click picture for larger version
Common Name: Lewis Flax
Other Common Names: Blue Flax
Scientific Name: Linum lewisii
Synonym: Linum perenne lewisii
Family: Flax Family (Linaceae)
Distribution: common and widely distributed in the Intermountain West
Habitat: very wide habitat range, from blackbrush, salt desert shrub, sagebrush, and pinyon-juniper communities up to mountain meadows
Habit: perennial herb
Foliage Color: waxy green
Leaves: short and narrow, spaced closely along the nonflowering stems, giving a whorled appearance
Flower Color: pale silvery blue to deep sky blue
Flower Form: flowers about 1" across, with five separate petals that curve outward
Flowering Season: spring to early summer, or longer with supplemental water
Cultural Requirements: Prefers full sun and rich to well-drained soils. Fully cold-hardy. Drought hardy (i.e., needs no supplemental water after establishment on the Wasatch Front), but reasonably tolerant of overwatering.
Culture: Readily grown from seed. May be direct-seeded in late fall or spring. Seeds are somewhat dormant at harvest but lose dormancy quickly during dry storage. Plants are fast-growing and commonly flower the first year, even from seed. Lewis flax plants are not long-lived (usually 3-5 years). It reseeds freely if there is not too much competition.
Uses and Notes of Interest: Lewis flax is very closely related to the European species Linum perenne, but in fact the two species cannot form hybrids. Unfortunately, the common blue flax in commercial wildflower mixes is the European species. It can be recognized by its smaller flowers, capsules and seeds and its more branched flowering stalks. The native flax is just as pretty, and has the advantage of being much less weedy and invasive in the garden. Flowers open in the morning, and the petals drop by late afternoon, only to be replaced morning after morning with new blossoms. Flax seeds are readily collected by hand-stripping the capsules in midsummer. These are round and divided into sections like an orange, with a flattened, almond-shaped black seed in each section. The seeds are very sticky when wet. This mucilage helps fasten them to surface of the ground, so that their radicles can penetrate the soil effectively.