(Photos provided by Great Bear Native Plants, Map provided by USDA-NRCS)
Few plants native to the Rocky Mountains are quite as flashy and cheerful as Gaillardia aristata. Commonly known as blanketflower, Gaillardia aristata sends out flowers that are a brilliant red and yellow that gives these plants an almost sunset-like appearance. In fact, the common name blanketflower alludes to the colorful and intricate patterns woven into blankets crafted by some Native Americans. This long summer bloomer is in full flower this month in many native gardens and in wild places as well. The species can be found in wildlands throughout the western United States as well as several states in the upper Great Plains, Great Lakes and New England. Blanketflower plants prefer to grow in prairies, dry meadows, and open grasslands. The species tends to establish at low to moderate elevations in the wild and rarely can be found in high mountain settings.
Blanketflower grows from 2 to 4 ft tall, and has light green foliage with dandelion-like leaves that clasp around the plants’ stems. The plant's leaves and stems are covered in fine hairs. The blooms of blanketflower are typical of a species in the aster plant family and consist of a combination of both disc and ray flowers. The ray flowers grow 1 inch long and have a three-toothed tip. They can be golden-yellow with a red base or all yellow (typical in wildland populations) and surround the disc flowers that make up the button-like center of the blooms. Disc flowers are a reddish-purple color that often blends with the red of ray flowers. As petals fade and seeds form, blanketflower seedheads take on a puff-ball appearance, due in large part to the stiff tufts of hair that stick up from the top of seeds.
If you are looking for a pollinator garden show stopper, look no further than our native blanketflower. This species attracts bees and butterflies while also being deer and rabbit resistant. As a long-season bloomer, blanketflower can add color to any wildflower garden and can be a source of pollinator food all summer long. If you enjoy fresh cut flowers, blanketflower also tends to produce a large quantity of blooms that hold up well when cut for bouquets. Blanketflower is drought tolerant and relatively cold-hardy. It is often used for the revegetation of disturbed ground and may have some tolerance to certain herbicides, making it a great choice for restoration work. If you are interested in a species that reseeds readily and will naturalize on its own, blanketflower makes a great addition to wildflower meadows or large perennial beds. This species is also not fussy. It’s easy to grow and care for and can thrive in a variety of conditions. So even if you aren't the world’s greenest thumb, blanketflower is likely to give you some cheery blooms for your efforts.
In fact, the reason I decided to write about blanketflower this month is because of my own blanketflower plants. This spring we removed an old cottonwood stump from the center of a little native garden I threw together last year. When the stump came out I lost the beautiful blanketflower plant I had in that garden.. I’ll be honest I was pretty bummed...the way only a big native plant nerd can be super bummed about losing a favorite plant. BUT, get this... It had seeded so well that even after turning up a bunch of soil my lost blanketflower gave me a bunch of baby blanketflowers!!! Amazing. Here’s a photo of one of those babies all grown up in just a few months. What a resilient species, and a fast grower. It's an excellent plant to plant if you want showy blooms right away.
Plant in well-draining soil.
Blanketflower prefers full sun location but is tolerant of some shade.
Blanketflower is drought tolerant but be sure to water frequently when you first establish. After the first year of establishment, provide supplemental water during low precipitation months or during a drought.
In the summer, deadhead spent blooms if desired.
Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis)
Bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata)
Fringe sage (Artemisia frigida)
Yellow rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus)
Penstemon wilcoxii (Wilcox’s penstemon)
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
Sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum)
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)