James H. Schutte
Plant Common Name
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Named for the mythological Greek god Achilles, whose soldiers supposedly used these plants for healing, Achillea includes approximately 115 species bearing nicknames such as allheal, bloodwort and yarrow. Comprised mostly of deciduous perennials or sub-shrubs, yarrows are found naturally in temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with most species originating from Europe and Asia.
The fern-like foliage of these plants typically forms a mat or mound, or may be held in ground-hugging basal rosettes. The leaves vary in shape according to species, but are usually oblong to linear, finely divided or lobed, aromatic, and slightly to densely hairy. Root systems may be rhizomatous (composed of underground, lateral stems) or fibrous, while some species form single taproots. Many small flowers are produced in branched, flat clusters on slender stems held above the foliage. The individual blossoms are rounded with tiny but showy petals surrounding very small central disks. They are often white or yellow, but may also appear in shades of lavender, pink, red or orange, depending upon the species. The flowers are pollinated by bees and butterflies, and followed by small, hard, flattened seeds.
Several yarrow species and hundreds of cultivars are popular for garden use. Garden-worthy species include fern-leaf yarrow (Achillea filipendulina), native to Europe and Asia. This sun-loving, drought-tolerant perennial sends up tall, leafy stems topped with large, dense, flattened clusters of tiny golden yellow flowers in late spring to early summer. Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a tough, easy to grow perennial, forming vigorous, spreading clumps of green to gray-green foliage topped with showy clusters of white to rosy pink flowers in early summer. Wooly yarrow (Achillea tomentosa) is a small hardy perennial from southern Europe and western Asia. Its distinctive gray-green leaves are lined with many chubby leaflets, giving the plant an almost wooly appearance. Pretty blooms appear in early summer and continue to early fall.
Hardiness and culture of yarrow is species and cultivar dependent, but most grow well in moist, well-drained soils of average fertility. Full sun is usually best, though partial shade may be tolerated. Yarrows may be used as groundcovers or in containers, and are beautiful in beds, borders and cutting gardens. Most play host to the larva of certain butterflies, which may occasionally tatter the leaves. This is, however, a small price to pay for the “flying flowers” which add as much beauty to the garden as real blossoms they visit.