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growing strawflower from seed

Everlasting Color: Growing Strawflower From Seed

You may know Xerochrysum bracteatum as "strawflower," "golden strawflower," or "everlasting." Some call them "paper daisies," because they look and feel like perfectly-preserved dried flowers while they're still alive and well in the garden. We happen to list them as strawflower in our seed catalog, but we'll interchange the names on this post to make it easier for our visitors to search for them online. And hey, we admit it—it helps our search engine rankings as we try and take on the "big guys!"

Strawflower is an unusual, long-blooming bedding species, but its claim to fame is its ability to hold up in fresh cut floral arrangements for up to a month. When the flowers are dried at the peak of bloom, they'll retain their shape, color, and fresh appearance for years.

They're easy to grow anywhere as annuals, though they're classified as tender perennials in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 10. We're proud to offer our multi-colored Strawflower Seed Mixture of pearl, pink, lilac, gold, and yellow varieties.

Native range, history, and medicinal uses

This species is native to open Australian grasslands, where they grow as colonies of massed wildflowers, but there are roughly 500 other plants within the genus originating in the Mediterranean, Asia Minor, and North Africa. Many of them share the same (or similar) common names. The correct botanical name is Xerochrysum bracteatum (meaning "dry, golden plant with bracts") but you can find them classified by their former genera, Helichrysum or Bracteantha. The genus is a member of the Gnaphalieae subgroup within the greater Asteraceae (daisy) family.

Many strawflower species contain flavonoids, magical science-y chemicals known for their anti-inflammatory properties. Ancient Greeks mixed mashed strawflowers with honey as a burn creme, and X. bracteatum is still in use today to treat acne, bruises, and wounds. Some herbalists claim it promotes youthful skin, though this might be based less on the plant's compounds than its association with longevity. They also assign to the species the following properties:

  • Astringent
  • Antioxidant
  • Antifungal
  • Antiallergenic
  • Detoxicant
  • Diuretic
  • Expectorant
  • Mucolytic

There are many more purported uses for Xerochrysum species, but these are the ones most commonly associated with X. bracteatum. As always, we recommend consulting with your physician and your pharmacist to ensure that the use of any herbal remedy won't conflict with your current treatments or health conditions.

In the south of France, strawflowers are traditional funerary plants, fashioned into wreaths as if to mock the dearly departed: "Hey, we're all dead here, but we're gonna look pretty good a couple of years from now. You? Not so much!" Strawflowers were all the rage in Victorian times when they were used extensively as home decor. According to the University of Illinois' Flower Dictionary (pardon their page's comic sans font—the site is aimed at young gardeners), Egyptians used the flowers to decorate statues of their deities.

Strawflower in the garden

Xerochrysum bracteatum includes standard, giant, and dwarf varieties, so they're candidates for containers, borders, edging, and beds. Use the dwarfs as groundcovers, and the medium-height varieties as part of a mass-planted wildflower theme. The largest plants, which take on a shrubbier appearance, make good background plantings.

As implied by the strawflower's botanical name, its "petals" are technically bracts. These are specialized plant parts that help attract pollinators as they protect the plant's reproductive organs. Common examples of plants with bracts include poinsettia, dogwood, tomatillo, and Chinese lantern. Bracts are often papery or crepe-like, though they can be soft and waxy or luxurious as silk. Strawflower's bracts are rigid, but with a soft, smooth, glossy texture similar to straw. The individual bracts tend to take on a concave, canoe shape, with the edges and tips curling upward. Look at strawflowers, and you think, "delicate and soft." Touch them, and your mind struggles to reconcile the appearance with the flower's almost rugged feel.

Depending on the variety, the flower heads (including the bracts) may be 1" to 3" in diameter, with dozens of bracts surrounding the center of the heads. From a distance, the centers resemble bright gold anthers, but they're really disc florets—tiny individual flowers.

Strawflowers, especially bi-colored varieties are quite dynamic as they go from bud phase to open flower. They're particularly attractive when you plant them in clusters or masses so you can see the color shades and shapes in different stages. At their peak, they're spread on a flat plane, but we love them just as much when they're somewhat cupped.

Long, narrow, bright-to-medium leaves have shallow serrations along their edges. The dense foliage grows directly from a central stem, on top of which the round, colorful flowers bloom.

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: Annual in 2 to 11; tender perennial in 8 to 10. Strawflowers love the heat!
  • Sunlight Preferences: Full sun; may become leggy in partial shade.
  • Moisture Requirements: Drought-tolerant. Allow them to briefly dry out between watering for best results. Water at the soil level.
  • Soil Preferences: Tolerates poor soil, as long as it's well-drained. Too much nitrogen will cause legginess, but we do recommend an all-purpose plant food for container-grown strawflowers, and a dose of aged compost in outdoor beds.
  • Plant Height: 12" (dwarf) to 8' (giant). Standard varieties like those in our strawflower mix are usually 2' to 3' tall.
  • Plant Width: 6" to 18" spread.
  • Growth Habit: Upright, dense.
  • Bloom Period: Late spring until the first frost.
  • Maintenance: Deadhead flowers to prevent unwanted re-seeding; otherwise, just enjoy them!

It's a rare day (or season) when strawflowers have major issues with disease, infestation or predation. Root rot is a problem with over-watered, soggy soil. Watering at ground-level will reduce the likelihood of a powdery mildew outbreak, which tends to spread by splashing water. Most diseases occur in large-scale production crops rather than in backyard gardens. If you live in a humid area, you might want to plant your strawflowers in smaller groupings to encourage better air circulation.

Strawflowers are popular with pollinating insects, especially moths and butterflies. Grasshoppers have been observed tasting the nectar from the plant centers.

Growing strawflower from seed

Australia is famous for its bushfires, and X. bracteatum seeds evolved to respond to fire and heat. Untreated, they may take a while to germinate, but you don't have to get out the blowtorch to coax them along. A good overnight soak at room temperature in a folded damp paper towel will help soften the hulls when growing strawflower from seed.

Spread your strawflower seeds on the surface of moistened clump-free soil as soon as your last spring frost date has passed. They need some sunlight to germinate, so take care when watering them, so they don't get drilled into the soil deeper than 1/8". Keep the bed moist until the seedlings have emerged (approximately 14 to 21 days at 70°F). Space or thin smaller varieties 6" apart, standard varieties 12" apart, and giants 18" apart.

Indoor starts

Get a jump on the season 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost by growing your everlasting seeds in 3" to 4" pots filled with a fine, well-draining, sterile seedling mix. Gently press 1 to 3 seeds on the soil's surface; you'll thin out seedlings once they emerge, selecting for vigor. Grow them under fluorescent lights, and consider loosely tenting each pot with a bit of plastic to keep them warm and damp.

Once the plants have two or three pairs of true leaves, harden them off for about a week before transplanting.

Floral design with strawflower

Oh yeah, we can't forget about U2's cover of Carl Carlton's "Everlasting Love," can we? Xerochrysum bracteatum may be resilient to insect and invertebrate pests, but they'll definitely infect you with a particularly insidious earworm:

...Need you by my side

Girl you'll be my bride

You'll never be denied

Everlasting love

From the very start

Open up your heart

Be a lasting part

Of everlasting love...

Strawflowers may be associated with funerals, but they're also popular specimens for bridal bouquets. Heck, the flowers might outlive most marriages. As we mentioned earlier, freshly-harvested strawflowers can last for as many as 30 days with a little care, and properly dried flowers will last years, provided they're protected from dusk and the fading effects of direct sunlight.

For fresh arrangements, select flowers at any phase of development and cut the stems a bit longer than you think you need. Re-cut the stems at an angle under running water before adding them to your artistic masterpiece. You'll want to change the water every few days to stave off slime and algae, and you might want to re-cut the butt ends when you do. Most floral designers remove the leaves when they gather the flowers since they don't last nearly as long as the blooms.

If you plan to dry your flowers, take note: Fully-opened strawflowers last longer than those in the opening-up stages. Cut the stems long after the morning dew has evaporated, and hang the flowers upside-down in bundles in a well-ventilated, arid, cool room, basement, or garage. An oscillating fan will help move the air around and improve the drying process. The flowers should be fully dried in 2 to 4 weeks.

Enjoy your fresh-cut flowers while pumping them full of preservatives to ensure their longevity as dried flowers! How Stuff Works has a basic primer on extending flower freshness and curing dried flowers and foliage. This is less necessary for strawflowers as it is for other species, but many florists go the extra mile and use the glycerin "embalming" technique for their everlasting zombie blooms, especially when they're preserving bridal bouquets.

Seed Needs: Still here after 13+ years!

We started as a one-horse show, selling fresh, non-GMO seeds on eBay and other online platforms. Today, our family-operated business is proud to be in a position to give back, sponsoring 25 kids in poverty-stricken countries so they, too, can benefit from the support our loyal customers have provided us over the years.

Seed Needs is founded upon quality products and dedicated customer support. Don't hesitate to reach out if you have a problem with an order, or if you need a little gardening inspiration. And we'd love it if you'd share your creative floral designs featuring Xerochrysum bracteatum!
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