Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stiff Yellow Flax - Linum medium var. texanum

Stiff yellow flax (Linum medium var. texanum) is a perennial herbaceous wildflower found statewide in a variety of upland habitats.  These plants, photographed above, were in a sandhill understory, but the species can be found in dry open woodlands and other similar conditions. It has been reported from every state from Texas north to Wisconsin and from Ontario, but is uncommon in most of the northern extent of its range.
Stiff yellow flax dies back to the ground in winter and emerges in early spring.  A few linear basal leaves are formed and then the plants begin producing a main central stalk.  The narrow, elliptical leaves are appressed along the stem and lack a leaf petiole.  As the stem reaches its mature height of about 3 feet, it divides into many side stems - each producing a flower bud at the end.
Flowering occurs in late summer and fall.  Each bloom is composed of five petals.  The flowers are relatively flat, about 1/2 inch across, and bright yellow in color.  They seem most attractive to bees.
None of the flaxes in the genus Linum have ever been propagated for the home landscape.  As the plants are not very showy individually and are not especially important in a butterfly garden setting, the genus itself has been overlooked.  Its close cousin, Linum floridanum,  has been reported to be a larval food for caterpillars of the variegated fritillary.  Perhaps further study would find that stiff yellow flax is too. In small masses stiff yellow flax (and its relatives) are attractive wildflowers.  I have no experience growing them at present and no immediate plans to in the future.  Admire it when you encounter it and perhaps, someday, someone will offer it commercially to home gardeners.

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