A genus of between 350-600 species, the flower has been known for centuries and the genus name of Centaurea is taken from Greek mythology. It is said that the Centaur Chiron used the flower to heal the wound of his soldiers and so it was named after him.
The plant mostly originated in Europe and the wild cornflower C.cyanus can still be seen in fields and verges. It was once so prolific it was classed as a weed but now it is on the endangered plant list due to its habitat being destroyed by over use of herbicides.
C.montana is a perennial native to Europe and is distinguished from C.cyanus by having a single flower head whereas the annual cornflower has many heads. A popular cottage garden plant with its brilliant blue star like blooms and soft evergreen foliage.
C.dealbata or Persian cornflower is a native of the Caucasus mountains. Shaggy rose pink petals which fade to cream in the centre rise over a mound of deeply divided silvery leaves.
C.macrocephala is another cornflower native to the Caucasus mountains, also known as the Armenian basket flower, it makes a wonderful plant at the back of the border or in a prairie garden. Unusual flower buds have brown bracts which open up to reveal golden yellow thistle like flowers. Once the flowers have gone to seed it makes a great food source for the birds over the winter period.
C. nigra also known as lesser, common or black knapweed is an important food source for many different insects and birds including goldfinches, the Red Admiral and Meadow Brown butterflies. It is classed as a weed and can be found growing on scrubland, meadows and at woodland edges. Due to its rich nectar it is highly attractive to pollinators and a great food source for bees.
In folklore, cornflowers were worn by young men in love; if the flower faded too quickly, it was taken as a sign that the man’s love was not returned…