Plant Database forum: Rudbeckia life cycle

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Name: Deb
Pacific NW (Zone 8b)
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Bonehead
Jul 19, 2017 10:28 PM CST
There was an interesting conversation regarding Rudbeckias that was started by a photo someone questioned. In the end, it was decided that the cultivar 'Cherokee Sunset' was actually a seed strain rather than a true clonal cultivar which lent it to great variety, both in color and form. That laid to rest the photo question, but it's been niggling at me for another reason. Five of our database entries for Rudbeckia hirta are termed 'annual' rather than 'perennial.' It seems to me that a genus-species would or should be consistent across the board. What I found was most reputable web sites characterize Rudbeckia hirta as a perennial, but then also state that it may be grown as either an annual (because it will bloom the first year of seeding) or biennial (I guess because it will drop seeds and those will also bloom the following year). But...isn't a plant's life cycle rather set in stone -- perennial, bienniel, or annual? I'm thinking the 5 entries identified as annuals should be re-identified as perennials with a note that they can be treated as either annuals or biennials. ??
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Name: Joshua
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Australis
Jul 19, 2017 10:32 PM CST

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Whilst I'm not sure about this exact example, I do know that plants' life cycles aren't as concrete as we like to think. I consider annual through to perennial as more of a spectrum than distinct states; it is affected by climate. A plant can be an annual in one zone and a perennial in others (not to mention short vs long-term perennials).
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Name: Deb
Pacific NW (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Deer Ferns Herbs Dragonflies
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Bonehead
Jul 19, 2017 10:39 PM CST
I agree that zones can greatly affect how a plant will or will not thrive. And I 'get' that a fuchsia for me is not winter hardy and so becomes an 'annual' for me -- but that doesn't change the fact that it is in fact a perennial plant, just not hardy to my zone. It just seems that there is a big difference between life cycles - a perennial grows differently than a biennial which grows differently than an annual.
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Kent Pfeiffer
Southeast Nebraska (Zone 5b)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator Plant Identifier Region: Nebraska Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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KentPfeiffer
Jul 20, 2017 3:03 PM CST

Plants Admin

Bonehead said:I agree that zones can greatly affect how a plant will or will not thrive. And I 'get' that a fuchsia for me is not winter hardy and so becomes an 'annual' for me -- but that doesn't change the fact mit is in fact a perennial plant, just not hardy to my zone. It just seems that there is a big difference between life cycles - a perennial grows differently than a biennial which grows differently than an annual.


No. As I explained above, the "behavior" of R. hirta has nothing to do with winter hardiness. Some individuals will be annuals, some will act like biennials, and some will act like perennials depending on circumstances. That sort of malleability is fairly common the plant world.

One thing to keep in mind is that the boxes we put plants (and animals) in are artificial constructs we have created for our own benefit. They help us make sense of an incredibly complex world, but they aren't reality. They just approximate reality closely enough to be useful to us.

Name: Deb
Pacific NW (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Deer Ferns Herbs Dragonflies
Spiders! Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry Birds Fruit Growers Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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Bonehead
Jul 20, 2017 8:44 PM CST
I guess I'm a bit more black-and-white than that. I agree that an herbaceous plant can 'act like' an annual, biennial, or perennial, but in my mind its life cycle is predetermined to be one of the three. The biennial characterization in particular for R. hirta intrigues me. I think of biennials as growing but not flowering in their first year, blooming then dying in their second year - doesn't sound like anything this particular plant does, since it may 'act like an annual' by blooming the first year from seed. An annual to me grows like crazy the first year, blooming profusely because its only shot at multiplying is to send mature seeds out into the world. A perennial takes more time to establish roots, may or may not bloom the first year, most often for a shorter period of time than either an annual or biennial, and relies mostly on underground expansion to multiply. Many also self-seed. That's my lay-person simplistic take. I will continue to regard rudbeckias as perennials, even as I struggle with them in my micro-climate.
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Kent Pfeiffer
Southeast Nebraska (Zone 5b)
Charter ATP Member I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Plant Database Moderator Plant Identifier Region: Nebraska Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Forum moderator Garden Sages Garden Ideas: Master Level Irises Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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KentPfeiffer
Jul 20, 2017 9:35 PM CST

Plants Admin

Bonehead said:but in my mind its life cycle is predetermined to be one of the three.


It's not uncommon for people wish things were black and white, but it doesn't make it so.

Bonehead said:I think of biennials as growing but not flowering in their first year, blooming then dying in their second year


This is exactly what many individuals of R. hirta do.

Bonehead said:An annual to me grows like crazy the first year, blooming profusely because its only shot at multiplying is to send mature seeds out into the world.


However, many other R. hirta plants do this instead.

Bonehead said:A perennial takes more time to establish roots, may or may not bloom the first year, most often for a shorter period of time than either an annual or biennial, and relies mostly on underground expansion to multiply. Many also self-seed.


A small percentage of R. hirta plants do this, except for the underground expansion thing, which isn't an absolute characteristic of perennials anyway. Some propagate themselves vegetatively, some don't.

Name: Deb
Pacific NW (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Deer Ferns Herbs Dragonflies
Spiders! Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry Birds Fruit Growers Million Pollinator Garden Challenge
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Bonehead
Jul 20, 2017 9:58 PM CST
Oh maaan, you're messing with me, and I assume you are more correct than I am...dang (but thanks, always open to learn). I'll continue to categorize my Suzies as perennials and let the database do what it will. Peace.

Edited to add: tongue firmly in cheek
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
[Last edited by Bonehead - Jul 20, 2017 10:00 PM (+)]
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