Stokesia laevis is an easy to grow perennial that produces generous quantities of long lasting flowers. Panicles of electric blue or purplish-blue daisies, with fringed petals and shaggy cornflower-like flowerheads 7 to 10cm (3 to 4in) in diameter, are borne generously in late summer.
The ray florets are fringed in two concentric rows, and the disc florets are darker shades. Flowering goes on for several weeks and the plants continue to bloom intermittently until first frost when grown in the garden.
A native of the south-east of the United States, Stokesia laevis grows in moist, acidic soil in coniferous woods, also in wetlands and savannahs. Stokesia prefers a temperate climate for its development, especially for the flowering period, occurring between spring and summer. However, in places that do not have a particularly harsh winter, beautiful flowers can present during all months of the year. Promptly pinching off the spent flowerheads encourages more flowering. Fully hardy, it can withstand temperatures down to minus 15°C (5°F).
In spring Stokes aster has a basal rosette of lance-shaped evergreen leathery leaves that are 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) tall. In late spring sprouts several erect stems which have smaller, clasping leaves. The stalks stand around 45cm (18in) tall. The plants have a rounded growth habit, 45 to 60in (18 to 24in) tall by the same width.
Requiring very little maintenance Stokesia laevis can even be planted in planters and pots. The flowers are highly attractive to butterflies and other small pollinating insects. It makes a good cut flower, lasting well in bouquets and floral arrangements.
This is an adaptable and easy to grow perennial. It is considered by many as one of the most attractive late-flowering perennials.
Sowing: Sow February to May or September to November
Sow seeds in about one month before you want to plant the seedlings outdoors
Fill individual peat pots, seed-starting flats or cells, or 7cm (3in) pot with a commercial seed-starting mix. Moisten the mix and let it drain.
Sow the seeds in rows in the flats. Sow 3 to 4 seeds per pot and cover the seeds with a 1cm (½in) layer. Use a fine spray to moisten the top.
Cover the containers with clear plastic to keep the mix moist while the seeds are germinating and place in a warm location 16 to 22°C (60 to 70°F). Germination of perennial cornflowers takes 3 to 4 weeks.
When the seedlings emerge, remove the plastic covers and put the pots in a sunny location or under grow-lights. Water as needed to keep the mix moist (not soggy).
When seedlings are about 5cm (2in) tall and have at least one pair of true leaves, snip off all but the strongest plant in each pot at soil level. (The first set of leaves is known as cotyledon leaves—they usually do not resemble the true leaf shapes of the plants). Fertilise the seedlings once while they are growing indoors with a weak water-soluble fertiliser.
Transplant on a calm, cloudy day, so the plants can begin to get acclimatised before having to contend with sun and wind. Although they are not too particular about fertility, you may want to dig some compost or dried manure into the soil before planting: a 2 to 5cm (1 to 2in) layer should do.
Plant in full sun in well drained soil. Give them room to spread, space about 60cm (24in) apart. Place them in the mix at the same level they were growing originally. Water the planting well.
Frost heaving in autumn can disturb the plant, so seedlings are best planted in the spring and given time to grow before winter. Water when needed. Once established, the plants are fairly drought and heat tolerant.
Stokesia prefers a position in full sum for maximum blooming. It does best in light, rich, acidic soil that is well-draining yet moist. Plants will rot in damp, heavy soils so add grit and/or sand to ensure that the soil drains well. Good drainage is imperative during the winter, particularly in the areas where alternate freezing and thawing is common.
Stokesia prefers the temperate climate for its development, especially for the flowering period, occurring between spring and summer. However, in places that do not have a particularly harsh winter, beautiful flowers can present during all months of the year. In the northern parts of its growing range the plants will appreciate a winter mulch.
Promptly pinching off the spent flowerheads encourages more flowering. Be aware that the old buds after petals have fallen look very similar to the newly unopened buds, so check and make sure you are cutting off the right ones.
Stems may be cut back by half in late spring or very early summer (Given the ‘Chelsea Chop’) to encourage bushier growth and heavier flowering. If desired, clumps may be divided in spring every few years.
Flowers Borders and Beds, Patio/Container Plants, Wildflower Gardens or Wildlife Gardens,
Cut or Dried Flower. Bee plant, First Year Flowering
Cut and Dried Flowers:
Freshly cut blooms last four to five days.
Cut the blooms in early morning when they are half open and strip the lower leaves from the stems.
Stokesia is a monotypic genus (has only one species) of flowering plants in the daisy family, Asteraceae, containing the single species Stokesia laevis.
The species is native to the south-eastern coastal plain of the United States, from South Carolina to northern Florida to Louisiana where it grows in wetlands, including pine flatwoods and savannas, and pitcher plant seepage areas. Its natural habitat is lowland areas that have moist soil during the growing season, but dry conditions in winter.
Stokesia has been grown for many years for its beautiful flowers and ease of culture. Because of its heat tolerance, it is widely grown in gardens as a cultivated plant.
Like a few other plants (such as some species of Vernonia), it contains vernolic acid, a vegetable oil with commercial applications.
The genus Stokesia is named after the English physician and botanist, Jonathan Stokes (1755-1831). He helped to disseminate medical knowledge of digitalis, lecturing to the Medical Society of Edinburgh on 20 February 1799.
A friend of Linnaeus' son, Carolus Linnaeus the Younger, in 1790 Stokes was elected as one of the inaugural 16 associates of the newly founded Linnean Society of London. He was also a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham.
The species name laevis means 'smooth, free from hairs or roughness' alluding to the smooth stems.
Common names include Stokes' aster and Stokesia
Synonym: Carthamus laevis, Stokesia cyanea.
The Lunar Society of Birmingham:
Jonathan Stokes was an English physician, botanist, chemist and fossil hunter and a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Birmingham, England.
Meetings were held on the Sunday nearest the full moon, lasting from two o'clock in the afternoon until eight o'clock in the evening. The first was probably that held on 31 December 1775,and the 'Lunar' name is first recorded in 1776.
At first called the Lunar Circle, 'Lunar Society' became the formal name by 1775. The name arose because the society would meet during the full moon, as the extra light made the journey home easier and safer in the absence of street lighting. The members cheerfully referred to themselves as 'lunarticks', a pun on lunatics.
An amusing story is told of Dr. Stokes who one wintry day was on his way to a meeting of the Lunar Men, a scientific club, and saw coiled up on the side of the road a large black and yellow snake that had frozen to death. He put the frozen snake in a pocket of his greatcoat, intending to dissect it at a later time. During the meeting, the members were astonished by the sound of angry hissing, and saw a large snake go slithering across the floor. Having thawed out in Dr. Stokes' coat pocket, it made its get-away.
The Lunar Society evolved through various degrees of organisation over a period of up to fifty years, but was only ever an informal group. No constitution, minutes, publications or membership lists survive from any period, and evidence of its existence and activities is found only in the correspondence and notes of those associated with it.
Despite this uncertainty, fourteen individuals have been identified as having verifiably attended Lunar Society meetings regularly over a long period during its most productive eras: these are Matthew Boulton, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Samuel Galton, Jr., James Keir, Joseph Priestley, William Small, Jonathan Stokes, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, John Whitehurst and William Withering.
This lack of a defined membership has led some historians to criticise a Lunar Society 'legend', leading people to confuse it and its efforts with the general growth of intellectual and economic activities in the provinces of eighteenth century Britain. Others have seen this both as real and as one of the society's main strengths: a paper read at the Science Museum in London in 1963 claimed that "of all the provincial philosophical societies it was the most important, perhaps because it was not merely provincial. All the world came to meet Boulton, Watt or Small, who were acquainted with the leading men of Science throughout Europe and America. Its essential sociability meant that any might be invited to attend its meetings."
- Additional Information
Packet Size 10 Seeds Seed Form Natural Family Asteraceae Genus Stokesia Species laevis Cultivar Blue Star Synonym Carthamus laevis, Stokesia cyanea Common Name Stokes' Aster Other Common Names Smooth Blue Aster Hardiness Hardy Perennial Hardy Fully hardy, down to -15°C (5°F) Flowers Electric blue or purplish-blue Natural Flower Time Late spring to early summer. Height 50cm (20in) Spread 50cm (20in) Position Full sun to part shade Time to Sow Sow February to May or September to November