Daisies: Surprisingly Complicated Flowers

Daisies delight. Photo: Lise Jenkins.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

Recently, I have been marveling over the complexities of the common daisy. Daisies belong to the family Asteraceae, a family that contains more species than any other, with the possible exception of Orchidaceae. Found on every continent except Antarctica, Asteraceae species are defined by a flower that is actually two flowers in one: The sun disk attracts the pollinators, while the ray flowers surround the sun disk. In fact, daisies look so innocent that, in classical myths, they represented purity.

Daisies make up 10 percent of all the flowering plants. The name “daisy” is a contraction of “daes eag,” meaning “day’s eye,” which describes the English daisy’s habit of closing at night, only to reopen at daybreak. Who suspected that the innocent daisy was so complex?

However, the daisy can be a weed, so take care which daisy you plant. Leucanthemum vulgare, also called the oxeye daisy, conquers space through its creeping underground rhizomes. This daisy actually consists of three flowers, the sun disk surrounded by both ray florets and disk florets. Because this species is similar to the more desirable Leucanthemum x superbum, be sure to notice the flower tag at the nursery: You want the latter and not the former.

The other problem with the oxeye daisy is that one plant is capable of producing 26,000 seeds, which I think we’d all agree is an awful lot of seeds. Because a plant can regenerate from just a fragment of its rhizome, this has become a difficult weed to control.

Fortunately, Leucanthemum x superbum has conquered the weediness of L. vulgare. Called the Shasta daisy because the hybridizer developed the first one near Mount Shasta, Leucanthemum x superbum now has a cultivar for everyone: Becky, ranging about 2 feet in height, is widely available at garden centers. Newer cultivars include Snowcap, Daisy Duke and Whoops-a-Daisy. Because it’s shorter than Becky, I personally like Snowcap as Becky can totter at the first significant rainfall of summer.

Other daisies to consider are:

  • Bellis perennis, the English daisy, is handsome – if you can find it. It requires a cool summer so is better suited for the mountains than the Piedmont. Be warned that it has the potential to become seedy.
  • Gerbera daisies come in a variety of colors. Love it during the summer before saying goodbye to it as it might only come back for one more season if you’re lucky. This is a daisy that does far better in zone 8 than in zone 7.
  • Boltonia caroliniana is a daisy of which I have grown increasingly fond. Forming a 5-foot-wide clump, it bears small daisies throughout the summer. Provided you give it the room it needs, this is a well-behaved plant that produces a sea of white daisies.
  • Chrysanthemums once contained the Leucanthemums under its umbrella. If you tire of white daisies, look at the various chrysanthemums out there – and I am not talking about those tortured sculpted mounds that appear in garden centers every autumn. Be careful, however, as some like to travel by those dreaded creeping underground rhizomes. Some are clumpers, while others are travelers. C. Golden Snowflakes and Matchsticks are worth seeking out.
  • Nipponanthemum nipponicum, aka Montauk daisy, makes a nice clumping mound. Appearing in autumn, this daisy is very easy to grow as it does not suffer from creeping rhizomes or seediness.

The great thing about daisies is that they can go anywhere in the garden, provided there is sun. Once established, these are durable plants that I never water.

So now, grab a daisy and begin to play, “He loves me, he loves me not.” 

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: info@absentee-gardener.com

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