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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Plant of the Month (June) : Globe Gilia – Gilia capitata

Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata) flowering in Mother Nature's Backyard

Such an odd year for native plants.  With the cold winter and dry conditions we’ve quickly transitioned to summer and many spring wildflowers have long since gone to seed.  Fortunately, a few late-planted spring wildflowers – including the Globe Gilia – are still attracting insect pollinators in Mother Nature’s Backyard.

Globe Gilia (and other California Gilias) are members of the Polemoniaceae or Phlox Family.   California is the center of diversity for this family, which includes some 25 genera and over 300 species.  The Phlox family is known for its unique, three-chambered ovary (more on this later) and flowers in parts of five.   Members of the family – including the genera Linanthus and Phlox - are best known as pretty, old-fashioned garden flowers.

Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata [pronounced  JEEL-ee-uh  cap-ee-TAY-tuh])  is endemic to (occurs only in) Southern California from Santa Barbara county south into Baja California, Mexico.   Records indicate it once grew from the coastal prairies of western Los Angeles County to the foothills of local mountain ranges.  It grew as well as on the Southern Channel Islands.   The species usually occurs in sunny places with well-drained soils up to 6000 ft. elevation.  Like other California wildflowers, it often is seen after wildfires.   Globe Gilia is most common in the Southern Coastal Prairie, Coastal Sage Scrub, Chaparral and Yellow Pine Forest plant communities.

As seen above, Globe Gilia is one of our more attractive annual wildflowers.  Its lacy foliage is delicate and lovely, creating a froth of medium green at the base of the plant.   Plants grow 1-3 ft tall and perhaps 1-2 feet wide.  The growth habit varies somewhat with growing conditions: plants are taller in part shade than in full sun and are more bushy and lush with abundant water. 

In the wilds, Globe Gilia can bloom anytime from April to July or later.  With adequate water, the plant reseeds and continues to produce offspring in late spring and summer.  In fact, you can extend the bloom season by sowing seeds every 2-3 weeks from December through May.  This old gardener’s trick is known as ‘serial sowing’; it works well with native wildflowers like the Clarkias and Globe Gilia.   As long as you supply water, plants will continue to develop and bloom well into summer.
Flower Cluster - Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata)

Globe Gilia is a favorite of native and non-native pollinators (like native bees and the European Honeybee).   Plants produce many small flowers in loose or dense ball-like clusters, making it easy for insects to move from flower to flower.  Globe Gilia flowers have a relatively open architecture, giving easy access to pollen and  nectar – the food of native pollinators.  In addition to native bees, the flowers attract butterflies and even hummingbirds will sip their nectar.   In fact, Globe Gilia is a good all-round pollinator plant that deserves to be planted more widely.  For example, Globe Gilia can be used to attract pollinators to a vegetable garden or fruit trees, increasing their yields.   To learn more about Pollinator Gardens see our next posting (June 2013).
Globe Gilia seedlings

Like most native wildflowers, Globe Gilia is quite simple to grow in our climate.  While it can be grown in pots and transplanted, we find that direct sowing usually works best. Seeds can be sown from late fall though spring in winter-mild climates.    Globe Gilia succeeds in any local soil from very sandy to clay.  It does best in full sun but takes part-shade.  And it needs adequate water from the time it germinates until it begins to set seeds.  For more tips on growing wildflowers see our January 2013 posting ‘Growing California Wildflowers’.
Globe Gilia (Gilia capitata) with native grasses and
yellow Tidy-tips (Layia platyglossa)

Globe Gilia is favored by gardeners for its lacy foliage, upright growth habit and attractive flowers.   The flower color – which ranges from light blue to intense blue-purple – combines well with yellow-flowered wildflowers like Tidy-tips (above), the Goldfields (Lasthena species) and the Suncups (Camissonia species).  Globe Gilia also looks glorious massed and will attract the most summer pollinators when planted thus.  Be sure to plant enough for use as cut flowers; Globe Gilias make a nice addition to floral arrangements.

Like all annual wildflowers, Gilia capitata is a great filler plant around shrubs, in containers and in out-of-the-way spots in the garden.   Globe Gilia is used in European and California cottage gardens; as a taller plant it may require support, particularly along walkways.   It combines well with native grasses, annuals and perennials to form a ‘natural lawn’ or coastal prairie planting.  In short, Globe Gilia is an adaptable annual with many potential uses in the garden.
Dry seed capsules with a few tan seeds - Globe Gilia
 (Gilia capitata). Note the three-chambered capsule
(developed from three-part ovary)

Globe Gilia produces plenty of small tan-colored seeds after flowering.  The seed capsule (pod) is formed from the three-chambered ovary common to the Phlox family.  When seeds are ripe, the dried capsule opens, releasing the seeds (see above).   Seeds are easily collected by inverting the flowering heads into a paper bag.    In some gardens, Globe Gilia is a reliable re-seeder.   In our experience, the seeds are often eaten by hungry birds; so collect some seed and store in a cool, dry place for next year’s garden.


  1. Great information and I appreciate the picture with the Gilia capitata seedling, I'll know what to look out for when the seedlings come up after the rains.

  2. Thank you for the seedlings photos! I wish I'd realized this before--I mistakenly pulled up a bunch of these in my yard today.