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Wishlist: Cephalaria gigantea

by Andrew Keys on August 18, 2010

I met up with friends at Smith College Botanic Garden last summer, and what a lovely little garden it is. Several plants caught our attention, but one in particular landed itself on the wishlist. Its unwieldy name, which I believe comes from the language of Chewbacca, was Cephalaria tchihatchewii. Like Chewbacca, it was really tall — creamy yellow flowers dancing in the breeze, abuzz with insect life. Unlike Chewbacca, it was very pretty. (Sorry, Chewbacca fans.)

I returned home, made for my PC, and determined quickly that tchihatchewii was not an easy plant to come by, anywhere, ever. There was, however, another nearly identical species, Cephalaria gigantea, and it was available from Annie’s Annuals. I added it to the list.

A week later, I got word I’d won free plants from Annie’s in a contest. It was plant kismet! Six Cephalaria arrived a week after that, and one year later, I have those same buttery yellow buttons in my garden, even in the heat and drought. In fact, Cephalaria seems pretty nonchalant about hot and cold. Their rosettes are near evergreen. Dry weather this summer meant they topped out around four feet, but that was tall enough for me.

Cephalaria is a member of family Dipsacaceae, whose letters make me go a bit walleyed. You’ll probably recognize it as a cousin of more common Scabiosa and Knautia, BUT did you know all three are related to the weed teasel (Dipsacus spp.), and indeed, Dipsacaceae is referred to as the teasel family? I always loved teasel; could my subconscious have connected them on some more visceral level?

Okay… Probably not MY subconscious… But still…

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