Marin IJ Articles
September 17, 2007
by Jeanne Price
A weed has often been described as a plant that’s just in the wrong place. Gaura is a weed whose right place could be in your garden. It has been described both as a “noxious weed” and as something to “incite a moment’s awe” and “an absolute flight of fancy.” It is a North American native; in Texas and Louisiana it is considered a roadside weed. Here, you have to buy it from a nursery where it is usually available year round. Gaura lindheimeri has good reason to be a garden plant. A member of the evening primrose family, it is deer resistant, drought tolerant, a good cut flower in bouquets and blooms most of the year. It is sometimes called Butterfly Bush, not just because it attracts butterflies, though it does, but because the flowers resemble butterflies hovering around a tangle of stems and green mottled leaves. The genus includes about 21 species known as bee blossoms and also apple blossom grass.
In a disturbed habitat it can be invasive and there is no known biological control for it. It is difficult to remove as it can reproduce from bits of rhizome left in the ground, much like Japanese anemone (Anemone japonica). The plant reproduces from seed as well as rhizomes. After blossoming, seed pods form along the stem. These are easy to harvest by running your cupped hand along the stem. Each pod contains a seed and the entire pod can be planted. The seeds take from two to three weeks to germinate. It tolerates hot climates and dry soils and is easy to cultivate.
Once established it needs little water because of its very deep taproot. This fact also prevents successful transplanting, so gardeners should place them carefully. It blooms from spring through fall and even into early winter. It likes a sunny location in well-drained soil with some organic material as enrichment. In soil that is not well drained the roots will rot and once the taproot is broken the plant will die. Its large clumps of untidy stems grow up to two feet high or more and need to be pruned each winter to improve bloom. It’s long stems wave with every air current, making it a botanical mobile, creating the illusion of floating butterflies.
I live in a bayside, cottage-style home and have attempted to create a cottage garden with drought tolerant plants. Gaura fits the bill. I have it on either side of the front walk where it bobs and blows in the prevailing breeze, nodding a gentle greeting with its white and pink blossoms. I have three cultivars: ‘Stratosphere’ and ‘Snow Fountains,’ both white, and ‘Siskiyou Pink.’ This last cultivar was developed in 1994 by Boldossare Mineo of the Siskiyou Rare Plant Nursery in Medford, Oregon. Mineo found it as a natural mutation and selected it to propagate. It has become the basis of other pink to red cultivars including ‘Sunny Butterflies’ and ‘Crimson Butterflies,’ both from Australia. Another cultivar, ‘Whirling Butterfly,’ aka ‘White Indian Feather’ is most like the wildflower, larger in size, and a favorite of pollinating insects. It is also low maintenance, hardy and needs a hard pruning to half or two-thirds of the stems.
Master Gardener, Harvey Rogers, who has successfully grown Gaura at his Blackie’s Pasture project, where it grows four feet high, advised me to water regularly the first year and then only occasionally. Although in very hot weather watering could be once a week after it is established. He prunes plants to about eight or ten inches high when finished blooming. He told me that plants don’t need dead heading or added fertilizer.
Gaura will add wild beauty to your garden.