Searching for Chocolate Daisy
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 12, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
The seed packet said "Chocolate Daisy." PlantFiles said "Berlandiera lyrata," and people raved about the sweet chocolate scent of the flower. I sowed my seeds with great anticipation. Since they were only supposed to grow to a foot or so in height, I planted out the seedlings at the front of my garden border. What grew and bloomed there was definitely not Chocolate Daisy--too tall, and with no discernable smell of chocolate--but it still turned out to be one of my all time favorite garden plants!
You have to love a perennial that blooms the first year from winter sown seed, gracing the garden with nonstop cheerful yellow blooms all summer long. I collected seeds to share and sent them out with labels like "Not Chocolate Daisy" and "Too Tall To Be Chocolate Daisy." Thanks to DGer sallyg's persistence, and to the expertise of folks in the Plant Identification forum, we determined that our favorite new flower was actually Ox-Eye, Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra.
In the next two summers, my yellow Ox-Eye came back bigger and better each year. Despite its unexpected height, I left it in its original location at the front of my perennial bed. Blooming longer and brighter than my Black-Eyed Susans, this mislabeled surprise became a favorite focal point in my garden. The butterflies frankly adore the blooms, and the few seeds that the birds miss give me volunteer plants to share with friends.
Like other Heliopsis, this plant has a tendency to sprawl after a summer squall. You could stake it for a tidier look or combine it with other informal plants for a cottage style appearance. I love the hot pink blooms and silvery foliage of Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria) against the gold and green of my Not Chocolate Daisy. This Heliopsis is a sturdy, clumping plant, so be generous with your 18 to 24 inch spacing.
What about the real Chocolate Daisy? I didn't give up my search for Berlandiera lyrata. I'd started hunting through seed catalogs when a generous DGer offered me seeds. Real Chocolate Daisy seeds are thin and papery, very different from the skinny, dark, hard seeds of my Heliopsis. Seeing the seeds, I knew for certain that the first plant I'd grown was not Chocolate Daisy. I started a few seeds of the real thing inside, under lights, and sowed more in a winter sowing container.
As the seedlings stretched into leggy little plants, my anticipation grew. Would the blooms really smell like chocolate? Unfortunately for my eager nose, I had to wait until the following year to find out. Unlike my "Too Tall To Be Chocolate Daisy," the real thing didn't bloom for me the first year from seed. Would it be worth the wait? Last spring, I planted out my one year old plants in various sheltered locations. PlantFiles notes that Chocolate Daisy is only hardy to zone 7, so I hoped it would survive in some warmer microclimates within my zone 6 garden. Finally, I had buds... and then I had blooms!
I dove into the first bloom nose first, and took a deep sniff. Chocolate! Yes! Unbelievably, this little yellow flower smelled just like a freshly unwrapped chocolate Easter egg--sweet, and definitely chocolaty. New blooms on this plant gave me a reason to run down to the patio all summer.
Plant Chocolate Daisy within easy sniffing distance, by the edges of patios and walkways. It would probably do fine in a container, also, although it might need winter protection in cooler zones. My plants were a little spindly and sprawling, and I've been advised to try pinching them as they start growing next year.
I could see how my Ox-Eye had been mistakenly identified as Chocolate Daisy, as the blooms are very similar in color and form. The yellow, daisy-like blooms of both plants have chocolate brown centers. But these two plants are very different in size and foliage, and the scent of Real Chocolate Daisy sets it apart from anything else in my garden.
Both of these plants are easy to share from collected seed. Collect Heliopsis seeds just like Echinacea (coneflower) seeds: Pluck the prickly, dried round center after the petals have fallen from the flower, and rub to release the dark seeds. Berlandiera seeds are a little trickier. Once the seed is ripe and ready, its papery husk catches the slightest breeze. As closely as I watched my plants, I didn't get many seeds. This summer, I plan to bag some ripening blooms to catch the seeds when they blow loose.
A happy accident that brought me Not Chocolate Daisy from one generous DGer, and another DG friend sent me Real Chocolate Daisy. Now both flowers bloom in my garden, one loved for its nonstop color and the other for its delicate sweet scent. Although only Berlandiera lyrata may belong in a chocolate-themed bed, I'd suggest sowing some Heliopsis helianthoides var. scabra near the back of any sunny bed.
Searching for that elusive scent of chocolate brought me not one, but two of my favorite garden plants!
Photos by Jill M Nicolaus. Move your mouse over images and links for additional information.
If you're interested in chocolate-themed gardens, don't miss yesterday's article by Angela Carson, "Inspiration in the Chocolate Garden," and look for Diana Wind's upcoming article, "A Chocolate Garden."
For more "Chocolate!" articles, look for the theme week thumbnail banner designed by Mrs_Ed or search the DG articles for "chocolate."