Dictamnus (Gas Plant): A Rare But Beloved Perennial

Dictamnus, Gas Plant

Is this rare and fascinating perennial a shrub or a perennial flower? That is the question. Actually, Dictamnus, or “Gas Plant” is both. It could be called a small, tidy, twenty-four inch by twenty-four-inch beautifully-foliaged shrub, or, because it goes completely dormant in winter, it could be called a hardy reliable extraordinary perennial. In truth, Dictamnus is both.

Dictamnus or Gas Plant
Dictamnus Image Courtesy Walters Gardens

Dictamnus is relatively unknown, making it a little exclusive to find. This has nothing to do with its good-looks, but rather that it is a slow-to-establish perennial. Purchasing bare roots is one way to get Gas Plant, but be prepared, for they will look like a stick. It’s better to purchase potted plants from a local grower who cares more about taking the time necessary for establishing the plant than one who only cares how fast they can get it sold and off their nursery shelf. Dictamnus may look small and puny at first, but know that they are long, long-lived perennials, very hardy, and well worth the wait. This is one time that patience is indeed a virtue!

The rare and uncommon flowers of Dictamnus are delightful in bloom. Their unusual, long eyelash-looking curled stamens look playful and frivolous and seem to play tag with the flower petals.  In bloom, Dictamnus will be covered from head to toe with these unique blooms but is completely self-cleaning and requires no deadheading.  A stout, well-behaved shrub with dark glossy-green rounded leaves will finish out the season. Seldom can a gardener find a flowering shrub that stays neat, goes dormant in winter and requires no care other than not being bothered.

Dictamnus Gas Plant Seedling
A Dictamnus seedling. Mark it’s location in the fall to prevent damage to the plant the following spring.

The dried seed heads are attractive but more exciting is the chance that seeds may drop and self-germinate. Self-sowing is the most reliable method of propagating Dictamnus. Some cautions: leave the seeds that germinate alone, moving them is rarely successful. Attempting to divide a mature plant also has a low success rate. Dictamnus is a late dormancy-breaking perennial so mark the spot for it would be heartbreaking to mistakenly dig up so rare a perennial.  Allowing this matchless perennial complete freedom when choosing where to grow will bring elation to every gardener who appreciates the unique rareness of Dictamnus.

So Why is Dictamnus Called Gas Plant?

The common name for Dictamnus is “Gas Plant” and the video below shows why. The blooms emit a type of methane gas that can be burned off with a burst of flame without harming the plant itself. Some gardeners warn that coming into contact with the plant resins can cause skin irritation, so be aware of this risk, and wear protective clothing if necessary.

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