Blanket Flowers: Characteristics, Myths, and Year-round Enjoyment

5 min read

Introduction 

The gaillardia flower, whose common name is the blanket flower, is a vivacious perennial flower used in gardens during the summer months. The blanket flower is a perfect choice for informal gardens as well as for borders and containers on your patio. There are between 25 and 30 species of the plant, which was named for the French botanist Antoine Rene Gallard de Charentoneau.

As you read this, you can learn the following:

 

  • General Characteristics
  • Myths and Legends
  • Fun Facts
  • Planting and Care
  • Drying and Preserving for Home Use

General Characteristics

The blanket flower, sometimes referred to as the Firewheel, is indigenous to both North and South America. It is a member of the sunflower family. The flowers come in all shades of yellow, orange, purple, multicolored, brown, and white. One of the unique features of the bloom is the banding of color at the base of the petals. They bloom from June through September. This beautiful flower attracts butterflies, honey bees, bumblebees, and birds (specifically, goldfinches).

The stems vary between branching and upright reaching a maximum height of 31.5 inches. The hairy, grayish-green leaves sprout in an alternating pattern. The leaves are 3 to 6 inches long.

Myths and Legends

An old Mexican legend describes the origin of the blanket flower. It begins in the era of the Aztecs. According to lore, the flower began as solid yellow in color. It was common for women to wear the flower on their clothing and in their hair. Children ran and played in the fields cloaked in wild blanket flowers.

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Cortez’s arrival brought death and ruin to the Aztecs. The blanket flower, heartbroken for the people, cupped their petals and collected the blood of the fallen Aztecs as it dripped to the ground. The flower’s red center remains a symbol of the blood of the Aztecs.

Native Americans have their own origin story. The story depicts a selfless blanket maker who, for his entire life, made blankets for the poor and unfortunate. After he died, the flowers were spread over his grave to keep him warm, much like a blanket. The flowers were a reminder of his kindness.

Fun facts 

  • Texas State University’s school colors are maroon and gold; the choice was influenced by the colors of the blanket flower, which grows wild across the Texas plains.
  • The blanket flower was adopted as the official wildflower for the state of Oklahoma in 1986.
  • The Gaillardia is used as food for both livestock and farm animals.
  • Moths nestle themselves on the flowerhead, aligning with the petals, in order to camouflage themselves.
  • One of the ingredients of Native American traditional medicine is the blanket flower.
  • Tea made from the roots of the plant treats inflammation of the stomach and intestines.
  • Crushed powder from the plants treats skin ailments and eye discomfort.
  • Each year the National Garden Bureau chooses plants from five different categories to spotlight; 2015 was the Year of the Gaillardia.

Planting and Care

Begin by planting the flowers just after the last frost date. You could also jump-start the process by starting your plants from seeds 4 to 6 weeks earlier.

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Once you are ready to plant, be sure to choose a location that receives several hours of full sun each day. Position the plants 12 to 18 inches apart. Plants thrive in dry to medium soil.  If the soil is poorly drained, root rot can be a problem.

Once established, there are several things you can do to encourage continuous bloom throughout the summer. Deadheading is not necessary, but it does stimulate blooming. If blooming declines, the plants can be cut back to about 6 inches from the base, which stimulates growth.

Although tolerant of rabbits, the plants can fall victim to aphids and leafhopper. Keeping a watchful eye on your plants can catch this problem early. The pests can be controlled with insecticidal soap. It is important to control these insects because they spread aster yellow disease.

Dividing plants every two to three years keeps the plants robust.

Blanket flowers can also be grown in large containers placed throughout the yard or on patios.

Drying and Preserving for Home Use

The flowers from your garden can be enjoyed in your home throughout the year by drying and preserving them for arrangements, wreaths, and potpourri. Follow these steps and you can enjoy the look of dried flowers all year round.

You need the following ingredients

  • 2 parts ground cornmeal
  • 1 part Borax detergent booster
  • 1 shoebox (the longer the stem you desire on your flowers, the larger the box)
  • Tissue paper
  • Newspaper
  • Cut flowers

Begin by cutting flowers from the garden on the day that you plan on preserving. Cut the stems to the desired length and remove all the leaves. If you are making potpourri, remove the stems entirely. Next, line the box with newspaper and a thin layer of Borax and cornmeal. On top of the layer place the flowers either on their sides or face down. Completely cover the flowers with a thin layer of the Borax and cornmeal mixture. Go back and apply another thin layer of the Borax mixture until the flowers are covered. Finally, place a layer of tissue paper over the flowers and close the box.

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The drying process can take between 1 to 3 weeks depending on the size and density of the flower. After a week, check the petals, if they feel cool and moist, they are not dry and need more time. Once they are dry, just blow or brush off the mixture.

The Borax and cornmeal can be reused at a different time by storing it in an airtight container. Before storing it, be sure it’s dry. If not, it can be placed on a cookie sheet in the oven at 150 degrees for 30 minutes.

Conclusion 

Whether you enjoy blanket flowers in your garden, as a fresh cut arrangement, or as dried flowers, the Gaillardia is a low maintenance flower that brings happiness and charm to your home and garden.

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