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What is Gypsophila?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison

The gypsophila family of flowering plants consists of more than 100 species of annuals and perennials. They are best known for their use as fillers in florist bouquets and are nearly always combined with roses. One of just a few white flowers that do not turn brown as they age, they are frequent additions to dried flower arrangements. Common names for these ornamental plants include baby’s breath and soapwort.

This plant got its name from the Greek words gypsos, which means gypsum, and philos, meaning friend, in reference to gypsophila's affinity for alkaline soil with a high lime content. Native to Europe and Asia, gypsophila was brought to North America in the 19th century. It has thrived and naturalized in many areas and is considered a noxious weed in some states.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

The herbaceous plant will grow in any fertile, well-drained soil, and it prefers areas with a full day of sunlight. Gypsophila, unlike many types of plants, will also grow in sandy soil. It is not fond of extremely hot weather and will wilt when the temperature gets too high.

Gypsophila is useful in the garden as a filler between perennials and is right at home in cottage gardens. The flowers should be cut for use in bouquets when only half of the bloom is open. They will last for at least two weeks in a vase and will frequently keep for much longer. Drying the flowers is quite easy and may be done simply by hanging a bundle upside down in a cool place until the blooms are completely dry. How long this will take depends on the humidity level in the space where they are being dried.

The most common variety is Gypsophila paniculata, which grows up to 3 feet (about 0.9 m) and forms large mounds of tiny single or double flowers on long, spindly stems with small, grayish leaves. Some form of support may be required as these plants grow to their full height. This variety is also available in pale pink.

It is best to plant gypsophila seeds where the plants are going to stay, because they develop a large, deep rootstock and seedlings do not transplant well. Planting should be done in midspring, after the ground has warmed. They can be planted outdoors in the fall in areas where winters are mild.

If gypsophila flowers are deadheaded, they may produce a second mass of blooms later in summer, though picking so many small flowers is time consuming and tedious. It is easier to shear off the top of the entire plant, which also keeps it from becoming too leggy. Seeds are widely available, as are plants. They are also sold in dormant root form, but these are usually available only in springtime.

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