More Scabious Flowers for Butterflies

6 July 2013

I’ve got four different varieties of  scabious-type flowers in the garden, besides the knautia macedonica I covered on 4 July – see that post also for notes on their use for butterflies and moths.

The most common colour for scabious is blue, but in the wild it veers towards purple. In the cultivated varieties, work has been done to cross-breed to produce purer blues. The largest-flowered scabious I know is scabiosa caucasica, and one of the best blues is ‘Fama blue’, the flowers of which reach about 15″ (37cm). I grew this from seed a couple of years ago, and the plants are starting to become well established, though they never look very robust, or like they can produce the large flowers they do – the flowerhead is 3″ (8cm) across. If you look at the close-up of the flower, below, you can see why butterflies and moths like it: it is nice and open, so they can stand on it comfortably and dip their probiscus into each individual floret for the nectar. The photo on the right is of a much smaller scabious: I think it is one called ‘Butterfly Blue’, which seems very appropriate; these flowers only grow to about 8″ (20cm) high.

Left: flower of scabious 'Fama blue'. Right: Small blue scabious.

Left: flower of scabious ‘Fama blue’. Right: Small blue scabious.

I also have two yellow-flowered scabious, very similar in flower, but not in size. The big on is BIG: going by the name of cephalaria gigantea, the flowers, which are just coming out, reach 5-6′ (up to 2m). Thinking about it, I don’t remember many butterflies showing interest in it, but it is definitely liked by bees if you look carefully, there is one on the flower to the right of the picture. The smaller yellow one, which is probably Scabiosa columbaria subsp. ochroleuca (I can’t even remember how I got the first plant) seems quite variable in height, varying from 15″ to 36″ (38cm to 1m) but it is a very slender, great for tucking in amongst other flowers.

Left: Tall yellow cephalaria gigantea. Right: Small yellow scabious.

Left: Tall yellow cephalaria gigantea. Right: Small yellow scabious.

The vast majority of scabious won’t grow in acid soils, but there is one that does: jasione, also known as sheep’s-bit scabious. I’ve grown it in a pot, and it’s a pretty little plant, a bit like a small devil’s-bit scabious (see 4 July post for photo of dbs).


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