• Growing (and Renaming) Love-in-a-Mist

November 27, 2018

Let's play an association game, shall we? Love-in-a-mist reminds us of the 1988 movie, Gorillas in the Mist starring Sigourney Weaver. The actress also starred in the Aliens franchise. And the (very weird) video for this death metal song, titled Sigourney Weaver, features women wearing blue ballet costumes. And yep, we had to do some serious Googling to come up with that last connection.

Take a close look at photos of this plant, and you'll see what we're talking about: Forget about calling it "love-in-a-mist"! Nigella damascena should be called "alien-in-a-tutu."

When you take into account their unusual leaves, slightly wilting ruffles, and startlingly unique centers, you'll definitely love these ornamentals. You'll totally get that their delicate foliage—as seen from a distance—looks like lush green clouds. You'll absolutely love the way these plants look in your garden, and how the blooms die back and give way to beautiful, burgundy-ribbed green pods cradled in spidery green bracts.

We're fans of the unusual if you haven't already figured it out, and we find these plants fascinating. They have all the charm of bachelor's buttons, the extraterrestrial appearance of passionflower, and the lacy, refined leaves and stems we love about fennel and dill. All in one easy-to-grow plant. If you haven’t been growing love-in-a-mist from seed, add it to your garden plan for this season.

Origins and Cultural Significance

Plants in the Nigella genus are members of the enormous Ranunculaceae family and hail from North Africa, Southern Europe, and the Middle East. Nigella refers to the seeds, which have a teardrop shape and an attractive matte black color. Damascena, as you might have guessed, is for Damascus, the N. damascena's assumed place of origin. Love-in-a-mist goes by several common names, including:

  • Ragged lady: The flower petals are actually sepals, which on these flowers are subtly serrated at the tips.
  • Devil-in-the-bush: This is likely a nod to the "horned" appearance of the flower's five protruding stigmas.
  • Lady-in-the-bower: We guess that this name has something to do with the plump pod clusters in maturing plants, which perch on top of the delicate sepals.
  • Fennel flower: This name is applied to many lookalikes in the Nigella genus.
  • Alien-in-a-tutu: If we say it enough, it will become the truth.

If you're a hard-core fan of Indian food, you've probably heard of kalonji. That's the Hindi word for nigella seeds or, as they're often called, "black cumin," though the latter is more accurately associated with Bunium persicum. Kalonji are typically harvested from the nearly identical but more potent Nigella sativa plant. Chef Lior Lev Sercarz blogs for Food Republic and refers to nigella seeds as the "Middle Eastern poppy seed" due to its popularity as a bread flavoring or condiment in the regions from which the plants originate. Its flavor has been compared to oregano and nutmeg, and nigella seed oil was once a perfume fragrance.

Unlike N. sativa, love-in-a-mist is rarely used for its essential oils or flavorings; its greatest role is spicing up your garden and simply existing as a sight for sore eyes. But in a pinch, you can use it in the kitchen as a milder version of kalonji, or—during an alien invasion or zombie apocalypse—as a decongestant.

Love-in-a-Mist as an Ornamental Annual

Delicate plants such as these make excellent fillers between other plants in your landscape, and as long as they're in a sunny spot with intermittent water, they don't need much to thrive. They're not particularly susceptible to pests or diseases, in large part due to the short lifespan of each individual plant. They look just as pretty when they're past their prime, thanks to their seed pods, and their compact size makes them good candidates for containers, borders and edging. Or, take the alien invasion approach and plant them in masses.

Speaking of invading, they're not considered an invasive species.

Love-in-a-mist's standard bloom color is bright to faded blue, as grown from the "Miss Jekyll" variety; they have semi-double petals, as opposed to the double-petaled "Persian Jewels." We offer the latter in a mix of white, pink, and magenta double-blooms.

We recently wrote about globe gillia, a plant with similar growing requirements and nearly identical deeply-lobed, fern-like leaves. Grow these together to attract butterflies, honeybees, bumbles, beneficial wasps, and ladybugs. Or, you can let the foliage add dimension to a garden space planted with cornflowers; these grow a bit taller than love-in-a-mist, have less refined foliage but similar (if less dramatic) flowers.

Check out our bee balm varieties. Any one of them would make great buddies for love-in-a-mist, and pollinators will absolutely lose their wee minds over this pairing. Same with columbines; we recommend choosing a mix with some yellow flowers to break up the color scheme. Columbines have a delicateness about them, as do love-in-a-mist, but their bell-shaped spurred flowers and relatively rounded leaves complement N. damascena's overall structure.

Did you know we sell sensitive plants? Together, Mimosa pudica and N. damascena will add an exotic element to your garden, especially in container arrangements.

And now, for the specifics:

USDA Hardiness Zones: Cool-season, hardy annual in zones 2 through 11.

Sunlight Preferences: Full sun is best, but plants will tolerate some light afternoon shade.

Moisture Requirements: Love-in-a-mist has a deep taproot to reach deeper, damp soil, but we recommend you avoid letting the topsoil dry out. Water 2 to 3 times a week in the hottest summer months, and keep seedlings and seed beds consistently moist.

Soil Preferences: These plants do best with loose, well-draining, fertile soil. Their ideal pH is between 6.5 and 7.5.

Plant Size: Plants grow 12" to 20" tall,  8" to 12" wide.

Growth Habit: Upright. Grow them in groups to get a bushy look with a patchwork of flower heads and pods.

Bloom Period: Late spring until mid-summer; in cooler areas, successive plantings will keep your "colony" blooming until fall.

Flowers: Each plant stalk has a single bloom that's 1" to 1.5" across. The sepals pass for the flower's petals, but the petals themselves are small, needle-like, and all but hidden beneath the protruding stamens.

Pods: They're actually five seedpods fused together, and they're usually green with purple, brown, or magenta coloring along the protruding ribs. These pods can grow to 2" long, and they're just as interesting as the flower in its prime.

Foliage: Fine, needle-like leaves grow in an opposite pattern up slim stalks. The "mist" refers to their fern-like, delicate, almost fluffy structure.

Days to Maturity: 90 days, but bloom period (and the plant itself) is short-lived. Seed every 3 to 4 weeks for successive blooms. Once the first round of plants matures, let the pods ripen, dry, and drop their seeds; this way, you'll establish an ongoing, regenerating plant "colony."

Maintenance: Deadheading may prolong the bloom, but you'll lose the pods.

Harvesting: Love-in-a-mist makes a lovely fresh-cut flower (so do the pods!) or you can suspend them, inverted, to dry them; the pods and flowers make a decorative potpourri. It's best to cut the pods when they're still a bit green, though, whether you plan to dry them or display them in fresh arrangements. Slice open the pods (fresh or dried) to check out their chambered insides; you don't have to tell anyone that you're pretending to be a scientist conducting an alien autopsy.

Growing Love-in-a-Mist from Seed

We strongly advise against starting your love-in-a-mist seeds indoors, since disturbing the seedling's fragile taproot can cause it to fail. Plant your seeds outdoors as soon as all danger of frost has passed in the spring. In more temperate regions, try planting Nigella damascena seeds in early fall for a head start on next season's blooms.

  • Seed Treatment: None required, though we recommend soaking them overnight at room temperature to soften the seed hulls.
  • Seed Depth: No more than 1/8" deep; love-in-a-mist seeds require some sunlight to germinate.
  • Seed Spacing: Plant seeds or thin seedlings 8" to 12" apart.
  • Days to Germination: 14 to 21 days at 65°F or above.

If you do decide to start your seeds indoors, be sure to use the tallest peat pots you can find, or fold your own newspaper pots. This way, you can transfer the seedlings to their "forever home" pot and all, with minimal disruption to their roots. Start them 6 to 8 weeks before you intend to transplant them, and don't let them outgrow their seedling containers.

Contact Seed Needs

Please don't call us to report cattle mutilations, alien abductions, or awkward experiments conducted by large-eyed grey humanoids. Do contact us if you want to learn more about our ever-expanding online seed catalog! We're a small, family-operated business based in Michigan, and being in the north, we can appreciate the importance of starting a garden right with fresh, viable, high-quality seeds from premium genetics. Speaking of genetics, all our ornamental, herb, and vegetable seeds are non-GMO. No extraterrestrial DNA here!

Be sure to bookmark our blog for the latest intel on our favorite plants. We update it frequently, combining our gardening experience with recommendations from the leading agricultural programs, botanical gardens, and heritage plant societies. As for the "other stuff," well, we've learned that we can receive some pretty interesting signals if we duct tape a garden trowel to our Alexa. Try it sometime!


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