Large-Flowered Gaura

Oenothera filiformis (formerly Gaura longiflora, G. biennis)

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Photo of a large-flowered gaura inflorescence
The flowers of large-flowered gaura don't look like much in the daytime, since the flowers open in the evening.
Other Common Name
Butterfly Flower; Longflower Beeblossom
Family

Onagraceae (evening primroses)

Description

Large-flowered gaura is a tall annual or biennial with an erect stalk, branching near the top, and often hairy stems or leaves. Flowers on long, many-flowered spikes and are 4-parted. The 4 petals are all positioned in the upper half of the flower, opening at dusk, pointing upward and are white at first, turning pink later; they are curved back and about ⅝ inch long; the 8 stamens point forward and curve downward. The overall effect looks like a small butterfly. The stigma has 4 lobes. Blooms June–October. Stem leaves alternate, sessile, lance-shaped with widely spaced teeth, to 4 inches long. Small leaflets arise at the bases of larger leaves.

Similar species: Three other former members of the genus Gaura are known in Missouri: false gaura (O. glaucifolia, formerly G. linifolia), velvety gaura (O. curtiflora, formerly G. parviflora), and scarlet gaura (O. suffrutescens, formerly G. coccinea). Of these, velvety gaura is the most common, being scattered mostly in the western half of the state; its stems are densely haired, and compared to large-flowered gaura, its flowers are smaller and more actinomorphic (radially symetrical as opposed to bilaterally symmetrical).

Size

Height: to 5 feet.

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Photo of a large-flowered gaura blooming in a prairie
Large-Flowered Gaura
Large-flowered gaura can be rather weedy and is often overlooked despite its being rather common.

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Photo of a large-flowered gaura stem with leaves
Large-Flowered Gaura Stem and Leaves
The stem leaves of large-flowered gaura are alternate, sessile, and lance-shaped, with widely spaced teeth. Small leaflets arise at the bases of the larger leaves.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in open woods, fields, prairies, glades, streamsides, roadsides, and other disturbed sites, in dry or moist areas. This plant can be rather weedy and is often overlooked despite its being rather common.

image of Large-Flowered Gaura Butterfly Flower Longflower Beeblossom distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Throughout Missouri except the Bootheel.

Status

In 2007, botanists revised the classification for plants in the evening primrose family and mostly eliminated the genus Gaura. This plant had traditionally been in that genus, so many older references call it Gaura longiflora or G. biennis. Many plants have been moved into different groups since the turn of the 21st century, as molecular research uncovers plants’ genetic relationships to one another.

Human connections

It is common to evaluate plants in terms of their usefulness as food, medicine, sources for dyes, shelter, and landscaping. But we must remember the vast importance of delicate, pretty flowers that bloom without cultivation. They lift our spirits and soothe our souls.

Ecosystem connections

Bees, especially bumblebees, pollinate the flowers as they drink the nectar. Other insect visitors include several types of moths, some of which use this as their larval food plant. One of these is a noctuid moth, the clouded crimson (Schinia gaurae), which is white and pink like the flowers.