Tom's Blog

Monday, August 11, 2008


Biennial gaura (Gaura biennis) is a prairie plant which in Wisconsin is found mainly in the southern counties. It does not appear often on prairie planting lists, but is an interesting plant to observe in a prairie. As its name states, it has a biennial growth habit, although at times it may even grow as an annual.

When we planted the Valley Prairie in November 2002, Kathie included a small amount of gaura seed in the planting mix. The second year after planting we saw two or three flowering plants, which did not return in subsequent years. Suddenly, this year, we had a surprise! Several really large patches of gaura showed up, in the somewhat drier part of the prairie (see photo above). From a distance they looked like some sort of reddish grass and only when getting near was it clear what we had. In contrast to our earlier gaura plants, which were very tall and lanky, the plants in these new patches were much shorter. Obviously, lots of seeds were lying in wait for the proper time to grow and bloom.

This is almost certainly a transient phenomenon. Who knows whether we will see such patches in future years, or any gaura plants at all.

A common name for this plant is bee blossom, and it is reported to be a favorite of bumble bees. I like the delicate and complex floral structure. This species is in the Evening Primrose family (Onagraceae), which has quite a few other biennial species (including Oenothera biennis). Cultivars include fuchsia and Lady's tear drops.


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