My Daisy Tree is a doozy!
I first encountered this striking plant during a visit, several years ago, to the Esalen Institute. A gardener at the Institute told me its name, and later I found a small specimen to add to my garden.
This is Montanoa grandiflora, a native of southern Mexico (around Mexico City) and some other Central American countries. The plant was named for Luis Jose Montana (1755-1820), a physician, politician and amateur botanist. The specific epithet “grandiflora” is often applied to certain roses, but it just means “large flowers” and is applied to some other plants as well. For this plant, a different rose term, “multiflora” (many small blooms) would be more accurate.
The Daisy Tree is a member of the Sunflower tribe (Heliantheae) of the enormous Aster family (Asteraceae), and a relative to several familiar garden flowers: Coreopsis, Cosmos, Echinacea, Rudbeckia, and Zinnia, as well as the commercially important sunflower and Jerusalem artichoke. The Montanoa genus includes thirty-five species. Surprisingly, none of these are listed in Sunset’s Western Garden Book.
This plant grows well in full sun in the Monterey Bay area’s climate and is winter-hardy down to the mid-20s (which do not concern local gardeners).
The Daisy Tree’s uniqueness comes first from its size. It grows up to twelve feet high and twelve feet wide (mine is about ten by ten). Its second feature is its floriferous nature. Some reports indicate that its flowers can be so abundant as to conceal the foliage, but I can still see my plant’s large lobed leaves. It’s possible that a little irrigation and fertilizer would increase the floral yield; my plant has grown on its own, without my assistance.
The flowers are unremarkable individually, but they appear in late October or early November and could last into early December. They create a fine display and provide a pleasantly sweet fragrance that suggests chocolate or vanilla. Some sniffers have found the fragrance resembles that of freshly baked cupcakes, so the blossoms might recall one’s own olfactory memories.
After the blossoms fade, attractive chartreuse seed heads last through the winter.
In early spring, horticulturists recommend cutting a Montanoa grandiflora hard to allow the development of new sprouts from the base.
This might seem like drastic action for such a large shrub, but that treatment has worked fine for another large Mexican native in my garden, the Tree Dahlia (Dahlia imperialis). My garden includes a stand of Tree Dahlias. I cut them to the ground last spring and they have now reached about thirty feet high and are about the begin blooming (a little later than the Tree Daisy.
The stunning annual growth cycle of these larger plants demonstrates their vigor, and their presence in the garden provides wonder and beauty. The bees enjoy them as well!
The Tree Daisy and Tree Dahlia are not commonly available in garden centers, in my experience, but both are available as small plants via mail order from Annie’s Annuals.
Most gardens can accommodate a few really large plants. While appropriate placement is always important, they can provide a dramatic feature to the landscape.