949 Scabiosa columbariaCommon Names: Butterfly Blue, small scabious Family: Dipsacaceae (teasel Family)
The small scabious is a short lived perennial that grows in a clump to 2 ft (0.6 m) tall and 3 ft (0.9 m) wide. It is much branched and has gray-green, rather hairy leaves. The basal leaves are lance shaped, 2-6 in (5.1-15.2 cm) long, and the stem leaves are dissected or twice dissected (the uppermost finely divided). Numerous lavender-blue flowerheads 1.5 in (3.8 cm) across are borne over an extended flowering period from summer until the first frost. These "heads" are actually composed of numerous tiny flowers. The cultivar 'Butterfly Blue' (which may in fact be a hybrid) is the most commonly encountered form of the plant. It is smaller, to 18 in (45.7 cm) high and across. 'Pink Mist' (a.k.a. 'Butterfly Pink') has pinkish blue flowers.
The species, Scabiosa columbaria, hails from the Mediterranean region of Europe, North Africa and western Asia where it grows in dry, sunny grasslands, rocky hillsides and open woods.
CultureThe scabiouses like neutral to slightly alkaline conditions, so they will benefit from the addition of lime to the soil. Deadhead to prolong flowering. Divide the clumps every few years to stimulate growth. Light: Full sun. Moisture: Scabious can take pretty dry conditions and requires a well drained soil. It is especially important to withhold water in winter. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 10. Mulch for winter protection. If deadheaded conscientiously, 'Butterfly Blue' will flower almost continuously in frost-free areas except during the hotest mid-summer weather. Propagation: Seed should be sown in fall as soon as it ripens, and left out over winter. Mature plants may be divided in spring or early summer. Cuttings taken in summer can be rooted.
'Butterfly Blue' is an ideal plant for a wild or butterfly garden or for the rock garden. Use scabious in a sunny border or in front of beds of taller perennials. The sweet smelling flowers attract bees and butterflies and last well as cut flowers. The dried seedheads are attractive in arrangements.
Pincushion flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea), and common scabious (S. caucasica) are popular relatives. In fact, there are dozens of cultivars of the latter, some of which have been in cultivation for more than a century. These plants were once believed to cure scabies, hence the name. There are some 80 species, but only a few are used as garden plants.
Steve Christman 2/9/01; updated 10/24/03, 3/15/04, 6/13/11