Nigella damascena
Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)

Description: This plant is a winter annual about –2' tall that is erect and branches occasionally. The hairless stems are medium green, terete, and often slightly grooved. The alternate leaves are up to 3" long and 1" across; they are irregularly bipinnatifid and ascending. The lobes of mature leaves are medium green, hairless, and filiform (worm-like and circular in cross-section); however, the lobes of young leaves during the spring are often linear (flattened in cross-section). The upper stems terminate in individual flowers spanning about –1" across. 

Each flower has 5 petal-like sepals, 5 insignificant petals, 5 carpels that are joined together, and numerous stamens. The petal-like sepals are usually pale metallic blue, although other colors are possible; they are elliptic in shape and widely spreading. Immature carpels are green and hairless; each carpel has a beak-like style that is also green and resembles one of the lobes of the leaves. Underneath each flower, there is a whorl of about 5 bipinnatifid bracts that are very similar to the leaves in appearance; their lobes are hairless, green, and filiform. The blooming period usually occurs from late spring to mid-summer and lasts about 1-2 months for a colony of plants. However, some plants may bloom later if they germinated during the spring, rather than the fall. Each flower is replaced by a large ovoid fruit consisting of 5 beaked follicles (seed capsules) that are joined together in the center. These follicles turn brown at maturity and split open to release their seeds; there are numerous seeds per follicle. The small seeds are somewhat flattened and black. The root system is fibrous. This plant reproduces are reseeding itself.

Cultivation: Love-in-a-Mist is very adaptable in cultivation, although it prefers full sunlight. In its native habitat, it is usually found in moist sandy soil, but it also tolerates drier conditions and many kinds of soil, including those containing loam, clay-loam, and gravelly or rocky material. It is usually better to plant the seeds during the fall than the spring; the young seedlings are winter-hardy.

Range & Habitat: In Illinois, Love-in-a-Mist occasionally escapes from cultivation, but it rarely persists from year-to-year. So far, collections of this plant have been made in 2 counties (see Distribution Map). In addition, the webmaster has photographed some escaped plants in Champaign County. Habitats include meadows, fallow fields, and waste areas. Love-in-a-Mist is often cultivated in gardens, where it often reseeds itself. Usually, escaped plants are single-flowered forms, rather than double-flowered forms with greater than 5 sepals. This species is native to southern Europe, north Africa, and western areas of the Middle East.

Faunal Associations: Very little is known about floral-faunal relationships for this species in North America. Sometimes bees visit the flowers for their pollen.

Photographic Location: A fallow field near Champaign, Illinois; the photographed plant is a single-flowered form.

Comments: To me, this flowering plant looks like something from outer space – it has an unearthly and slightly menacing appearance! Love-in-a-Mist is a member of a small genus of plants in the Buttercup family that are found primarily in the Mediterranean area of the Old World. The only other species in this genus that has received much attention, Nigella sativa (Black Cumin), is a culinary herb with edible black seeds. They are supposed to have a peppery-oregano flavor. Sometimes the seeds of Love-in-a-Mist have been used to flavor food as well. These two species are fairly easy to distinguish – the mature leaves of Love-in-a-Mist have filiform lobes (worm-like & circular in cross-section), while the mature leaves of Black Cumin have linear lobes (flattened in cross-section). Another common name of Nigella damascena is Devil-in-the-Bush.