Lovely litle deptford bpink. So lovely this article about it in the New York Times ran three days ago.
It is hard to call a flower as dainty and attractive as the Deptford pink invasive. It seems incapable of threatening anything, but it is a plant originally native to Europe now growing with ease throughout most of North America, and it fits the definition. The plant has roots that lead back to the English town of Deptford.
Back in Tudor times, Deptford was a rural community… on the outskirts of London where the plant was found in great abundance. Sadly, though the Deptford pink is still widespread throughout Europe, Deptford itself is now far more industrialized and subsumed by modern London, with far fewer locations for its namesake flower to call home.
Young pinks may have crossed the Atlantic growing among the roots of ornamental or commercial plant species being exported to the New World, or perhaps they hitched their way here as seeds among grains intended for livestock feed. I like to think that a plant this attractive might have even been brought here deliberately in the hopes of taming it for cultivation. In any case, as one of the New World’s oldest settlements, New York City may very well have been one of its first stops en route to naturalization in North America.
Like many other colonizers, the pink’s progeny established themselves and thrived. The Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) is not in the same league as more famous and rapacious invaders like phragmites, mugwort or bittersweet. In fact, the skinny-leaved plant usually behaves well, mixing invisibly into the weedy wildflowers and vegetation of dry fields. That is, until it blooms.
Fully open, Deptford pinks rarely measure more than a half-inch, but they stand out like tiny beacons. The intensity of their bright pink color masks the great beauty of their extravagant patterning. Each blossom is peppered with bright white spots, which grow more densely toward the base of each petal. The anthers (the male parts of a flower) are a bluish purple and stand out prominently in the center of each flower. These are complemented by a pair of pink tipped stigmas (the female parts), which emerge covered in furry hairs that are thought to aid the plant in capturing pollen grains.
Despite the intensity of the coloration, it is interesting to note that the name “pink” probably derives from the loosely serrated edges of the flowers’ petals (think “pinking shears” rather than the color pink). This intense coloration is not wasted on butterflies and other pollinators. I have frequently seen beetles and skippers tipped headfirst into these flowers, engulfed by and momentarily blinded by the pink.