Local Wildflowers for the August Garden: Madia Elegans

Yellow bloom of Madia elegans,  elegant or common madia
Some regular readers may know I have been experimenting for about three years with a few of our local native wildflowers, assessing their suitability for garden use. The experiment is not over -- never over! -- but here are some interim results. First, Madia elegans, common or elegant madia.

We don't live right on the coast, though we are in the Central California Coast region, but we do see a strip of the Monterey Bay from our ridge. Madia species of all sorts grow around here at the edge of the woods.

Woodland madia, Madia madioides, is quite pretty and I may try growing that - it is lower and bushier and more petite. Coast madia, Madia sativa, is a big thug with tiny flowers, and slender madia, Madia gracilis is a slightly smaller thug with tiny flowers.  They are all annual native plants whose yellow flowers bloom in summer.

The flowers of Madia elegans are larger than those of the others -- very garden worthy. The foliage -- not so much.

I collected Madia elegans seeds locally three or four years ago. They've reseeded in the garden every since. But they don't seem to spread - I'd like it if they did, but so far, they just come back where they were planted. I will try scattering seed next spring and see if they grow or just get eaten by quail!

The madia in my garden has been blooming since June! It is so cheerful and attracts so many bees, and the oily seeds are food for wildlife too. We've had a recent spurt in blooms through August.

Look at that, how can you not love it?

Well, you can not love how sticky the foliage is!

Or the grey leaves that festoon the lower stem when the plants have matured. You might also be able to see that these plants have been munched

The first year I grew Madia elegans behind a temporary wire enclosure and it grew to about 6-8 feet tall - with massive and not very attractive foliage. And a stunning lot of flowers.

Then I took the enclosure out. The foliage grew big and after a while, the deer chomped it down and kept it down to about 1-2 feet tall. It's been a dry year this year and they may be less picky than usual. They really feasted on it, and they left ugly stumps! The rabbits kept up the good work too.

But new growth this month has surprised me and we've had so many blooms, it's a pleasure.

Above is one that the rabbits have been munching down nearly to the ground - and it doesn't have the thick stems or grey foliage.

My recommendation for Growing Madia: Plant for a wildlife garden - but maybe in the back of border. And not too close - they get really big, especially if the soil is good and if you water at all. Next year I'm going to keep pruning and pinching the young plants to stimulate low and bushy growth. Their sticky glandular stems and foliage are not generally relished by wildlife, but it might help to put a rabbit fence about 18" high around the planting. You'll love the color throughout summer and so will the bees, and the seeds are very nutritious - humans used to eat them too. I haven't tried though. Have you?

Also blooming still in the garden is local wild native Eriogonum nudum - I'll write about that another time.

Happy summer in the garden - hope you are all taking it easy in what Judith Lowry calls "the fifth season" when the California garden is peaceful and resting in the sunshine.


ebw-pete said…
what a great topic! you might try having a patch of your garden mulched only w/ decomposed granite. you can get them to reseed well in that, but you'll also have to weed it. i try to maintain patches of dg in my gardens in order to plant things by seed. even buckwheats reseed wonderfully in dg. there's another very closely related family called the Hemizonias which are also very nice late bloomers but don't have the tendency to grow huge like the Madias. here's pics of one i came across the other day: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjHMwSyi

and here's some more Hemizonias some of which i've tried w/ some success: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjh8Nsxp
Nancy said…
Thank you for this informative post! I've been growing Madia elegans for a couple of years now (SF Bay Area, Peninsula) and have found it works well as a filler plant (kind of like Verbena bonariensis is) among deer grass and mullein. Mine get to be about 8' tall. Have fallen in love with both the scent and the flowers; elegans is a perfectly fitting name!
Country Mouse said…
Thanks for the suggestions, Pete. I'm definitely going to use some DG this fall and see what luck I get direct seeding through winter/early spring. I enjoyed your photos too.

Nancy I like your idea of growing it with deer grass - they would semi hide its homely feet, and I can just visualize the flowers rising above and among the deer grass spikes - lovely idea.