Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Billy Buttons

 Craspedia species "Billy Buttons'
 Helenium puberulum

The native 'Billy Buttons' (Craspedia species) is one of those really tricky plants to grow in a garden situation. In its Alpine habitat it has a trickle of melted snow underneath its roots while it is making its spring growth. It is grown commercially as a cut flower but perhaps is treated as an annual in that case. By the time it makes it to a florist it has often been dyed a range of lurid colours, though I am never sure what the appeal is in doing so. The technical description for flowers of this type in the daisy family is that each head appears as mainly a 'spherical bunch of disk florets'. The petals or 'ray florets' are tiny or absent.
I have doing some trials of the Californian native Helenium puberulum which has this flower structure and it is certainly much easier to grow. It hails from the Baja region of Southern California (think surfing and dramatic scenery) where it is given the Mexican name of 'Rosilla'. An English seed company has called it by the dreadful name of 'Autumn Lollipops' which is a slightly kitsch sounding name. I will stick to Billy Buttons I think. In Australia many Northern hemisphere perennials will flower in spring and then again in autumn following a cut back of the main flower stems. This Helenium makes growth as a single multi-branched stem of flowers with few leaves. The leaves have been modified to form a flange or flap clasping the stem. This economy of appearance, no leaves nor petals, is perhaps an adaptation to a harsh climate where all the plant's energy is put into producing a big ball of pollen which is large enough to use by any passing insect as a landing strip. The other possibility is that because it grows mainly along streams it is able to adapt to any rising water levels with its overall rhythmic shape. I have yet to try picking a bunch of the flowers so I will be interested to know what their vase life is and whether they dry well. Further details to follow.

1 comment:

  1. They're very beautiful. Interested to here how they keep and how they dry.