One Name To Rule Them All: Get With Gomphrena

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena globosa (Amaranthaceae)

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena globosa (Amaranthaceae)

What is the scientific name for Batchelor’s Buttons? Does it matter? Can it help? Maybe.

If you learn the scientific name of a plant, you have a unique key to unlock information about a plant in books, libraries and on the net. A scientific name applies to one plant. It is unique.

Common names apply to many things. Bachelors have buttons. Australia has a Bachelor’s Button, it’s a native, ground hugging perennial, Craspedia variabilis. I even know one of the botanists who has studied it, Joy Everett, of the National Herbarium of NSW. Bachelor’s Buttons, as a common name, may apply to various unrelated plants, from temperate shrubs to tropical annuals across planet Earth. (The questioner seeking Bachelor’s buttons replied it wasn’t a native plant).

When I tried to describe Bachelor’s Buttons to someone this morning I felt like I was back in a garden centre in Beckenham, London. A significant amount of time there was spent interpreting descriptions of a plant (or a product or a problem) to see if we sold it, or could get it in for customers (or offer a product to solve the problem).

My favourite Bachelor’s Buttons is Kerria japonica, a hardy, clumping shrub. I had them planted them by the hundred to decorate council housing estates in north London. (That wasn’t it).

In my Brisbane garden I sow Gomphrena globosa, Bachelor’s Buttons, from October to January. it’s an odd edible tropical ‘paper daisy’. (Hmmm, maybe that’s it).

In Sydney I once devised a spring wildflower meadow, and amongst the mixture of species were Ladybird Poppies and my beloved Bachelor’s Buttons, Centaurea cyanus. The latter is a welcome weed, an annual that once brightened fields of ripening cereal crops in southern England in the days before selective residual herbicides eliminated them and all that drink their nectar. Both my grandmother’s grew this Bachelor’s Buttons. (No that’s not it).

In my London garden I grew Bachelor’s Buttons in terracotta bowls filled with leafmould-rich, woodland soil. In summer I stood the bowls in saucers of water. Ranunculus aconitifolius flowers resent drought. London was sometimes too hot and dry for them, so I doubt this plant would survive in SE Qld. No point mentioning that Bachelor’s Buttons.

I always like to have some organic Bachelor’s Buttons, Tanacetum parthenium, in my garden shed. Natural Pyrethrum, extracted from this annual herb, is accepted in organic gardens for spraying sap-sucking and chewing pests. I spot spray, it’s safe and effective for ridding citrus of those horrid, stinky Bronze Orange (aka Stink) Bugs which are currently attempting copulation in my kaffir lime. (Not that one, either, although it makes a nice cool season flowering annual, especially the double flowered form).

Quick interlude while I check my limes.

If I was in Tasmania, I’d be thinking of the hardy herbaceous perennial Bachelor’s Buttons, Centaurea montana. In London, my mother planted it in our herbaceous border in front of Delphinium. Bees adored it. (Not that one).

In the end we ran out of time. Possibly it’s Gomphrena globosa. It’s certainly the best of the bunch of Bachelor’s Buttons to grow in the subtropics. Really lurid flowers! I started mass planting these in Sydney Botanic Gardens, they looked brilliant amongst Salvia x splendens (the common bedding Salvia) in the Flower Bed Lawn surrounding the Choragic Monument.

Sow Gomphrena now in a sunny, freely draining border, preferably in all day sunshine. Broadcast seed, then lightly, shallowly rake it into topsoil. Cover with a veneer of chopped sugarcane.

Tip: adult plants are drought tolerant, seedlings less so. Water well after sowing and daily until germination (4-5 days), then regularly until plants are established.

If there’s one thing that unites all Bachelor’s Buttons (of the vegetable kind) it is their beauty.

Jerry Coleby-Williams

9th November 2014