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Plant Highlight: Lessingia filaginifolia

September 2012

The genus Lessingia, native to Western North America, is a member of the Asteraceae, or Daisy Family.  They are generally low-growing, and may be annuals or perennials depending on the species.  The flower color for the genus is either yellow or else in the white-pink-purple range.  Some are very localized and rare, such as the San Francisco Lessingia (L. germanorum), while others are more widespread.  One of the latter is Lessingia filaginifolia, sometimes called California-Aster.

Lessingia filaginifolia can be found in nature from southwestern Oregon all the way down through California to northern Baja California.  It is one of the perennial species, with a clumping habit and speading stems.  In most forms the stems and leaves have an attractive wooly white coating, and the flowers are in the purple-lavender-pink range, or sometimes white.

Our plant at the Ruth Bancroft Garden is the cultivar Lessingia filaginifolia ‘Silver Carpet’, a selection from coastal bluffs in Monterey County, south of San Francisco.  It stays very low, growing only a few inches high, but spreads laterally to form a clump up to 4 or 5 feet across (1.2 to 1.5 m).  The leaves are up to a little over an inch long (3 cm), and when flattened they are spoon-shaped, but they are normally folded like a taco so that the edges are close together.  Rather than being smooth, the margins have small blunt teeth, giving a serrated appearance.

Lessingia filaginifolia ‘Silver Carpet’ has a long flowering period during the summer and into the fall, with abundant lavender-pink daisy-type flowers with yellow centers.  The flower diameter is ⅞ inch to 1 inch (2.2 to 2.5 cm).  This drought-tolerant plant thrives in full sun even in hotter inland conditions, where occasional watering helps to keep it looking good, and it tolerates wind and even some salt spray in coastal areas.  It will grow in both sandy and clay soils, and is a fine choice for trailing over rocks or down a slope.