This captivating plant lives up to its common name as it produces many small flowers on long arching stems that truly give the impression of whirling white butterflies in the garden. The charming small white flowers last only one day, but are reliably produced from early summer through to late autumn. While it is native to the Texas / Louisiana area, it has shown an ability to survive long dry spells. A distant cousin of Evening Primrose, ‘Whirling Butterflies’ has lance-like leaves more numerous towards the base of the plant, becoming smaller and more sparse above the base. The gradually less leafy and thin flowering stems enhance the soft texture and whirling impression the flowers give. Somewhat attractive to bees, I have not seen many butterflies visiting this plant. ‘Whirling Butterflies’ provides white flowers, while the variety called ‘Siskiyou Pink’ has pink flowers on a slightly shorter plant.
Gaura lindheimeri mixes well with low water plants, especially ornamental grasses with which the flower stems can intermingle in a summer breeze. It doesn’t mind the heat, so it is also great along a wall with southern or western exposure.
Scientific Name: Gaura lindheimeri ‘Whirling Butterflies’. Several cultivars such as ‘Siskiyou Pink’, ‘Pink Cloud’, ‘Cloud of Butterflies’, and ‘Summer Breeze’.
Plant Type: Perennial
Mature Height: 24”-48”
Mature Spread: 24”-36”
Cold Hardiness Zone: 5 – 9. Protect roots in colder areas with mulch. Some cultivars may not be as cold hardy as ‘Whirling Butterflies’.
Water Requirement: Moderate water needs, but is drought tolerant. Prefers well-drained soil.
Exposure: Full Sun to light shade.
Flower Color & Bloom Time: Flowers are white in ‘Whirling Butterflies’, pink in some cultivars such as ‘Siskiyou Pink’. Blooms appear in early summer and continue in fall through the first frost.
Winter Interest: The long wispy flower stems remain, peppered with seeds produced from the former flowers.
Best Features: Attractive four petaled flowers that appear over a long period. Flowers are borne on long wispy stems that whirl in the breeze. This plant starts flowering in the middle of summer and continues flowering through late in the fall.
Disadvantages: The flowering stems arch and can flop over onto to neighboring plants. ‘Whirling Butterflies’ reseeds easily; unknown if the cultivars reseed as easily.
Availability and Sizes: This plant seems to be regularly available. The pink cultivars are seen more often. White-flowered ‘Whirling Butterflies’ is propagated easily by seed.
Maintenance Tip: If you’d like the white ‘Whirling Butterflies’ to naturalize, leave the wiry stems through winter so seeds will be dispersed in your garden. If you want to avoid reseeding, cut and remove the stems with seeds. Pinching it back in early summer may thicken the plant, providing more blooming stems.
Wildlife Value: Bees are moderately attracted to this plant. With its long flowering season, it is one of the last flowers available to bees in fall.