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Least Gagea

Gagea minima

  • Family: Lily Family – Liliaceae
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Bulbs in pairs within the same skin.
  • Height: 7–15 cm (2.8–6 in.). Stem unbranched, delicate.
  • Flower: Perianth regular (actinomorphic), yellow, outside slightly greenish, approx. 2 cm (0.8 in.) wide. Tepals 6 in 2 similar whorls, with tapered and sharp tips, base hairy. Stamens 6. Pistil of 3 fused carpels. Inflorescence a 2–5(–7)-flowered umbel.
  • Leaves: Basal leaves 1. Blade 1–3 mm (0.04–0.12 in.), linear, usually flat, tapered and sharp tip, with entire margins, glabrous, parallel-veined, lime green. Inflorescence with 1(–2) leaf-like subtending bracts at base.
  • Fruit: Bristly, loculicidal (3-parted), thin-walled capsule.
  • Habitat: Broad-leaved forests beside shores and streams, coppices, hedgerows, young meadows, banks, rocky meadows, yards, parks, lawns.
  • Flowering time: (April–)May.

Least gagea is the smallest lily that grows wild in Finland. It can be differentiated from other gagea species on the basis of its small size, narrow leaves and tepals with tapered tips. Modest-sized least gagea blooms early in the spring while the land is damp, before other plants hide it from view. In Finland it is named after the cuckoo as it blooms when the first of these birds return, and they are in full bloom around Finnish Mothers’ Day, which falls on the second weekend of May. The flowers attract flower flies and beetles to pollinate it, but still it doesn’t produce many seeds. Many malformations of the flower have been noticed, and the changeable spring weather might disturb the sensitive phase in which the seeds develop. Least gagea also spreads vegetatively by producing small lateral bulbils. It often grows in dense patches, but it can spread further when the land is moved.

The laying of lawns is usually detrimental to wild plants, but least gagea has exploited human activity by growing in the rich soil of parks and gardens. It is actually a weed in such places but it is usually allowed to grow in peace as it is beautiful and does no harm. It probably arrived on many park lawns with the soil, but it has certainly also been introduced to many yards on purpose as an ornamental. The species especially favours old dwelling areas where the cultural influence has made the ground richer, and it doesn’t grow in large forest areas and new dwelling areas. Its most eye-catching feature is its lively yellow flowers, but even when it is not flowering it stands out against the other lawn vegetation in dense, bright green patches, where its needle-sharp leaves bring to mind Easter grass decorations. Least gagea closes its flowers at night and won’t open them the next day if it is raining – the outside of the flowers is greenish so they are difficult to spot when they are closed.

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

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