whirling butterflies

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whirling butterflies
oenothera lindheimeri
onagraceae

  • 3' tall, 4' wide

  • PERENNIAL WILDFLOWER 

  • regular water (bottom zone)

  • FULL SUN

  • HARDY TO ABOUT -20º F

  • USED BY NECTAR-LOVING INSECTS LIKE BUTTERFLIES AND BEES, AND SEEDS EATEN BY BIRDS.

We first learned this plant by the name butterfly gaura. Its taxon was Gaura lindheimeri. But it was recently changed to Oenothera lindheimeri and perhaps that allowed poetic justice for a newer name that is making its rounds on the internet, whirling butterflies. We approve of this name, as it does describe what the flowers look like. Flowers occur spring through fall, and in the low desert, can bloom most any time of year when the weather is warm. 

Flowers hover and sway over the plant to a height of 3+ feet, spreading to about 4 feet wide. The regular species is white-flowered with green leaves that have some red hues. But there are red flowered/leaved varieties too (depicted below). Moderate water (plants can tolerate high amounts of moisture too), full to part sun, and hardy to about -20º F. If planted in full sun in the low desert, plants will need regular watering. 

Nectar-loving insects and bees are attracted to this plant, and it is a larval host for white-lined sphinx moth, the large hummingbird-like moth that is one of the few to fly around in the daytime. Seeds eaten by some birds. 

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Katherine Gierlach