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Stocks, Their History and Impact on Horticulture

Updated on August 9, 2015

Matthiola longipetala-Evening Stock



Some of our much loved garden species belong to the Crucifer group of plants. Such as Aubrieta, Alyssum, Honesty and the Stocks. The group also contains some of our favourite wild flowers, such as the Cuckoo flower or Milk Maids which fill our pastures with their pale pink bubbly blooms in the spring. Here in this article I review the Stocks of the genus Matthiola.

The genus takes its name from Dr.P.A. Matthioli, an Italian Botanists 1500-1577. The genus contains annual, perennial herbacious or sub-shrub plants. They have entire of wavy-margined foliage which are arranged alternately on the stem and are downy with 'starry' hairs. The flowers are arranged in terminal racemes. There are four sepals. Petals also number four and posses long claws. The petals are arranged in the form of a cross {X} from which this group of plants take their name.

Matthiola incana


History of the Stock

Matthiola incana was regrded as being a British plant but nowhere is it common in the wild . However, it is the parent plant of most, if not all, cultivated varieties {of those known at the time } and were referred to as Brompton Stocks and Queen Stocks.

M.annua referred to as the 'ten week stock' was introduced from southern Europe in 1731. M.odoratissima, a very fragrant evergreen species came from Persia in 1795. M. frenestrlls which was introduced from Crete in 1759 was referred to as the ' Great Cap Stock' and believed by some authorities to be a mere form of incana.

Gardeners of the 1700's called these plants Gilliflowers and regarded them as being botanically the same as Wallflowers {Cheiranthes} with which they also associated the Virginia Stock { Malcomia}

From the view of the horticulturist , M.annua, M. fenesttrals and M. incana were the principle species that were the parents of the Garden varieties during the 1800's. At that period of our horticultural history plants were divided into two large groups which they termed as the ' summer Stocks' and the 'Winter stocks'.

The summer Stocks included many varieties of the Ten week stocks and the resulting hybrids,there are a plethora of these varieties and without exception produce many flowers which are to a more or lesser degree sweet scented. Most of the seed was raised in Europe where the cultivation of Stock was an important part of horticultural history. they produced many seeds of which the ' double' bloom sorts were developed. The summer Stocks are much better suited to beds and borders, rather than for containers.

The Winter stocks included the Brompton, the Perpetula, the ' Great Cape', the Intermediate and the East Lothian Stocks. The Brompton's are robust, branched Stocks well developed for ' planting out'. They flowered in May and June. The perpetual or Emperor Stocks were also vigorous and branching attaining the height of around eighteen inches. they were used as a follow on species, after the Brompton's, for they flowered in Autumn, if gardeners sowed the seeds in March. Alternatively, if the seeds were sown in June they came into bloom about a year later.

The Great Cape, was esteemed for its dense pyramids of blooms. The Intermediates and East Lothian types were much more dwarfed, but bunchy, producing an abundance of flowers and consequently much more suited for growing in containers, but also for filling beds with an early summer display.

Wallflowers were once classed with the Stocks in a Botanical sense.


Cultivation tips

Gardeners with little experience of these plants should bear in mind that they are prolific feeders and no soil can be rich enough for them. That said the soil should be light and in a sunny position, dug deeply and plenty of manure incorporated with it and a top dressing of half rotted manure added in dry weather when they should also be liberally supplied with water. the seeds of summer Stock should be sown in tray {pans} at the beginning of March and placed in gentle heat. When the seedlings are large enough to handle they should be pricked out and placed into boxes of light rich soil at a distance of three inches apart.

At this stage plenty of air should be given to the seedlings or there is the danger of them ' 'damping ' off. by the middle of May they should have grown into nice compact plants ready for planting out in beds and borders. Planting out should, if possible be carried out on a mild showery day when the soil will readily adhere to the young roots. Should there be a reasonable fear of frost at this time, some provision should be made to shelter the tender young plants.

The Winter stocks should be sown in July in trays or pans and these put into frames without heat. When large enough they should be potted on singly in 'thumbs' {small single containers]} and placed in a cold frame. Late in autumn or early spring they will require more room and five inch pots are recommended for the next stage of their development. At this stage you should be able to distinguish between the single and double forms.

Look at the foliage, the double forms have very long leaves of a light green colour, which have hairs and are curled at the edges. the cluster of buds enclosed in in-curved whitish leaves. The foliage of the single forms on the contrary, have leaves of a much deeper colour and have rounded edges and the small leaves that enclose the buds are arranged in a ' shuttlecock' fashion.

Winter Stock's should never be placed outside to pass the winter unless the situation is very dry and sheltered. Damp is more to be dreaded than the frost.

Ten Week Stock. M. annua

The image represents four forms of the double flowered M. annua. The Ten Week Stock, in various tints. The common name for the species is due to the fact that from the time of sowing to the time of flowering is about ten weeks  {sometimes twelve}
The image represents four forms of the double flowered M. annua. The Ten Week Stock, in various tints. The common name for the species is due to the fact that from the time of sowing to the time of flowering is about ten weeks {sometimes twelve} | Source

Cultivation problems

Stock does not suffer frequently from pests or diseases, however, sometimes attacks occur. Below is a sample of possible symptoms and diagnosis.

Flowers of the darker types have pale streaks and may become distorted. Leaves may also become mottled or distorted. These are classic symptoms of viruses. Stock's like Anemones may be attacked by the Anemone mosaic virus and Cucumber mosaic virus, which produce the symptoms described. Most viruses are spread by aphids-keep them under control.

Winter blister---affects the leaves and/or other parts with small, often concentric clusters of creamy coloured spots or droplets. The Crucifer white blister is caused by the fungi Albugo candida which is dependent on conditions, some years plants seem to be affected more than others. It is often seen on the wild flower known as the Shepherd's Purse, but sometimes it can be a problem on cultivated vegetables {Brassica's} and ornamental Crucifers and may be associated with Crucifer down mildew. Later the symptoms change and they become powdery as the spores give the appearance they have been splashed with white paint. The spores are distributed by rain splashes, insects and the wind. Some can remain dormant in the soil for years. Diseased plants should be destroyed preferably by burning.

Foliage of young plants with small round holes and pits may be the victim of the flea beetle of the Family Chrysomelidae, and the main species that attacks garden flowers is Phyllotreta undulata. Clear accumulations of plant waste to deny adults overwintering habitats.protect seedlings after germination by applying an insecticidal dust to the young leaves and to the soil surrounding them.

Leaves of older plants with irregular holes and pieces missing is a classic sign of a caterpillar. The simplest way to control them is to check plants regularly and crush any butterfly/moth eggs and pick of any caterpillars encountered. otherwise a contact insecticide can be used.

Leaves and young shoots infested with aphids are affected by a sticky or sooty substance. Aphids can be picked off between finger and thumb, or by spraying with soapy water or by an insecticide.

Roots eaten by maggots--- if you encounter plants that wilt, even though they are well watered, it is the sign of a cabbage root fly. When the roots are dug up they have been eaten or maggots are present which are about 8mm long. Winter garden hygiene is important in keeping the number of over wintering pupae down. Cabbage root fly is resistant to some insecticides and advise from your local nursery/ garden center should be sought.

The above symptoms and culprits are not, as previously mentioned frequent on these flowers. So plant your Stocks and enjoy their beauty and scent through out the summer months.

Virginia Stock

The plant known as Virginia Stock is placed in the genus Malcolmia
The plant known as Virginia Stock is placed in the genus Malcolmia | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      aviannovice, Hi Deb thank you for your visit and kind comments they are appreciated.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are truly beautiful flowers with a lot of character. They may not be able to handle the heat of OK, though. I had never heard of them before, and am pleased that you shared the knowledge.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      DDE, I can only take the credit for choosing the photographs but I agree with you they are lovely. Thank you also for your kind encouragement I take this as a great compliment coming from such a good writer as yourself. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      What lovely photos and such an interesting outlook on this topic, glad you gave this one a try and you did a superb job