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Sweet Alyssum Flowers

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Picture of white alyssum.

Picture of white alyssum.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy for Sweet Alyssum:

Plant taxonomy classifies sweet alyssum plants as Lobularia maritima. Don't confuse them with yellow alyssum (Aurinia saxatilis).

Plant Type:

Technically perennials, sweet alyssum flowers are widely treated as annual plants in the North.

Characteristics of Sweet Alyssum:

Although treated as an annual in the colder regions, sweet alyssum is one of the hardier annuals of the North: it may survive light frosts that tenderer plants will succumb to. Sweet alyssum flowers do come in other colors (there is a purple alyssum, for instance), but white alyssum is the most widely planted. Its clusters of white flowers are fragrant. The flowers have 4 small, blunt petals set in such a way as to give the blossom almost a squarish appearance. Sweet alyssum plants are short and spread to form mats. The plants' narrow leaves hardly show at all when sweet alyssum is in full bloom, if the plants are packed tightly together.

Sweet Alyssum -- Mediterranean Plants:

Sweet alyssum plants are indigenous to the Mediterranean region.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Sweet Alyssum:

Grow sweet alyssum plants in full sun to partial sun and in a loamy, well-drained soil.

Uses for Sweet Alyssum:

Sweet alyssum flowers form a striking border massed together as bedding plants. Mat-forming sweet alyssum stays short and complements taller border plants well: planted in front of taller plants, sweet alyssum won't obscure them. They're also popular in containers; as short plants, you can install them along the rim (they'll hang over slightly). Their short stature also makes them useful as temporary rock garden plants or groundcovers. White sweet alyssum flowers are used with red salvia and blue ageratum in the U.S. in patriotic landscaping themes for July 4th plantings and for decorating cemetery monuments on Memorial Day. Use them with other white flowers in moon gardens.

Care for Sweet Alyssum:

Hate to deadhead plants to encourage reblooming, because it's so time-consuming? Not to worry, with sweet alyssum flowers. Just give the plants a good "haircut" with a pair of scissors when they start to get leggy (remove about 1/2 of the growth): not only will this care promote further flowering, but it will also keep the plants optimally compact. Sweet alyssum sometimes re-seeds.

Outstanding Characteristics of Sweet Alyssum:

Sweet alyssum flowers boast a long blooming period, which is one reason why they're so often included in classic summer beds. The flowers are rugged (unlike those on petunias, for example, which are a veritable blight upon the landscape after a strong rain has ruined them). For that matter, even after a few of their flowers have died, sweet alyssum plants still look good: their individual flowers are so small, you really don't notice a dead one here or there. This latter feature makes them relatively low-maintenance, as there's no compelling aesthetic reason to "pick up after" them.

Take a Second Look at Sweet Alyssum:

Even for gardeners who generally have no use for annuals, sweet alyssum can be a useful plant in the landscape. One way for the perennial gardener to exploit the admirable qualities of sweet alyssum (while still treating it as an annual) is to use it as a "filler." For instance, if you have a gap in your perennial beds, you could plug that gap with sweet alyssum plants, in lieu of having to stare at an empty expanse of mulch. Incidentally, sweet alyssum flowers are also plants that attract butterflies. This feature makes them good candidates for a themed garden that focuses on drawing these winged beauties to the landscape.

Meaning of the Name, "Sweet Alyssum":

The "sweet" in "sweet alyssum" derives from the flowers' pleasant fragrance (compare "sweet autumn clematis").

The name "alyssum" derives from the Greek prefix a- (which negates what follows it) and lyssa, "rage." But our ancestors had a particular "rage" in mind when naming alyssum: rabies. The alyssums (especially the related yellow alyssum, with which sweet alyssum used to be conveniently lumped) were used in folk medicine -- where they were regarded as antidotes to rabies.

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