Plant Review: Linaria purpurea

by Andrew Keys on July 2, 2010

I was GOING to write a scathing entry about my annoyance with Linaria purpurea, but, as they so often do in the garden, things seem to have changed.

L. purpurea comes with the Harry Potteresque common name purple toadflax. (That I’ve always liked.) Its nursery tag described its foliage as steely blue, its flowers little spires of pinkish purple like tiny foxglove, and said it was drought tolerant. I questioned the drought tolerant part of that description last year when, after they bloomed, my Linaria dried into the crispiest critters you ever did see. What I didn’t realize then is that they weren’t dormant, they were dead. Oops.

In 2008, when I planted it, Linaria would seem to establish, but then I’d find it gasping again because the sun had come out and I’d let it go dry. BUT no plant is really drought tolerant to begin with, and we had a dry spring. That said, in 2009, during our 100-year rainy spring of constant deluges, no one, and I mean no one, was happier than Mr. Linaria purpurea.

Of course, after the rainy spring, when Linaria finished blooming midsummer and turned a crispy brown, I didn’t realize it was dead until my original clumps didn’t return this year. The good news? The plants seed around. A lot. I’d read they’re short-lived, and clearly they are, so the moral of this story is if you want to keep Linaria purpurea, you should let it seed around. I had my angry review all ready until I realized I do have lots of seedlings, they are such a nice steely blue, and these guys seem more content in the droughty sun, having grown up in it. So I guess Linaria and I are friends again. For now.

Lowdown:

  • COLOR, COLOR, COLOR: Fine blue foliage coupled with jewel tone purple flowers. It’s nice.
  • LIGHT AND WATER: OK, so I’d say it’s *fairly* drought tolerant, but it’s probably going to look sad in the heat of the day. Perhaps with a bit of afternoon shade it’d be happier.
  • NOT LOW MAINTENANCE: Let’s be honest — most people aren’t going to see Linaria purpurea as a low-maintenance plant, though it could be depending on your taste. Is it okay for it to seed around, or will pulling babies or transplanting them back to where you want them get you all up in arms? Are you okay with a little crispiness after it blooms, or will you need to cut it all back immediately? I don’t mind, but the decision is yours.
  • FAMILY TREE: Linaria is in the I-swallowed-the-wrong-way-sounding family Scrophulariaceae, the same family as Buddleia. Probably their best known relatives are mullein (Verbascum species). See the resemblance?

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