The low magnification, (to 1:1), macro-photographs were taken using a 13 megapixel Canon 5D full frame DSLR, using a Canon EF 180 mm 1:3.5 L Macro lens.

An 10 megapixel Canon 40D DSLR, equipped with a specialized high magnification (1x to 5x) Canon macro lens, the MP-E 65 mm 1:2.8, was used to take the remainder of the images.

A Flower Garden of Macroscopic Delights

A complete graphical index of all of my flower articles can be found here.

The Colourful World of Chemical Crystals

A complete graphical index of all of my crystal articles can be found here.

 All comments to the author Brian Johnston are welcomed.

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Published in the October 2011 edition of Micscape.
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