Ox-eyes and wild coreopsis among early daisies of year
By Jimmy Williams
Posted: Tuesday, August 24, 2010 8:01 pm
Give me your answer do!
I’m half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won’t be a stylish marriage,
I can’t afford a carriage.
But you’ll look sweet upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.
Well, maybe Daisy ain’t your gal. Maybe you don’t even know a (singular) Daisy. But surely, if you are any kind of a gardener, you know (plural and lower case) daisies.
They’re everywhere in our neck of the woods, blaring forth from every roadside and garden alike from spring until hard frost. The deeper we drive into the year, the more rife they appear.
I’ve wanted to do some writing on daisies for a while now. I mean daisies per se. They have been mentioned in other contexts in this column over the nearly 43 years it has been in existence. The subject is so massive and complex that I have shied away, knowing I could no more than scratch the surface, even with a long series of weekly efforts. So, here we are, and I am not getting any younger.
The spectrum of daisy flowers, if enumerated even in general terms of genera, not to speak of species and cultivated varieties, is so vast that you would quit on me before the first 50 columns or so. So, I think the best approach is to go over some of the more common ones in order of bloom time, more or less. There will be overlapping and omissions, to be sure, but we will try to hit the highlights.
Among the first daisies to catch our eye in May are the white ox-eyes that inhabit waste places and rights-of-way. In some places, mostly in areas of poor soil, they seem to be the dominant plant species. Bloom continues into June. A yellow eye gives the flowers a snappy look at close range.
Ox-eyes are natives of Europe, but are widely naturalized in most parts of this country, indeed the world. Taxonomists keep us confused on the correct botanical moniker, as they take delight in doing with many genera. Ox-eyes once were Chrysanthemum leucanthemum. More recently they are tabbed Leucanthemum vulgare. Whatever.
They are fairly short-lived perennials or biennials, but they reproduce by seed so lustily that any field with a start of them soon becomes whatever the adjoining acreage allows, as long as the area is not cultivated.
One of the most unusual sights of nature I remember is from one of our British Isles tours, when we visited the Burren, a huge flat, rocky outcrop on the seashore. There, ocean currents from all over the world have deposited seeds from many continents. They have sprouted in rock crevasses containing minute amounts of soil, dwarfing every plant hanging on to life there. Ox-eye daisies that reach 2 feet tall or more under normal conditions and bear flowers two inches across were peeking out from the Burrens at three inches tall with flowers the size of a dime or smaller.
There are domesticated varieties aplenty of ox-eyes and their sisters and cousins, Chrysanthemum maximum, C. x superbum, Leucanthemum maximum etc. Most popular of these is the Shasta daisy, with the best variety of it being Becky, named for Becky Stewart of Georgia. It holds up better than most others, though I can’t seem to keep any of them. The straight ox-eye, however, abounds in our “meadow garden,” a vacant lot west of our more cultivated diggings.
Right on the heels of ox-eye daisies, and sometimes pleasingly overlapping, is a wild coreopsis, Coreopsis grandiflora. These inhabit the same poor soil that ox-eyes love, and it is a real show when they coincide in bloom the last of May and early in June. Big flower coreopsis is the common name, but they’re most often simply called “yellow daisies.” We have a big stand of them on our vacant lot.
These have a yellow eye that is not distinctive from the yellow petals, but the latter are notched at their tips, livening up the flower. Wild coreopsis is perennial and also spreads by seeding. As a matter of fact, our crop resulted from my gathering of seeds from roadside stands and simply throwing them out on our area of poorest soil. It takes a couple of years from seed to get any bloom, but after that, you’re up and away. The seeds are borne in a head the size of a dime and are fairly large, perhaps the size of a pinhead. They are black and remarkably resemble small ticks, hence the other common name, tickseed.
Domesticated versions of wild coreopsis are Sunburst, Flying Saucers, Early Sunrise and Sunray. Most of them will prove to be fairly short-lived perennials unless lifted and divided regularly. Their tendency for long bloom time, which would seem to be desirable, results, however, in them blooming themselves to death and shortening their life.
The wild form will re-bloom sporadically in late summer and fall, as ours is doing now. Cultivated varieties can be encouraged to live longer by cutting them back, sacrificing the fall re-bloom and allowing plants to build a heavier basal clump of leaves.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 8.24.10