Bicolours and Reverse Bicolours

Bicolours and Reverse Bicolours

Many of us will be familiar with the idea of bicoloured flowers, where the flower shows two distinct, different colours. In sweet peas there is also the concept of reverse bicolours. But first, a quick definition of some flowery terms. 

The sweet pea flower has three different groups of petals. The keel is the small boat shaped inner portion, where the business end of pollination takes place – try watching a bee working through your sweet peas and see how as it lands on the flower, its weight causes the stamen to poke through! This keel is often hidden beneath the wing petals. The wings are the middle pair which sometime look like a butterfly at rest. Standing proud at the back of the flower are the flag petals. 

In the wild sweet pea Cupani, like Matucana and their close associate Painted Lady, the flag petals have the darker colour, and the wings have the lighter one. 

Sweet pea breeding took off in the late 19th century, bringing in lots of new colours, including bicolours like Prince Edward of York, Miss Willmott, and more recent ones like Duo SalmonFire & Ice, and Indigo King. All of them show the darker colour at the back.

Dr Keith Hammett is a sweet pea breeder extraordinaire and perhaps being based in New Zealand has given him a different view of the world. He observed that in art and in landscapes, the darker colours are in the foreground and the light colours in the distance. This painting is a good demonstration of this observation. 

Caspar David Friedrich, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Keith set out to emulate this concept in sweet peas, and the reverse bicolour was born. (Well, maybe it was a bit more complicated than that!) Perhaps the boldest example of this is the gorgeous unusual Sweet Pea “Erewhon” with its pale mauve flag petals and darker purple wings. 

Look out for Sweet Pea Maloy, another one, which we will soon be introducing into the range.