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Published: 19 August 2017

By Andy Ross

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Mimulus guttatus

This week the papers across the UK have been set a little aflutter by the news that there is a "new flower" in Shetland.

The unveiling of new flora and fauna is always fanstically exciting to those who like such things, and this summer, as you know if you are a regular reader of the blog, the flowers have been really lovely. Especially so have been the bright colours of the Monkeyflower: a bright yellow with red spotted petals as you can see in the picture (left, courtesy Carl Farmer, Skye). Now scientists in the islands have told the world that the Shetland variety is different to the usual type and this information is important for many reasons. 

Monkeyflower was introduced to the UK (and Europe) as a cultivated flower in the early 1800's. The first recorded date for the introduction, according to the file at the non-native species secretariat, is 1824, and our habitats and climate must suit the plant because it can be seen on roadsides and verges, in ditches and fields, particularly in the South Mainland of Shetland. Scientists looking at the populations have found that specimens in one of the groups are larger than the others, and it is because they have more chromosomes! 

So why is this important. Well, mainly because the change has happened so quickly. Normally evolution takes place over many hundreds, thousands or millions of years. This time the change has happened since the flowers were introduced, two hundred years ago. It is extremely quick in evolutionary terms for a major change like this to happen. 

There must be a reason for this plant to develop extra chromosomes and some fascinating bedtime reading beckons in the shape of the article which describes the finding. Isn't it wonderful that these new discoveries are being made all the time, and so close to home? Respect, Mimulus guttatus!