The Magic Of Hydrangeas, Nature’s Litmus Papers

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I have a soft spot for the understated, unassuming elegance of wildflowers, as against those seen in urban gardens – grown in a sophisticated, orderly fashion and groomed to perfection. However, this summer, a bunch of garden flowers caught my attention. And they did so quietly, like any other thing in nature. 

The other day as I was walking through the community garden behind my place when I had the glimpse of some ornamental Pink flowers – snowball shaped bunches, made of a number of  tiny blooms inside.

The flowers looked pretty, but I just passed by them without giving them a second look. Just another common staple of the showy city gardens – I had thought. I must have seen those flowers somewhere else before, I knew them. Or so I thought. For what I did not know at all, was something very curious and dramatic, and I was about to find that out soon…

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Well, after about a month, I happened to walk by the same spot again.

And voila!!! They were gone!!!

Or….They were not… :)

I could see the same snowball blooms, same plants, in the exact same spot, but, most of them were turned to this gorgeous shade of Blue! If it was not for some flowers and petals that were still pink, it was just impossible to believe that I was looking at the same bunch of flowers!

Magic…!

It got me curious and I researched for their identity. These flowers are called “Hydrangeas”. And it turned out that they take up color according to pH level of soil.

“Nature’s very own litmus papers!” that was the immediate thought that came up in mind as I fondly remembered the chemistry laboratory in school.

Remember litmus paper? If you dip a blue litmus paper in a liquid and the paper turns red, the liquid is an acid. If the red litmus paper turns blue, the liquid is alkaline. But wait, there is a little twist here. Hydrangeas’ behavior is exactly the reverse of the litmus paper. Their blooms are blue in acidic soil and pink in alkaline soil.

I am not sure whether the soil had turned alkaline only naturally or the gardener had manipulated it to make the Hydrangeas change their color so dramatically, but I knew if I visited them after few more days, I could see them as all blue…

Few instances are found in nature where blue pigment occurs organically. Only a handful of plants, some butterflies, few birds, and animals, well, even rarer. We know blue as the color that represents melancholy, and yet, in those rare examples where nature paints in blue, they are only enlivening, a sheer delight to the eyes, and brilliantly elegant in their beauty. Cases in point – Morphos butterfly, Blue Jay birds & of course the Hydrangeas. 

That these remarkable color-changing flowers exist, is one of the things that makes a visit to this planet worthwhile, just to have felt the touch of that almost perfectly round, delicate ball of quiet sumptuousness made with hundreds of tiny four-petaled flowers felt in one’s palms.

Well, I regret not taking pictures of their pink avatar. I had realized my loss only after they had gone. Nevertheless, I took this beautiful shot exclusively, for the July 2016 calendar.

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Here is a beautiful song by Lana Del Rey with Hydrangeas in the lyrics… :)


Article ©2016 Gyaneshwari Dave

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