Life is Skittles

Though Ursa Major and Gemini are well into the vault of the sky and the equinox is barely a week away, despite the stars there’s snow on the ground and spring is still elusive.

I’m fairly used to the interminable grey of Boston winters by now, and I like sweaters and skiing weather enough that it hasn’t been as soul-crushing as it could be.

But even I want blue skies eventually — after all, blue skies mean flying weather — so I decided to take matters into my own hands as much as I could, and now these beauties are sitting on my windowsill.
20130313-111325.jpgOver the summer, I occasionally brought home flowers from the farmers’ market in Kendall to brighten up my room; I stopped after the market closed for the winter, but when I saw a shelf of potted tulips while out at dinner with hallmates, I decided the tradition needed to be resurrected early.

The tulips, which are officially “red and white” but actually, er, light red and white, or distinctly pink, are the springiest things I’ve seen in a very long time. 20130313-151141.jpgThey started out as a trio of closed buds, and it’s been fascinating seeing color bleed into the tepals — as I learned, tulips are like lilies, in that their sepals (the individual parts of the green calyx that surround the bud) are the same color and appearance as their petals, and they don’t fold back as the flower blooms, so they’re called tepals instead.

From what I can tell, the tepals go from green to red-and-white in the same way that leaves in the fall change colors: the chlorophyll disappears, revealing the color underneath. (Considering the tepals went from green to greenish-pink and greenish-white to pink and white, I’m pretty sure this holds up.)20130313-120151.jpgI also learned that the original variegated tulips came from a mosaic virus called tulip breaking virus, which causes streaking or banding on the tepals. Most patterned tulips nowadays are created by cultivation not by virus, since virally-patterned tulips are extremely fragile, but there’s one stunning flame variant called the Absalon tulip which first showed up in the 1700s and is still around today.

If the stars and a prophetic groundhog can’t make blue skies arrive any faster, well, a pot of tulips is hardly a weather machine. But a little bit of color and a little accidental virology can make even the bleakest March day a little sunnier.

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