why mediterranean in lower case? 

Illustration of Centaurea cineraria enlarge this image

An illustration of the true Centaurea cineraria.

Centaurea cineraria s.l. (Asteraceae) in Italia : revisione citotassonomica, Giovanna Cela Renzoni, Luica Viegi, Firenze: Consiglio nazionale delle ricerche, 1982.

Steps up to the famous Villa San Michelle in Capri, with Centaurea cineraria growing abundantly on the terrace in the foreground.

Illustration of Centaurea cineraria enlarge this image

Centaurea cineraria ssp. cineraria growing wild.

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At a Glance

height: 24-36in • 60-80cm

width: 36in • 80cm


Sécheresse: 5

well drained

Centaurea cineraria L.

ken…TAU…r⋅r⋅reh…ah  kih…neh…R⋅R⋅RAW…r⋅r⋅rih…ah

Asteraceæ Carduoideæ Cardueæ Centaureinæ

Has also been placed in Compositæ

Centaurea : centaureum - name for the centaury • cineraria : Latin: cinerarius - ashes, alluding to the gray foliage color

gray knapweed, dusty miller Italiano: fiordaliso delle scogliere

A South-Western Italian endemic, native to the coasts of Golfo di Gaeta, Golfo di Napoli (including its islands), and Golfo di Salerno.
    This is one species of a group of similar & closely related species — the Cineraria group — along the Italian coast that have confounded botanists since they were first classified.

Synonymy: Acosta cineraria (L.) Holub 1974; Centaurea candidissima Lam. 1785; Centaurea cineraria ssp. cinerea (Lam.) Dostál 1976; Centaurea cineraria ssp. typica f. agustisecta Lacaita 1915; Centaurea cineraria ssp. typica f. ascendens Sommier 1894; Centaurea cineraria ssp. typica f. erecta Sommier 1894; Centaurea cineraria ssp. typica f. latisecta Lacaita 1915; Centaurea cineria Lam. 1785

The latin name of this plant has been misapplied so universally that it is sometimes considered by some to be an invalid name.  Several other plants have been confused with this species by garden writers, leading to many repetitions of the same error over many decades.  Some of the species often mis-identified as C. cineraria include Centaurea gymnocarpa, Centaurea cineraria 'Colchester White', Centaurea ragusina, and, inexplicably, Jacobæa maritima.  The information on this page is an attempt to help set the record straight.

The true Centaurea cineraria does not seem to be common in general horticulture.  The one exception to this might be Pépinière Filippi in the south of France (Meze, near Montpellier).  Owner Olivier Filippi says he collected this species years ago in the wild and mis-indentified as C. pulcherrima and sold for some time under that name (he now offers it as C. cineraria).  Olivier confirms that it was collected on the Italian mainland which helps support that their plant must be C. cineraria ssp. cineraria.

Perhaps the most common sightings of this handsome plant are on the island of Capri in the Bay of Naples, where tourists routinely see it growing and flowering on cliffs and terraces near the famous Villa San Michele (see photo at left).

enlarge this image

Distribution of Centaurea cineraria and its forms.

The natural range of this plant is coastal cliffs around Naples, Italy, extending both north and south and including some islands offshore.  The main distribution is of the subspecies cineraria.  At the north end of the range, in Parco Nazionale del Circeo near San Felice Circeo, is found a different subspecies - circæ - whose leaves are more pinnate and with broader lobes than ssp. cineraria.  Just south of Sorrentine Peninsula, on the tiny island of Il Galli, exists another distinct group of this species, classified as var. sirenium (this island and two others next to it have been though to be the Sirenum scopuli where the Sirens of Greek mythology lived and lured sailors to their deaths.  This variety differs from the main group largely because of leaf morphology.

Infraspecific rankings

C. cineraria ssp. busambarensis (Guss.) Dostál 1976 (= C. busambarensis Guss. 1845)

C. cineraria ssp. cineraria (Lam.) Dostál 1976

C. cineraria ssp. circae (Sommier) Cela Renz. & Viegi. 1983

C. cineraria var. gymnocarpa (Moris et DNtrs) Fiori 1927 (= C. gymnocarpa Moris et DNtrs 1839)

C. cineraria var. leucadea (Lac.) Fiori 1927 (= C. leucadea Lacaita 1925)

C. cineraria var. sirenium Lacaita 1915

C. cineraria var. umbrosa (Lac.) Fiori 1976a (= C. ucriæ ssp. umbrosa (Lacaita) Cela Renz. & Viegi. 1983)

C. cineraria ssp. veneris (Sommier) Dostál 1976 (= C. veneris Sommier 1931)

Growing Centaurea cineraria

This plant does very well in a dry garden setting which mimics the steeply sloping, well drained cliffs on which it is found in the wild.  Too much water or 'pampering' (e.g. rich soil) will likely result in sudden death.  The natural habit is somewhat sprawling so some pruning after flowering would help keep the plant more tidy.  Unirrigated plants are also naturally assume a more tidy shape.  Can self-seed modestly where it finds conditions to its liking.

The lavender-purple bachelor button shaped flowers appear in spring.  They bear conspiquous dark hairs on the top edges of the involucre bracts (see photo at right and the drawing at the top left of the page, showing a single involucre bract detail), which is one of the criterion for identifying this species from other simiar species of the genus elsewhere in Italy and Sicily.

An apparent hybrid of polyploid mutation of this plant is grown around the world - C. cineraria 'Colchester White'.  It is far easiler to grow in gardens and is quite vigorous, though looks quite similar in many respects to the species.

Seán O'Hara


William T Stearn. 2004. Botanical Latin. Timber Press. ISBN 0881926272 / ISBN13 9780881926279 http://gimcw.org/books/bookinfo.cfm?bookid=blwts

Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). National Plant Germplasm System. USDA Agricultural Research Service. Website http://www.ars-grin.gov/npgs/aboutgrin.html

Cela Renzoni G, Viegi L.. 1983. Centaurea cineraria s.l. (Asteraceae) in Italia: revisione citotassonomica.. Atti della Società Toscana di Scienze Naturali. Memorie serie B, 89: pp. 99-144. Società Toscana di Scienze Naturali, Pisa. Centaurea_cineraria_in_Italia.pdf