Baby Blue Eyes

Plant of the Month

Cliff Hutson
RSABG Volunteer, Nature Interpreter

 

As wildflower season rolls around, I am reminded of that proverbial box of chocolates wherein you are never sure exactly what you are going to get. However, a recurring denizen of Faye’s Wildflower Meadow is baby blue eyes (Nemophila menziesii) of the borage or waterleaf family Boraginaceae (as listed on Jepson eFlora).

The bowl-shaped 1/2 to 1 1/2 inch flowers are pale or clear blue and grow singly on slender stalks near the ends of slender, branched stems that reach six to ten inches tall.

N. menziesii grows throughout California, from central Oregon into Baja, at heights from sea level up to almost 6,500 feet. It grows in many types of habitat, even though Nemophila means “woodland-loving.” It comes from the Latin word nemus, which means “grove” and the Greek word philos, which means “loving.” It blooms freely in gardens. As an annual, the seeds should be broadcast in fall or early spring, in sun or partial shade. It can reseed itself, but your mileage may vary.

N. menziesii has a couple of varieties that are often offered for sale. There is N. menziesii atomaria, which has white flowers with black dots. A very different take is the cultivar ‘Penny Black’, which, as the name implies, is very dark if not actually black.

As I write this, Grow Native Nursery Claremont has a container holding a lovely mixture of all these on display.

Some references, like my 1979 field guide, list the family as waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae). But recent studies, as I understand it, have relegated the family to the subfamily Hydrophylloideae of the borage family (Boraginaceae). It seems that the jury is still out on this, and Jepson Herbarium apparently split the difference by adding “or waterleaf” to its citation.