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Yarrow Can Color Your World


Evergreen blooms come in many shades and aren’t too picky about sun or water

From the San Diego Union Tribune, July 2, 2011

Illustration by Cristina Martinez Byvik


According to “A Modern Herbal,” yarrow has a long tradition of being used to heal wounds. Yarrow’s botanical name, Achillea, is after Achilles, who was said to have used yarrow to treat his soldiers’ bleeding wounds. In ancient times, yarrow was called Herba Militaris, the military herb, most likely for that reason.

Today, we appreciate yarrow for other reasons. Our native yarrow, Achillea millefolium, along with European and Asian native yarrows, are mostly low-profile, fast-spreading evergreens that thrive in full to part sun.

Yarrows take little water once established but grow more lush and “flowerful” with a bit more. They aren’t picky about soil; they even tolerate clay. These versatile little perennials make nectar that attracts butterflies and pollen that attracts beneficial bees.

Perennial beds and grassy meadows are both brightened by yarrow’s broad, flat clusters of tiny flowers in white, yellow, pink, pale lavender or red. Native yarrow grows densely enough to serve as a lawn replacement in areas that get light foot traffic.

Yarrows require little care: plant, mulch, water occasionally once established. Remove spent flowers to prolong yarrow’s bloom. If you have a meadow or a lawn of yarrow, you might use a push mower or line-trimmer to cut back flowers and foliage once plants finish flowering.

You’ll find many yarrows in the nursery. Here are a few to get you started:

•Native Achillea millefolium has ferny green foliage. In spring and summer, native yarrow sports large flower clusters atop 2-foot-tall stalks. ‘Calistoga’ flowers white, ‘Island Pink’ flowers pink, ‘Cerise Queen’ flowers deep rose, ‘Lavender Beauty’ has soft purple flowers, ‘Paprika’ has deep red flowers with tiny yellow centers.

Achillea ‘Moonshine’ is a hybrid of European and Asian native yarrows. ‘Moonshine’ is a larger plant with wider, ghostly gray leaves. Flower clusters are broader than the natives’ and bright, buttery yellow. Flowering is in spring and early summer.

Achillea tomentosa, woolly yarrow, is a more petite yarrow that grows as a mat of tight clumps only a few inches tall. Its leaves are shorter than other yarrows, cylindrical and covered in fine hairs that make the leaves look silvery green (the word “tomentosa” means woolly). This yarrow’s leaves look so fuzzy that your impulse will be to reach out and pet them. Bright yellow flowers make small clusters, just a few inches above the leaves.

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