What is Gilia?

Alex Tree

Gilia are flowering plants of the Polemoniaceae family. Members of this group are known for having five petals, sepals, and stamens. These herbaceous plants are most abundant in arid climates, specifically in Chile, the western United States, and some parts of Asia. These types of plants live for only a year, which is why they are regarded botanically as annuals. Annuals are different from perennials because the latter have a longer life cycle, which is about three to four years. Gilia plants are expected to take full bloom in the spring and die during winter.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

The flowers of these plants usually come in shades of purple, though some species’ flowers are shades of blue and off-white. Their leaves take a feather-like appearance with thin, light green strands attached to a single axis that form into a circular collar for the blossoms. When all flower bulbs come to bloom, a loose branching pyramid-shaped cluster takes form. The stems are soft and erect, reaching lengths of more than 3.25 feet (1 m).

Larvae of moths and some butterfly species treat Gilia flowers as food plants. Eggs are hatched under the cluster of their blooms so that the young larva have an immediately consumable source of nutrients. The matured insects also serve as pollinators for these herbaceous plants, with pollen being distributed as the moths and butterflies transfer from one plant to another.

The achilleaefolia, latiflora, and tricolor species are common garden plants. Achilleaefolia, or California Gilia, have lavender-colored petals with long straight stems that are used as garden accents. Rock gardens make use of hollyleaf Gilia, or latiflora, because of their ability to sprout in between large stones and on hard soil. The off-white flowers of the tricolor, or bird’s eye, serve as carpet plants for large gardens in Europe and North America. These three species have a maximum height of about 2.5 feet (0.8 m).

These herbaceous plants are naturally very highly adaptive. Minimal attention is required by the garden varieties. As wildflowers, Gilia can cover rocky mountainous terrains, roadside trails, and open forests. Sunlight is a key ingredient to these plants’ survival.

Their seeds can be planted in small to medium pots or directly into well-drained soil outdoors. A waiting period of six to eight weeks is to be expected before their first flowers can blossom. Planting the seeds in sun-exposed areas of the garden increases the chance of successfully propagating Gilia plants.

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