Wishlist: Leuzea carthamoides

by Andrew Keys on May 18, 2010

I have a thing for weird herbs (har har), and in 2008 I discovered Horizon Herbs. They sell mostly seeds, and while I still haven’t had much success with seeds, some of what they sell is so enticing I had to try a few. Enter Leuzea carthamoides, whose common (uncommon?) name is maral root, but I have decided it shall heretofore be referred to as alien eyeball.

It’s a non-prickly-but-thistly thing with a pink pompon flower, native to Siberia. I’m a sucker for thistle-like plants from exotic locales, and apparently it’s yet another plant whose extract helps athletes perform better. (Snooze.) I ordered seed, direct sowed, and whaddya know? They grew! Of course only something so obscure would earn the distinction of being one of the first plants I’d have any success with from seed.

That was late in the 2007 season. In 2008, Leuzea returned dramatically, but then didn’t bloom. I consulted the internet and corresponded with an herb farmer in the Hudson Valley who said her Leuzea didn’t bloom until its second year. Okay. It mildewed a bit in the fall of wet 2009, but I’m realizing this year I should’ve thinned my seedlings — they’re packed pretty tightly. I think this year I’m going to move a few to make space.

But! More importantly, it’s blooming! Flowerheads peaked out at me from deep within the rosettes in spring, looking ever so extraterrestrial, and grew sloooooowly but surely into three-foot drumsticks. I was away for the weekend, and my return was heralded by pink alien eyeballs in full bloom. What could possibly be more welcoming?

Being from Siberia, Leuzea seems to like it cold. The leaves are some of the first up in earliest spring, and the flower stalks wilt dramatically during hot spells, only to pop back up again in the cool of evening. Foliage — which I love as much as the flower — gets a bit ragged and coarse during summer, so my next experiment is going to see whether I can get a second flush of it if I prune after flowering. Also curious as to how much the plant will seed around without deadheading.

Leuzea is a member of the ever popular Asteraceae clan. It’s reportedly hardy to Zone 2, though I imagine it wouldn’t fare well much further south of here.

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