Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Three Favorite Annuals: Zinnias, Tithonia and Periwinkles

Zinnia and Tithonia are two annuals usually called by their botanical names, unless you happen to call them "Old Maids" and "Mexican Sunflower."

Both these flowers delight butterflies. I planted a small row of mixed Zinnias. The Tithonia bed is 12 feet across, self-seeded. It has companions including Duranta, Muhly grass, a bit of Lantana and a Datura.

Zinnias in a row in a bed of Lantana and Gulf Muhly. Tithonia at upper right.

Once Tithonia is established, it will reseed. The seed pods look similar to those of Echinacea. I pull whole plants and lay them on the surface after frost.

I collect Zinnia seeds. Zinnia blooms are peculiar in that they have two kinds of flowers: Ray flowers, the colored part that I call petals and Disc Flowers, 'the yellow center' part.

When a bloom stops making the little yellow flowers in the center and starts to dry, I clip the stem and let it finish drying in a little wire basket. Pulling the dry petals reveals a dark shield-shaped seed at the end of each Ray flower that was pollinated.

There are enough Tithonia blossoms for each butterfly to have his own bloom. Sometimes they like to share.

Catharanthus roseus Madagascar Periwinkle

I prefer to call this annual by its common name of Periwinkle and use the Madagascar name to distinguish it from Vinca minor which some call Periwinkle. Some people call these Periwinkles 'Vinca' which adds to the confusion. Somebody mentions how much they like 'vinca' and somebody else says it's a thug. Vinca minor is a perennial thug. Catharanthus roseus is a reseeder but not a thug.

My first Periwinkles came from a Mrs. Cox who lived down at the Lake. I pulled seedling plants from her flower bed in the rain. She said they would thrive and next year I should just go out and gently stir the soil and they would come back. They did. Every year I stir again. 

White Periwinkle with a pink eye, new this year.
I am saving seed from this one.

Madagascar Periwinkle seed are in slender pods an inch or two long along the stem. I pick them when the black seeds are visible though the seed pod and let them dry. Enough pods will escape me and burst open that the present bed will reseed. 

Zinnias, Tithonia and Periwinkles are my favorite annuals. Dwarf Marigolds have grown large and are attracting Gulf Fritillaries and Pipevine Swallowtails. Maybe next year we'll have whole hedges of Marigolds instead of a few.


  1. Next year I'm going to try Tithonia in my front garden. I wish I had known how hot our summer was going to be, I would have done them this year. Maybe next will be similar. They'll fit in really well with the other hot colors in my front garden, and maybe they'll attract some butterflies.

  2. Beautiful flowers! love them all but I especially love Tithonia. It's such a pure, saturated orange. I sadly wasn't able to find any this year.

  3. I'm still a bit confused by the difference. Whey I buy perwinkles they are called vinca minor...perhaps there not?

  4. If you are buying the pretty pink, rose, white and purple periwinkles that bloom all summer, they are NOT Vinca minor, they are Catharanthus roseus. Vinca minor is a vining plant that spreads along the ground with blue/purplish blooms in early spring. It's a thug.

    Many places sell plants that have misleading labels. Not every plant vendor studied botany. On the other hand, if your customers don't mind you can call a plant by any common name you choose unless you sell a weed under an expensive plant's name and someone calls the Plant Police (or the State Dept of Agriculture).

  5. Love them all especially tithonia, so orange and fuzzy! Marigolds are so happy and bright! The tall African ones are amazing but my favorites are orange gem and lemon gem (Tagetes tenuifolia) because of the fresh scent of the foliage when you brush it.

  6. Those are three wonderful annuals.
    I have not planted annuals for two years....don't know why. They give longer and usually more color than perennials.

    Yours are beautiful.

  7. Those are favorites of mine as well, especially the tithonia. I find that the butterflies in my garden really go for those striking blooms.

  8. Those are great for color!!! I didn't plant many things this year that needed a lot of water so my colors are fewer. Thanks for sharing yours.


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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