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on a hunt for daisy-ness

White Aster

Daisy: Any of several plants of the Composite/Aster family, especially a widely naturalized Eurasian plant (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) having flower heads with a yellow center and white rays. Also called oxeye daisy, white daisy. Before 1000, known in Middle English as dayesye, and in Old English as dægesēge.

When I think of wildflowers, daisies and poppies are the first that come to mind. What fantasy wildflower meadow would be complete without either of them? The “day’s eye” is especially the essence of meadow cheer, flowers that open with the sun and close at night.

Van Gogh loved them, too. I must be dreaming of some lush Scottish meadow.

In reality, neither of the most common daisies and poppies are native to Texas, and there are gorgeous expanses of wildflowers here without them, but still, as someone who loves wildflowers, how can I forget daisies? Although I’ve never seen them wild in Texas, big fat daisies, dandelions and poppies were definitely a part of my childhood in Michigan. Although we were frequently told not to pick wildflowers because it was illegal (is that true?), the daisies and the dandelions were free game.

Daisy, of course, means different things to different people. Even our native Purple Coneflower, perhaps now the most popular cultivated flower in the daisy-aster-family, could be considered a daisy. But in spite of the vast color and forms that have been coaxed from asters and chrysanthemums, when it all comes down to it, yellow and white is still the THE daisy to me. For example, the flower commonly called English Daisy (Bellis perennis), a beloved perennial English and European wildflower, has been cultivated to take on all kinds of flower forms and colors from globular to spiky to quilted looking things. But its species form is still a good ole white and yellow gal.

English Daisy is not the only escapee to America. Its far more famous cousin the Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) has also naturalized in some parts of the U.S., so much that it has caused several states to classify it as a noxious weed and at least one to prohibit it entirely. This, of course, could evolve into a discussion about what is truly “wildflower”. There is wildflower in the “native” sense, and then there is wildflower in the “wild” sense, meaning free-spiritedness.

Oxeye daisy is a wildflower, and made for wild aesthetics. I am not sure which of the two I saw as a child, maybe both. There has also been confusion over the differences between Oxeye Daisy and Shasta Daisy. Even some well-known wildflower sellers refer to the Shasta Daisy as a European native. Perhaps they are referring to the species of Leucanthemum maximum, one of the daisies that, along with Oxeye Daisy, went into the making of true Shasta Daisies.

Will the real daisy please stand up? Of course such confusion is understandable even amongst knowledgeable gardeners. A daisy is a daisy is a daisy, right?

The true Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) is not a European wildflower, but a man-made hybrid of several wild daisies. It was first bred in the California by American horticulturalist Luther Burbank, who wanted to civilize the prolific and often weedy Oxeye daisy. By introducing pollen from English and Portuguese daisies (other European natives), and finally adding a Japanese daisy to bring more whiteness to the petals, he was able to create an entirely new species that had more garden presence than the renegade Oxeye. He named them “Shasta” after the snowy mountain peak in California. One could really call these an a truly “American” flower, Old-World generations coming together to invent something bigger in the New World. Just a little over 100 years old, “Alaska” is still one of the most popular Burbank varieties. “Becky”, which I am growing, was a passalong Shasta daisy in the south before it was named and introduced to the trade.

Although not a naturally occurring species, Shasta Daisy can be grown from seed and also produce seed, but there is a chance that it can naturalize and perhaps an odd chance that generations later it would revert to one of its parents, including the Oxeye Daisy. Sometimes the plants are hard to tell apart even from their leaves, but generally Shasta daisies have larger flowers and foliage. Personally, I like the look of my Shasta Daisy “Becky” better than Oxeye Daisy for an organized part of the garden. The leaves are larger and fleshier, and even look nice during the winter.

On the other hand, Oxeye daisy is the free-spirited one and prefers poorer soils than the garden-made Shasta. It’s terribly easy to start from seed. Oxeye seeds germinated in less than a week in some seed flats, and within two months were very large rosettes. Because Oxeye propagates so easily from seed, and multiplies vigorously by underground rhizomes, it’s important to investigate whether or not this is an invasive species in your area and threatens the life of existing native wildflowers. As far as I know it is not aggressive in Texas but I live on an urban plot anyway, so it has nowhere to go.

I’m excited to add daisy-ness in all its forms to my garden. I like even the tiny daisies of Feverfew and Chamomile. Daisies look charming growing around more elegant flowers like roses. And there are all sorts of native Texan options for the daisy obsessed, although none of them are as highly visible as the daisies of European wildflower meadows. This fall, a tiny little flower appeared in a shady corner of my front yard. After investigating the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center database, I discovered it to be a white fall Aster. I’ve never planted them nor ever noticed them before but within weeks there was a line of them growing along the fence under my overgrown privets. It’s an odd spot, considering how little sun it gets, but it’s also entirely untouched and unwatered, which means they rather prefer neglect.

There is also the very widely-grown Blackfoot Daisy, a clumping bushy perennial with adorable small daisies. They are notorious for rotting quickly if not given the absolutely baking hot, and fast-draining conditions they love. I’ve tried about five different plants over the past few years and all have died from over-pampered soil. Blackfoot is not a ‘meadow daisy’, but one which seems to prefer hanging off a limestone cliff.

Lazy Daisy, or Arkansas Daisy, is like a miniature Oxeye Daisy. I haven’t yet seen these in the wild but in photographs they have the most traditional daisy look of our natives, bright mustard-yellow centers with white radiating petals. There are the diminutive and strangely named Hairy dozedaisy, the multitudinous fleabanes, and Arkansas leastdaisy.

I know that daisies make sense for my garden, but I also like to think that they would fit right in in a very architectural or ordered garden, adding a bit of whimsy and childlikeness. Don’t we all need something obvious at least once in our garden? After all, the Aster family is the largest on the planet, with at least 23,000 species, many of which, when it comes right down to it, are cutesy bright things.

More on The Burbank Shasta Daisy Garden

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. susan #

    I loved this article! I live in Dallas where I’ve grown Shasta and Becky daisies with varyiing success. Sometimes they just up and die. I’ll have to try the ox-eye too.And you are so right about the black foot daisy. Aren’t they wonderful if you find the right spot. Some are blooming now here.

    January 7, 2012
    • Amy #

      Hi Susan… this is such a late reply and oh, have I been absent from this blog! I love all the daisies. I had some beautiful Shastas that just gave up the ghost over this past (horrible) summer. They were Becky, my favorite! (The horrible summer also explains why I lost some of my excitement about keeping up with a gardening blog. It was too crazy to garden!) The ox-eyes are great and reseed well, but they don’t have those pretty evergreen leaves that the Shastas do. They look fantastic for a month and then go a little sad-looking by about mid-June. But they keep coming back!

      February 7, 2012
  2. Heather #

    I found your website trying to learn about growing Shasta daisy’s in Austin. Can you please tell me what are the best light conditions that you have found here, and how frequently you water? I have a new one that looks terrible after going in the ground. It is getting direct sun from about 10-4.

    May 14, 2013
    • Amy #

      Hi Heather, they really do best in full sun and what you have sounds about perfect. I treat them a lot like purple coneflowers, since they are related. Since you’ve just planted them and it’s starting to get hot, I’d give them a good drink every couple of days or so to help them get established. They might struggle at first this summer, but will do ok if in well-drained soil. I like to plant a lot of perennials in the fall since this gives them time to grow roots over the winter and then they don’t struggle as much in the spring. Unfortunately, after a couple of years my Shastas couldn’t take the drought anymore and slowly died off, so this makes me think they needed more frequent watering than I had time to give them. But they were so gorgeous when they were going strong!

      May 15, 2013
      • Amy #

        I should also mention that my Shastas usually bloomed in May and then started getting crispy looking by mid-June. The leaves stayed evergreen year-round but sometimes got a little ratty from the heat in mid-summer.

        May 15, 2013

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