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Cornflower

Centaurea cyanus

  • Name also: Bluebottle, Bachelor’s Button, Boutonniere Flower, Hurtsickle, Bluebonnets, Blaver, Blue-poppy, Thimbles, Brushes, Corn Pinks. Witch’s Bells, Bleuet, Barbeau, Casse Lunette
  • Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Carduoideae
    (formerly Aster Family – Asteraceae)
  • Growing form: Annual or occasionally biennial herb.
  • Height: 20–80 cm (8–32 in.). Stem abundantly erect-branched, sparsely woolly.
  • Flower: Single flower-like 2.5–3.5 cm (1–1.4 in.) capitula surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitula’s ray-florets neuter, violet blue–blue (sometimes pinkish or white), obliquely funnel-shaped, tip lobed; disc florets violet blue, tubular. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels. Involucre barrel-shaped, involucral bracts overlapping in many rows, lime green, tip blackish brown, triangular, shallowly bilobed. Capitula many.
  • Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves stalked, stem leaves stalkless. Basal leaf blades lanceolate, with entire margins–sparsely toothed–pinnately lobed; stem leaf blades lanceolate–linear, with entire margins, at least in the beginning woolly.
  • Fruit: Elliptic, flattish, yellowish, fine-haired, 3.5–4 mm (0.14–0.16 in.) long achene, tip with short bristles.
  • Habitat: Grain fields, rye fields, fallow land, roadsides, wasteland. Also ornamental.
  • Flowering time: June–September.

Cornflower arrived in Finland from the steppes and rocky outcrops in eastern parts of central Europe. Finland was also mainly steppe at the end of the Ice Age but cornflower didn’t arrive at that time. When the ice retreated Finland was mostly comprised of sea and small islands, which was not conducive to being spread by ants, and when the steppe turned to forest, the species’ natural habitat disappeared.

Cornflower’s time arrived with agriculture, several thousand years later. Its golden age was the 18th and 19th and the beginning of the 20th century when it bloomed as a weed in rye fields. It was even believed to be good for the field if a few cornflowers were mixed in amongst the grain. In a traditional Finnish folk story the foolish anti-heroes go swimming in a sea of blooming blue cornflower. Nowadays it is difficult to comprehend how the story makes any sense, but there was a time when it could grow so profusely that it could turn a field into a sea of blue.

Cornflower thrived well before the advent of industrialised agriculture. In the middle of the last century rye-farming began to decline, new weedkillers came into use and efficient seed-cleaning meant that the species almost disappeared. It is usually an annual, so it has to keep producing new seed. In recent decades it has been making a slow return to fields and as a garden ornamental. This is good news for bees as cornflower yields a lot of nectar.

Cornflower is the national flower of Estonia and Germany. It also is the provincial flower of Päijät-Häme and the emblem of the National Coalition Party.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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