Achyrachaena mollis is an annual wildflower that is native to the low hills and grasslands of far western North America. Its common name, blow wives, derives from the way the silky dried flower scales blow free of the plant to disperse seeds on the wind. The plant produces a straight stem topped by a rounded bud that opens into a spherical cluster of tiny yellow flowers The main visual appeal of this plant is not their flowers, but rather the globes of dried scales that form as the plant prepares to disperse seeds. At this time, the flower resembles the puffy head of a dandelion plant after the flowers have faded and dried.
Blow wives is a quick-growing wildflower that is normally planted by sowing seeds in fall through early winter. Specialty nurseries might also offer potted plants. Planted either way, blow wives will quickly grow to bloom from late March to June, after which they will freely self-seed. Once a patch is planted, you'll probably not need to plant seeds again, thanks to the ready way these plants distribute their seeds.
|Common Name||Blow wives, soft blow wives|
|Botanical Name||Achyrachaena mollis|
|Mature Size||1–2 feet tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Sandy loam to clay|
|Soil pH||Acidic to alkaline|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Hardiness Zones||All zones (true annual)|
|Native Area||Western North America|
Blow Wives Care
Blow wives are commonly found in low-elevation grasslands, oak woodland habitats, and sunny slopes throughout Oregon and Northern California's Klamath-Siskiyou region, often in clay soils at elevations of up to 4,000 feet. In such an area, you might not need to plant this species at all because volunteer plants can sprout up in your garden from seeds floating in on the wind. Elsewhere, blow wives can make an unusual specimen in almost any grassy wildflower or meadow garden. The best sources for seeds or live plants are specialty native plant nurseries or online retailers.
There is not much involved in growing these plants other than planting the seeds or potted plants. If the location is at all suitable, they will very likely self-seed and colonize nicely. While invasiveness is a possibility, this is not a plant that is extremely troublesome, and it is rarely included on lists of invasive species. This plant does have any serious problems with pests or diseases, nor any notable cultural problems.
The blow wives plant will thrive in both full sun and partial shade.
Native to California, these plants are quite drought tolerant. However, they will grow best with regular weekly watering.
Blow wives will grow well when planted in a wide range of soils. Average soil will suffice, but it should be well-drained. They also grow well in clay soil as well as rocky serpentine soils that can be high in metallic compounds.
Temperature and Humidity
These plants grow best in climates with hot, dry summers and cool, wet, foggy winters. They tend to begin flowering in April, which is when the rainy season is ending in their native California.
No fertilization is needed for blow wives. Like many wildflowers, it might not bloom if it has been fertilized.
How to Grow Blow Wives From Seed
This plant naturally propagates itself by self-seeding, casting its seeds to the wind after completing the blooming cycle. If you do want to sow them yourself directly, harvesting the seeds from existing plants is best done in late spring before they blow away. The dark seeds will be found attached to the ends of the white pappus petals that carry them on the wind. The seeds germinate best if they are planted outdoors sometime in the fall through early winter (October is ideal). You can leave the pappus attached to the seed when planting; just barely covering the seeds with soil.
Potting and Repotting
Though such use is uncommon, growing blow wives in containers is entirely possible. Seeds sown on the surface of pots filled with standard commercial potting soil and barely covered with soil will quickly germinate, sprout, and develop into flowering plants. Alone, blow wives is not an especially attractive plant, so it is best used in mixed containers along with ornamental grasses and other annual wildflowers.
No repotting is ever necessary; at the end of the season, just discard the plants and start over next spring.
Like most native annuals, this vigorous wildflower needs no winter protection. But if you want to limit the spread of the plant across your garden, it's best to remove the plants after blooming is complete to prevent too much self-seeding.
How to Get Blow Wives to Bloom
It's rarely necessary to coax wildflowers such as blow wives to bloom—their vigorous blooming habit is why they succeed so well in native conditions. But blow wives can paradoxically withhold blooms if treated too kindly. Giving this plant fertilizer is likely to cause reduced flowering. If your blow wives does not bloom, the best thing you can do is neglect it.
Is blow wives a wildflower or weed?
Technically, blows wives is a wildflower—defined as a flowering plant that grows freely without human intervention. But many wildflowers can also be considered weeds, defined as any plant that grows where it is not wanted. Thus, a great many wildflowers, including blow wives, dandelion, and thistle, are also weeds if they grow where not welcome.
Weed or wildflower—it's in the eye of the beholder. Fortunately blow wives is not aggressively invasive, and if you choose to view it as a weed, it will be less troublesome than many others you deal with.
What's the difference between blow wives and silver puffs?
Blow wives and silver puffs (Uropappus lindleyi) look uncannily alike and are often mistaken for one another. Silver puffs are native to the desert areas of Texas, Arizona, and Mexico. Silver puffs can be distinguished by the four distinct notches on the tips of their petals. And their dried flower heads can appear more yellow than white; the seeds are dark brown, not jet black.
How can you use blow wives in a landscape?
Blow wives is not a highly attractive plant, and when planted deliberately, it usually serves more as a novelty rather than an ornamental. But blow wives can be an interesting addition to a naturalized wildflower garden. Their eye-catching flowers look especially interesting when planted among grasses or in a mid-to-late-season wildflower mixture. This plant is sometimes used in grassland restoration projects.