Commonly known as either bachelor’s button (cute) or the cornflower, centaurea cyanus got its common name because it thrives in cornfields all over the world in open sunny fields in dry soil. The nickname “bachelor’s button” comes from an old time-y tradition of young men wearing cornflowers in their shirt button holes to indicate that their heart was taken (CUTE)!
This annual flowering plant is a member of the asteraceae family, or more commonly as the daisy family, which is home to daisies, asters, and sunflowers too. Cornflower fields are native to Europe, they they have become naturalized all over North America and Australia as well.
Unfortunately, in recent times, cornflowers have been put on the endangered list due to agricultural intensification and the use of herbicides in cornfields. Which is a shame, because they are very important for pollinators and they make for a lovely ornamental plant as well.
Cornflowers are just one of literally hundreds of flowering plants that we cover in our substantial list of Beautiful Flowering Plants from all over the world. There you can learn all there is to know about growing and caring for our green floral friends!
What do Cornflowers Look Like?
Cornflowers are comprised of several rings of ray florets. These large ray florets surround a central cluster of disc florets. Each flower head is between 1cm and 3cm long, and they are most commonly an intense blue flower color. Flowers bloom in the late spring and stay in bloom all summer long.
Though naturally blue flowers, there are many cultivated varieties that can come in gorgeous pastel colors like pink, white, and purples as well. Blue flowers contain the blue pigment protocyanin, which is the same pigment present in roses, though it appears as red pigment in rose species.
Certain cultivars have been created as double or two toned varieties as well, where flowers can have two differently colored rings of florets. There are certain cultivars that are white and pink, or pink and lavender, and some black accents as well. Some common cultivars are blue boy cornflowers or blue diadem cornflowers.
Cornflower leaves are lanceolate in shape (narrow oval with pointed ends) and they are usually between 1cm and 4cm in length. Leaves are a matte green color with delicate veins.
Cornflowers are an annual plant that usually attain heights of 40-90cm in height. Their height comes from length branched stems of a grey/green color.
How do Cornflowers Reproduce?
Cornflowers are extremely efficient at reproduction, effectively creating fields of flowers wherever their seeds land. Cornflowers produce nectar that is very high in sugar content, and attracts many different pollinators to their flowers.
Bees, hummingbirds, wasps, and moths will visit these fields and pollinate as many flowers as they possibly can. Once a flower is pollinated, it will produce seeds that are 3.5mm in length with 3mm pappus bristles that act as small parachutes to help disperse the seeds.
Not only is each individual seed extremely effective as dispersing, but each plant will produce about 800 individual seeds in one growing season. Seed is shed shortly before the harvest of certain grain fields, and so when these grains are harvested (rye, barley, wheat, corn) the harvest will be mixed with the cornflower seeds, only furthering the spread of the species.
Where are Cornflowers Native to?
Cornflowers are a native plant to the more temperate regions of Europe, and their cultivation has been recorded in the British Isles since the Iron Age. Since then, they have been naturalized all over the world. They can exist in USDA growing zones 2 through 11.
When growing in the wild, cornflowers can be found growing alongside various agricultural crops. These beautiful wildflowers got their common name because of its proliferation in corn fields, though it grows in wheat, barley, rye, and oat fields as well.
How do you Grow a Cornflower?
If you’re feeling curious about growing your own cornflower patch, here are a few simple steps to help get you started. Just remember that if you don’t want these plants to completely take over your property, deadhead them before they are able to go to seed!
Since these are summer blooming plants, it is best to sow seed in the late spring. Germination takes almost no time at all, and they can be planted quite late in the growing season. If you live in mild winter areas, this can be done in the late summer or early fall as well.
Pick a spot on your property or garden that receives full sun exposure (minimum 6 hours per day) and ensure that it is in moist and well drained soil.
Space each seed about 20-30cm apart. Though seeds are able to germinate a maximum of 10cm below the earth, they tend to germinate the most quickly when they are planted just 1cm below the soil.
From here, ensure that the soil remains moist and not waterlogged. Seedlings are not tolerant to flood or drought, though mature plants are rather tolerant of drought conditions once they are fully established. Following these steps should ensure cornflowers blooms in the early spring.
What are the Growing Conditions of Cornflowers?
Cornflowers can tolerate a great variety of soil types. They prefer to exist in soils that are either neutral or alkaline, between 6 and 7.8 on the pH scale. Though young seedlings prefer to have moist soil, well established plants prefer to exist in dry soils. The main requirement for this plant is well drained soil.
When growing a cornflower patch on your property, adding a thick layer of mulch is helpful for keeping the soil from drying out completely, and it helps protect the plants’ root system from too much sun exposure, as these are sun loving plants.
As long as soil doesn’t dry out completely, well established plants are quite tolerant to drought. Wild cornflower fields usually receive either natural precipitation, or the same irrigation as agricultural fields. Water cornflowers once a week if they don’t receive any natural rainfall.
Much like the agricultural fields that they can be found growing wild in, cornflowers prefer to exist in full sun conditions. This means a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day. They are a sun loving species!
Since cornflowers are annual plants, they will complete their entire life cycle within one year, and the seeds that they release will carry on the population. Because of this, cornflowers do not need to be tolerant to winter temperatures. They can exist in USDA growing zones 2 through 11.
Giving a high phosphorous fertilizer to a cornflower patch in the midsummer will help increase flower production of the plant, though it is not entirely necessary for the health and prosperity of it.
The overall shape of a cornflower needn’t be pruned as they have a very neat growing pattern, though it is important to deadhead cornflowers before they seed. This way, patches of them won’t sprout up unannounced all over your yard.
After reading all of the requirements, you’ll learn that cornflowers are a wonderfully low maintenance plant. The main thing to remember as that they need full sun and well drained soil.
How is the Cornflower Used?
Now that you’ve learned almost all there is to know about the cornflower, now discover all the ways in which it can be used! Not only is it wonderfully easy to care for, but it has a multitude of nifty uses as well. Gather round gardeners, and decide how you’d like to utilize your cornflower plant.
Cornflowers have been in cultivation for centuries, and one of those reasons is for its ornamental quality. They are actually grown as a cut flower species in Canada due to the wonderful quality they bring to floral arrangements.
Different cultivars are grown for their beautiful ray florets that can be a variety of colors. Blue flower florets grow in the wild, though pink, purple, and white varieties can be bought in stores.
Cornflowers are extremely important to the pollinators and other beneficial insects that share the same growing regions. Species like bees, wasps, butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths all frequent cornflower fields.
This is because cornflower nectar is super high in sugar content (specifically 0.2mg of sugar per flower per day), which is a very valuable aspect to beekeepers as well!
Cornflowers are actually edible and can be eaten fresh, dried, or cooked. They make for beautiful garnishes with a delicate flavor. Dried flower petals can be used to make tea blend and species, though their main function is as a natural dye to drinks.
Specialty cheeses and oils sometimes contain raw cornflower petals, and these can be added to a variety of dishes, fresh or cooked. Dried flowers make for beautiful garnishes on sweet dishes, savoury dishes, drinks and desserts alike!