Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Random plant event: Rheum sp. flowers

We had a small patch of rhubarb in the back yard when I was growing up; I don't remember anybody ever doing anything with it -- Mom didn't make strawberry-rhubarb pies or anything -- but it was there, and I was sort of fond of it. (Maybe that's where my appreciation for big-leaved plants comes from.)

I don't remember it ever flowering, though. Not once. So this was a surprise:

Pretty sure I would have remembered that.

I assume that probably one is supposed to cut off the flowers, to direct energy to the leaves and stems. I mean, that's usually the way, and I think I've seen one person's plants in town with the flowers cut off and lying next to the plant. I don't think Dad or (especially) Mom would have bothered with this -- like I said, we never actually did anything with the rhubarb; it was essentially an ornamental for our purposes. So bothering to cut off flowers would have been weird. Would being in the shade (between an apple tree and what was either a maple or a walnut) have prevented flowering? Do some varieties just not flower? I'm correct that this is rhubarb, right?

Whatever the explanation, the flower stalks on these plants are huge. They also don't look very much like flowers, unless you get in really, really close. But they are:

Dainty, almost.


Don said...

From the photos alone, I'm not certain if this is rhubarb or possibly the common perennial weed broad-leafed dock (Rumex obtusifolius), which is in the same family (Polygonaceae).

There are non-flowering varieties of rhubarb, though a lot of the rhubarb I see in gardens does flower.

I'm also not sure how effective cutting down the flower stalks would be at directing energy away from flower and seed production, as in my (admittedly very limited) experience once the stalk is cut the plant will do its best to send up a replacement.

mr_subjunctive said...

Unless the photos that come up in a Google image search for Rumex obtusifolius are extremely wrong, that's not what it is.

Lance said...

Doesn't quite look like the rhubarb I'm familiar with, but I've never grown it. I know it grows wonderfully in the higher elevations of New Mexico where the leaves get quite huge. That's why I've always been fond of it. I've never actually eaten it either.

Nic said...

That is definitely rhubarb. İt does tend not to flower in the shade or if the soil is not rich enough so that might very well have happened with your parent's plant. People do cut off the flowers to preserve the plant's energy for the production of stalks but İ am bit sceptical as to how much of a difference it actually makes. İ can never get myself to cut the flower stalks off because they are just so impressive and we still end up with more than enough rhubarb to eat every year.

Karen715 said...

The flowers look similar to the wild Rhubarb seen on this page:

Wildflowers of Colorado (fourth and fifth photos on the page.)

Anonymous said...

So far as I'm concerned, they can flower their heads off - no need to worry about the vigor of rhubarb. Roots go to China and clumps muscle their way across the bed and lord help anything in their path. Bent a spading fork one year trying to take a clump out for a friend. As the joke goes, "good though".

Anonymous said...

From the Kansas State University weekly email comes the following:
Rhubarb Harvest and Seedstalks
Rhubarb, like asparagus, is a perennial vegetable. It is harvested for the leaf stem, which
is also called a petiole. Some years, especially those with long, cool springs, rhubarb will
produce large, hollow-stemmed seedstalks that arise from the center of the plant. These should be
broken or cut out as they appear so that energy will go into plant vigor rather than seed
production. It will take several weeks for all the seedstalks to appear so be vigilant in removing
them. Newer varieties of rhubarb are selected for vigor, bright red-colored stalks and less of a
tendency to produce seedstalks than the older types. (WU)