Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
We often think of bachelor’s buttons, also known as cornflowers, as old-fashioned flowers, but in reality, they are ancient. They have been grown for thousands of years. A wreath of bachelor’s buttons was even found in King Tut’s tomb.
What are Bachelor's Buttons?
Bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus) are annual flowering plants that are native to Europe. They became naturalized in North America and Australia thanks to European colonization.
They used to grow as wildflowers found in fields of grains which are known as corn in Britain, hence the name cornflower. They were also called “hurtsickle” because they blunted the cutting edges of the sickles that were used to harvest grains. They gained the name “Bachelor’s Button” because young single men wore them as boutonnieres when they were courting. Folklore claimed that if the flower wilted quickly, it was a sign that that the young man’s romantic aspirations would fail.
Today, thanks to modern herbicides used in grain fields, cornflowers have almost disappeared as wildflowers. Thankfully, they have long been welcomed in our gardens so they haven’t become extinct.
How to Grow Bachelors Buttons
Bachelor’s buttons prefer full sun, but will grow in part shade. They reach their maximum height of 1’ to 3’ in full sun. However, as they grow taller they tend to fall over and need staking. They can tolerate dry conditions but prefer about 1 inch of water per week in well-drained soil.
The foliage is a striking silver green. Thanks to modern hybridization, the original blue flowered plants now also come in purple, pink and white. Modern hybrids are also more fully double, resembling carnations. They start blooming in early summer and if deadheaded will produce a second flush of flowers at the end of summer.
How to Grow Bachelor's Buttons From Seed
Bachelor’s buttons are easily grown from seed. They should be direct sown in your garden after your last frost. Sow them ½ inch deep and keep them moist. Like most annuals, the seeds will germinate quickly, usually within one week to ten days. They will tolerate crowding but do best and bloom more if you thin the plants to 6 to 12 inches apart. The plants develop multiple stems so they need extra space to grow properly. Crowded plants can result in disease or insect infestation.
Bachelor’s buttons will freely self-sow in your garden if you allow the flowers to go to seed. Alternatively, you can harvest the seed heads, dry the seeds and sow the seeds again the following spring or even share them with your gardening friends.
If you want to get a head start, you can start your seeds indoors 3 to 4 weeks before your last frost. Sow them ½ inch deep and keep them evenly moist. Germination should occur in 7 to 10 days. You can transplant your seedlings outdoors after your last frost when they have reached a height of 3 to 4 inches tall. Plant them 6 to 12 inches apart.
No matter how you start them, the plants will start to grow buds within 10 to 12 weeks of germination.
How to Harvest Bachelors Buttons For Cut Flowers
In Canada, bachelor’s buttons are grown for use as cut flowers by florists. To use them as cut flowers in your own bouquets, harvest the flowers early in the morning when they are at their best. Choose flowers that are not yet fully open. They will finish opening within a few hours. If you aren’t going to use them right away, place them in a container of water and refrigerate them until you are ready to start arranging your bouquet.
Other Uses for Bachelor's Buttons
- Grow them in your pollinator garden. Bees find the flowers irresistible.
- Dry the flowers for use in dried arrangements and wreaths.
- The flowers are edible and are often used as part of an herbal tea blend. Bachelor’s buttons are an ingredient in the famous Lady Grey blend made by Twinings of London, a well-known tea company.
© 2014 Caren White
Caren White (author) on June 16, 2014:
Thanks, Patsybell! I love them too. My garden is still filling in. I'm trying all my favorites to see what grows best.
Patsy Bell Hobson from zone 6a, SEMO on June 15, 2014:
A favorite flower of mine. Great Hub. Voted up,U, A, I, Pin, Tweet. Wish I could see you garden.
Caren White (author) on June 14, 2014:
You're welcome Alicia! And thanks for reading.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 13, 2014:
Thank you for sharing the interesting facts about such a beautiful flower.
Sharon Vile from Odessa, MO on June 08, 2014:
Avorodisa, how wonderful to know tis cosmetic use for cornflowers!
Caren White (author) on June 08, 2014:
Avorodisa, thank you for the wonderful information. Too often we here in the US only consider "facts" from the US and Europe. I'm love learning how other cultures grow and use plants. Thank you for reading and commenting.
Caren White (author) on June 08, 2014:
Jackie, one of the joys of gardening for me is planting flowers that were either given to me by friends or are the favorite flowers of friends. Both serve to remind me of the special people in my life whenever I visit my garden. Thanks for reading and sharing.
Anna Sidorova from Russia on June 08, 2014:
Today is Whitsunday, a Christian holiday in my country and the day when, according to folklore and common observations, the ground is covered by flowers. Cornflowers also grow on the huge fields of Russia. They are among my favorite ones. I like your comparison to carnations. It never occurred to me how the two different flowers resemble each other in form. I'd like to add that cornflowers are also used in cosmetics, especially in facial lotions and creams. They help avoid shiny skin keeping it smooth and matt.
Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on June 07, 2014:
Very interesting, these were my oldest brother's (who has passed on) favorite flower and I will never see them I do not think of him. In younger days they were everywhere and especially along the roadside in the summer. I did not know they were edible. Voted up and across. Sharing.
Caren White (author) on June 07, 2014:
It's blue color is probably why it was brought into people's gardens. Thanks for reading!
FlourishAnyway from USA on June 07, 2014:
What interesting tidbits of history about this flower! I love that it's a blue flower -- you don't see too many of them.