Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gaillardia


Gaillardia, originally uploaded by Elizabeth Smith.

I love to see our native wildflowers used in landscaping.  While driving past this medical center the other day, I spotted bright yellow and red gaillardias in the late afternoon sun and stopped to take a photo to sketch later.  It was one of those afternoons when the air is clear, and the golden light makes colors glow. How could I not stop?

One of the many aster family members, the gaillardia’s bloom is the typical “daisy” design, with bright yellow and red rays around a red/yellow/purple center.  The common name of blanket flower refers to its similarity to the bright striped blankets woven by Native Americans in the West.  There are several species of blanket flower found throughout North America, in different variations of red and yellow.

Our blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella), also known as firewheel, is found throughout Florida and ranges north into Virginia, and west to Colorado and New Mexico.  It’s a plant that tolerates neglect, doesn’t mind salt or drought, and will grow in most any well-drained soil. It grows 12 to 18 inches tall in a spreading habit, with hairy stems and alternate, mostly basal leaves with smooth to toothed or lobed margins.

The flowers attract pollinators such as butterflies, bees and wasps, and bloom throughout the year in Southwest Florida, but elsewhere in the summer and early fall.  The genus name Gaillardia refers to M. Gaillard de Charentonneau, who was an 18th-century French magistrate and botany patron.  The species name pulchella is from the Latin base pulcher, meaning beautiful.

I think it’s interesting that the French word gaillard means strong, sprightly, or lively – since these sturdy little plants are tough but full of life and color!  In my research, I read that gaillardias have importance in Native American culture; the Kiowa peoples thought the flower brought good luck and used it for decoration.  One legend tells the story about a gift given to a blanket maker from the spirits – a blanket of ever-blooming flowers upon their grave.

You can read more about this beautiful wildflower here, at the website of the Florida Native Plant Society.

You can click on the image above to see it on my Flickr photostream, which gives details on the paper and media used.