Sunday, April 24, 2022

Scarlet Flax, Linum grandiflorum, Spectacular!

Scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum, flax family Linaceae, is a short plant with bright red flowers. I have admired it for years; last year I planted it. 

scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum
scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum 

Scarlet flax is native to North Africa and along the coasts of the Mediterranean; when I was trying for an international garden--plants from every continent-- it was one of the African plants I could grow in a northern Colorado garden.

You can call it scarlet flax, red flax, or crimson flax. Flax is the name for plants in the genus Linum, a big genus of about 200 species native in temperate and subtropical regions all over the world. Flowers of flax species range from blue to white to pink to yellow to the brilliant red of scarlet flax, all with a characeristic ring of five (sometimes four) petals around a contrasting center. 

The most famous Linum species is common cultivated flax, Linum usitatissimum, the plant whose stems are the source of linen thread and cloth. Probably all the members of the genus Linum will make decent twine. if you care to wet and rot,(ret), dry, break, comb, spin, and ply them. Linen production is such hard work that it went into a decline in the last couple centuries as other fibers, including synthetics, became available, but it has had a revival in the last 50 years. Common cultivated flax is also the source of flax seed and flax seed oil, used in a wide variety of applications. 

Scarlet flax is grown for its beautiful flowers, but shares the strong fiberous stems and shiny oil-filled seeds of common cultivated flax.

The plants grew quickly from seeds. They shared the flowering pattern of my blue flax (Linum perenne), opening in the morning and closing their flowers in the heat of the afternoon. Individual flowers only lasted one day, so to use them as cut flowers needed a stalk with several buds. And then the petals of the earlier ones dropped on the table. I mostly enjoyed them growing in the garden.

Scarlet flax is the only red flax you'll find in North America. The USDA reports it as having escaped in New York, Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, and California. Since those cover most of the U.S., it probably can naturalize in any state. That will make it a weed, except that so far it hasn't been aggressive or obnoxious enough to bother anyone and is a treat to see. Still, if you are going to plant it, be responsible about not letting it get away. (A pragmatic reason for that is because if it becomes a problem, rating it a noxious weed will prevent buying seeds and growing it in gardens.)

scarlet flax, Linum grandiflorum
It is a really dramatic beautiful flower and I am watchng to see if they reseeded.

Comments and corrections welcome.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist
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