Wednesday Weed – Perennial Wallflower

Every Wednesday, I hope to find a new ‘weed’ to investigate. My only criterion will be that I will not have deliberately planted the subject of our inquiry. Who knows what we will find…..


Perennial wallflower ‘Bowles Mauve’ (Erysimum x linifolium)

Dear Readers, as you might have noticed this is not a wild plant (though it is widely naturalized in the UK), but it is ubiquitous enough for us to pass it by without stopping to admire its beauty, as if it were a dandelion or a daisy. But this is a stoical and generous flower. I have one in my north-facing garden that has not stopped flowering for over two years. In the spring, the solitary bees and hoverflies visit it, and on mild winter days a bumblebee might drop in for a sip of nectar. It requires not a jot of fuss, but just keeps doing its thing, until one day it flowers itself to death. I wanted to celebrate it here, because, like so many human wallflowers, it is often overlooked in spite of its sterling character.

Perennial wallflower, December 26th 2016, in the N2 Community Garden.

Perennial wallflower, December 26th 2016, in the N2 Community Garden.

Like all wallflowers, perennial wallflower is a member of the cabbage family. The wild ancestor of ‘Bowles Mauve’ and other cultivars comes originally from rocky places in Spain and Portugal. I have already mentioned how attractive it is to pollinators such as bees and flies, but in a University of Sussex study in 2013 it was found to be visited by more butterflies than any other plant in the garden. Take that, buddleia! I imagine that the long flowering period of the plant helps it pick up visitors throughout the whole year.

img_9161It is also the foodplant of a variety of moths and weevils, such as the Garden Carpet…

By ©entomart, Attribution,

Garden Carpet (Xanthorhoe gluctuata) (Photo One – see credit below)

…and this rather delightful weevil, who lives inside the fruits and feeds on the developing seeds.

The lesser of two weevils? (Photo Two – credit below)

Furthermore, it is said to be a food plant of the Spanish Ibex. I love the thought of this most domesticated of plants being fodder for a creature as elusive as an ibex.

By Javier García Diz - Trabajo propio. Own Work., CC BY-SA 3.0,

A very fine Iberian Ibex (Capra pyrenaica) (Photo Three – credit below)

And here is a picture of the wild form of the plant, as found in the Asturias region of Spain. How delicate and pretty it is!

En O Caurel, Lugo, agosto de 2008, © José Luis Porto

Wild Erysimum linifolium (Photo Four – credit below)

I am guessing that the name ‘wallflower’ probably arose because plants of this genus can often be found growing on rocky soil, or at the bottom of outcrops, and they will certainly seed in the crevices at the feet of walls. Human  ‘wallflowers’ probably got their name from the way that they lean against the wall at social gatherings, watching the other more extrovert creatures whilst not joining in themselves. What both kinds of wallflower share is a kind of modesty and shyness which means that they are sometimes undervalued. I have never been without a Bowles Mauve perennial wallflower in the garden since I discovered how useful they are for insects of all kinds, and how delicately pretty they are. If there is one slogan for 2017, it might be ‘plant a wallflower today, and befriend a whole gaggle of bees’.

img_9165Photo Credits

Photo One (Garden Carpet Moth) – By ©entomart, Attribution,

Photo Two (Weevil) –

Photo Three (Ibex) – By Javier García Diz – Trabajo propio. Own Work., CC BY-SA 3.0,

Photo Four ( Wild Perennial Wallflower) – En O Caurel, Lugo, agosto de 2008, © José Luis Porto 

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4 thoughts on “Wednesday Weed – Perennial Wallflower

  1. rosni3

    what a great post! If I had a garden I’d plant wallflowers – I’ve always liked them and will now view them with even more respect, not to mention new knowledge. Happy New Year and many happy huntings to you. Your appreciative audience looks forward…

  2. Toffeeapple

    I shall have to look out for some seeds of that, mine are all shades of autumn with a red and a yellow sometimes. Mine flower for such a long time throughout the year and I adore the perfume of them.

  3. Pingback: At the Garden Centre | Bug Woman – Adventures in London

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