FAQ - Plants - Myosotis

Myosotis, a plant to remember.
     Myosotis is a large genus (abt. 50 spp.) of low-growing, annual, biennial, or perennial herbaceous plants that grow along the margins of shallow pools of water or in moist, loamy soil.  They are to be found in all habitable parts of the world.  
    Myosotis belongs to the family Boraginaceae, which includes Borago (Borage), Heliotropium (Heliotrope), and Pulmonaria (Lungwort).  Its distinctive characteristics include lanceolate (long, narrow, pointed at the apex) to oblanceolate (longer than wide, pointed at the apex, rouneed at the base), sessile (stemless), bright green leaves which are alternately opposed on a creeping, stolon-like stem.  Leaves may attain a length of 4-6”and a width of ¾”.  The stem roots at any leaf node and branches heavily.  Flowers are borne on a stalk that unrolls as it develops, hence the name scorpioides, like a scorpion (’s tail).  Flowers are five-petaled, blue or pink, and are about ¼” in diameter.  Seeds are small, black, and shiny.  
    Only two species of Myosotis can be considered to be tolerant of standing water.  They are M. laxa, which is native to most of the North American continent, Chile, Europe and Asia (I have seen it at Mono Lake in California); and M. scorpioides, which is endemic to Europe and Asia, and which has become naturalized in North America (I have seen it in southern Michigan).  M. laxa is smaller than M.  scorpioides, growing to only 2/3 the size of M. scorpioides, and the flowers are a lighter shade of blue.  In either case, their attractive and familiar blue flowers are an old-time favorite among gardeners and have been the subject of poetry, song, and art for centuries.  For our purposes, though, they are a source of nearly year-round color and pleasure at the margins of our ponds, streams, and waterfall weirs.  

    Culturally, Myosotis are undemanding, although you couldn’t have convinced me of that when I initially acquired M. scorpioides.  I couldn’t grow it to save my life.  I actuallyhad to acquire it two or three times before I got it right.  Then it happened.  I planted some in a shallow, artificial stream in Rancho Santa Fe among the rocks that covered the bottom and sides of the stream for its entire length.  The stream is in full sun, so the stones had become encrusted with algae and calcium deposits and were pretty ugly.  Within a few months the Mysotis had grown to the point where the stones were covered with plants, which had blocked the flow of the stream, nearly draining the pond.  We cut a channel through the plants and, with nominal maintenance, the plants look good almost all of the time.  Since then, I have had no trouble growing the plant in several different areas and under radically different conditions.  It is funny how that works sometimes.  
    The best way that I have found to grow Myosotis is to place it in an area where water flows past the roots.  The plants can be started in a bed of soil, but then should be encouraged to grow out into the stream.  Fountain basins have proven to be outstanding containers for Myosotis.  These basins inevitably accumulate detritus from over head and from the pond.  This is usually pretty unsightly and can grow luxuriant colonies of miscellaneous algae.  Myosotis and other plants will grow in that accumulated muck just as well as the algae will.  The plants can be started bare root.  As the new root system grows, it catches fine detritus from the water, forming its own substrate.  The plants will quickly fill the basin and hang down in flowery masses that always draw comments.  Of course, the plants need to be pruned from time to time, and that accumulation of detritus means that the root system will eventually pile up to the point where the plants are no longer in the water but are held above it by the material below.  To renew the planting, I pull it all out and start over once or twice a year, but this is a small price to pay for such a display.  
    One of the nice things about Myosotis is that it will grow in or out of water, which makes it a great plant for the margin of a pond or stream.  I have seen volunteer seedlings among the flowers in the garden several feet from the pond where it was originally planted.  On the other hand, as long as it is anchored on the edge of the pond it will grow in a floating mat at the edge of a pond over several feet of open water.   Mixed with Rotala rotundifolia, Mimulus purpurea, or young Water Cress, it paints a lovely picture. 
    Maintenance includes keeping old flowers and plants out of the colony as they are ready to come out.  This keeps the whole thing looking fresh.  As stated above, it is good to tear all of it out, or at least to prune it back heavily once or twice per year and allow it to start over.  This is especially true in situations where it has been collecting fine detritus from flowing water.  It can frequently be cut out in blocks and moved to other areas of the garden.  The plants that are left behind in the basin or stream will grow back quickly.  It is good to feed it occasionally with a sprinkling of 14-14-14 Osmocote.  This augments whatever it is getting from the water of the pond and keeps it looking its best.
    Propagation is easy, as well.  Seeds are produced in large numbers if the plants are allowed to produce them.  Seeds may be sown on sand or a mix of sand and peat.  The seeds germinate quickly and the seedlings grow rapidly.   Cuttings root quickly in water, and root ball divisions grow in their new homes with vigor.
    Pests include Aphis, for which there are numerous control strategies, including Ladybugs, Lacewings, and various sprays.  Mealybugs and Whiteflies may cause problems in old, crowded stands.  

    Myosotis scorpioides and M. laxa are delightful plants that will give the pond owner a great deal of enjoyment.  They are easy to care for and in our mild climate provide nearly year-round color.  It is difficult to name a plant that is more satisfactory for both the beginner and the expert pond owner.  

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FAQ - Plants - Myosotis

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