Natural Variation

Within plant populations, no two individuals look exactly alike. Sometimes the differences in traits such as flower color or the color of leaves in the fall are obvious. Other differences, such as leaf shape or growth form are more subtle. This variation not only provides the building blocks for evolutionary change, but adds interest and beauty to our surroundings. I began to photograph variation in nature while teaching a college course in plant evolution, when I discovered that many students had a hard time grasping the concept of within-species variation in plants. Variation within Homo sapiens is a different story - height, hair color, eye color, length of toes...  the differences among all of us seem rather obvious. Do plants contain a similar array of forms, but we just don't notice? Maybe we would if we spent more time with plants and developed the eye to see it.

Differences in organisms can be due to both the environment or the genes, and it is only the latter that can be inherited. To increase the odds of capturing genetic variation, I mostly work with plants growing in close proximity to each other, in one photo frame. Such plants theoretically share the same or close to the same environment, so the differences are more likely to be because of genetic variation.


Click on images for larger size.
Madia elegans Quercus wizlesenii acorns Collinsia tinctoria Clarkia unguiculata
Quercus douglasii Clover leaf patterns Castilleja exerta Linanthus ciliatus
Castilleja Linanthus parryae

Images are property of Eric Knapp and may not be copied or reproduced without permission.