Going Native: A Fabulous Prairie Wildflower for Western Xeriscapes
Where I found it
I spend a lot of time driving between my home in Santa Fe and Denver, the Intermountain West’s horticultural epicenter. One summer on my way north, just over the border of Colorado, I spotted a huge field of Zinnia grandiflora in full bloom.
I stopped to investigate and to my delight found a patch of gold flowered plants in the middle of several acres of yellow blooming ones. I marked the plants and stopped there again that fall where I was able to collect several sacks of seed. In the spring, several dozen plants had grown from the seed collected that previous fall.
As the plants matured I noticed that these golden flowered plants had excellent vigor and grew to unusually large size. From among these Zinnia giants I selected a particularly robust plant that also had noticeably blue-green foliage and gave it the name ‘Gold on Blue’.
Bringing it to the attention of Plant Select™
A few years ago, I submitted the plant to Plant Select™ (the Denver Botanic Garden/ Colorado State University plant introduction program) for consideration as a future Plant Select winner. Everyone who grew and tested ‘Gold on Blue’ was very excited and enthusiastic about this little beauty and it has been selected as a winner for 2014.
I’ve been growing and enjoying Zinnia grandiflora for many, many years. Unfortunately, it remains a relatively obscure native plant because it is not widely grown in the trade. Too bad, because this native wildflower species is one of the toughest, most xeric, longest lived plants I’ve ever grown.
Xeriscaping uses for ‘Gold on Blue’
‘Gold on Blue’ is a very distinctive form of Z. grandiflora that has many uses:
It’s a vigorous spreading groundcover that spreads by sucking to create big drifts of foliage and flowers
It’s excellent for planting on slopes and other hot, dry areas where lesser perennials would fail
Is recommended for planting in “Inferno Strips”, that long, narrow piece of no man’s land between the street and sidewalk
‘Gold on Blue’ blooms in late summer with a blast of brilliant gold flowers over a low 4” tall spreading mound of attractive finely textured foliage. It spreads via underground runners making it an invaluable groundcover to plant around tall, summer blooming xeric plants.
Some of my favorite companions are:
Russian Sage (Perovskia)
Salvia greggii ‘Furman’s Red’
Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’
Zinnia grandiflora ‘Gold on Blue’ looks great with most any flowering perennial and creates a low growing carpet-like patch of stems.
Text and Photos by David Salman