Catalina flowers are commercial hybrids of the wishbone flower (genus: Torenia, family: Linderniaceae). Catalina is a bushy, compact and profusely blooming plant with showy blossoms. This is an annual plant, typically having white, pink or blue flowers. Many varieties contain prominent yellow markings. The trumpet-like flowers are either oval or heart-shaped, having two upper and three lower petals. The petals are partially-fused. The plant is erect, branching and moderately fast-growing. The leaves are narrow, almost oval-shaped, and opposite placed. The leaves of some Torenia varieties tend to be hairy.
Apart from the most popular name wishbone flower, there are several other common names of Torenia flowers. These flowers are also known as bluewings (also spelled blue wings), blue-eyed grass, clown flower, ola’a beauty and nanioola’a (in Hawaii), and lady’s slipper of the Brahmi family (in India). Catalina hybrids were first created around the last decade of the twentieth century.
The parent species, Torenia, is native to tropical and subtropical Asia, Africa, Madagascar and Americas. Over 50 species of Torenia have been reported in literature, including 20 species from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, and 19 species from Thailand. Its natural habitats are forests and lowlands, open swamps, wet rocks and moist grounds, and higher altitudes. The height of the plant typically ranges from 15 cm to 30 cm, and the width from 15 cm to 45 cm.
Some popular varieties of the Catalina flower include: Catalina® Midnight Blue, Catalina® White Linen, Catalina® Pink, Catalina Gilded Grape, Clown Mix, Kauai Rose, Moon Purple, Moon Yellow, and Summer Wave® Large Amethyst.
The flower owes its common name, wishbone, to the pair of stamens contained within each flower, which unite at the anthers and resemble the shape of a chicken wishbone. This double-stamen shape can be observed when the flower petals are gently pulled backward.
The Latin name Torenia fournieri was coined by Carl Linnaeus, eighteenth-century Swedish botanist known as the father of modern taxonomy.
Linnaeus named the plant genus, Torenia, after the eighteenth-century Swedish botanist Reverend Olaf Toren, a Swedish East India Company’s chaplain in India, Surat and China. The specific epithet in the botanical name, fournieri, is given in honor of the French botanist Eugene Pierre Nicolas Fournier (1834-1884).
Interestingly, the Catalina flower is sometimes called a clown flower. The color combinations and patterns displayed on the petals look like the makeup of a clown.
Catalina flowers are also known as bluewings. This common name is a reference to the wing-shaped petals of the blue flower variety.
Catalina Flower Symbolism
A Flower of Happiness, Charm and a Wish-Come-True
As hybrids of the wishbone flower, Catalina flowers inherit their symbolism from the original Torenia fournieri flower.
The primary symbolic meaning of the Catalina flower is ‘Make a wish’. This is an obvious reference to the wishbone-like form of the flower stamens. The furcula — a fork-shaped bone found in birds — has been a symbol of luck since Ancient Rome. People would break the wishbone, and whoever got the longer piece of it, expected good fortune or a wish-come-true. The wishbone flower is a floral equivalent of this symbol of good luck and wish fulfillment.
Catalina is a trumpet-shaped flower, and its petals are often compared to wings. These two notable features symbolically link the Catalina flower to angels. These celestial beings bring to the flower an aura of protection, hope, faith, innocence and strength.
Catalina flowers also symbolize joy, charm and happiness for no reason. This clown flower, with its flamboyant colors and appearance, brings laughter and a jolly spirit. Many Catalina flower hybrids contain a stripe or a pattern of yellow color. This blotch of yellow color is often referred to as a ‘yellow tongue’. This symbolizes the spirit of radiance and positive energy.
Hawaiian Symbol of Beauty
It is said that during spring and summer, the native people of Hawaii used to ride their horses in the fields of the Hawaiian countryside. There they would gather wild ola’a beauty flowers. They would plait those flower stems into braids of ferns, and place them on their traditional pāpale hats. Adorned in such a colorful way, they would return to the village and parade, giving everyone a change to admire the beauty of their ornaments. Owing to this old tradition, the parent species of the Catalina flower symbolize innocent, pure and natural beauty.
Strung together, ola’a beauty flowers have also been used in traditional lei (garlands, necklaces, wreaths) both in Hawaii and across the islands of Polynesia. Lei are typically gifted as a symbol of respect, love and honor extended on special occasions. They are also presented as tokens of welcome or farewell.
Symbol of a Divine Playfulness
In the tradition of the Indian spiritual master Sri Aurobindo and The Mother (Mirra Alfassa), Torenia fournieri var. aba has an important spiritual significance. The flower symbolizes Lord Krishna’s integral play. One of the major and most believed among all divinities of the Hindu pantheon, Krishna is a god of love, compassion and protection. He is celebrated for his leela, a form of divine joy and playful gaiety.
In the compilation ‘Collected Writings of the Mother,’ the Torenia flower symbolizes ‘Krishna’s play in matter’. This flower conveys three spiritual messages. These are: ‘Beauty, love and joy are comrades,’ ‘A play which widens and makes you progress,’ and ‘Power of progress, veiling itself behind appearances’.
What Do the Various Colors of the Catalina Flower Mean
The three primary flowers of a Catalina flower are purple or blue, pink and white, although an increasing number of new hybrids appear in the market in a much wider range of colors.
Blue or Purple Catalina Flower Meaning
The blue Torenia flower has strong spiritual and psychological interpretation. When someone is particularly attracted to a blue or purple Torenia flower, this flower signals avoidance, fear and lack of openness to others. These feelings can cause lack of clarity.
Blue Torenia helps release shyness, fear of being judged, and other emotional restrictions. This purple or blue flower releases such subconscious fears, encourages open expression, and brings feelings of peace and clarity. Blue Catalina flowers, traditionally called bluewings, are symbolic of angels (blue is the color of the sky). These flowers carry the protective presence and energy of these celestial beings.
White Catalina Flower Meaning
A white flower bloom is a universal symbol of purity, innocence, beauty and new beginnings. Sometimes white flowers are related to the purity of the soul, death and spirituality. White Catalina flowers embody all these qualities. They personify freshness and untainted beauty.
Since white Catalina flowers are seldom purely white (they have prominent yellow markings on the petals), they inherit some aspects of the yellow color symbolism. Yellow symbolizes the bright energy of the sun, power of rejuvenation and fertility. Therefore, these bi-color, white-yellow Catalina flowers also represent optimism, energy, creativity and warmth.
Pink Catalina Flower Meaning
The pink wishbone flower is a symbol of gentle love, femininity, gracefulness, sentiments, motherly care and affection. Almost all pink flowers are commonly associated with Mother’s Day.
Some Interesting Facts and Characteristics of the Catalina Flower
- Stamens breaking in half: When the stamens of the Catalina flower get pollinated by the insects, they break in half. This resembles a wishbone of a Thanksgiving turkey.
- Applications in scientific research: Cytogeneticists use Torenia fournieri as an experimental model plant to study fertilization and genetic modification. The plant has several useful characteristics for the researchers, including an ease of genetic transformation, protruding embryo sac, and capacity for in vitro flowering. The plant has also been used in the research of chromosomes and their centromeres in the early stages of embryogenesis. The first genetic study of Torenia flowers was published in 1995.
- A popular garden flower: Many species of Torenia plant, from which the Catalina flower hybrids have been created, are popular garden flowers around the world. They are cultivated in gardens and landscaped areas, both in hanging baskets and patio planters.
- Origin of the word wishbone: When the Romans traveled through Europe, they carried with them the tradition of cracking the furcula. With time, the English adopted this superstitious practice too. In the United States, the tradition of breaking a turkey wishbone started with the Pilgrims. The term wishbone was coined in the United States in the mid nineteenth century.
- Conservation status: Torenia polygonoides is listed as a rare, native species of conservation significance in the tropical savanna regions of Queensland.
- Invasiveness: Many Torenia varieties have attained the status of naturalized or weed plants around the world.
- Medicinal use: The two-color wishbone flower (Torenia bicolor) is used in the traditional medical system of Ayurveda to treat gonorrhea and some infection of the cornea. Mixed with sandalwood, cloves, musk and rose-water, the plant is also used to treat exanthemata. This species of the glower is known under the local Malayalam name kakkapoovu.
- Commonly confused for other flower varieties: Due to its shape and color, the Catalina (Torenia hybrid) flower is often compared to the gloxinia and mimulus flowers. They are often confused for two similar flowers: pansy and viola. Violas are plants from the family Violaceae, while pansies are Viola × wittrockiana hybrids. To add to the confusion, some Torenia flowers are also called summer pansy flowers. The most obvious feature which distinguishes Torenia flowers from these look-alike species are the yellow double stamens which look like a wishbone.
- Cultivation: Catalina is a low-maintanance garden flower that thrives in shade and semi-shade conditions. The plant prefers moist but not soggy soil. Typically, it is less affected by pests, though it is susceptible to fungus. The colorful blooms attract various pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds, adding to the beauty of any garden. The plant is propagated by seeds or stem cuttings. The seeds need light in order to germinate, and should never be covered by soil. Torenias do not respond well to transplantation.
- Intense breeding of Torenia plant species: Until 1988, only violet and white Torenia flowers were available. As a result of intensive hybridization work conducted by plant breeders mainly in the USA, Israel and Japan, new commercial varieties of Torenia flowers have been produced. The traditional blue-purple color is no longer the only available color. Some hybrids even have multi-colored petals. However, hybridization has not yet led to a creation of double or differently-shaped Catalina flowers. This remains an ambition for many flower nurseries around the world.
- The blue-violet hues of the wild flower varieties: The flowers of all wild Torenia species range in color from blue to violet. Some species, such as such as Torenia fournieri, have a yellow splotch in the center. These colors are due to the presence of flavonoid pigments.
- Edible flower: Some sources claim that the flowers of the Torenia fournieri variety are edible. They can be used to garnish salads, soups and other dishes.
The Best Time to Gift Someone a Catalina Flower
Catalinas are charming and rather small flowers that are typically gifted as potted plants. They are not traditionally used as cut flowers, nor contribute well to dry flower arrangements.
Catalina flowers are attractive in a quaint, old-fashioned way. They are evocative of the English cottage garden. They make a perfect gift to someone who enjoys gardening as a hobby, or simply loves to nurture colorful window flowers. Catalina flowers can be gifted to friends and family members as a charming house-warming gift.
Those with a romantic soul and creative heart can make beautiful Catalina flower arrangements in a form of a traditional lei garland or floral headband. Such a personalized gift offered to a loved one is sure to make a strong emotional impression. Dried, pressed Catalina flowers can be kept in an old-fashioned herbarium collection, as precious memorabilia.
Catalina flowers have cheerful appearance due to their colorful and trumpet-shaped blooms. They blossom profusely, and are relatively easy to maintain. Due to these qualities, they can bring a dash of optimism and positive spirit to someone who is feeling gloomy or sad. Catalina flowers can be a thoughtful encouragement gift at a time setback or disappointment.