From the Latin scabies, itch, for which some of these plants were used as remedies, or from the Latin scabiosus, rough or scurfy, referring to the grey felting on the leaves of some species (Dipsacaceae). Scabious. This genus of 100 species of hardy biennial and perennial herbaceous plants, mainly from the Mediterranean region, gives a number which are good decorative plants for the garden. The three species which are British native plants, Scabiosa arvensis, S. columbaria and S. succisa, are among the prettiest-flowering wild plants and are quite suited to garden cultivation. S. succisa, the devil’s bit, is especially good as it has flowers of a bright blue colour. In the plants in the Dipsacaceae family the so-called flower is made up of a large number of small florets gathered into a head, or capitulum; somewhat as in Compositae.
Perennial species cultivated S. arvensis (syn. Knautia arvensis), field scabious, 1 foot, flowers bluish-lilac, July—August, Europe (including Britain). S. caucasica, 1-1.5 feet, flowers mauve, blue or white, June to October, Caucasus; vars. `Clive Greaves’, flowers mauve, large; ‘Miss Willmott’, large, white; ‘Moonstone’, large, lavender-blue. S. columbaria, 1-2 feet, lilac or blue-purple, July to September, Europe including Britain. S. graminifolia, 9 inches, leaves narrow, silvery-white, flowers pale mauve to rose, summer, southern Europe. S. ochroleuca, 2 feet, yellow, July to November, southeastern Europe; var. webbiana, 6 inches, flowers creamy-white. S. succisa (syn. Succisa pratensis), devil’s bit, 1-2 feet, blue-purple or white, July to October, Europe including Britain.
Cultivation These plants all do well in chalky or limy soil, which, however, should be enriched. S. caucasica is suitable for the herbaceous border, but
may also be gram to supply cut flowers, for which purpose its long clean stems make it very suitable. These plants should be lifted and divided every three or four years, moving them in spring as disturbance in autumn can kill them. S. craminifolia and S. ochroleuca webbiana are suitable for the rock garden. S. atropurpurea can be raised from seed sown in February or March in a temperature of 60°F (16°C). Plant out the seedlings in May to flower as annuals,
for later disturbance (July) will cause them to behave as biennials. In the latter case, over-winter them in a cold frame and plant out in April. They are good for cutting. Other species may be propagated by division of the clumps in March.