Sunday, February 2, 2014

Blanketflower - Gaillardia pulchella

Blanketflower, or firewheel, (Gaillardia pulchella) is an annual or very short-lived perennial common to much of Florida and the rest of North America.  It is extremely hardy and adaptable, and can be found on coastal dunes as well as open uplands and disturbed sites in interior counties.  In the prairie states to our north where I have used it in restoration projects, it behaves like a perennial, but in Florida, it is rare to have individual plants last more than 12 months.  It persists and spreads, however, by vigorously self-seeding.
Blanketflower overwinters as a rosette of leaves that hug the ground. Some are nearly devoid of teeth, but the vast majority of the leaves are deeply notched and quite distinctive.  They are several inches long, light green in color, and roughly hairy.  Flower stalks emerge in late spring and the plants become more upright, standing 12-18 inches tall without including the flower heads.  They form a somewhat rounded mass. and often become top heavy as the blossoms form - tipping to one side under that weight.
Flowering can occur in most months from spring through fall.  Each bloom is several inches across and very showy. Normally, the ray petals are deep orange in color, tipped in bright yellow, though yellow forms are common and there is quite a bit of variation in the depth of orange present.  The ray petals surround a mounded central disk that is dark orange to nearly red.  These persist well after pollination and eventually become silvery as the seedheads mature and disperse. Like all asters, blanketflower is attractive to a variety of insect pollinators.
This is one of the most widely propagated wildflowers native to Florida and is commonly used along roadsides and in other cultivated wildflower plantings.  It requires high sunlight and sandy soils to prosper, but it can be grown nearly anywhere if not given too much shade or moisture.  In a mixed planting, it can spread too abundantly and shade other, less robust, species, but it is easily weeded if this becomes a problem.  Do not use it in mass plantings unless you are aware that it will die back in late fall and leave your planting bed virtually bare until spring.  I like it best planted with other robust beach-dune species such as beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis) that typically keep their foliage through winter.

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