Scarlet Pincushion; aka:
Red Double-flowered Mourning Bride,
Mourning Widow, or
"If there were nothing else to trouble us,
the fate of the flowers would make us sad."
-John Lancaster Spalding
Long-flowering from late June right up to the first hard frost of autumn, Scabiosa atropurpurea is an upright hardy annual, biennial, or half-hardy perennial, two to four feet tall, clumping to a foot or so wide.
It needs well-draining soil in the neutral to slightly alkaline side of the scale, yet with plenty of organic matter. As organic matter tends to acidify soil, the addition of a little lime helps it along, especially in areas that do not have naturally limy soils.
In our local nurseries this is almost always sold as an annual, but we've had another cultivar of the species, our favorite 'Ace of Spades,' & it bloomed spectacularly from the same clump two summers running before vanishing. This is our first year with "Scarlet" & we're expecting the same two-year lifespan from it. If seedlings or young plants are inserted into the garden every other year, there will be mature clumps for every summer.
The "Qis" series of pincushion flowers includes not only Qis "Scarlet," but also Qis "Dark Blue," & Qis "Salmon Pink." They are all three of uniform height & flowering time, with long strong stems. When bought in a "Qis" mix, there are often more than just the three colors, I'm guessing because they cross-pollinate & produce semi-official colors especially in sundry shades of red to pink, none so nearly blood-red or claret-purple as 'Qis Scarlet.' There are also Qis series' of Gomphrena, Statice, & Larkspur, Qis being a registered trademark of Kieft Nursery in The Netherlands, indicating plants that can be grown from seed & which make first-rate cut flowers.
An ideal flower for the cutting garden, the blooms are long-lasting in bouquets. They can also be dried for dry flower arranging. The blossom is fully double, not exactly scarlet, but a spectacular red to claret-purple pompom with speckles of white that look indeed like pinheads sticing out of pincushions.
The species is a native of Europe, but has naturalized in Australia & other places around the world, including in the United States in California, Kansas, Texas, Maine & Massachusetts. Cultivated forms like "Scarlet" are smaller than the species & not as prone to escaping the garden.
In the Victorian era, in the language of flowers, Sweet Scabious was symbolic of grief, while other species of pin-cushion flowers symbolized misfortune at love. S. atropurpurea was worn by widows hence the folk-names Mourning Bride or Mourning Widow.
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