• Globe Gilia: The Eco-Warrior Unicorn of the Golden State

November 13, 2018

We've been hearing more and more requests for plants that require little water, are virtually no-maintenance, provide sustenance for pollinators, and are aesthetically on-par with some of the most spectacular ornamental cultivars. Believe it or not, we don't laugh these would-be customers off the phone, insisting they're asking for the impossible. We at Seed Needs happen to have a whole stable full of unicorns, and one of them is globe gilia.

Irrigation restrictions affect more and more North American gardeners each year, especially in the west. According to the EPA's WaterSense program, "40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages under average conditions in some portion of their states over the next decade."

Yep. Under average conditions. And nothing's been average in a while, certainly not since 2014 when the source data quoted above was released.

These days in the wild west, people are ratting out their neighbors for letting their sprinklers run two minutes longer than restrictions allow. Gardeners, dressed as ninjas, are creeping across streets in spigot-pilfering raids, forcing their children to form felonious bucket-brigades in order to hydrate the family hydrangeas.

Okay, maybe that's a little too colorful, but not entirely off the mark. Water wars have been raging on the left coast between developers and farmers for decades, and homeowners are beginning to feel the pinch not only in their grocery budgets, but in their home maintenance expenses.

Are you concerned about your rising water bill? Maybe you're even facing fines for watering your lawn or lush garden beds. Or perhaps you're not motivated solely by finances, and you're alarmed by news announcing native pollinators are on the decline. Our advice? Put the best spin on all of your water-saving motivations by explaining, "Financial responsibility helps me be a more functional member of society, and planting ecologically-beneficial, low-impact plant species allows me to protect the environment for future generations."

And then plant a native xeriscape that includes Gilia capitata.

Also called Queen Anne's thimbles, field gilia, blue-head gily-flower, and blue gilia, globe gilia is a member of the phlox (Polemoniaceae) family and an important native plant in California's coastal ecosystems. It's also an amazingly easy-to-grow garden ornamental, and a favorite component in wildflower mixes.

Globe Gilia's Native Territory

According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Gilia capitata and its many subspecies are native to western coastal ranges on "open, dry slopes and chaparral banks," at elevations below 6000 feet. Calflora.org gets a bit more specific in listing globe gilia's broader habitats:

  • Mixed Evergreen Forest
  • Douglas-Fir Forest
  • Yellow Pine Forest
  • Northern Coastal Scrub
  • Coastal Prairie
  • Red Fir Forest
  • Foothill Woodland
  • Coastal Strand
  • Coastal Sage Scrub
  • Chaparral

While we were digging around trying to settle a squabble about gilia's pronunciation (JEEL-ee-uh) not only did we get that sorted out, but on the same blog, Mother Nature's Backyard, we found an opinion that G. capitata is specifically native only to the region between Santa Barbara, California and Baja California, Mexico.

While most of these regions and ecosystems are hot and arid, G. capitata and its close relatives within the gilia genus have also naturalized in damper, cooler coastal environments, including coastal Alaska and British Columbia. Globe gilia's been found as far inland as Idaho, and it's common in the Pacific Northwest Cascade range.

Botanical bickering aside, one thing's for certain: You won't find it east of the Continental Divide, unless someone like you has planted it there.

Gilia Capitata and Native Pollinators

Have you ever heard of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation? No? Well, they do great stuff. The Xerces Society (as it's typically called, because the rest of its name is both way too long, and somewhat off-putting for some) raises awareness about the importance of native pollinators. Since 1971, the organization has worked with scientists, farmers, and legislators to help protect beneficial insects, reduce pesticide use, and help the public understand how our land management practices affect watersheds and terrestrial, marine, and aquatic ecosystems.

Check out this Xerces Society case study in which a farm created buffer zones with wildflower seed mixes to provide food and habitat for beneficial bugs. Globe gilia is among those plant species.

Oregon State University recently named globe gilia among the top eight early-season blooming plants important to native pollinators, alongside borage, lupine, and perennial geranium.

We feature globe gilia in our Dazzling Blue Wildflower Mixture and as a standalone product, and we're happy to help you create your own wildflower mix featuring this important (and gorgeous) bug-friendly wildflower.

Globe Gilia in the Garden

We're not going to water it down: Globe gilia is a phenomenal all-around plant. We recommend growing gilia from seed with California-type poppies, Mexican hat plants, scarlet flax, or any of your favorite native (or non-native) drought-tolerant species. Globe gilia has an airy, upright growing habit with long stems extending from a central root base approximately 6" in diameter. The overall plant silhouette is typically 1' to 2' in each dimension, occasionally growing to 3'  tall and wide.

Its rounded flower clusters contain as many as 100 individual, fluted, indigo-blue blossoms. Threadlike stamens protrude from the flower's "throat," bearing white, blue, or even pink anthers. Together, the effect resembles tiny blue bridal bouquets with tinted baby's breath accents. Speaking of baby's breath (Gypsophila elegans), this plant looks great next to globe gilia.

Segmented, deeply-lobed, fern like leaves give the plant a delicate appearance that belies its ruggedness. The foliage color is bright-green, contrasting with the brown and gray-green colors of many other chaparral species.

USDA Hardiness Zone: Can be perennial in zones 7b to 10b, but is grown as an annual down to zone 5.

Sunlight Preferences: Full sun. Shade will cause globe gilia to become "leggy," spending more energy on reaching the sunlight than towards flower production. While gardeners do grow globe gilia in locations with light afternoon shade, we recommend selecting the sunniest spot you can find. Ignore popular online garden guides claiming globe gilia will do well in full or "half" shade. They're drunk.

Moisture Requirements: According to Calflora.org, G. capitata requires a minimum of 18" annual precipitation. (That's not a lot!) Therefore, it's a drought tolerant plant, though intermittent deep watering (every other week or so in summer) will keep it vibrant and may prolong the bloom period. In its natural habitat it capitalizes on spring rains, so if you keep your plants moist until they've become established, you'll appreciate the payoff.

Soil Preferences: Globe gilia tolerates medium to poor soils, though well-draining soil is a must. Prepare the bedding site with aged compost, and for compacted, clay-like soils, toss in a bit of gardener's sand. It has a wide pH tolerance (5.1 to 8.2) but we recommend aiming for a pH between 6 and 7.

Bloom Period: Spring through mid-summer. In some California climates, globe gilia can begin flowering as early as February.

Pests & Diseases: Globe gilia is pest-resistant, but it's susceptible to fungus and root rot in poorly-drained soil.

Maintenance: Deadhead flowers to prolong their bloom. Otherwise, these are extremely low-maintenance plants.

Medicinal Uses: We couldn't find any reliable information on Gilia capitata's medicinal properties, but it's close cousin, scarlet gilia, has traditional uses for treating respiratory problems.

Harvesting: Globe gilia's long stems give floral designers plenty to work with as they incorporate these wildflowers into long-lasting indoor displays. Hang inverted plants to dry in an area with good air circulation.

Growing Globe Gilia from Seed

Gilia capitata plants are easily grown from seed, and they easily reproduce themselves once they're established. We recommend direct-sowing them outdoors, if only because they're rapid growers once the spring rains hit and it's a pain to pamper them with the indoor lighting they need. But if you tend to have late spring frosts with little rain in between spring frosts and summer heat, starting your globe gilia indoors might be a good idea.

Seed Treatment: No treatments are required, but we recommend you cold-stratify your gilia seeds for two weeks prior to planting. This will help speed up the germination process.

When to Plant Outdoors: For spring seeding, plant after all danger of frost has passed. In its native range, globe gilia does best when planted during the fall rainy season...which California once had in abundance.

When to Plant Indoors: Start your seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before your last spring frost. Be sure to grow them under lights, or in a sunny window. We recommend adding garden sand or Perlite to your seedling mix to improve drainage.

Seed Depth: Plant 1/8" deep or gently press the seeds onto the soil surface. Globe gilia requires sunlight to germinate.

Seed Spacing: Plant or thin to about 12" apart. Crowding is acceptable in areas without high summer humidity.

Days to Germination: 7 to 14 days at 70°F.

Transplanting Tips: Transplant seedlings after all risk of frost has passed, and when they're at least 2" to 3" tall.

Let Seed Needs Help You Build a Refuge for Pollinators

Create a stunning snack bar for beneficial insects with globe gilia. We offer several wildflower mixes, and can help you select plants indigenous to your growing zone for a gorgeous, low-maintenance, pollinator-friendly garden. Need ideas? Want to share your feedback? Contact us!

We also sell custom-printed seed packets, which are a hit for educational events, wedding favors, fundraisers, or awareness programs. Globe gilia, with its graceful foliage and charming flower clusters, make great ambassadors to the world of native landscaping and conservation. Reach out to us so we can work together to create a custom product for your organization.


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