Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bird’s Eye Gilia

Tricolor Gilia

Bird's Eye Gilia: photo by Cliff Hutson
Bird's Eye Gilia: photo by Cliff Hutson

Bird’s Eye Gilia, or Tricolor Gilia, (Gilia tricolor) is an annual herb that is native to California, where it is found naturally in the Central Valley and surrounding mountain ranges and foothills, with major populations around the Bay Area. 

A member of the Phlox family (Polemoniaceae), it is described as delicate with a spreading branched stem that grows up to a foot in height. The leaves are alternate and finely dissected. It may bloom from April through August. One would think, given the name, that the, 1/2 inch wide or wider flowers, borne atop the stems, would have three colors. White and lavender are predominate in the petals. One then has a choice of the blue pollen or one of the throat colors of yellow and dark purple for the third. One source cites the “blue stamens encircling the yellow throat of the flower, which is set off by a dark purple ring”.  The flowers seem very attractive to bees. Humans can only imagine what they are seeing at their short-wavelength end of the spectrum of visible light.

The Gilia genus, as previously noted, is named for Filippo Luigi Gilii (1756-1821), naturalist and director of the Vatican observatory.  He, for twenty-one years, made twice daily meteorological readings at the Observatory, and had the meridian line and obelisk placed in front of St. Peter's for readings of the seasons.

This gilia is widely cultivated, being frequently included in wildflower seed mixes. In addition to bees, it attracts butterflies and birds. It is drought-tolerant; suitable for xeriscaping, and does not mind full sun. My research found  herbaria with two specimens that were collected well outside its range.  One was from Silverado Canyon in Orange County. The other from “Claremont; North side of Foothill Blvd. between Darthmouth (sic) and College Ave.” As the latter is just out side the grounds of the botanic garden where I work, I am willing to bet that these specimens were garden escapees. 

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