Lacy Phacelia is an awesome southwest / California native that draws pollinators, controls pests, restores soil, and looks great all at the same time
Dumb luck brought Lacy Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) to my attention.
Even though it’s native to northern San Diego County, I’ve never seen it growing anywhere. Wouldn’t have known what it was if I had either.
So, when these weird plants with hairy red stems and lacy green leaves started sprouting up in the dry gardens, I half feared they were some sort of invasive thistle or noxious weed. Still, I let them grow because they looked interesting in contrast to the blue-green leaves of the sages and lavenders nearby. (Plus, I’m generally lazy and, unless I’m certain it’s an undesirable, I tend to leave plants be.)
Lacy Phacelia in the Garden
I’m glad I didn’t haul them out because a couple weeks later they grew to be around four feet tall and budded with furry red and green buds that unroll into pale lavender flowers over a series of days. The bees love them.
After a few days of admiring these flowers straight out of a Dr Seuss book, I decided to find out what they were.
Lacy Phacelia in Bloom
Google initially tried to tell me that it was Sweet Annie (sweet artemisia), but I’d done battle with that plant before (super invasive) and knew this wasn’t it. A couple additional tries, and we finally got a match – Lacy Phacelia, aka “blue tansy” or “purple tansy”, a member of the borage family.
Much to my surprise, the plant was not only native to my area, but probably one of the best annuals you can have in an organic garden. Its nectar-heavy flowers make it a favorite of bees and butterflies. It’s also attractive to hoverflies which eat aphids and other garden pests.
Pollinators love Lacy Phacelia
Better yet, the plant is very efficient at pulling nitrogen from the soil and makes a great weed-barrier cover crop that makes nitrogen rapidly available for subsequent crops.
Oh, and if all that wasn’t enough, it looks great and flowers over a long period.
Lacy Phacelia in the garden
So, there it is. A native plant I didn’t know existed, a have no idea how it got here, but now one that will be a regular part of my native landscape and organic gardens from now on.
PLANT AT A GLANCE
Lacy phacelia, blue tansy, purple tansy
Annual species in the Borage family and native to Southwestern U.S. Grows to 40-in – 48-in tall. Produces blue-purple flowers from mid-spring to early summer.
Pollinators / beneficial insects — attracts pollinators such as honeybees, bumblebees, and butterflies. Also attracts general predator insects such as hoverflies that feed on aphids and similar pests. Cover crop — Fast nitrogen uptake and high C/N ratio makes nitrogen in soil more accessible to crops. Landscape — Striking flowers and unusual plant form make it a visually interesting feature.
More information: Phacelia tanacetifolia at USDA.GOV, Calif. Native Plant Society
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