Often there are slight variations in plants that make a difference to gardeners. It is well worth keeping one's eyes open for the oddities. Sometimes they are worth growing simply because they are odd, but sometimes because they are more beautiful or have some other great advantage.
I was told by a daughter of a famous plant collector that some of her mother's happy discoveries were made when they stopped for gas. You read that such-and-such was collected in a remote river country of some far-off place and you assume the collector climbed cliffs, but sometimes there was no such difficulty.
I recall seeing a wild American phlox that looked like all the others, but it had an intense perfume of heliotrope. Why? Nobody knows, it just did.
In our alley I used to admire a sprig of the porcelain berry that had leaves beautifully silvered, with just enough green to provide the chlorophyll of life. This was Parthenocissus brevipedunculata and the variegated-silver form is usually called elegans. You see it offered for sale sometime, but you also see it occasionally as just one twig on an otherwise green plant. If cuttings are made of the silver form, the whole plant will be silver.
This is a beautiful vine, by the way, with distinguished leaves more or less cut, like those of a Japanese anemone or maple or the human hand, and some are more deeply cut than others. Some are almost lacy. It looks delicate, and I thought it would handsome in one part of the garden so I let it grow from a bird-dropped seed.
But it quickly overwhelmed everything in its path, romped up a medium-large Norway maple and killed a vigorous white wisteria -- just smothered it. I never knew anything smothered a wisteria, but when I was away for a couple of months the dire deed was done.
In early fall great clusters of the berries, somewhat like those of the Virginia creeper, turn a gleaming blue with tiny black dots. Like other members of the family, the Boston ivy and so forth, it can be a plant of embarrassing vigor, and like some of us it gives little hint in its slender youth of the giant creature it becomes with age.
Still, as I say, the white-splashed leaf form is very good looking and is occasionally seen in waste places around town.
Many other of our native plants vary in agreeable ways. The wild yellow azalea, Rhododendron austrinum, can have rather thin strappy flowers or they can be full, and the color can vary from one plant to another. Good nurseries take care to propagate the best forms, and I always felt lucky in my Tennessee garden to have a really nice one, approaching orange, and dazzling in bloom.
It is well known that roses sometimes sport; that is, genetic accidents may happen on some twig or other, changing the flower color, and these may be propagated from cuttings. One of the most beautiful of "old" roses is 'Variegata di Bologna,' a three-inch globular very double flower of white with dark purple-red stripes that turn to purple with age. It has the very strongest kind of scent and is wonderful except it blooms only in spring with me. But what I was going to say was that this year one flower appeared that was solid color, the color of the stripes. No doubt the striped form was a sport of some old dark red rose, and now the striped form was sporting back to the original color. Such things add interest to the garden, though of no practical importance.
A friend of mine, Roberta Case, sent me a root of a pink waterlily she found in some remote part of, I think, Michigan. She felt it was wild, not escaped from a garden or deliberately planted. It bloomed this past week and is a surprisingly beautiful pink flower, the outer petals intensifying almost to red near the heart of the bloom. The leaves are fully circular, like the wild Nymphea odorata, and the new ones are rich red bronze, turning to green with age. The flower suggests the garden variety 'Rose Arey,' which I have never grown, but I suspect this one is different. Mrs. Case calls it 'Shupac Pink,' for the lake where she found it. Whatever it is, it is one of the most beautiful of hardy waterlilies, and shows the wisdom of keeping one's eyes open.