Family: Asteraceae/Compositae (Daisy family)
Master Gardeners, we often play “Name That Plant.” We’re
asked by the public how to grow and care for that “tall
tree with the pink blossoms” or the “bushy shrub
that comes up to my knees and has lots of pretty purple thingies” or
those “short plants that grow in the shade and have teensy
white flowers.” We’re always ready to say, “Please
bring in a sample, sealed in a plastic bag,” because
we learn in our training that identifying a plant properly,
according to its botanical name, is key to its care and to
effective and sensible pest management.
We’re asked often about “little yellow daisies.” This
isn’t really surprising, because the Asteraceae family
(often called Compositae) is the largest in the plant kingdom.
There are more than 1,100 genera and 21,000 species and they’re
found all over the world. Just about everyone knows what a
daisy looks like and uses that name to describe different plants.
On a stroll through any of our neighborhoods, without batting
an eye, we could probably spot fifteen or so genera, as many
species, and even more varieties.
likely to see blooming in summer is Anthemis
tinctoria. We might know it by its common name, golden
Marguerite. A. tinctoria is an herbaceous perennial
tagged by Linnaeus so its botanical name has been with us
for quite a long time. The species is native to the Mediterranean
region and like most plants originating there, it’s
tough. Golden Marguerite tolerates poor soil and drought—in
fact it prefers very dry summers—and isn’t bothered
by many pests or diseases. It’s hardy in our climate,
so if it dies in the winter it’s most likely due to
poor drainage rather than low temperatures. No Anthemis will
tolerate wet feet.
The look of the A. tinctoria species
is thought by some to be coarse and untamed. They consider
the yellow to
be a tad on the garish side, although few quibble with the
foliage. It’s tidy and a pretty gray-green with slightly
fuzzy, white undersides. The leaves are finely cut and feathery,
with those “little yellow daisies” rising 12 to
18 inches on single stems that have a tendency to flop over
in a very casual way. If your garden is formal, this may not
be the plant for you. One tip, if you do choose the species:
being too generous with water and fertilizer actually encourages
the flopping. The plant simply outgrows its ability to support
itself. Hold off on all that care, give yourself the gift of
time, and leave it to your golden Marguerite to keep itself
neat. Help it along by cutting it back severely in mid-summer
and late fall, and dividing it every three years or so when
its center dies out.
That “garish” yellow
flower color found in the species has been used for centuries
as a dye. Other than that, A.
tinctoria doesn’t have many culinary uses or medicinal
attributes, even though another of its common names is golden
chamomile. Because it is so tough, however, and its flowers
so perky, the plant breeders have done wonders with it. They’ve
developed cultivars, named varieties of A. tinctoria that
suit home gardeners in our area who are looking for attractive,
drought-tolerant plants that will thrive through hot summers
and flower almost continuously. Generally, the varieties are
more compact (though sometimes taller than the species) and
the flower color is toned down considerably. Take a look at A.
tinctoria ‘E.C. Buxton’, ‘Susanna Mitchell’,
or ‘Sauce Hollandaise’ and you’ll see what
Anthemis tinctoria tolerates
soil that tends to the alkaline, so it’s a perfect choice for parking strips
or other hard-to-water places in full sun that we all tend
to neglect but want to keep good-looking without too much effort.
Close up or from a distance, chances are good that a named
variety of these “little yellow daisies” will brighten
your garden for most of the summer and well into fall.