Posts tagged ‘Scabious’

July 6, 2013

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).

July 4, 2013

Scabious Flowers for Butterflies

4 July 2013

There are a lot of scabious-type flowers, many of which are classed in the scabiosa family, but some of which are put in other familes.  All the ones I know will be used by butterflies, and probably moths, for nectar, and a dozen or more moths use various varieties as foodplants for their catepillars. They all have pin-cushion shaped flowers (some flatter than others) on long, wiry stems.

There are several scabious found in the wild: I’m just growing some field scabiousn but it hasn’t flowered yet, so I can’t report on it, but I have got devil’s-bit scabious, and this makes a good garden plant; in the wild it tends to be found in damper meadows, but in the garden it seems pretty tolerant of most non-extreme conditions. Like all scabious, the leaves stay low, and the flowers are much higher, but in this version even the flowers only get to about 18″ (45cm) at most. In the wild, devils-bit scabious is the food plant of the Marsh Fritillary, which is a beautiful butterfly – I’ll give you a photo of it below, not taken by me. Unfortunately, you won’t get the Marsh Frit in your garden, no matter how much devil-bit scabious you grow – it needs specialised conditions.

Marsh Fritillary - photo by Mark Pike

Marsh Fritillary – photo by Mark Pike

The first of the cultivated varieties I’ve got, as in the right-hand photo below, is knautia macedonica; this comes in either pastel shades of pink and mauve, or a deep red; you can judge the height of the flowers from comparing them to the foxglove: they are quite tall, but very airy, so they don’t block the view of the plants behind them very solidly. There is a version of the dark red one called ‘Mars midget’, which I’ve just grown from seed, so hopefully it will flower this year.  We had a couple of goldfinches on our knautia only yesterday –  feeding on the flowerheads setting seed.

Left: Devil's-bit scabious flower with a Comma butterfly. Right: the mauve-coloured bobbles of knautia macedonica.

Left: Devil’s-bit scabious flower with a Comma butterfly. Right: the mauve-coloured bobbles of knautia macedonica.

I’ll continue the scabious story in the next article, but you cannot go wrong growing any variety of this very easy-going plant. The garden varieties are widely available, and it is getting easier to buy the wild ones – do remember it’s against the law to dig up wild plants, though you can take some seed. Happy growing!

February 23, 2013

Flowers for a gloomy time of year

23 February 2013

The weather has gone cold again (well, by our standards – the commenter in North Toronto would probably say it was mild at 2 degrees centigrade!) and there is no sunshine forecast for the next week, so I’m going to give you some bright and cheerful flower pictures to make up for it – enjoy!

Scabious 'Fama Blue'

Scabious ‘Fama Blue’

Scabious flowers come in several sizes and colours – I’ll do a blog on them some time, but this perennial is one of the most impressive, and quite easily grown from seed.  The plants are not very bushy, so I’m trying them grown quite close together. Good for butterflies and othe insects.
Escholtzia 'Cameo Dream'

Escholtzia ‘Cameo Dream’


The eschscholzia or Californian Poppy is an annual which will sometimes self seed. I grew these in containers, and they were gorgeous; the seedlings didn’t come true, reverting mainly to a single variety, but that was very pretty, too. From memory, I think it was small bees and hoverfies that used them.


Apple Blossom

Apple Blossom

It’s easy to overlook tree blossom, but apples, pears etc all have flowers which are glorious in their purity, and they may be scented – they are not out for long, so they have to work hard to attract those pollinating insects.


Centre of poppy flower

Centre of poppy flower

I think this is papaver orientale ‘Princess Victoria Louise’. It’s certainly wonderfully voluptuous, and bees love crawling around it’s centre, getting covered in pollen.


Lobelia 'Blue Sapphire'

Lobelia ‘Blue Sapphire’

Another close -up – of a flower which is familiar to most of us from countless gardens and hanging baskets – the annual lobelia. This is quite often recorded as attracting butterflies, which it does, but the frequency of the sighting is probably more to do with the amount of lobelia grown than it being hugely popular, but don’t scorn it for that: it is one of the real “do-ers” in the garden flowering for weeks on end.

Do let me know what your real “wow” flowers are.