The Achyrachaena mollis--otherwise known by its more common name, blow wives, which is used both singular and plural--is a delicate, annual herb that is known for its unusual appearance.
It has yellow tips wrapped with sepals that remain in place until it starts to seed. Its spherical cluster of seeds has bright, and almost shiny, white scales that look like long, rectangular flower petals.
These plants will grow to about one foot tall, with a strong, straight stem and simple, broad leaves. Blow wives plants are unique for their rounded buds that open up to reveal a spherical cluster of flowers. The leaves are opposite and hairy at the base of the plant, and alternate and sticky along the upper stem. The fuzzy hairs on the stem are where part of their botanical name comes from. Mollis means soft in Latin.
The blow wives' flowers are small and yellow--and almost invisible behind the plant's showy fruits. When the wind catches the silky scales, the single-seeded fruits are dispersed (each scale has a jet-black narrow seed attached at the end). Though they look like they could float away with the wind, they will actually remain on the plant for quite a long time and create glistening patches amidst the blooming wildflowers.
Blow wives are commonly found in low-elevation hills and grasslands throughout California, and they can extend into southern Oregon and northern California. The roasted seeds were even once eaten by Native Americans.
These plants grow primarily in grasslands and open woodlands, often in clay soils, and at elevations of up to 4,000 feet and are an ideal addition for a naturalized, wildflower garden.
|Botanical Name||Achyrachaena mollis|
|Common Name||Blow wives|
|Plant Type||Annual herb|
|Mature Size||Around 12 inches|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Well-drained, clay|
|Soil pH||Not particular|
|Native Area||Western North America|
Blow Wives Plant Care
One of the earliest wildflowers to bloom, as well as to set seed in the spring, blow wives are plants that have become an integral plant of low-elevation grasslands, oak woodland habitat, and sunny slopes, particularly in the Klamath-Siskiyou region.
The blow wives plant is the only species included in the monotypic genus Achyrachaena. Though they do have some invasive properties, they are not considered to be among the most troublesome weeds. These plants will bloom from late March to June, and go to seed from April through June.
Their eye-catching "flowers" look especially interesting when planted among grasses or in a mid-to-late-season wildflower mixture. These plants are also known to re-sow well and they will eventually shatter. This is partly where the inspiration for their common name comes from. They have a strong resemblance to dandelions when you give them a puff. As a result, they are perfect if you happen to have kids, who tend to love blowing away the seeds.
The blow wives plant will thrive in both full sun and partial shade.
Native to California, these plants are considered to be drought tolerant. However, they will grow best with regular water.
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 on clay soil as well as rarer rocky serpentine soils that can be high in metallic compounds.
Temperature and Humidity
These are plants that will grow in warm, sunny locations, particularly climates that dry out in the summer. They tend to begin flowering in April, which is around when the rainy season would be ending in their native region of California.
No fertilization or pre-treatment is necessary when it comes to blow wives.
Propagating Blow Wives
The best part of a plant like blow wives is that no propagation is needed; they reseed themselves after their end-of-summer blooming cycle is complete.
If you do want to sow them yourself directly, blow wives plants germinate best if they are planted outside sometime in the fall through early winter. The ideal time is October. The seeds only need a very thin layer of soil covering over them. Harvesting of the seeds from existing plants is best done in late spring.