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Stokesia Cyanea - Hardy Perennial

Author: John Wood

Stokesia Cyanea - Hardy Perennials and Old Fashioned Flowers

Stokesia Cyanea Described.

Stokesia Cyanea - Jasper-blue Stokesia, or Stokes' Aster; Nat. Ord. Compositæ.

This handsome, hardy, herbaceous perennial was brought from Carolina in the year 1766. It is the only species known of the genus, and was named after Jonathan Stokes, M.D., who assisted Withering, the botanist, in his arrangement of British plants. The order which includes it is a very extensive one, and it may be useful to add that it belongs to the sub-order Carduaceæ, or the Thistle family. The mention of this relationship may not help our subject much in the estimation of the reader, but it must be borne in mind that in plant families as well as others, there are individual members that often contrast rather than compare with their relatives, and so it is in the Thistle family, for it embraces the gay Doronicums, silky Gnaphaliums, shining Arnica, and noble Stobæa and Echinops. But the relationship will, perhaps, be better understood when it is stated that as a sub-order the Carduaceæ stand side by side with that of the Asteraceæ, which includes so many well-known and favourite flowers. Let me now ask the reader to glance at the illustration, and he will, I think, see marks of affinity with both the thistle and the aster; the few thorny teeth at the base of the larger leaves, and the spines on the smaller divisions of the imbricate calyx, are clearly features of the former, whilst the general form of the plant and flowers are not unlike the aster.

Of all herbaceous plants, this is one of the latest to bloom; in favourable situations it will begin in October, but often not until November and December in northern parts of the country; and, I hardly need add, unless severe frosts hold off, it will be cut down before its buds expand. There is much uncertainty about its flowering, when planted in the ordinary way, so that, fine as its flowers are, the plant would scarcely be worth a place in our gardens, if there were no means by which such uncertainty could be at least minimised; and were it not a fact that this plant may be bloomed by a little special treatment, which it justly merits, it would not have been introduced in this book, much less illustrated. The plant itself is very hardy, enduring keen frosts without apparent damage, and the bloom is also durable, either cut or on the plant.

I scarcely need further describe the flowers, as the form is a very common one. It has, however, a very ample bract, which supports a large imbricate calyx, the members of which have stiff bristle-like hairs. Each flower will be 2in. to 3in. across, and of a fine blue colour. The leaves are arranged on stout round stems, 18in. high, being from 2in. to 6in. long, somewhat lobed and toothed at the base, the teeth rather spiny; their shape varies very much, but generally they are lance-shaped, concave, often waved at the edges, and otherwise contorted. The foliage is more thickly furnished at the upper part of the plant, it has a glaucous hue, is of good substance, smooth and shining, like many of the gentians. It will, therefore, be seen that this is far from a weedy-looking subject, and throughout the season has a tidy and shrub-like appearance, but it grows top-heavy, and, unless supported, is liable to be snapped off at the ground line by high winds.

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Stokesia Cyanea

In order to get it to bloom before the frosts cut it, the soil and situation should be carefully selected; the former cannot be too sandy if enriched with manure, whilst cold, stiff soil is quite unsuited to it. The position should not only have the sunniest possible aspect, but be at the base of a wall that will ward off the more cutting winds. In such snug quarters many things may be had in bloom earlier, and others kept in flower through the winter, as violets; whilst fuchsias, crinums, African and Belladonna lilies, and similar roots, that would perish in more exposed parts, will live from year to year in such situations. Unless the subject now under consideration can have these conditions, it is useless to plant it—not that its hardiness is doubtful, but because its blooming period should be hastened. Its propagation may be by division of the roots after it has flowered, or in spring.

Flowering period, October to December.

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