Eryngium is native to Europe, the Mediterranean, Siberia and the Balkans. Its name comes from the Greek word for thistle.
A member of the Apiaceae family that also includes carrots, dill, fennel and parsley, the eryngium is a genus of about 230 species of annuals and perennials with unusual spiny holly-shaped leaves and striking dome-shaped flowers resembling thistles.
The spiny leaves of this plant surround the cones of the flowerheads like ruffled collars. The sea holly grows in gorgeous colors blue greens, blues, silvers, silver-blues. silver-greens and amethysts.
Numerous cultivars have been developed for use in gardens. Sea hollys flowers and foliage do well in planting beds and as plantings.
The foliage and flowers are excellent in bridal bouquets and fresh or dried floral arrangements.
Eryngium is a relatively carefree plant grows at moderate rate to about 2 to 4 feet in height.
It tolerates most sandy, well drained soils and is drought tolerant, once established. It likes the full Redlands sunshine and has few pests.
Bees love sea holly, while deer seem to dislike it. Sea holly has a long tap root, which makes transplanting difficult. Be sure to plant seedlings in their permanent location as they are difficult to move successfully.
The following are some of the most popular varieties of sea holly.
Eryngium bourgatii or Mediterranean sea holly grows 1 to 2 feet high. Native to the Pyrenees, it has palmate divided basal leaves.
Eryngium Oliverianum or Olivers sea holly grows 2 to 3 feet high and is one of the easiest sea hollies to grow.
Eryngium maritimum or common sea holly grows 6 inches to 1.5 feet high and requires no special culture.
Eryngium alpinum or Alpine sea holly grows about 2 feet high. From Switzerland, it is considered unsurpassed in beauty by any plant.
Eryngium amethystinum or amethyst sea holly grows 1 to 1.5 feet high. Native to Europe, it is amethyst blue.
Eryngium giganteum, giant sea holly or Miss Wilmotts ghost grows 3 to 4 feet high. Native to the Caucasus, it was named for famous English gardener Ellen Wilmott in early 1900s. Wilmott liked this plant and would scatter seeds in other peoples gardens if they didnt have it. It has heart-shaped basal leaves and is an excellent plant for grouping.
Eryngium planum or flat sea holly grows 2 to 3 feet high.
Eryngium yuccifolium or rattlesnake master is native to the eastern United States and is not showy. It was named because of a myth that it could cure rattlesnake bites or drive snakes away.
Both the leaves and the roots of some sea holly are edible. The roots have been used as vegetables or for sweetmeats. Young shoots and leaves are sometimes used as an asparagus substitute. The roots, boiled or roasted, taste like chestnuts.
In modern herbalism, the root is used as a diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, tonics and for other properties.
Watch for the blue flowerheads with collars reminiscent of Elizabethan costumes on this drought-resistive plant.
Source: Joyce Dean, a member of the Garden and Floral Arrangers Guild