Centaurea

A large family of cornflowers, knapweeds and hard heads, found throughout temperate regions, with concentrations in Europe and Turkey. Found in open situations, meadows, mountains, roadsides. A characterstic is the hard, knobbly buds, the bracts elegantly patterned and remaining after the flowers actually open. The flowers have thistle-like centre (Asteraceae, so these are the disc-florets), often surrounded by more extravagant, frilly, tubular-like flowers (ray-florets). Foliage can be interesting, with cut-leaved and woolly, all helping conserve moisture. We grow some in our dry garden (C. 'John Coutts'), others would be as suitable in the general border (C. montana). Centaurea are named after the centaurs of Greek mythology, who reputedly discovered the medicinal properties of these plants.

The numerous small flowers that make up the large flowerheads are outstandingly attractive to all manner of pollinating insects especially honeybees, bumblebees, leaf-cutter bees and hoverflies. The foliage is also seemingly palatable to a range of herbivores and sap-sucking insects and so making the plants central to the garden ecosystem. Furthermore, in autumn the seeds are devoured by finches.

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