Daisy, Shasta (Leucanthemum superbum)
About This Plant
The beautiful, simple and perky summer blooms of Daisies have long been a favorite of people the world round and the Shasta Daisy, a cultivated hybrid that was presented to the world in 1901, is considered the perfection of all that a Daisy is. This Asteraceae family plant is a low maintenance perennial that thrives in USDA zones 5-8. It looks similar to the familiar “roadside” Daisy, but grows taller and has larger and more robust blooms with a larger yellow center. It typically grows two to three feet tall and 18” wide. It is great for naturalizing an area and filling in bare spots in the landscape. It is great for meadow gardens, cottage gardens and as a bedding plant and will provide a cheerful addition to flower arrangements. It is deer and rabbit resistant and also one of the birth flowers for those born in April.
The showy flowers of the Shasta Daisy are two to three inches wide with white petals and a large yellow center that sit above the foliage of the plant. It might be confused with an Ox-eye Daisy, but has larger blooms. Its flowers will appear from Summer to early Fall and the cut flowers are long-lasting. It has an upright habit with stiff, wiry stems that are furrowed and very slightly branches. Its leaves are dark green and glossy and in many locations will be evergreen. It is a clumping plant that increases its spread fairly quickly through underground rhizomes.
Daisies are believed to be more than 4,000 years old and can be seen depicted on Egyptian ceramics and in Medieval paintings. The Shasta Daisy is a hybrid developed by Luther Burbank around the turn of the 20th century. Burbank was an American botanist, horticulturist, and a pioneer in agricultural science. He was said to have a fondness for the wild Ox-eye Daisies of his childhood in New England and was inspired to develop an ideal garden variety. His goals were to develop the ideal Daisy that had large, pure white flowers, a long blooming time, and would do well both as a cut flower and as a garden plant. He crossed four different varieties to achieve the Shasta Daisy – L. vulgare (European oxeye daisy), L. maximum (Pyrenees chrysanthemum), L. lacustre (Portuguese field daisy), and Nipponanthemum nipponicum (Japanese field daisy). It took him 17 years and in 1901, the Shasta Daisy was introduced. Today, there are many varieties of the Shasta Daisy available.
The name “Daisy” comes from “day’s eye”, said to be a metaphorical reference to the sun, with its central yellow disk surrounded by “rays” – especially because the flowers open during the day and close at night. Shasta Daisies belong to the Leucanthemum genus which was formally included in the Chrysanthemum genus. The name comes from the Greek “leukos” meaning “white” and “anthem” meaning “flower”. The scientific species name, superbum, means superb. The plant gets its common name “Shasta” from the dazzling snow white peaks of Mount Shasta in northern California, near where the hybrid was developed.
The Shasta Daisy grows easily from seeds. The seeds can be sown indoors 8 weeks before the last expected Spring frost. Seeds should be sown thinly and evenly and lightly covered with ⅛” of soil. The seedlings can be up potted to three or four inch pots once they have at least two true leaves. The seeds can also be directly sown in the garden in the Spring or Fall. Germination should take place in 15 to 28 days.
Seedlings should be hardened off before transplanting. Space plants two to three feet apart to allow for their spreading.
Shasta Daisies grow best in full sun. They will tolerate some light shade, especially if they are growing in hot summer climates or in dryish soils. They need to have well-drained soil and will not tolerate soggy roots or standing water. Root rot can be a problem. Once established, they are drought tolerant. Fertile soil is needed to achieve the best blooms. Weeds should be kept under control and they may need some protection from extreme winds and direct, hot sunlight until they get established.
Deadheading the flowers will encourage more blooms to appear and prevent seed development and may even give up two to three rounds of flowers in a season. The blooms will usually finish in September at which point the foliage can be cut back severely to about 1” above the soil line.
It should be divided every other year in the Fall or Spring to promote larger flowers and a more dense, compact plant mass. The plants can become unproductive if left unattended for several years. The plants will become woody and die out in the center. When you dig up the clump, discard the woody center. That should leave you with two to three outer sections with healthy young rhizomes that can be replanted just below the crown.
Seed harvesting is straightforward. Simply allow the seed heads to dry completely on the stem, or snip the stems once seed heads are brown and bring them inside to complete their drying. You can use your fingers to break apart the seedheads.
- Naturalizing areas, Meadow gardens, Cottage Gardens
- Cut flowers
The flowers and leaves of the Shasta Daisy are edible but should be used in moderation. The young flower petals and buds can be added to salads, soups, or sandwiches. The buds can be preserved in vinegar and used like capers. The petals can be used to decorate cakes and other confections. The greens have a strong and unique flavor that isn’t for everyone, but they can be shredded into thin ribbons and can be incorporated into salads with the other greens. They can also be sauteed or cooked into other dishes or used as a pot herb.
While the Shasta Daisy, relatively new to the world, has very little known medicinal use or research conducted on it, wild Daisy’s medicinal use is well-documented. Daisies were commonly used to relieve aches and pains, much in the way Arnica is used today. In fact, one common name for Daisy was “Gardener’s Friend”, and was used for discomfort caused by being bent over and working in the garden all day. Ointments of Daisy were also used to heal wounds. More recent research shows that Daisy has anti-tumor activity and also contains a glycosidase inhibitor that is similar to castanospermine and other HIV drugs. Again, Shasta Daisy is a hybrid of four different species that traditionally grow in different parts of the world. Whether the same compounds are found in the Shasta Daisy as are found in European or Ox-eye Daisies has not been determined.
The Shasta Daisy was cultivated in northern California near Mount Shasta and introduced in 1901. Ox-eye Daisies and English Daisies are native to the northern and central parts of Europe and have been naturalized in many parts of the U.S.