Dwarf Silverleaf Marguerite Daisy

Family: Compositae (Daisy family)
Genus: Anthemis
Species: biebersteiniana

The New Year may have dawned, but during January here in the Pacific Northwest, the sun seems to have trouble doing the same. Some days it’s hard to tell whether it’s even bothered to show up. Maybe, we conjecture, it just decided to stay in Hawaii for the next few weeks. So if you find yourself craving sunlight, and you aren’t planning a trip to Honolulu any time soon, perhaps a bit of dreaming about the sun shining in your garden this coming summer will do the trick.

Think yellow.

That’s the color of the cheery flowers brought to you by Anthemis biebersteiniana, this month’s featured plant. It was named for Baron Friedrich August Marschall von Bieberstein, which may explain why it’s sometimes known as Anthemis marschalliana. Name confusion reigns all the way up through the family to which this plant belongs: Compositae, also known as Asteraceae, commonly known as the Daisy family but sometimes called the Sunflower family. Our plant is sometimes referred to as the dwarf silverleaf marguerite daisy, other times as marshall chamomile, or even Marschall camomile. Don’t confuse it with true chamomile, however, which used to be named Anthemis nobilis but is now properly called Chamaemelum nobile. In some quarters, A. biebersteiniana is even called dog fennel, which is a true misnomer, since that’s the common name of the noxious weed, Anthemis cotula.

Presumably the Baron remained oblivious to all the modern difficulties with plant nomenclature. He was born in Germany in 1768 but when he was a young man, he left his native land to seek adventure in more exotic climes. In 1792, he entered military service in Russia and spent a great deal of time in the Crimea and the Caucasus. It was while exploring this uncharted territory—taking a few trips to Siberia along the way—that he indulged his interest in botany by gathering more than 8,000 previously uncategorized plants. One of them is the low-growing, mounding perennial that bears his name.

Anthemis biebersteiniana—and that’s the name we’ll use from this point forward—is a scrappy little plant with a sweet appearance that belies its hardy nature. Remember that A. biebersteiniana harkens from a mountainous region with harsh winters and long, dry summers. It adapts well to our Pacific Northwest climate. In Colorado, it is applauded as a xeric specimen, one that puts on a show without requiring supplemental water once established. This bit of information is worth remembering as we face the possibility of another dry summer in Washington State. Even if our rainfall and snow pack return to their normally high levels, we’re all learning to respect water as a dwindling resource, one not to be used unthinkingly.

The Baron’s little plant grows perhaps a foot tall and spreads a little wider. The foliage is feathery but not fragile, with a pleasant aroma. You’re likely to catch a hint of it when you brush against the leaves. Silvery green and slightly fuzzy, they’re a wonderful foil for the clear yellow, daisy-like flowers that appear in late spring and linger into summer. They rise on sturdy stems that make them fine specimens for cutting.

Anthemis biebersteiniana looks best when massed at the front of the border or used as a ground cover. No pests bother it and it doesn’t seem to be prone to diseases. It thrives in full sun and poor soil, but it cannot tolerate a site with poor drainage. Another word of caution: A. biebersteiniana should be cut off at ground level after flowering. It’s bound to leave holes for a time, right where they’re most visible, until the new foliage emerges. Anthemis biebersteiniana tends to be short-lived, too, so if it proves to be to your liking, prepare to divide it often. That’s the only way to propagate it successfully.

The rest of the huge Compositae (or Asteraceae, as you prefer) family will have to wait for other articles. There are enough genera and species to fill many pages. The Anthemis genus alone is fascinatingly varied. A. tinctoria—the marguerites—offer an assortment of attractive white-to-yellow flowers, many of which blend with everything you could possibly have in your garden. This spring, be on the lookout for Anthemis ‘Sauce Hollandaise,’ with its fabulous blooms reminiscent of softly poached eggs. They’re a feast for the eyes.