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Plant Spotlight: Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella Damascena)

Lisa is a writer and gardener with extensive knowledge of plants and plant care. Her articles focus on easy-care tips for home gardeners.

A close-up of a white Love-in-a-Mist flower.

A close-up of a white Love-in-a-Mist flower.

Love-in-a-Mist is a very delicate ornamental flower with feathery, almost fern-like leaves. Part of the buttercup family of plants, they grow in white, blue, and pink varieties. Native to Southern Europe, North Africa, and Southwestern Asia, Love-in-a-Mist can be found growing wild in meadows, fields, along roadsides and at the edges of woodlands.

An Unusual Name for an Unusual-Looking Plant

Nigella damascena earns the name Love-in-a-Mist from the tangle of ferny, fennel-like foliage that form a "mist" around the flowers.

It is sometimes called Devil-in-the-Bush because of the balloon-shaped seed pods that are produced after the flowers have disappeared. The seed pods have spiky "horns" attached and seem to be hiding behind the ferny foliage.

Love-in-a-Mist is also referred to as Bride-in-Hair from the Renaissance tradition of a bride going to her wedding with her hair down to signify her virginity.

Note: Love-in-a-Mist flowers are dedicated to St. Catherine on the 25th of November. It is said that this Christian martyr was tortured on a spiked wheel. The Love-in-a-Mist's spiky foliage is a representation of that wheel.

Love-in-a-Mist traditional blue and white flowers.

Love-in-a-Mist traditional blue and white flowers.

How to Grow It from a Seed

Love-in-a-Mist grows super easily from a seed, and pests and diseases don't seem to affect them. It is best grown in USDA zones 3 through 11. Although this plant is considered an annual, if left to go to seed, it will self-sow year after year. So, make sure you plant it in a "permanent" spot. Otherwise, you will be trying to pull it out for years to come.

After your last frost, sow the seeds directly outside, 3 to 6 inches apart and 1/4 of an inch deep. Water moderately. They don't have any special soil requirements and will also do well in a part-shade area. Seedlings should emerge in one to two weeks.

Love-in-a-Mist grows from 8 inches to 20 inches tall in full sun. It blooms early to mid-summer. After blooming, it forms very unusual seed heads. Deadhead the heads or you can leave them on for interest.

To collect seeds, break open the completely dried seed pods, collect the seeds, and store in a cool, dry, dark place.

Blue Love-in-a-Mist flower.

Blue Love-in-a-Mist flower.

Applications in the Garden

Love-in-a-Mist is excellent for naturalizing. It is used in cottage gardens and was commonly used in Victorian times because it evoked love and romance.

Other applications include:

  • Wildflower gardens
  • Container gardens
  • Planting along fence rows

The dried seed pods can also be used in flower arrangements.

Love-in-a-Mist blooms in a white/blue mix.

Love-in-a-Mist blooms in a white/blue mix.

Common Varieties

Love-in-a-Mist comes in a few different varieties. The most common are the blue/white/pink combinations. Hybridizers have taken the common varieties and produced some deeply colored variations. Some of the common mixes are:

  • Persian Jewels—blue, white, rose, red, and violet-colored flowers
  • Persian Jewels Indigo—deep indigo-blue blooms
  • Miss Jekyll—sky blue blooms
A white Love-in-a-Mist.

A white Love-in-a-Mist.

Love-in-a-Mist as the Subject of Poems

Here is the poem "Love in a Mist" by Algernon Charles Swinburne:

Light love in a mist, by the midsummer moon misguided,
Scarce seen in the twilight garden if gloom insist,
Seems vainly to seek for a star whose gleam has derided
Light love in a mist.

All day in the sun, when the breezes do all they list,
His soft blue raiment of cloudlike blossom abided
Unrent and unwithered of winds and of rays that kissed.

Blithe-hearted or sad, as the cloud or the sun subsided,
Love smiled in the flower with a meaning whereof none wist
Save two that beheld, as a gleam that before them glided,
Light love in a mist.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Lisa Roppolo