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About Snapdragons - Antirrhinum Flowers

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Snapdragons (Antirrhinums)

Snapdragons - Flowers from the Mediterranean

Snapdragon is the common name of the Antirrhinum flower, and it was given because of the dragon-like shape of the flower. If the sides are pinched, the flower opens a "mouth" - the stigma being the tongue. On letting go, the mouth snaps shut. Because it looks like an animal's face, the flower has also been called dog's mouth, lion's snap, toad's mouth and calf's snout (from the shape of the seed vessel). Antirrhinum means like a snout.

The garden varieties of Snapdragons were bred from Antirrhinum majus, which grows in the Mediterranean region. The flowers have become closely shut in order to protect the stamens and stigma from strong winds and storms, for they grow wild in exposed rocky places. As a result, only strong insects like bumble bees can force their way between the velvet lips, and they carry the pollen from flower to flower. The seed pod has three toothed holes, out of which seeds are shaken by the wind. In Russia the seeds are collected and an oil, nearly as good as olive oil, is pressed out of them.

In Victorian times striped Snapdragons were the favourites, but now plain ones are grown in various shades of white, yellows, pinks and reds from fiery red to deep purplish crimson. Some plants are one metre tall, while others are dwarf or Tom Thumb ones, 15cms to 25cms high. They grow from seed in any light, well drained soil. Many of them are perennial (they go on flowering year after year) but more often new ones are planted each year. In some places a fungus disease called antirrhinum rust attacks the leaves and stems which then get brown spots on them and wither so that the plant dies. Certain kinds of Snapdragons have now been bred that do not get this disease.

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