On Gardening: Native blue mistflowers offer dazzling color and swirling butterflies

October 10, 2016
Mistflowers and Knockout roses create a cottage garden look.

When I moved into my new house about this time last year, I was quick to notice my neighbor’s flowers across the street. I could see drifts of wonderful tall blue flowers coupled with the complementary orange of swirling gulf fritillary butterflies. I knew immediately this was a real gardener as those showy blooms were the native blue mistflower known botanically as Conoclinium coelestinum.

There is something special about gardeners that grow native perennials like blue mistflowers, Joe Pye weeds, and goldenrods. Thanks to my neighbor’s generosity in sharing some emerging spring volunteers the Rain Garden at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens now has large patches of blue partnered with goldenrod, Liatris, and white boneset. Like my neighbor’s and the native blue mistflowers you see at the roadside, they, too, are absolute butterfly magnets.

This blue mistflower is native from Texas to Nebraska, northward to New York and virtually every state south. It has the largest range of the three mistflowers native to the United States. It starts blooming toward the end of July yielding the dazzling frosty blue blooms until November which lines up perfectly for the peak butterfly season.

As I mentioned there are three species of mistflowers native to the United States with Texas the only state laying claim to all three. The others are betony-leaf mistflower, C. betonicifolium native only to Texas, and palmleaf mistflower C. dissectum (formerly C. greggii) native to Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. I treasure all three.

Palmleaf mistflower sometimes known as Gregg’s blue mistflower has the same cool blue ageratum-like flowers borne on two-foot tall plants. They are cold hardy through zone 7. The leaves are deeply dissected giving it, even more, landscape appeal. It has an unbelievably long season of bloom and has performed wonderfully in the humid southeast. They not only attract queen and monarch butterflies but all kinds of suphurs, skippers, crescents and fritillaries.

The betony-leaf mistflower has foliage much more succulent looking. It thrives in the sandier soils along the Texas Coast and I desperately want to try it in Savannah, Ga. Most report it is hardy to zone 9 but I want to test it myself. At the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas we grew them close together and they pushed upward forming what was like a 2- to 3-foot hedge of glorious blue blooms packed with butterflies.

I’m touting the blue mistflower but regardless of the one you want to grow select a site in full sun for best blooming and to keep the plants compact and better branched. The soil should be moist and fertile and not prone to drying out like a brick. You will want to space plants 12 to 18 inches apart. Conocliniums spread by both rhizomes and seeds so plan on doing a little garden management. It is well worth it for these terrific flowers.

The blue mistflower and palmleaf mistflower respond well to any cutting back, so feel free to do so if the plants begin to look a little leggy or you simply wish they were bushier.

The blue mistflowers and the other two as well are great choices for cottage gardens, wildflower meadows and unbeatable for the butterfly garden or backyard wildlife habitat. Despite the fact, these are such persevering beautiful perennials and bloom for months they are typically only available from specialty native suppliers or pass-a-long plants from friends or neighbors. I hope you will search them out the butterflies will love you for it.