What is Collinsia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2019
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Collinsia is a genus of flowering annual plants native to North America. Around 20 species of this genus are found in California alone, with others scattered across North America in woodlands, prairies, and a wide variety of other environments. Several species are cultivated as ornamental plants by gardeners. Nurseries often carry seeds and it is also possible to buy seedlings in the spring.

Members of this genus have a sprightly, upright growth habit, producing simple opposite leaves and developing into tall stalks covered in colorful flowers. The flowers resemble snapdragons and may be white, purple, or blue, depending on the species. Common names for members of the Collinsia genus include blue-eyed Marys and Chinese houses. The “Chinese houses” name is a reference to the fact that the stacks of flowers can resemble the shape of a traditional pagoda.

These members of the plantain family prefer full sun to partial shade and need rich, well-drained soil. They can be easily grown from seeds, with seeds being sprouted indoors and planted after the last chance of frost has passed. They can also be sown directly in the garden. Many wildflower mixes include Collinsia species. People in cooler climates who cannot start growing early may be able to obtain seedlings at a nursery.


The flowers of many Collinsia species are highly attractive to butterflies. They are a good choice for inclusion in butterfly and wildflower gardens, and grow well as massed plantings or in rows of plants. For a more wild, natural look, gardeners can arrange plants randomly or simply toss seeds into a bed and allow the seeds to take root where they lie. Because seeds can be attractive to birds, it is a good idea to cover them with a cage or net until they sprout and the seedlings establish a foothold in the garden.

People interested in propagating Collinsia may be able to obtain seeds through trade with other gardeners. This can provide people with access to interesting hybrids that a nursery might not be able to supply. Seeds can also be collected in the wild. When collecting seeds in nature, people should take care to avoid damaging the plant, and they should avoid collecting all of the seeds, to ensure that the plant has an opportunity to reseed for the following year. Plant collection may be specifically banned in some regions and because mature Collinsia does not transplant well, it is also not a very good idea.



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