A member of the teasel family, Scabiosa caucasica is native to the Caucasus. Its common name, pincushion flower, is an apt description of the bloom. Softly ruffled petals surround a central section filled with gray stamens, creating a resemblance to a dense cushion filled with pins. The plant’s Latin name references its role as an herbal remedy for itchy skin.

Description
The majority of varieties range from 18 to 24 inches high, with flowers of soft blue or white, although there are a few pink types too. Scabiosa atropurpurea or "mourning bride", an annual version of the plant, features smaller flowers but a wider variety of colors, including maroon, rose, pink, yellow, lavender-blue and white.

A prolific bloomer, perennial scabiosa’s 2-1/2 to 3-inch flowers begin opening as spring warms into summer. Heaviest bloom occurs at this time, but if spent flowers are kept trimmed, the plant will continue throwing its long-stemmed blooms throughout the summer. Foliage is dense at the plant’s base, but thins closer to the top of the stems.

ImageCulture
Scabiosa prefers a sunny, well-drained location with alkaline soil. Good drainage is important, and winter sogginess can be fatal. At the same time, plants require adequate moisture through the heat of summer. Established plants can tolerate some degree of drought. Perennial varieties are hardy in zones 3-7.

Like some other types of heavy-blooming perennials, scabiosa can be short-lived. To maintain the plant’s vigor, it should be divided and planted in fresh soil every two to four years. Spring is the best time to perform division.

Keeping flowers deadheaded can help prolong bloom. This is admittedly easier said than done, particularly with such free-flowering cultivars as ‘Butterfly Blue’. Also complicating deadheading is the fact that finished flowers and new buds can look much alike. Spent blooms are drier and less vivid in color, and may spill seeds at the lightest touch.

Space scabiosa plants 12-15 inches apart. Plant several specimens together for maximum impact.

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'Butterfly Blue'
'Pink Mist'
'Perfecta Alba'
'Beaujolais Bonnets'

Varieties

Undoubtedly the best-known scabiosa is ‘Butterfly Blue’, named Perennial of the Year for 2000. Deservedly popular, this compact variety grows from 12 to 15 inches high, making it ideal for the front of the border. It flowers freely and reliably from May through October, and pairs well with its pastel companion, ‘Pink Mist’. Other popular varieties include ‘Baby Blue’, ‘Beaujolais Bonnets’, ‘Perfecta Alba’, ‘Pink Lemonade’ and ‘Ultra Violet’.


Photos thanks to DG members:
thumbnail of Scabiosa ‘Fama’ by averybird
Scabiosa in bud by RosinaBloom
Scabiosa caucasica ‘Perfecta Alba’ by AnniesAnnuals
Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’ by Calif_Sue
Scabiosa columbaria ‘Pink Mist’ by Kell
Scabiosa ‘Beaujolais Bonnets’ by kniphofia