Everlasting / Paper Daisy (Xerochrysum bracteatum)
Everlasting Daisies belong to the daisy family, Asteraceae. Asteraceae is a large and diverse family which includes many ornamental flowers such as Gerbras, Dahlias and Marigolds, common garden weeds including Dandelions and Creeping Cinderella Weed, as well as edible members including both Globe and Jerusalem Artichokes, Sunflowers and Lettuces. While most Asteraceae including all those just listed are herbaceous plants, there are also members which grow as vines, some even having tendrils such as the genus Mutisia (many species of which are threatened due to habitat loss), others grow to small trees such as the White Cloud Tree (Baccharis halimifolia) and there’s even the strange cactus-like succulent Candle Plant (Senecio articulatus). But enough with the botanical sidetracking, lets get back to discussing the Everlasting Daisy.
Everylasting Daisies are native to Australian where they can be found growing in a surprising wide range of environments, from dry deserts to the edges of rainforest and even on mountainsides below the snowline in cold montane habitats.
The genus name Xerochrysum is dervived from two Greek words, xeros meaning dry and chrysos meaning golden and is a reference to both the thin, dry, paper-like bracts (which look and have the insect-attracting function of petals) as well the colour of the flowers which are yellow in wild populations. The species epithet bracteatum basically means ‘having bracts’, another reference to the petal-like bracts which are actually colourful leaves rather than true petals (or true ray florets for those familiar with Asteraceae flower terminology). Some cultivars can have as many as 300 bracts per flower head.
While the flowers of Everlasting Daisy were originally yellow, a German botanist named Herren Ebritsch got a hold of some Everlasting Daisies in the 1850’s and saw their potential. He and others who followed managed to breed a wide range of different coloured cultivars as well as thin-petal forms which curved inwards towards the centre. Due to their long lasting flowers, long stemmed varieties were also bred for the cut flower trade. Today many different colours are available including pink, red, orange, bronze and white, although many Australian gardeners prefer to grow the original yellow wild type from seed sourced from local populations and grown by bush-care organisations such as Greening Australia.
How to grow Everlasting Daisy
Everlasting Daisies can grow up to a meter (3 foot) tall, although most cultivars remain significantly smaller. They grow as either annuals or short-lived perennials, again depending on the cultivar. They generally flower from early Spring to Summer. The flowers attract many species of native insect into the garden, including beneficial predatory hoverflies and native stingless bees. They are well suited for planting en masse and provide for a spectacular flowering meadow-like display.
You should sow Everlasting Daisies during late Autumn. Ensure the soil they are to be grown in is free draining, free of weeds and dug over to a fine tilth prior to planting. If you live in an area with heavy clay soils, thoroughly incorporate sand, garden compost and gypsum to the soil to help break up the clods of clay. The seed should be broadcast across the area you wish to grow in and raked in, you can mix the seeds with a fair amount of sand to help distribute them more evenly when broadcasting if you wish. Water well after sowing but don’t water again until the seeds start to germinate.
Water at least several times a week until the young seedlings are established, then reduce watering to once every second week. Apply a slow release, low-phosphate organic fertiliser after sowing and a diluted organic liquid fertiliser every month while the plants are growing and they’ll reward you with a spectacular flowering display. It can be interesting to observe the flowers at different times of the day, if you do you’ll notice that they’ll start to close up during late afternoon and during the onset of wet weather. Everlasting Daisies will often self-sow in the garden, meaning you’ll never have to re-sow them once a patch is established.