Not the easiest perennial, but worth the effort GAS PLANT
By Merabeth Steffen
OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer
The perennial I am most proud of in my garden is the gas plant.
It doesn’t outshine the bloom of any other perennial nor does it have the longest bloom period.
The pride stems from the fact that I nurtured the plant four years, including its first summer spent under a basket to avoid sun scald on the tender plant, before it deemed me worthy enough to be gifted with a bloom.
Now, it is a low maintenance perennial.
The gas plant, Dictamnus albus var. purpureus, is one not usually found in nurseries.
I saw one on a garden tour years ago and was able to find it online.
Its common name comes from the claim that its blooms produce fumes that can be ignited to produce a tiny blue flame. Supposedly, the stems, leaves and seed pods contain an oil that is highly flammable.
I have never tested this rumor of flammability but I have read that susceptible individuals can suffer rather severe skin irritation when handling the plant. That flammable oil also makes it deer resistant.
The other common name for this plant is dittany.
Dictamnus is a sun lover, although they prefer cool nighttime temperatures, and it’s hardy in zones 3 to 8.
The plant can reach a height of 3 feet with the bloom adding another foot. Its clump can spread is 2-3 feet.
The foliage is shiny and dark green with compound leaves. Foliage is slow to break dormancy in spring, so until familiar with its place in the garden, marking its location is a good idea.
The bloom is lovely but not particularly long-lasting, about two weeks. Individual flowers open from bottom to top on a stalk.
The stalks are quite sturdy so they don’t need to be staked.
The flowers resemble miniature orchids with upward curving stamens.
The petals are pink with burgundy veins. There is also a white variety, D. albus ‘Alba’ and red D. albus ‘Rubra’.
The flower produces a pleasant citrusy fragrance, not unexpected since it is a member of the Rutaceae or citrus family.
Once the flowers fade, they are followed by interesting star-like seed pods. I allow the seed heads to remain because they are unusual.
I have also allowed the seeds to drop, hoping for seedlings, but that has not happened.
I have not gathered seed and tried to germinate them. Since an established plant cannot be divided, propagation would have to be by seed.
It is drought-tolerant once established and extremely long-lived.
It is not particularly picky about soil type, though soil should be well drained. A slightly alkaline pH is preferred.
Once established, a woody, deep tap root makes dividing or transplanting nearly impossible, so be sure of location when adding this plant to your garden. Mine is planted next to a yellow baptisia and a variegated iris, a pretty combination.
For images and more information on this plant, go to http://go.osu.edu/gasplant.