Clarkia: A Flower with an Historical Connection

Old timers described blossoms that resembled roses and grew on two foot stems. They called this flower clarkia. Once in a while clarkia seed was found on the racks of inexpensive ten-for-a dollar packets available in the spring around planting time. Along with the hybridization and adaptation of heirloom seeds to home gardens, the clarkia has gained a new popularity. Seed is available in most catalogs and on gardening websites. Look under the names godetia, Farewell-To-Spring, and Mountain Garland. It is the double clarkias that most resemble roses. They are showy and come in shades of white, red, salmon, pink and purple.
Clarkias were first gathered in Montana and Idaho during the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, and named after explorer William Clark. Many species of clarkia are unique to specific areas in California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. There are over 41 named types. Some are on federal or state lists of endangered species. Threats to their survival include invasive non-native species, development, logging, and cattle grazing. One variety is native to South America. The type familiar to Lewis and Clark in the American West was the clarkia pulchella.
Comparing the forty plus varieties is an interesting study in itself. A majority are described as endemic to California and to a chaparral (shrubland) environment. Others grow in oak or yellow pine forests. These vary in color, size, foliage type. Colorations have been described as pink, red, purple, pale purple, medium purple, pink-lavender, spotted lavender, reddish, red-purple, pale pink, bright pink, dark pink, white, cream, soft purple, deep red, deep wine red, flecked, speckled, and spotted. Many varieties have more than one recognized subspecies. Natural hybridization has occurred.
A few species face challenges from modern life. Clarkia franciscana is federally listed as endangered. Populations in San Francisco are protected from development, but invasive plant species still pose a threat. Clarkia imbricata, also federally listed, consists of only one natural population. A second was destroyed when land owners plowed up the soil crust. An additional population was established by the California Native Plant Society. In the case of clarkia springvillensis, an entire population was eradicated when a mobile home park was built.
This amazing plant is easily grown in the home garden. Clarkia seed should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked. Sow thickly as overcrowding encourages blossoming. However, seeds should not be sown deeply. They can even be broadcast on top of the ground and pressed in with a board. These annual flowers like sandy, well-drained soils and tolerate partial shade or full sun. The stems are weak so the taller ones may require staking.
Clarkias are not particularly vulnerable to insect problems or to disease. They grow slowly and should be kept moist. They may be mulched to retain moisture and discourage weeds, and given fertilizer now and then. Common sense goes a long way in the care and propagation of the delicate, enchanting clarkia.

may be mulched to retain moisture and discourage weeds, and given fertilizer now and then. Common sense goes a long way in the care and propagation of the delicate, enchanting clarkia.

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