Cineraria maritima var. fairbairnianum

An illustration of this now extinct cultivar from New and Rare Beautiful Leaved Plants While doing some research on a group of gray leafed plants, I came upon this very old plate and text about an unusual (and now lost) cultivar of one of our most common garden plants. The title of this entry is the archaic name of this plant, which might be more familiar if given the genus/species of Senecio cineraria, but if this form had survived to today, it would now be more properly known as Jacobaea maritima ‘Fairbairnianum’.

New and Rare Beautiful Leaved Plants, by Shirley Hibberd, 1869, in which the above plate originally appeared, states:

    The “silver-frosted plant” of English gardens had but little celebrity in spite of its intrinsic beauty . . . Like many other hardy plants that are treated with contumely [abuse] because they happen to be cheap . . . The variety figured was raised by Mr. G. Fairbairn, head gardener to His Grace the Duke of Northumberland, Sion House. . . Its peculiarity is its clear golden yellow variegation – a most unusual occurrence in a plant of this kind.

I had long read brief references to the prior existence of this plant in various horticultural references, but this was the first time I’d ever seen a drawing of the variegation. It is interesting that the variegation was visible at all – most of the time, these leaves are covered with short, dense hairs, obscuring the color of the leaf itself. Some forms are more green on their surface (still white-tomentose on their undersides, as seems to the case in this rendering), especially on older leaves, so perhaps the variegation was only noticeable as a particular leaf became fully mature (I imagine that the center leaf of this print is more mature than the lower and smaller two on each side). The character of this unusual mutation is certainly very Victorian in character, so it no doubt made a stir during its lifetime. Very likely, when the reaction to Victorian excess cleared away its various stylistic flights of fancy, this unusual cultivar suffered the same fate.
Senecio cineraria by diemmarig on Flickr
But recently, I came across the following photo on Flickr. I’d never before seen a modern specimen of this plant mutate to a variegated form (this one became albino completely). Perhaps there is a chance that a variegated form of this common plant could again be found.


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