Gaura, Whirling Butterflies, or Wand Flowers

Close up of gaura in my garden, note there are four petals, not five

Recently, we have had little rain here in Northern Virginia. I am forced to water with my hose or watering can, which I don’t particularly enjoy. This weather certainly separates the men from the boys. Some plants have just sizzled away.

One manly plant not fazed by dryness and heat is gaura. Technically its name is not gaura anymore as Gaura lindheimeri was reclassified as Oenothera lindheimeri. They also are called whirling butterflies or wand flowers.

Nothing bothers this plant. It is an herbaceous perennial native to Texas and Louisiana. The species grows to about 3 feet tall but really it is 3 feet of wiry stems and small, inch-wide pale white/rose flowers. At the base is a clump of foliage that dies back in the winter.  The thin stems sway back and forth while butterflies try to land on the flowers but the bees are more successful.

Gaura blooming in front garden in August

Drought and deer resistant, gaura has bloomed every year for me in full sun with no pests or diseases. I have heard that gaura self-seeds but not in my garden. The species, which can get tall, is wilder looking than the new short cultivars. But since it has long, thin stems, the plant is practically translucent so you can easily tuck it in the garden and not block the view of other plants. There has been a lot of breeding with this plant to introduce compact types, red/burgundy foliage instead of green, and wider range of flower colors from bright white to rose pink to red.

This plant blooms all summer long, creating a haze of flowers. Hardy to Zone 5, gaura does not need to be coddled, it does not need rich soil or fertilizer. My plants are so old, I don’t even know where I got them. I have enjoyed them so much I have purchased more to put in other parts of the garden.

Close up of a Grace flower

I highly recommend this drought-tolerant, native plant. It is easy to find in the local nurseries and although it can be grown from seed, it is best to start with a plant. If you look now, you may find a few on sale at the nurseries. So far I have found two on those tables with the straggly 50 percent of perennials but since it is a perennial, it will come back next year. If you don’t have the space try the more compact types which could serve as drought resistant, summer container plants.

Compact ‘Grace’ with burgundy tipped foliage and pink red flowers

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