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Centaurea Montana 'Amethyst Dream': Perennial Bachelor Buttons

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My photo of perennial bachelor button illustrates how lacy the bloom is. 'Amethyst Dream' is purple.

The delicate texture and rich color of 'Amethyst Dream' is the stuff of fairy art.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Perennial Bachelor Buttons:

Plant taxonomy classifies the type of perennial bachelor buttons featured in this article as Centaurea montana 'Amethyst Dream.' Descriptive of the flower color, 'Amethyst Dream' is the cultivar name.

Plant Type:

Centaurea montana is an herbaceous perennial.

Characteristics of Centaurea Montana 'Amethyst Dream':

While 'Amethyst Dream' does exhibit a gray-green foliage that some find handsome, I value the plant mainly for its purple flowers. But their floral value goes beyond mere color: the flowers are unusually lacy, giving them an exquisitely delicate appearance. The centers are reddish.

The unopened flower buds are interesting in their own right; they remind me of little pineapples. Blooming begins in my garden (zone 5) in May and continues through July. Approximate plant dimensions at maturity of this clump-forming perennial: 20 inches tall x 27 inches wide.

Planting Zones for Perennial Bachelor Buttons:

Perennial bachelor buttons are indigenous to Europe. In North America they grow best in planting zones 3-9.

Sun and Soil Requirements for Perennial Bachelor Buttons:

Plant in full sun for optimal flowering. They need a well-drained ground in which to grow. Once established, they will be drought-tolerant perennials; take care not to over-water. But young plants will need adequate water in order to become established. In terms of soil fertility, this is one of those plants that actually seems to dislike a rich soil.

Uses in Landscaping:

In regions where perennial bachelor buttons tend to become naturalized plants, they can be grown with various types of wildflowers to form a wildflower garden. Because of their drought-resistance, they are useful in large rock gardens. They've traditionally been used in cottage gardens and, more generally, make good edging plants.

Wildlife Attracted by Perennial Bachelor Buttons:

'Amethyst Dream' is a good enough plant to attract butterflies to warrant inclusion in butterfly gardens.

Care for Perennial Bachelor Buttons:

Deadhead after flowering to encourage reblooming in late summer, although the second blooming typically won't be as vigorous as the first one. Since these plants spread via stolons, they can become crowded and so can profit from division every few years.

Likewise, because of the proclivity of perennial bachelor buttons to spread vigorously in some regions (mainly in parts of the North), a portion of your care for this plant may entail checking its advance if you don't want more than what you already have.

As reader, Maurine Greenwald reminds me, the plant is prone to powdery mildew. The preventive care recommended to combat this disease is to provide good air circulation. You can achieve this by planning so as to avoid overcrowding in your flower border and by dividing.

Outstanding Features:

No doubt, the outstanding feature of this plant is its delicate flowers. They display a fine texture that can either be appreciated in its own right or set off against flowers of a coarser texture to create a striking contrast.

Or maybe it's contrasts in color you prefer? I happen to like contrasts between purple and yellow flowers. What color combinations for flowers do you like?

The Genus, Centaurea: a Diverse Lot:

Centaurea montana 'Amethyst Dream' is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to types of Centaurea. By the way, if that genus name makes you think of Greek mythology, you're on the right track for its derivation. It is said that the most famous centaur, Chiron, who was much skilled in the medicinal uses of plants, applied Centaurea to wounds to heal them. And there you have the origin of the genus name -- as hard as it is, admittedly to relate such a rugged, hulking beast as a centaur to a plant with such a delicate flower. The specific epithet, montana refers to the plant's mountain habitat in its native Europe.

For examples of some of the different plants that belong to this genus, let's start with the yellow Centaurea called Centaurea macrocephala. The species plant, Centaurea montana has blue flowers -- thus an alternate common name, "mountain bluets" (for a picture, click "More Images" under the photo above). But using that common name can lead to confusion, since there is also a little wildflower named "bluets."

I prefer the common name, "perennial bachelor buttons," especially when referring to cultivars of Centaurea montana that do not have blue flowers (in which case "bluets" does not make much sense as a nickname). The origin of this common name lies in the fact that bachelors traditionally inserted these flowers in their buttonholes when calling upon their lady friends.

Centaurea montana and Centaurea macrocephala are perennials, but, in addition, there is an annual bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus). Oh, and just for good measure, this annual (and sometimes the perennial, too) can be referred to as "cornflower." This common name reflects the fact that the plants are a common sight in "corn" (i.e., grain) fields in southern Europe. Aren't you glad we have the scientific names of plants to help us keep all this straight?

Finally, even a notorious weed named "spotted knapweed" belongs to the Centaurea genus. I could go on, but you get the idea: this genus is nothing if not diverse.

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