The first photograph for today’s entry is courtesy of Amir A. from Israel (thank you for another contribution!). The remaining photographs, as well as the write-up, are thanks to UBC Botanical Garden horticulturist Jackie Chambers. Much appreciated once again! Jackie writes:
The upright stems of this perennial can reach 100-150cm high, but the most striking feature has to be the wooly texture — it’s nearly impossible to look at this plant without stroking it. Sometimes called desert spike, Eremostachys laciniata occurs in fields and fallow land throughout Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan.
The plant is well-adapted to life in the eastern Mediterranean — the leaves emerge after the winter rains, the flowers are produced in the spring, and by summer the whole plant has died back to the ground in order to avoid the heat.
The genus name Eremostachys is derived from two Greek words. The first is eremia, meaning “desert”. The second is stachys, which literally means “ear of corn”, but was a term instead used by the Greeks to describe the inflorescence of a particular group of plants: the genus Stachys (another member of the Lamiaceae). Those of you familiar with the genus Stachys will recognize the woolly texture and hooded flowers, and appreciate the literal Latin name of “desert stachys”. The species name is similarly descriptive: laciniata means “slashed or torn into narrow divisions”, and refers to the heavily lobed leaves.
The flowers are produced from March to May and are each 3-4 cm long. Flower colour can range anywhere from white to pale yellow, through to a pinky, purple brown. Just like the stems, the calyx is also woolly. The flowers are bilabiate, meaning the corolla is divided into “two lips”, a fused upper section of petals and a fused lower section of petals. Flowers are arranged in whorls along the flower spike, and the fruits are four single seeded units per flower, called nutlets. The flower and fruit shape are typical of the mint family.
Eremostachys laciniata is part of an interesting ongoing Israeli research project investigating the use of various native plants as possible cut flower crops. More photos of this attractive plant are available via the Flora of Israel.