What is Clarkia?

Deborah Walker

Clarkia, also known as pink ribbons, garland flower, or mountain garland, is a genus of medium-sized, annual wildflowers native to the coniferous forests of the western United States and western Canada; one species of this plant is native to South America. It is a member of the willowherb or evening primrose family. During early-to-mid summer, it repeatedly bears single or double blossoms that have a rippling, satin-like texture. It makes a lovely summertime cut flower, and is often used to add a pop of color to shade gardens.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

All but one species of Clarkia is native to the western United States and Canada. Clarkia tenella, or sangre de toro, as it is known in its homeland, is native to Chile. The remaining species live in the forests stretching from California to British Columbia.

Seed should be planted in the autumn or early in the rainy season. These plants do not transplant well, so seeds should be sewn where the plants are going to be grown. Clarkia usually grows to be about 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 cm) tall. It has a spread of about 9 inches (22.86 cm) wide.

During June, July, and August, or about 90 days after planting, Clarkia plants produce flowers in pink, rose, red-purple, or violet. The cup-shaped, four-petaled flowers are 2 to 4 inches (5.08 to 10.16 cm) wide. Double-petaled flowers resemble small carnations and are about 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide.

Clarkia thrives in the cool climates of the Pacific northwest, but does not do well in hot or humid areas. It prefers well-drained, sandy soil that has a neutral or alkaline pH level; heavier soils are tolerated. This wildflower has average watering needs, but should not be overwatered. In order to thrive it requires full sun or partial shade in the afternoon.

A quick-growing, easy-maintenance annual wildflower, Clarkia is not susceptible to common diseases or pests. Its tall, sturdy stems make it a good choice for a garden of flowers intended to be used as cut flowers. In addition to being grown in flower beds, it is often used by gardeners in rock gardens, or as the back border in beds with other lower-growing plants. Clarkia is sometimes planted among ferns and other shade plants to infuse a bit of color into the landscape.

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