Blue is such a vivid colour in the crystal-clear light peculiar to early autumn. But it's rather a rarity so the airy wands of small blue buttons found on Succisa pratensis are a particular blessing from August to October. The flowers bob among the many daisies almost like blue butterflies about to land and one wonders why this airy member of the teasel family is not grown more often.
This little wildflower is a very versatile plant and worthy of greater appreciation. In the wild it is quite unfussy about where it grows. Found in damp locations in meadows, stream banks and rocky grasslands on calcareous to slightly acid soils, it grows abundantly in marshes, pastures, and hedgerows and succeeds in grasslands and wastelands.
Although Succisa is usually found in wet meadows in their native habitats they are tolerant of ordinary garden soil and conditions. However, a full-sun, hot bake would almost certainly not suit either. They do best in cooler positions and overwinter well on wet ground.
Succisa pratensis is adept at popping up through other plants and the narrow leaves and tight, non-invasive habit make it a perfect addition to an airy informal border containing sultry Dahlias, late Heleniums and late Daisies. In the garden, grow it at the front of the border or weave several through an area.
There is, however, a huge difference between a garden-grown specimen and a wild one. Wild plants tend to have been grazed and rarely top a foot at best. Succisa pratensis grown in the garden will reach more than 3ft, it's a different beast.
Of all our native wildflowers very few attract more butterflies than the Devils Bit Scabious. They will sustain late-flying butterflies and bees tempted by an Indian summer.
Sowing: Sow in spring or autumn
Seeds are best sown directly where they are to flower in prepared ground in autumn but can also be sown into pots and placed in a coldframe in spring. Germination is usually around 2 to 4 weeks at around 18 to 21°C (65 to 70°F). but can occasionally be erratic.
Sow thinly, 6mm (¼in) deep in drills 30cm (12in) apart, directly where they are to grow, in well-cultivated soil which has been raked to a fine tilth. Water ground regularly, especially in dry periods. When large enough to handle, thin out seedlings until they are finally 30cm (12in) apart in spring.
Fill pots with good, well draining seed compost (John Innes or similar). Stand the pots in water to moisten then drain. Sow 1.5mm (1/16 inch) deep. Cover seed lightly with a fine sprinkling of sieved soil. Place in a coldframe or similar. Make sure that the compost is kept moist but not wet.
Acclimatise young plants to outdoor conditions before planting out Prick out seedlings when large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in summer. Space the plants 30 to 60cm (12 to 24in) apart and water regularly, especially in dry periods.
Young plants flower most freely and after a few years the plant can look worn. Revive by dividing and replanting in spring or autumn.
Cut flower stems can be harvested, when the flower show colour. Put the stems in warm water immediately. Vase life: 8 to 10 days.
Cottage/Informal Garden, Flower Arranging, Flowers Borders and Beds. Butterflies and Bees. Wildflower gardens and meadows.
Other wildflowers that grow in similar habitats are: Betony, Cuckooflower, Field Scabious, Goat's-beard, Harebell, Knapweed, Lady's Bedstraw, Loosestrife, Meadowsweet, Ox-eye Daisy, Primrose, Self-heal, Teasel, Yarrow, Violet.
This autumn-flowering plant is a native of Britain and Ireland, although it has declined somewhat, it remains common and widespread. Devil's-bit scabious is a slow growing perennial of damp to reasonably free-draining soils with a preference for those that are neutral to mildly acidic.
It is found in a range of habitats including hay meadows, damp pasture, woodland rides, heaths and mires.
It is a member of Dipsaceae, the teasel family. With its domed pincushion flowers Succisa pratensis looks like a scabious, but botanists have separated it from other scabious on the basis that it has four-lobed flowers rather than the usual five.
Devil's-bit scabious provides nectar for hoverflies, bees and butterflies. It is particularly favoured by the Tortoiseshells and Admirals and is famously the larval food plant of the rare marsh fritillary.
Succisa pratensis differs from other similar species in that it has four lobed flowers, whereas Small Scabious and Field scabious have five lobes and hence it has been placed in a separate genus in the same family. It also grows on damper ground. Its leaves are also un-lobed unlike Field scabious, and are arranged in opposite pairs. The leaves and plant can be confused with Greater Knapweed however Knapweed has leaves that are alternate, not opposite.
The common name of scabious derives from the word scabies, which comes from the Latin word scabere meaning “to scratch". In medieval times species of scabious the plants were believed to relieve the itch of scabies and other afflictions of the skin including sores caused by the Bubonic Plague. In the 17 century Nicholas Culpepper prescribed its root as an ointment for the cure of wounds, swollen throats, snake-bite and the plague.
Succisa is from the Latin succido (to cut off), referring to the roots. The common name of Devil's bit scabious also comes from the shape of the rhizomes. They appear to have been bitten off just under the ground and traditionally the devil gets the blame. The devil was so angry that the plant could cure so many ills, he bit off the root out of spite, but even that did not stop it doing good.
The species name pratensis refers to its meadow habitat.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 125mg Average Seed Count 100 Seeds Family Dipsacaceae Genus Succisa Species pratensis Cultivar Wildflower of Britain and Ireland Synonym Scabiosa succisa Common Name Devil’s Bit Scabious
Wildflower of Britain and Ireland
Other Language Names IR. Odhrach bhallach Hardiness Hardy Perennial Flowers Blue pincushion flowers Natural Flower Time August to October. Height 60 to 100cm (24 to 36in) Position Full sun to partial shade Soil Moisture preferred, but will grow in most types. Time to Sow Sow in autumn or in spring. Germination Usually 2 to 4 weeks at around 18 to 21°C (65 to 70°F). but can occasionally be erratic.