Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

“Wild” Bachelor Buttons

a swath of purple wild bachelor buttons on side of the road

Hello fellow readers, Last week, Queen Anne created quite a buzz. This week we have the “wild” Bachelor to talk about; Bachelor Buttons (Centaurea cyanus), also known as cornflowers. They’re an old-fashioned flower that has beautified gardens for centuries, first in Europe just as Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota.) They grow well in full sun and are easy keepers.

closeup of purple wild bachelor button flowersBachelor Button Folklore

In folklore, young men in love wore cornflowers. If the flower faded too quickly, it was a sign that the man’s love was not received by his intended.

Just like the reality show, there’s a new bachelor every year. Bachelor Buttons are an annual plant rather than a perennial, which comes back year after year. He self-seeds vigorously (figures) and grows 16 to 35 inches tall with grey-green branches. The flowers are about an inch and a half and intense blue. In the past, he often self-seeded in crop fields, hence the name cornflower. So is he a weed or wildflower? The same question we asked of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Bachelor Buttons – endangered or invasive?

In Europe, he’s now endangered by agricultural intensification, primarily due to the overuse of herbicide destroying his native habitat. Plantlife’s conservation organization named him one of 101 species to bring ‘back from the brink.’ On the other hand, through the introduction as an ornamental plant in gardens and a seed contaminant in crop seeds, Bachelor Buttons have naturalized in many parts of the world. He’s now found wild in every state except Alaska and is considered weedy or invasive by some authorities.

Bachelor Buttons attract beneficial insects. 

Rodale’s Organic Life published an article, ‘Flowers For Borders,’ that talks about controlling pests by planting the ’11 best flowers for borders’ that will draw beneficial insects into your garden. Guess what; the Bachelor was the first on their list to attract ladybugs, lacewings, ground beetles, and other insects that feed on pests. As a bonus, many beneficial bugs will also pollinate crops, thereby increasing yields. The article explains that Bachelor Buttons have extrafloral nectaries, which means their leaves release nectar even when the flowers are not in bloom – a plant ‘cologne’ of sorts.

womans feet in blue sneakers on side of the road with Queen Anne's Lace and wild Bachelor ButtonsQueen Anne's Lace and wild Bachelor Buttons on side of a farm road with a red barn in the background.So what about all the buzz of Queen Anne hooking up with the Bachelor? I’m sure you’ve seen them often commingling alongside the road. You wild thing!

Garden Dilemmas?

Click through to the previous column on Queen Anne’s Lace Anomaly.

This story is featured in Episode 18 of the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

Column updated 6/17/22

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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