Butterfly Blue

The Perennial Plant Association has awarded the title Perennial Plant of the Year 2000 to Scabiosa columbaria `Butterfly Blue’. A member of the Dipsacaceae family, the nearly flat gray-green basal foliage of the pincushion flower hugs the ground. Lacy lavender-blue, twoinch flowers bloom on slender 12- to 15-inch stems from late spring through early fall. Flowering begins in mid-spring with repeated flowering throughout the growing season when consistently deadheaded. In some climates `Butterfly Blue’ flowers until late December. Pincushion flower derives its common name from the stamens which stand above the petals resembling pins stuck in a pincushion. The leaves are hairy, ovate to lance-shaped, with the upper foliage smaller and finely divided creating a mounded rosette six to eight inches high and 12 to 15 inches wide.

Forty years ago Farplants grower, David Tristram, admired this exceptional plant in a garden in Ireland. Mr. Tristram obtained cuttings and grew the unique Scabiosa in his Irish garden for 15 years before moving to England where he grew the beloved plant in his Sussex garden until the early 1980s. Marketing cooperatively, Farplants and the English nursery, Blakedown, selected Scabiosa columbaria `Butterfly Blue’ for their first venture in promoting plants. Indeed, `Butterfly Blue’ has become an international winner.

Propagation Scabiosa columbaria `Butterfly Blue’ can be propagated by stem cuttings. Two-node tip cuttings of soft vegetative growth should be taken before flowering. Cuttings are placed under mist for approximately two weeks with 68°F bottom heat. Roots will form in about eight weeks at which time the cuttings can be transplanted to quarts or gallons. After transplanting, quarts should be ready for sale in four to six weeks, and gallons in six to eight weeks. Cuttings taken during the winter should receive a one-percent IBA or KIBA drench to enhance rooting. Botrytis may occur on stem cuttings during cloudy weather.

An excellent cultivar of an oldfashioned favorite, this long-blooming perennial for full sun to light shade grows best in well-drained soil amended with organic matter and a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. `Butterfly Blue’ pincushion flower requires moist soil during the growing season. Very well-drained soil is a requirement for winter survival. This lovely perennial does not appear to be fazed by summer heat and will bloom throughout the growing season when regularly deadheaded. No insect or disease problems have been reported on wellgrown, healthy plants. Bare-root plants or divisions should be planted so the emerging buds are just below the soil surface. Container-grown plants can be planted anytime during the growing season 12 to 18 inches apart. The crown of `Butterfly Blue’ should be planted at the depth it was growing in the container to prevent crown rot. It is recommended that the basal foliage not be cut back in the fall. Winter-damaged foliage should be removed in the spring.

Landscape Uses Scabiosa columbaria `Butterfly Blue’ is an excellent front-of-the-border plant to use in combination with annuals, bulbs, and perennials. The foliage remains clean and unblemished throughout the season. The delicate blue flowers add softness to the garden when massed with boldercolored plants of yellow, bright pink, or red. They also work well with cooler tones of white, silver, and blue. Despite its delicate appearance, `Butterfly Blue’ is a sturdy plant. The plants do not require staking. During the summer butterflies find the nectar-rich flowers. `Butterfly Blue’ may be combined with Coreopsis verticillata `Moonbeam’, Dianthus `Bath’s Pink’, and Pennisetum alopecuroides for a three-season, carefree garden. The cool lavenderblue flowers of `Butterfly Blue’ shine against the warm, burnished tones of fall as one of the last blue-flowering perennials. With its long-lasting blossoms, `Butterfly Blue’ is an excellent choice for smaller flower arrangements either as cut flowers or grown in decorative containers. The outstanding attributes of Scabiosa columbaria `Butterfly Blue’ are sure to place this underused perennial in the top group of favorite longblooming perennials.

Provided by the Perennial Plant Association.

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