A Close-up View of the "African Blue Lily"

(Agapanthus orientalis)

by Brian Johnston   (Canada)

As the name of this flower suggests, African Blue Lily is not a plant that one is likely to see growing in Canada.  The cut-flower sample photographed in this article was obtained at a florist’s, where it was intended to be used in flower arrangements. Blue Lily of the Nile is an alternative name for the plant.  Most florists simply call it Agapanthus.  Native to South Africa, it was brought back to Europe by travellers who stopped at the Cape to replenish supplies.

The genus name Agapanthus is derived from the Greek “agape”, meaning love, and “anthos” meaning flower.  (Literal translation – love flower, or flower of love.)  The species name orientalis probably refers to its exotic appearance. African Blue Lily belongs to the Liliaceae family.

As can be seen in the first image in the article, the flower-head, (called an umbel), contains many purplish-blue funnel-shaped flowers and buds on short green stalks.  The stem, which can be up to one metre in length, is extremely strong; in fact I found it difficult to cut with a sharp knife.

Note in the image below, that there are no tiny leaflets (called sepals) at the base of the flower in this species.

The buds of Agapanthus are as strikingly colourful as the flowers.  They tend to elongate as they develop.

Very immature buds have a white base with blue top.  As they age, the buds develop a blue tint all over.

Many buds have discernible white spots, like those on the one to the right below.

The following images show the points of connection of flowers to their stalks.

At the base of the flower-head there is a visible brown ring of dead plant material.  The image on the right shows a much higher magnification image of a portion of this ring.

Each flower has six petals which are fused at the base of the funnel.  Notice that the inside of each petal is white, and has a purplish-blue edge and stripe.

The six stamens (male reproductive organs), consisting of brown anthers and white filaments, are longer than the flower’s petals and extend out beyond them.

This can clearly be seen in the three images that follow.  (A single flower was removed from the umbel in order to remove visual distractions.)

When I first examined one of the flowers, I couldn’t find the pistil, the female reproductive organ (stigma supported by style).

It was only when I removed the petals that the pistil showed itself.  The left image below shows that the pistil is very short, and is enclosed by the fused bottom portion of the funnel.  A higher magnification view of the structure is shown in the right-hand image.

Under the microscope,  the stigma reveals itself in a low magnification image (left), and in a higher magnification image (right).

The base of the style, (at the top of the image below), connects to the ovary in which the seeds develop.

Two views of a second, older stigma follow.  As the flower ages, both the filaments and style of the flower seem to darken to a blue colour.

Six brown, pollen covered anthers project out from the end of the flower.

A higher magnification begins to resolve individual pollen grains on an anther.

The photomicrograph on the left below shows many grains sticking to the edge of an anther.  On the right is a much higher magnification phase-contrast image of a single pollen grain.

Strangely, not all anthers are encrusted with pollen.  The one shown below has practically no pollen grains sticking to it.  The photomicrograph on the right shows the rough surface of an anther.

Winter-time snow and ice may prevent an amateur macro-photographer from imaging native wildflowers.  One solution to the problem is to visit a friendly neighbourhood florist for blooms from more tropical climates!

Photographic Equipment

The photographs in the article were taken with an eight megapixel Sony CyberShot DSC-F 828 equipped with achromatic close-up lenses (Nikon 5T, 6T, Sony VCL-M3358, and shorter focal length achromat) used singly or in combination. The lenses screw into the 58 mm filter threads of the camera lens.  (These produce a magnification of from 0.5X to 10X for a 4x6 inch image.)  Still higher magnifications were obtained by using a macro coupler (which has two male threads) to attach a reversed 50 mm focal length f 1.4 Olympus SLR lens to the F 828.  (The magnification here is about 14X for a 4x6 inch image.) The photomicrographs were taken with a Leitz SM-Pol microscope (using a dark ground condenser), and the Coolpix 4500.  

 All comments to the author Brian Johnston are welcomed.

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