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Cineraria: A Special Flower

2009 late may 008 copy

This is cineraria, the glorious purple daisy that grows in Bay Area gardens near the coast. I let it have this bed that every spring for the mass of color it makes. It is especially nice on foggy mornings, radiently purple, white, pink, and blue.I also like the fact that the centers of the daisies are purple.  

When I first learned about this plant I had no idea how special it was to the Bay Area. Turns out that right here, in our foggy region, is the only place it is a perennial in the entire nation. The cool foggy days and the cold nights, the near lack of frost, and the dry summers remind it of home.

And where is home? On the steep north coast of an island in the Canaries, just off the northwest coast of Africa. Here, a cold ocean breeze blows most of the time, The place is foggy much of the time, has less rain than we do, and that only in winter, but rarely has frosts. It is called the "cloud zone."

Well, strictly speaking, the plants we grow don't grow there. The ones that grow there are species; ours are hybrids among several Canary Island species. The florists use them to make short plants with broad heads of flowers, used as potted gift plants. But when those plants make seed, they soon revert to the tall plants with many shades of flowers that we see in our gardens. The hybrids were first bred in the early 1800s. When they arrived in California, I don't know for sure, but probably as soon as the seeds hit the ground, they knew this was a second home.
2009 late may 003 copyLike many people, I really like the blue ones. I am always looking for clues in the leaves to guess which ones will be blue. But the truth is, I like all of them, so I don't try too hard.

I suppose, because they are so easy, they have a bad reputation as being a flower of abandoned gardens, but they can be reined in and left to make a spring garden glorious. They do make some seedlings. If I don't have enough where I want them, I dig seedlings and move them there. Some of them go into pots to move to the front door when they are in bloom. If a seedling is in a place where a spring accent would be nice, I leave it alone.

As these flowers bloom, sections of the flowers start to make seed. I deadhead these as they form, leaving the parts that are in bloom or bud still. When the bloom is spent, I cut the plants to the ground. They start to grow in the fall, and bloom again in April-June. Some people pull them out after they bloom, but they will get bigger with more flowers each year if you just cut them back.

If you don't have any, you can buy a couple of florist's plants in colors you like and leave them outside when the fluffy seeds form. Or you may be able to find the taller ones in nurseries as Cineraria stellata. Actually, the botanists want us to use their new botanical name: Pericallis x hybrida, but no one knows them as that.

This is one of the 50 historic California plants I wrote about in my book Wildly Successful Plants: Northern California.

Comments

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J. Piekar

I grew up with my mothers garden heavily laden with Cineraria's in multiple colors, nestled around the Rhody's Azaleas Camellias, Hydrangeas and ferns on the shadier and cooler sides of the yards. Many a Sunday morning people would stop by to complement her on such a bountiful and colorful yard. Taller Cineraria would lean forward and drop seeds closer to the grass edges, and she would thwart this exodus by pulling off the fluff of seeds and throwing them to the back of the garden. I took many a handfuls of different colors when I moved to Berkeley, and started my own traffic stopper Garden displays. When my mothers house sold, the new owners realized to maintain a garden it took some work they emptied out the flower beds in favor of shrubs and bark. When I moved to Castro Valley I took seeds from Berkeley but found reseeding lesser and lesser over the years. A heavier clay soil killed the last of my seedlings, and I've often thought of midnight raids to gardens which still had some to harvest seeds. This year since I have changed the soil structure in many of the garden beds I want to once again enjoy the beauty of this wonderful and carefree flower. Does anyone know of outlets that sell the seeds? I may try purchasing some of the Florist plants in multiple colors and harvest seeds if I don't hear of an outlet to purchase seeds.

BonBon

for the last 30+ years I had been propagating cineraria stellata from decedents of plants that grew in my great grandmother's garden in San Francisco - a few years back, they suddenly all died :(
I spent years hunting for plants, and- ummm... "harvesting" seeds from other people's yards... happy to say that you can now buy them again at SLOAT, or directly from Annie's Annuals:
http://www.anniesannuals.com/plt_lst/lists/general/lst.gen.asp?prodid=1265

Ulf M. Jorgensen

I'm just reading an old book of John Steinbeck "The Long Vally" 16 stories, and in "The White Quail" he is more or less pricing the Cineraias. So I had to look this plant up, as I did not reconise it. Thank you for the information.
Ulf M. Jorgensen, Denmark

Pam Peirce

Hi Lee,

I don't think these flowers are edible. The plants are hybrids of several species from the Canary Islands, and one of those species, Pericallis cruentus, is on the FDA list of toxic plants for its content of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. (Look them up--they are definitely poison.)If one of the ancestor species contain these toxic compounds, there is a good chance the others in the same genus will also.

Pam P.

LEE BURT

HI
WONDERING IS THE CINERARIA FLOWERS EDIBLE.

Judith Jones

At our house in Pacifica we have had sinerarias blooming for many years, but fewer now as the climate gets drier. We live in what will be a tear-down when we move away or die, and of course a McMansion will be built on top of all the soil. So if you would like some free cinerarias please email me at aquarijude@yahoo.com, because I want these beauties to survive!

Pamela Kamatani

Thank you, Pam, for your kind and informative reply!

Pamela

Pam Peirce

Hi Pamela,

That's why this is such a special flower--it is best adapted to central coastal California, with nearly frost-free winters and rather cool summers. It has to grow during winter and early spring to bloom about now--in April. Frost does damage the leaves, but if it is only one time, it recovers well.
It is rated as hardy to 9b, which, as far as I can tell, is the USDA hardiness Zone of part of Santa Rosa(all but 95402, at least part of which is probably 10A). Zone 9b has an average low in winter of 25-30, while 10a has an average low of 30-35. The USDA map says nothing about how many times the frost occurs, or during which months, but my info is that Santa Rosa could have up to 30 days (or nights) of frost, often as late as in April, and this plant probably wouldn't survive that.
You can still buy the shorter plants sold in the spring in 6" pots in nurseries and at florists and grow them as annuals. I see them in many shades of pink, purple, lavender, two-tone with white, etc. but haven't seen the lovely blue-violet that is so common in taller, naturalized plants. Good luck.

Pamela Kamatani

What beautiful flowers. Will it do okay in Santa Rosa? We do get freezing temperatures in the winter, and does get as high as the 90s in the summer.

Thanks!

Pam Peirce

Hi Karen,

See the message I posted in January (scroll down through these comments.) You can either buy florist's cinerarias at a florist, plant them and let them go to seed, or you can find some cinerarias growing somewhere and gather seed from them. They often grow in public parks, for example, where a few seeds wouldn't be missed. (Choose colors you like, though they will have crossed so won't all bloom that color.) Remember that once you have them, they will seed themselves in your garden, so you will have to thin the seedlings a bit. I always remember that if these weren't coming up, I'd just be pulling some weed instead, and when they are small, they come out easily. Good luck getting some started. I wrote much more about this plant and many other easy, wonderful flowers in my book Wildly Successful Plants--see cover at right.

Karen Johnson

I'm looking to purchase these beautiful flowers as I live near the coast and have a shady area. No nursery around my are are not able to get them this year.

Anita Harrison

I was looking for the name of this plant. I find Bing more useful and typed in purple and white flowers. I guess living on teh east coast is why I have never heard of this plant. One of my neighbors gave a pot of this flower to a neighbor who was sick. I kept the plant watered and pulled the seeds. They may be tricky to grow from seeds since we are on the east coast in DC but I'm going to try anyway. I love plants of all kinds but especially flowers.

Pam Peirce

Hi Lynne,
My cinerarias are still reseeding just as well as ever. I haven't heard of any disease or insect that is wiping out this plant.
If the stellatas aren't in the nursery, it is more likely because they aren't everyone's favorite flower. Many gardeners want to be able to put a plant in its place and have it stay there, but I like the way some plants settle in an reproduce themselves where they want to be.
If they are truly missing from your garden, and you want them started there again, you can always by the florist's cineraria plants--the cultivars with the dense, flat masses of flowers on short plants. They are often sold in full bloom in the spring as potted plants. These will generally cross-fertilize and their seed will generate the taller, rangier types we call Cineraria stellata, but which are, more correctly, Pericallis x hybrida.

Lynne Crowell

Hello,

In the past I have found Cineraria Stellata at my local nurseries (in San Jose, CA). They were sold in 6" pots and reseeded each year under the tall pine tree in my front yard. It's January and by now I have always seen seedlings pop up from last year's plants. So far, not a single plant. I inquired at the nursery and was told they may not be able to provide these plants this year. The woman I spoke with was vague regarding the reasons, but she said Cineraria Stellata have stopped reseeding too. I got the impression this was due to disease or pests. Do you know anything about this? Hopefully, I misunderstood and will see nursery plants soon.

Lynne

Christine

I am glad I read this I usually disguard the spent blooms but now I will just cut them down to the ground .Thanks

Daphne

I have always disregarded cineraria, but your post makes me want to try a mass of them. Knowing that we have a uniquely well-suited environment for them makes them seem a bit more special.

Vue Jardin

I like the mixed of different purples, very beautiful, wish I have it in my garden.

Graham Charles

Oh, heck, I just read to the end. Well done, and forgive the first comment.

Graham Charles

Great info! I think they've been reclassified as Pericallis ssp. though.

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