Dictionary of Flowers:Caryopteris (Blue Mist Spiraea, California Lilac, Bluebeard)

Caryopteris (blue mist spiraea, California lilac, bluebeard). Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Patrick Standish and Flickr
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Caryopteris (blue mist spiraea, California lilac, bluebeard). Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Patrick Standish and Flickr

  • Caryopteris
  • Common name: blue mist spiraea, California lilac, bluebeard
  • Family: Lamiaceae
  • Category: perennial in USDA zones 5-9
  • Height: up to 36"
  • Width: 36"
  • Sun/part shade
  • Blooms: late summer to early fall
  • Attracts: butterflies, bees
  • Growth habit: mounding. Grown as a filler and thriller in containers
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: average, moderately moist, free draining. Water regularly if grown in containers
  • Garden uses: containers, mixed border, hedge
  • Diseases: fungal leaf spot, root rot
  • Pests: spider mites, aphids

Caryopteris is a small flowering shrub. The new hybrid varieties are smaller and produce more flowers than the species shrubs. Summer lilac bears blue flowers in clusters. The foliage is abundant, silvery green.

If crushed, it emits a minty scent.

Most varieties are blue or blue violet, but new varieties have pink or white flowers.

It attracts butterflies and bees. 

Caryopteris likes moist, well draining soil. After the plant is established, it can tolerate drought and requires little supplemental watering.

Give summer lilac average loose soil, amended with compost at the time of planting with neutral pH. It prefers a sun to part sun position in the garden.

Caryopteris dies back to the ground during winter in colder zones, and they are slow to sprout back.

In warmer zones, cut back in spring to shape it, if it needs it.

Over-fertilizing caryopteris will result in few flowers. It's best to apply compost once in the spring, or use a fertilizer specific for shrubs.

Caryopteris can reseed itself. To grow from seed, gather the fresh seed and sow on the surface of moist starting mix.

Close-up of Bluebeard flower. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Philip Bouchard and Flickr
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Close-up of Bluebeard flower. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Philip Bouchard and Flickr

Do not cover, as the seed needs light to germinate. At around 70F, they should germinate in two weeks.

When the seedlings are three inches, start hardening off, first in the shade, then slowly moving to a full sun position. Seedlings can be planted when they are a month old. 

To propagate from cuttings, select a non-flowering stem late in spring. Cut it six inches long, remove all leaves except the top ones and dip in rooting powder.

Insert in moist sand/potting soil mixture and place in bright light, but away from direct sun. Keep moist. 

Lovely photo of butterfly feeding on Caryopteris. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of mwms1916 and Flickr
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Lovely photo of butterfly feeding on Caryopteris. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of mwms1916 and Flickr




Root rot can occur when the plant is over-watered. If leaf spot appears, treat with an antifungal. Spider mites and aphids can be knocked off with a blast of water from the hose. Avoid insecticides, as pollinators love to visit Caryopteris. It is deer resistant.

Popular varieties:

  • Caryopteris incana 'Sunshine Blue' - yellow leaves and bright blue flowers. Tall, up to 48 inches
  • Caryopteris hybrid 'Dark Knight' - dark blue flowers, up to two feet tall
  • Caryopteris hybrid 'Petite Bleu' - three feet high, dark foliage and rich blue flowers
California lilac contrasts beautifully with Autumn Fire Sedum. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of mwms1916 and Flickr
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California lilac contrasts beautifully with Autumn Fire Sedum. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of mwms1916 and Flickr

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