Monday, February 1, 2010

Spring Blue-Eyed Mary, Collinsia verna

If any one plant got me interested in native annuals, Spring Blue-Eyed Mary, Collinsia verna, was it. I saw photographs on the internet of this plant blanketing the understory of a woodland scene in spring and it made me think of siberian squill.  But this plant was native to the US!!!  Its native range is in the north-central US (New York to Virginia and west to Kansas).

This plant has an unusual life cycle that can make it a little tricky to grow in a residential landscape.  It is a winter annual, meaning that the seeds germinate in the fall and that blooming occurs in the winter or early spring.  The seeds need to go through a period of warm stratification for a couple of months and then they germinate as the temperature begins to drop.  The seedlings sprout as the leaves are falling, between September and October, taking advantage of the sunlight that is now available. It forms a small, few-leaved rosette that overwinters. In the spring, the seedlings begin to grow before the trees leaf out, much like woodland spring ephemerals, reaching a height of 8-12 inches. Bloom time is from early April through May. The widely flaring bell shaped flowers have 2 white petals at the top and two bright blue at the bottom. The ½-inch wide flowers are borne in whorls of 4-6. The seed ripens and is released in June and remains dormant in the soil until the fall. Collinsia verna is found growing in rich moist woods and alluvial soil from southern Ontario to Tennessee and west to Kansas. Populations are declining and it becoming rare at the edges of it range.
What makes this plant tricky to grow is that it is coming up when gardeners are busy raking leaves and ripping out spent annuals and perennial stems.  One must be careful not to trample or weed out these new seedlings.  Also these plants prefer a shaded, moist site.  I had some in full sun and they were cooked after a couple of days of warm spring weather. 

Seed for C. verna is of limited availability. I was fortunate to get some in 2008, but it has since been discontinued by that supplier. Seed is best sown fresh in place in early summer.  I planted seeds in a variety of places and saw germination in October only under a Crabapple tree in an area that had fairly consistent moisture and abundant sun during the growth period in the fall. I have also found some plants coming up and maturing in the spring after spending the winter in the ground. Fortunately C. verna is known to self pollinate, so that even if only a few plants are successful, I may get viable seed for the next season.  If anyone knows of a supplier of these seeds, I would love to get a hold of some more.

Other species of US native annual Collinsia, hailing from the western states, are C. grandiflora (Blue Lips) and C. heterophylla (Chinese Houses).  Seeds for these plants are more easily obtained.


Gail said...

My seed source dried up, too! I can't that there's no place to find them! I love this beauty and hope it returns...A gardening friend has quite a lot so she may share. gail

Curtis said...

My understanding is that the seed is best sown fresh after it ripens in June. For my plants, the ripe seed would fall out of the recepticle with just a little tap. I am hopeful that I have a second generation going, but I lost track of them in December after our first big snow.


Anne said...

I too am looking for seeds of "Blue-Eyed Mary". I will beg, grovel, or even PAY for them!! I'm here in Kentucky. Pleeeeease, purty please!

Anne said...

I'm not sure my last post went through. I humbly come begging for "Blue Eyed Mary" seeds. Will pay or beg or whatever. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I realize these posts were dated from last year ... however, I just purchased some at Reflective Riding during their Plant and Flower sale. They host this sale twice a year to raise funds for support and educational programs, etc.

Reflective Riding is a 300-acre arboretum, botanical garden, and historic site dedicated to the study and conservation of native plant life. It is located at the base of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, TN. Phone number is (423) 821-9582.

Curtis said...

Thank you for the comment about a source for this Collinsia. Every part of the country has its own beautiful flowers, this is one that I wish were more available in the Northeast.

Anonymous said...

I have mountain sides full of them and I live in eastern KY.