To start off the next hundred Botany Photo of the Day entries, I'm going to share a series of black-and-white photographs. These are probably not to everyone's taste, so I'm going to also include the original or companion photographs when possible.
Today's photographs are of Inula magnifica, or elecampane. The black-and-white image reveals a different perspective on the opening “flower” (colour version for comparison). To me, it resembles a number of figures witnessing the formation of a new galaxy, but perhaps you'll see something different.
What is commonly called the “flower” in members of the family Asteraceae is botanically known as a capitulum. The capitulum is an aggregation of many florets, with each floret representing what we typically recognize as a flower (but wrought in miniature). In the case of Inula magnifica, the spidery outer “petals” are individual flowers technically known as “ray florets”. Ray florets are often sterile - I suspect that's the case for Inula, although I need to verify that. Moving inward to the centre of the capitulum, each of the small units is a ”disc floret”; disc florets can be either bisexual, containing fully-developed male and female flower parts, or male, so that only the stamens are functional. The South African National Biodiversity Institute has more on the morphology of flowers of the Asteraceae.
Interested in the plant for your garden or want specimen photographs? Texas A&M University's Horticulture web site has a detailed account of Inula magnifica, while an article entitled “Beauty Fades” in the Seattle Times laments the appearance of this plant in autumn: “the less-than-elegant look of its huge, withering carcass”.
If you are curious to know how the black-and-white image was made (no, it's not just a quick conversion to greyscale!), check out this article from Nature Photographers Online Magazine, which discusses using channels in Adobe Photoshop to convert colour images to black-and-white. If you want to know what I specifically did, post a comment and I'll share.
In garden news, the Washington Post has an article about “The Jade Garden”, entitled “The Latest Export from China - Garden Plants” (registration required). My only gripe is that the article links to nursery web sites instead of the garden's site, but otherwise Adrian Higgins is again in fine form: “Western explorers to China's remote regions form a pantheon of horticultural Indiana Joneses.” Worth a read!