• Here Be Snapdragons!

March 19, 2019

Dragons, we assume, would be reptiles, and we all know that toads are amphibians, right? At least, most of us have known the difference between these two classes of animals since first grade. But toadflax and snapdragons are more closely-related than their common names imply.

Toadflax (Linaria maroccana) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) may not be in the same genus, but they're kissing cousins within the Plantaginaceae family. Semantics and botanical classifications aside, both plants are extremely popular bedding species, in large part because of their profuse showy blooms, diverse colors, and bright foliage. They're interchangeable in both folk medicine and folklore, and there are few differences in their cultivation preferences. But one of the primary reasons snapdragons and toadflax are such a staple as bedding plants is their ease of cultivation from seed and their chill attitudes toward transplanting.

Gardening with snapdragons and toadflax

Not too long ago, we wrote about pansies and their popularity as cool-climate annuals. Snapdragons are probably the pansy's favorite bedding buddy, and you'll see them together in many annual landscape schemes. There's an ideal snapdragon size and color for nearly any location, from border fronts to bed centerpieces to backgrounds. Both species work very well in regions known for attracting "snowbirds”—they bloom best and longest in cooler summer climates or areas with warm winters.

Both toadflax and true snapdragons have long, narrow, bright green leaves (up to 3" long) and tubular, two-lipped blooms. True snapdragons have rigid, upright spiky racemes with densely-packed flowers. Spurred snapdragons (toadflax) are more casual about their blooms, which tend to grow a bit more sparsely on their slightly floppy spikes. The latter plant has more of a branching habit than the former.

True snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus)

Technically classified as herbaceous perennials in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 to 10, true snapdragons are grown as an annual everywhere else. In fact, more than a few garden "experts" would fall in a dead faint if they learned that these plants could overwinter anywhere at all.

  • Height: 18" to 24"
  • Width: 12" to 16"
  • Spacing: Plant or thin 12" to 18" apart
  • Growth habit: Upright, branching
  • Soil quality: Well-draining, moderately fertile soil between 5.5 and 6.2 pH
  • Moisture: Medium; prefers consistent irrigation for damp but not wet soil
  • Sunlight: Full sun, not as tolerant of shade as L. maroccana
  • Bloom period: April through June; longer in cooler climates
  • Bloom colors: White, yellow, gold, pink, red, lavender, and purple
  • Foliage: Narrow, blade-like, and bright green up to 3" long

Lesser-known names include antirrhinum, dog's mouth, dragon flower, and lion's mouth.

Spurred, or "baby" snapdragon (Linaria maroccana)

Spurred snapdragon's size is somewhere between the dwarf and standard true snapdragons, and like the former, it's most frequently used in borders, mass plantings, containers, and rock gardens. It's more shade- and drought-tolerant than Antirrhinum majus, preferring a little protection from the late-afternoon sun at summer's peak. It's strictly classified as an annual, growing heartily in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 through 11.

    L. maroccana's flowers look like smaller versions of the snapdragon's, but with long, tapering "spurs" behind each bloom.
      • Width: 6" to 8"
      • Spacing: 8" to 10"
      • Growth habit: Upright, branching
      • Soil quality: Well-draining soil; tolerates poor to medium quality ideal pH 6.1 to 6.5 but as wide as 5.8-7.2
      • Moisture: Medium; prefers consistent irrigation for damp but not wet soil
      • Sunlight: Full sun, partial shade
      • Bloom period: April through June; longer in cooler climates or with consistent irrigation
      • Bloom colors: White, yellow, gold, pink, red, lavender, and purple
      • Foliage: Narrow, blade-like, up to 1.5" long

      While L. maroccana is technically toadflax, L. vulgaris is the species to which this common name typically applies. Common toadflax (also called yellow toadflax) is an invasive perennial in many regions. L. maroccana can reseed itself, but it doesn't overwinter and isn't as aggressive as its cousin.

      Maroccana refers to Morocco, the plant's geographic origin. Linaria is loosely derived from Linum, the genus name for true flaxes. The only resemblance between L. maroccana and flax is the foliage, which is also very much like that of the snapdragon.

      Pick a team already, toadflax.

      Growing snapdragons from seed

      Since snapdragons perform best in spring and early summer, we recommend that you give them some lead time. Start them indoors in peat pellets or nursery trays (don't bother with heat mats), and place them in a cool room with temperatures between 60°F and 65°F. Provide them with full-spectrum lighting for 8 to 12 hours each day, beginning at seeding time.

      If you're starting your snapdragon and toadflax seeds outdoors, be sure to remove all clumps and debris from the site and add screened, well-aged compost. Following are some general guidelines for growing snapdragons from seed, which may vary depending on the species and plant variety:

      • Seed Treatment: None required
      • When to Plant Outdoors: When the soil has warmed to 65°F
      • When to Plant Indoors: 10  to 12 weeks before the last frost
      • Seed Depth: Gently press onto soil surface, but do not cover
      • Seed Spacing: See individual plant profiles
      • Days to Germination: 10 to 20 days Degrees 60°F-65°F

      If you use peat pellets or nursery trays, step them up to 4" pots once they're an inch or so tall. We recommend a hardening-off period of 7 to 14 days for transplants, which can go into the ground when there's no chance of frost and daytime soil temperatures are at least 60°F. Be sure to keep your seedlings evenly moist—but not wet—until they become established.

      How to care for your snapdragons

      True snapdragons are a bit more delicate than Linaria maroccana, being susceptible to rust and other fungal issues, but both plants benefit from precautionary measures:

      • Avoid overhead watering, especially late in the day when the sun won't have a chance to dry the foliage.
      • Increase irrigation during periods of high heat to increase the bloom period.
      • Don't plant snapdragons in the same space season after season. Rotate your beds to break disease cycles.
      • Keep an eye out for aphids.

      In most climates, the bloom is cut short in the heat of midsummer. They'll bloom all season long in cooler temperatures, especially with deadheading and consistent irrigation. At the first sign of fading, cut back your snapdragons by 2/3" to encourage a second round of growth and bloom. Apply an all-around, balanced fertilizer at this time to kick the plants into gear.

      A layer of mulch will help keep your snapdragon beds cool and will reduce moisture loss. Be careful to keep some space around the plant bases to prevent fungus.

      If you're fortunate enough to live where your true snapdragons grow as perennials, cut them to within 1" of ground level to tidy up your garden in fall.  

      Floral design, or "How to housetrain your snapdragons"

      With a little effort, your snapdragons can live indoors...at least, for up to 10 days as fresh-cut flowers. They only make a mess on the rug when they drop their petals. Be sure to put them in water as soon as you cut them and then cut the stems again under running water when you get inside. Add some flower preservative to the water to help keep them fresh and perky.

      If you let them dry out and go to seed, look closely at your snapdragon seed pods. They can resemble little goblin faces or even human skulls. Artists have made castings of these for jewelry. Who knew that these cheerful, colorful cottage garden favorites would be such a hit with Gothic creatives?

      History and folklore

      Both plants evolved in Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian coastal climates. Spurred snapdragons claim Morocco, specifically, as its home turf and true snapdragons first evolved in the southwest European region. Both species share similar medicinal properties. According to Maud Grieve's A Modern Herbal, both plants are stimulants and anti-inflammatories, often used in poultices for skin ulcers, hemorrhoids, and tumors. Eyes irritated? Just use a little juice of the toad...flax!

      Eastern Europeans (mainly Russians) pressed seeds from both plants for a "poor man's" substitute for olive oil. The flowers, while bitter, are sometimes used as garnishes. Some toadflax species are rumored to be poisonous, though there isn't any documentation to back up those claims. Whether this is a "dead men tell no tales" or "snitches get stitches" kinda thing, we really don't know.

      Since we're talking about magical creatures and medicinal folklore, we might as well go all in: Toadflax and snapdragon, when used as wreaths or indoor arrangements, served to protect the home from evil spirits and nefarious intentions. Both plants were (and in some circles, still are) essential components of counter-hex spells. They may not keep black cats from pooping in your garden, but we're betting that hanging a bundle of dried seed pod husks by your doorbell might keep proselytizing doorknockers off your front step.

      Let us know if it works for you.

      Contact Seed Needs

      Speaking of feedback, we welcome yours—whether you need advice about growing one of our seed varieties, or you have a problem with a recent shipment. We're here for you, and we'll make things right if we got your order wrong.

      Folklore tells us that snapdragons can ward off negative energy and protect us from dark spells. Here at Seed Needs, we don't rely on superstition. We cover our butts by selling the freshest, highest-quality seeds available, and backing up our products with high standards in customer care. If a bad review is a curse, then we're grateful to have so many blessings from our loyal customers.


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