Our colleague, Gerald Schofield, once described the hybrids of Scabiosa as ‘totally loveable’ plants. Most gardeners agree with his description of this herbaceous perennial that grows effortlessly and flowers throughout the year. There are many scabiosa species and hybrids, of which nine are endemic to South Africa.

The common characteristics are perennial bushy growth with grey-green velvety leaves that sprout from the base of the plant, and long flowering stems that produce an abundance of flat flower heads. Every flower head is a collection of compact single blossoms and when they open, the outer rows are satin-soft and frilly. The flowers look like delicate pincushions and butterflies and bees are particularly fond of them. The Scabiosa can be used as a colourful filler plants amongst other perennials, such as gaura, sage and lavender. They are also pretty as plant companions for roses and useful as filler plants in the foreground of flowerbeds. They grow to about 60 cm tall and 40 cm wide.

Most suitable climate for Scabiosa

The plants are very versatile, hardy and cold-resistant and will grow throughout South Africa.

What Scabiosa need

Location: full sun.
Soil: sandy, well-drained soil enriched with compost.
Water: regular watering keeps them lush, but generally they are medium water consumers that can survive short periods of drought. Scabiosas watered too frequently may fail to thrive and can die.
Fertilizing and pruning: feed regularly during spring and summer with slow-release 3:1:5. Deadhead spent flowers to keep the plants neat.

In a nutshell

  • Bloom almost throughout the year.
  • Hardy perennial for colder gardens.
  • Medium water consumption.
  • Like sandy soil.


  • Scabiosa columbaria is a sweet little perennial plant that have hairy, greyish green leaves and wiry stems that hold the flat flower heads well above the foliage, ensuring that the lavender-blue flowers are always prominent. Best in sunny, well-drained positions, Dead flower stems should be removed to encourage repeat blooming and neaten the appearance of the plant. It attracts butterflies and insects to the garden.
  • The lavender-blue flowers of Scabiosa columbaria ‘Butterfly Blue’ appear throughout the year, with the most blooms in spring and throughout summer, and with renewed vigour in autumn.
  • Scabiosa columbaria ‘Pink Mist’ is a compact hybrid with soft pink flowers.
  • Scabiosa africana is an indigenous species that bears large mauve flowers (up to 50 mm in diameter) on long stems of about 1 m. The robust leaf rosette is made up of large, light green, velvety leaves. These perennials flower from early spring until summer, and can be pruned back severely after flowering to encourage new growth.
  • Scabiosa incisa is another indigenous species, is favoured by butterflies. The flowers are light purple, mauve or white and bloom from September to December. These indigenous species love the coastal climate of the Cape and grow readily amongst other fynbos plants in very sandy soil. They are also ideal cut flowers and the darlings of townhouse gardens. They are easily propagated from seeds or cuttings.
The Gardener