South Africa’s blue felicia is hugely popular all over the world. Find out more about this beautiful plant.
The blue felicia or blue marguerite daisy (Felicia amelloides) is one of the few blue-flowered plants that makes an outstanding ornamental garden plant. Ever since this small shrub was first introduced to Europe in the middle of the 18th century, it has always been fashionable. In temperate climates it is grown as a perennial, with a typical lifespan of about five years. In countries with a cold winter the blue felicia is treated as a long-flowering summer annual, and is particularly popular as a window box or container plant.
Image on the right: Felicia amelloides
This famous beauty is not, however, the only member of the Felicia genus. There are 84 Felicia species in total – and South Africa is the natural home of 79 of them. They are mainly indigenous to the Eastern Cape and Western Cape. With the move towards indigenous and water smart gardening, more of these attractive daisies have become available for the home gardener. Eco-conscious gardeners will find that exploring the world of felicias will bring a host of butterflies into the garden as all of them provide nectar.
While the blooms of Felicia species are typically rich sky blue, there are also species with pink, lilac and white blooms as well as pale blue blooms. Most have a bright yellow centre, with the exception of the annual true-blue daisy (Felicia heterophylla) which has amazing all-blue flowers.
Blue felicia or marguerite daisy (Felicia amelloides)
This evergreen, densely branched shrublet reaches a height of 30-45cm with a spread of 50cm, which makes it a perfect choice for a container, as well as a border. It also looks superb in massed plantings. The blooms remain open at night, which is unusual in plants belonging to the daisy family.
Apart from its beauty, the blue felicia has many advantages. It is fast growing, evergreen, and has a long flowering season from spring through to autumn. It is also wind resistant, thrives in sandy soil and tolerates moderate frost. And, best of all, it needs only moderate water and little care, making it the ideal plant for a modern garden.
White- and pale blue-bloomed forms are now offered by nurseries. Felicia amelloides ‘Alba’ (35cm) has crisp white flowers that form a striking contrast against its dark foliage. For something different consider Felicia amelloides ‘Variegata’ with blue daisies and green and white variegated leaves.
Felicia ‘Out of the Blue’ is a new cultivar that combines the best characteristics of other species with Felicia amelloides. Vibrant green leaves are topped with masses of violet-blue, yellow-centred daisies.
True-blue daisy (Felicia heterophylla)
This spring-flowering annual is one of the few felicias with entirely blue blooms. The flower heads are borne on long stems from August to October. With a height of 20-30cm they are ideal for edging plants in the spring garden. They also look good in massed plantings. You can bring some Namaqualand splendour into your own garden by combining them with white and yellow Namaqualand daisies (Dimorphotheca pluvialis and D. sinuata).
A number of cultivars are available as seeds. They range in height from the 15cm-tall ‘Spring Merchen’ and the 20cm-tall ‘Daisy Chain’ through to the 30cm-tall ‘Blue Skies’. Sow the seeds in mid-March in a seed bed or seed tray. Germination takes place within one week. Then transplant into the garden whilst the seedlings are still fairly small. In areas with cold winters, seeds can be sown in seed trays and kept in a frost free place until all danger of frost as over.
Around the world there is growing concern about conserving water. Water smart plants are gaining in popularity, and horticulturalists are focusing on developing water smart garden plants. Consequently more Felicia species than ever before are becoming available as garden plants. You may have to ask your local nursery to order them in for you, or grow them yourself from seed. Choose from the following: F. aethiopica, F. amoena , F. echinata, F. elongata, wild Michaelmas daisy (F. erigeroides), kingfisher daisy (F. bergeriana), fine-leafed felicia (F. filifolia) and white felicia (F. muricata).
Tips for success
Image on the right: Felicia bergeriana
- Plant in full sun in soil that drains very well.
- Add a light application of organic fertiliser to the planting hole.
- Place the plant in the planting hole no deeper than it was growing in its container.
- For massed plantings position the plants 35cm apart.
- Mulch around but not on top of the plants with 7cm of organic compost, leaving a space around the stem. Reapply as necessary.
- Water well until the soil is completely moist and keep it moist until new growth appears.
- In August cut back old stems to about 10cm above the ground.
Fertilise in spring with a light application of organic fertiliser or a chemical slow release general fertiliser.