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Gaura Oenothera filiformis

Botanical names can be confusing. Gaura was listed as Gaura longiflora and Gaura biensis. These were combined in the new volumes of Flora of Missouri by Dr. Yatskievych so the same plants are now Oenothera filiformis.

This confusion can make people dislike using scientific names. I prefer using these as each name refers to a particular kind of plant. Plants can have more than one common name. Or a single common name can refer to more than one plant.

Yes, I still refer to most plants by their common names when talking to other people. It makes conversation easier.

Oenothera filiformis W.L. Wagner & Hoch

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Onagraceae

gaura flower

Flower: Loose groups of flowers tip the branches and arise at leaf nodes. Each flower has four upright petals with a long pistil swooping down from them flanked by four stamens on each side. A fresh flower is usually pink tinged white and turns darker pink as it ages over the day. Two pink sepals sweep back from the flower. The long flower stalk is a cylindrical ovary with a green lower section and pink upper section.

Gaura side flower

Leaf: The basal leaf rosette can be the first year’s growth or beginning of the year’s growth. It may or may not be present when the plant blooms. The stem leaves are alternate with a short, winged petiole. Small leaves can grow at the base of the petiole. Each leaf is long flaring out to the middle then tapering to a point. The wavy edges are irregular but not lobed or toothed. There is a single midvein. Top and bottom of the leaf is green, slick-looking and covered with short hairs.

Gaura leaf

Stem: One or several slender, green, hairy stems come up from the root then branch repeatedly forming a wide, leggy bush reaching five feet or more in height.

Gaura under leaf

Root: The fleshy root can be annual or biennial.

Gaura stem

Fruit: A long tube with tapered, rounded tip.

gaura fruit

Habitat: This plant likes sunny locations favoring pastures, glades, roadsides and open, disturbed areas.

 

Large Flowered Gaura

Gaura plant

Gaura is tall and leggy. It looks like a coordinated structure of slender, green sticks with handfuls of flowers glued on here and there. These sway in any breath of wind.

The flowers are easily recognizable with their four petals sticking up like the ribs for a fan. They fade by noon turning deep pink and folding themselves along the developing seed pod.

Although the plants grow in a variety of sunny places, I see them commonly along the roads. The leggy bushes are easy to recognize. The flowers are smaller and must be seen from closer up.

The seed pods are colorful as they develop. They turn brown when mature. The plant seeds freely.

Butterfly Bush Gaura

Only early morning walks can reward the walker with the sight of a gaura bush in full bloom. The slightest bit of sun shrivels the white petals leaving only bits of ragged appearing pink bits until the next crop of flowers opens late in the evening.

gaura flowers

Several gaura flowers open each evening to lure moths overnight.

The bush isn’t much like a bush. It is a scraggy affair of long thin stems branching but never looking bushy. From a distance it seems a good candidate for weed classification.

On closer approach, each swaying branch is tipped with flowers. As it is with the bush, so it is with the flowers.

gaura flower

Gaura flowers are only an inch across. Although I’ve read how they are supposed to resemble a butterfly, they look more like a fan to me.

The gaura flowers look nothing like a normal flower. Regular flowers have a circle of petals surrounding the pistil and stamens. Gaura flowers do have all of these parts just in a different arrangement.

The four petals stick straight up. The stamens and pistil stick downwards from the petals as a group. To some people the upright petals are butterfly wings with the stamens and pistil forming the legs and antennae.

gaura flowers and buds

This branch has plenty of buds to keep those gaura flowers opening for several more days.

This is why some people call gaura a butterfly bush. Butterflies don’t seem impressed and rarely visit. Moths are more common.

Other flowers are more impressive than gaura. Some are as demanding. But gaura is still a treat to see on an early morning walk.