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Centaurea

Asteraceae (Compositae)
Annuals, Perennials

Out of some 500 species, only a dozen or so are widely cultivated. Of these, annuals are grown mainly for cut flowers; perennial kinds are valued for soft, silvery foliage. All are relatively easy to grow. For best performance, add lime to acid soils. Sow seeds of annuals or set out plants of perennial kinds in spring or fall. (In desert regions, plant all in autumn for winter and spring bloom.)

Centaurea cineraria
Centaurea cineraria

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Centaurea cineraria

(This common name is used for many plants with whitish foliage; see Dusty Miller.) Native to Italy. Compact growth to 1 ft.wide, 1 ft. or taller. Velvety white, strapshaped leaves with broad, roundish lobes, mostly in basal clump. Solitary 1-in. flower heads (purple, occasionally yellow) in summer. Trim back after bloom. Blossoms attract bees.

Cornflower or bachelor's button (Centaurea cyanus)
Cornflower or bachelor's button (Centaurea cyanus)

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Centaurea cyanus

Bachelor's Button, or cornflower, is a pretty blue flower from northern temperate regions. A common but often welcome weed in some areas, such as the Pacific Northwest. Grows 1 to 1 1/2 ft. tall, less than a foot wide, branching if given enough space. Narrow gray-green leaves, 2–3 in. long. Spring to midsummer flowers are 1 1/2 in. across, in blue, pink, rose, wine red, or white; blue varieties are traditional favorites for boutonnieres.

Centaurea macrocephala

From the Caucasus. Attractive, coarse-foliaged, leafy plant 3–4 ft. tall, 2 ft.wide. Blooms in summer, bearing 2-in. clusters of yellow flowers tightly wrapped at the base with overlapping, shiny, papery brown bracts. Flower heads resemble thistles. Use in fresh or dried arrangements.

Centaurea montana

Native to mountains of central Europe. It forms a clump 1 1/2–2 ft. tall and wide; grayish green leaves reach 7 in. long. Flowers resembling ragged blue 3-in. cornflowers top the stems in late spring to midsummer. Protect from snails. Divide every other year.

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