I’ve been on a Boltonia kick of late.
It started because of how well Boltonia asteroides has grown for me this year. I’ve wanted to try this species for a while because BONAP showed its range extending down into Louisiana, and I thought it might do well in east Texas. On a trip to North Carolina several months ago, I picked up a plant labeled Boltonia asteroides ‘Snowbank’. It was just scrawny leaves in a 4 inch pot when I bought it. I stuck it in a trial bed that received very little moisture over the summer and didn’t expect much from it.
But, the doll’s daisy kept growing and growing and growing. Till it was over my head. That was even after the top was nipped out by deer. Althought it was labeled as ‘Snowbank’, I actually think that I got the straight species instead. ‘Snowbank’ tends to be shorter. The height isn’t a bad thing and allows me to look up into a cosmos of thousands of flowers, each swirled with white rays and a glowing yellow disk at the center.
On mornings following a rain, the thin stems are bejeweled in droplets of water that shimmer in the rising sunlight. The foliage is a glaucous color, and this dusting of blue-gray provides the slightest color echo for the white ray florets. And, if you pull on the margins of the leaves, you’ll notice a sharp edge from the little cilia. So much character from a native.
Armitage’s tome says that "most species are too large and lanky to be considered for anything but the wildflower garden." Bah. I think there’s an elegance to the plant, and I agree with Allan Lacy’s account in The Garden in Autumn where he admires the “delicacy and substantial presence” of Boltonia. And, let’s be honest. The wildflower look is quite what I’m after. Maybe it’s not as lanky because we are so dry here in east Texas? Time will tell. My only concern growing it is I’ve read if it’s happy it can spread via rhizomes underground. So, I’m going to find somewhere it can grow where that won’t be a problem. I’m already eyeing our fencerow.
Around this same time that I was being enchanted by my Boltonia blooming, my friend Patrick Cullina posted a picture of Boltonia diffusa at the Atlanta Botanic Garden on Instagram. Same effect, but only a third of the height! Wowzers. I went back to BONAP and was delighted to discover it’s native to our area! My mind started drifting back to last fall when in the post-house buying haze and rush I wondered if I had caught a glimpse of this species in our area, perhaps even on our road. I reached out to a few local colleagues who said they had seen it scattered on county roadsides and ditches.
A day or two later, a flurry of white flowers caught my eye on the side of the road, and one evening when I had some time I stopped to investigate, I found smallhead doll’s daisy. The flowers and foliage were just like Boltonia asteroides, only smaller. It had been nipped a while back, and inflorescences arose from around the pruned point. The cut was probably from the mowers when they came through in August.
A second patch I found was much larger. It seems these two were early to come into bloom. With a mental image of this dwarf doll’s daisy, it seems every quarter mile driving into town I’ve started seeing little clumps of the blue-green foliage waiting to be adorned with autumnal flowers.
I collected pieces of the two clumps I found and planted them back at our house to start bulking up for our prairie here. I don’t think it will be hard to propagate. The rhizomatous nature was evident from the off-white shoots I found underground.
Whether these doll’s daisies are tall or short, I’m happy to have them in our garden. I’ve still got ‘Snowbank’ on my wish list, and diving into Lacy’s book on autumn alerted me to ‘Pink Beauty’, a pink-flowering form from Montrose Nursery. Looks like I’m not done growing this genus.