This section is from the book "The Native Flowers And Ferns Of The United States ", by Thomas Meehan. Also available from Amazon: The Native Flowers and Ferns of the United States in Their Botanical, Horticultural, And Popular Aspects.
A span to a foot or two high, mostly slender, paniculately branched, at length diffuse: leaves mostly twice pinnately parted into narrow linear lobes, and, with the calyx viscid pubescent: flowers few or several and short-petioled or subsessile in cymulose rather short-peduncled clusters: corolla (half an inch long) twice or thrice the length of the calyx, with very short and yellowish proper tube, ample campanulate-funnelform throat marked with deep brown purple, and lilac or violet roundish lobes which surpass the stamens. (Gray's Synoptical Flora of North America. See also Vol-ney Rattan's Flora of California.")
THE gardening of the olden time was rich in perennial plants. What are now called annuals were comparatively unknown in that age. Indeed, their popularity as constituting a chief class of garden flowers dates from little over fifty years ago. Attention was chiefly drawn to their varied beauty from the many species, found growing on the western shores of our own land; and in attracting this attention the plant we now illustrate had an important part. In the early part of the present century the Royal Horticultural Society of London was a very able and influential body. Some of the most intelligent horticulturists and botanists controlled its movements. At the time we have in mind Mr. Sabine, in whose honor Pinus Sabi-niana is named, was Secretary; and the society decided to send a special collector to America in search of plants. Chiefly on the recommendation of Sir W. J. Hooker, David Douglas, the son of a stone mason, born at Scone, in Scotland, in 1798, and who had shown remarkable aptitude in the study of different branches of natural history as well as gardening, was selected for the journey, and he left England in 1823. He did not return till lour years thereafter. During that time he suffered numerous perils and hardships; but being known to the Indians as "the Big Grass-man," he generally managed to retain their good will. Afterwards he came again to this country, taking chiefly the southern portion of the north Pacific coast. He made a trip to the Sandwich Islands. The natives there, as in Canada and other places, ensnare wild beasts by digging deep pits, covering them lightly so as to elude the animal's observation, and it then falls through and cannot get out. Douglas fell into one of these, which already had entrapped a wild bull, and he was there gored to death on the 12th of July, 1834. Thus died one of the most diligent and successful explorers and collectors of American plants, and one to whom our gardens are indebted perhaps more than to any other man. It was to his labors especially our first knowledge is due of the plant we now illustrate - Gilia tricolor. It is remarkable how rapidly we have gained knowledge of this beautiful genus of plants. At the present time there are about seventy species, almost all natives of the United States. Yet it is only since 1794 that the first one has been known, and that one, Gilia laciniata, was then described in a work on the Flora of Peru and Chili, published in Madrid by two botanists, Hipolite Ruiz and Jose Pavon, who named the genus, according to Dr. Gray, after "Philip Gil, who helped Xaurez to write a treatise on exotic plants cultivated at Rome." It would have been more pleasant if such a beautiful and exclusively American genus could have commemorated some one connected with American botany, but it is the fortune of scientific discovery and of scientific laws of nomenclature to sometimes work this way. The order to which Gilia belongs, Polemoniacea, has numerous representatives in the United States, and especially in that part included between the Rocky mountains and the Pacific ocean. Douglas, during his explorations, found no less than twenty-five new species belonging to this order, and new ones are being continually found. Several species of Gilia have been recently described by Dr. Gray and Mr. Sereno Watson. But although the order is so numerous, it is divided into but few genera. Dr. Gray, in his "Synoptical Flora of North America," recognizes only five - Phlox, Collomia, Loeselia, Gilia and Polemonium. So that if the student is sure he has a Polemoniaceous plant, it will not be difficult to find out the genus to which any species in question may belong. Dr. Gray divides the order into two great divisions - those which have the stamens unequally inserted on the tube of the corolla, placing the two first named in that division, and those which have the stamens equally inserted in or below the throat, and which contains the three last, among which Gilia is found. The student is not likely to confuse Loe-se'ia with Gilia, as there are only two of them, and Dr. Gray notes that in Loeselia the "filaments are declined," while in Gilia they are "not declined," and the "Botany of California" says of Loeselia: "Flowers nearly as in Gilia, section Ipomopsis, except that the tubular-funnelform corolla is irregular, as it were bi-labiate, one of the cuneate or oblong lobes being separated by deep sinuses." Of Polemonium Dr. Gray enumerates only eight species as natives to the whole of the United States; so we see that Gilia is much the most important genus in the order. From Polemonium the stamens afford the readiest means of distinguishing it, for while the genus named has the stamens more or less declined as in Loeselia, in Gilia they are never so. This does not seem much to found a generic character on, nor is it the sole one, but merely the most decided difference; but it is one of those cases where nature is in advance of descriptive science, for few would take a Polemonium for a Gilia, or this for the other, after an acquaintance with a few species generally referred to them. The whole genus Gilia is an extremely difficult one to define, and therefore will be very welcome to those students who love to trace close relationships, and which indeed is becoming one of the most interesting of botanical pursuits. Many of the best Botanists have tried their skill in endeavoring to break the genus into distinct genera. Thus we have Daclylophyllum, Linanthus, Leptosiphon, Siphonella, Leptodactylon, Navarretia,
Hugelia, Elaphocera, Ipomopsis, Giliandra, Microgilia and Eu-gilia; but which Dr. Gray now regards as not materially differing from Gilia, and which he retains merely as names of the several groups of the genus. It would be hardly worth retaining them at all, burdening the memory as their retention does with a host of useless names, only that they are often yet met with as generic ones in many places, and their record in a work like Dr. Gray's helps the investigator in finding out what is meant. Our Gilia tricolor would have to be sought for in Eugilia, or that section which might be regarded as the "best" Gilia - those the nearest to the original type.
We have not met with any account of its general effect on the landscape; but if it gets the chance to grow in masses, as we can have it in gardens, it must be among the leading floral adorn-ments of its wild native home. Dr. Gray merely says that it grows "in California throughout the western part of the State." The "Botany of California" notes that it "is common in the western part of the State and in the foot-hills."
In gardens the seed is sown in the early part of March, or as soon after the frost disappears as possible, for if left till the weather becomes warm, it flowers before it gets much strength, and soon exhausts itself. The early sown plants, if not permitted to bear seeds freely, - that is to say. if the shoots with flowers be cut off as they fade, - will continue in bloom most of the summer, unless the spot be very hot and dry. It is an excellent plant to flower in pots during the winter. For this purpose the seed should be sown in August or September, according as the place where it is to grow be warm or not. It does not, however, like to be forced much. It grows well with very little heat, and dislikes more than it needs for steady growth.