Plant of the Week
Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata)
By Wayne Owen
Blanketflower is a cool season, slender, short-lived perennial, with fuzzy light green leaves. Its flowers are typically bright red with yellow tips. Blanketflower is native to most of the western states, the upper Great Plains, around the Great Lakes, and in portions of New England.
Blanketflower seeds should be sewn shallowly (or under a light covering of mulch) as the seeds need a little light to germinate. Sew in early spring or fall. It prefers a well-drained soil, but tolerates a wide range of conditions. The plants will not flower well unless they have plenty of light (at least six hours each day). If you dead-head it, blanketflower will bloom from mid-June until frost. Blanketflowers make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers. They are also a popular choice for xeriscape (low water) gardens because they do well in rocky soils and thrive with very little moisture. In the wild, the species prefers prairies, dry meadows, and other open places, and seldom ascends high into the mountains.
The genus Gaillardia was dedicated in 1788 in honor of the early French botanist Gaillard de Charentonneau. Aristata means "bearing bristles" in botanical Latin, in reference to the rough hairy leaves and stems. Botanist Frederick Pursh described this species for science in his monumental Flora Americae Septentrionale published in 1814.
A moth (Schinia masoni) camouflages itself for protection on the heads of blanketflower - the head and thorax of the moth blend with the ray flowers, while the crimson wings blend with the disc flowers (Ferner, J.W. 1981. See picture below. A cryptic moth, Schinia masoni, on Gaillardia aristata in Colorado. Southwest Nature. 26:88-90).