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Linaceae - Flax Family

The flax family contains only two genera of garden interest, although 20 genera and over 350 widely distributed species are known. In the cult, genera, Linum, which is mostly hardy, is herbaceous, while Reinwardtia is a somewhat woody greenhouse plant from India.

Leaves usually alternate, without marginal teeth in both the cult, genera. Flowers rather showy in both genera, prevailingly yellow or blue, but white or red in some species, always in clusters. In both the cult, genera the fruit is a dry pod (capsule"). Linum which yields linen and flax (also flaxseed oil) is the most important genus.

Technical flower characters: Flowers regular. Sepals 5 (rarely 4), usually not united, persistent. Petals opposite the sepals, in Rein-tcardtia somewhat connected at the base into a short tube. Stamens" usually 5, sometimes with 5 additional sterile ones. Ovary superior,•* 2-5-celled.

In Istria the family Linaceae consists of two genera: Linum and Radiola.  

Radiola with its only species Radiola linoides is a small (1-10 cm) plant, which grows in fields or on wet and sandy soil, flowering with very small white flowers from June to July. It is known to be from Brkini / Berchinia, Entroterra di Fiume / Zaledje Rijeke, Cicarija / Tschitschenboden and from South Istria (penisula Promontore), but it is everywhere very rare.

The genus Linum occurs in Istria with 14 species:

L. austriacum subsp. tommasinii, L. bienne, L. catharticum (subsp. catharticum and subsp. suecicum), L. corymbulosum, L. flavum, L. hirsutum subsp. hirsutum, L. maritimum, L. narbonnense, L. nodiflorum, L. strictum subsp. strictum, L. tenuifolium, L. trigynum, L. usitatissimum and L. viscosum.

Linum - Flax

Linum comprises of nearly 200 species of rather slender biennial, annual or perennial herbs and sub-scrubs of the family Linaceae, all but one of the cultured species today is grown only for ornament. The single economic species is the common flax which yields linseed oil and linen. they form thick, upright tufts up to 2 feet high. The bluish-green leaves are linear to lanceolate and 1 to 2 inches long, generally alternate, stalk-less, narrow and without marginal teeth. The flowers are 1 to 2 inches across and come in shades of red, violet-blue, white with carmine eye, or rose pinks. They generally are terminal clusters (racemes or cymes), day-blooming and rather fleeting, but there are so many that they replace each other continually, over a long period.. Sepals and petals each 5, separate. Stamens 5, alternating with the petals. Fruit a small, dry capsule. (Linum is the classical name of the flax.)

The ornamental linums are of very simple culture. One of them, the flowering flax (L. grandiflorum), is a widely cult, hardy annual. Like other hardy annuals, its seed should be sown where the plants are to grow. The perennial species are propagated by division. The leaves of all species look so much alike as to make repetition of their characters useless for purposes of identification.

Varieties and brief descriptions:

  • alpinum. Alpine Flax, and variety alba. A perennial dwarf 4-6 in. high. Flowers blue. Europe. It is a pretty rock plant, and requires a sunny situation and a dry soil.
  • arboreum. Tree flax. Of shrubby habit, the leaves are greyish-green, the flowers yellow; a good rockery plant.
  • austriacum. A slender perennial, not over 24 in. high, its leaves thread-thin, about % in. long, and faintly dotted. Flowers about % in. wide, bluish-purple. Southern Europe. June-July. Istrian var. Tommassini.
  • bienne
  • campanulatum. A somewhat woody-based perennial, 10-15 in. high. Leaves narrowly spoon-shaped, with 2 minute glands near the base. Flowers nearly 1-1/2 in. wide, yellow and with orange stripes on the petals. Southern Europe. Summer.
  • catharticum. Var. catharticum and subsp. suecicum are found in Istria.
  • corymbulosum. Found in Istria.
  • flavum. Golden flax. A perennial, 1-2 ft. high. Flowers about 3/4 in. wide, golden-yellow. Europe, including Istria. Another plant, sometimes offered as L. flavum, is likely to be Reintcardtia indica (which see). Considered the finest of all, after the scarlet flax, the Golden flax often grown in quantities for the flower markets, the best proof possible of a certain quality which the florists denominate usefulness. It is a gay, hardy perennial, good enough for any garden, and very distinct in all its characters. It does not often ripen its seeds, but it is easily multiplied by cuttings. The flowers are golden-yellow, opening early in the morning.
  • grandiflorum. Flowering flax; Scarlet flax; crimson annual flax. A widely grown hardy annual, 1-2 ft. high. Flowers nearly 1-1/2 in. wide, red or pink or in shades of either. Native of Northern Africa and Southern Europe. The var. coccineum with scarlet flowers, and the var. rubrum with bright red flowers are the two best-known forms. Like perennial blue flax, annual scarlet flax seed is shiny, a clue to the fact that flax seed is used to produce linseed oil. This species, with brilliant red petals often edged in black, is a close relative of the flax used to produce linen, L. usitatissimus.
  • hirsutum. Subsp. hirsutum is found in Istria.
  • lewisi. Prairie flax, A perennial, 2-3 ft. high. Flowers about 1-1/2 in. wide, blue. Striped, pale blue flowers appear in June. Growth habit is erect, with the tops of flower stems curving down to the ground. There are numerous small leaves along the stems, often many stems per plant. Flowers last only one day, but new flowers are produced for many day. Named for the Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition across the western United States in the year1804. Native of Western North America.
  • maritimum. Found in Istria.
  • monygynum.The one-styled flax. It is so called because it usually has one style instead of five, but this character is not constant. It is a fine, showy plant, producing large white flowers, and is quite hardy in a well-drained peaty soil. It may be raised from seeds or cuttings, but is not easily increased by division.
  • narbonnense. Narbonne flax. A perennial, 1-2 ft. high. Flowers about 1-1/2 in. wide, sky-blue with a white eye. Europe.The Narbonne flax (L. Narbonnense) is a grand species, a little tender.
  • nodiflorum. Found in Istria.
  • perenne. Blue flax or Wild flax. A perennial, 1-2 ft. high. Flowers about 1 in. wide, clear sky-blue; white. The var. album has white flowers. Hardiness zones 5A-9A, prefers full sun; soil should be dry to moist. Europe.
  • salsoloides. Perennial, partly evergreen herb. 6-8 in. high. Flowers white with a purple eye. Southern Europe.
  • strictum. Subsp. strictum occurs in Istria.
  • tenuifolium. Occurs in Istria.
  • trigynum. Occurs in Istria.
  • usitatissimum. Common flax, and the source of linseed and linen. An annual herb, 3-4 ft. high. Flowers about 1/2 in. wide, usually blue, sometimes white. Europe, but often established as an escape in North America.
  • viscosum.
  • Text - Taylor's Encyclopedia of Gardening, edjted by Norman Taylor, Houghton Mifflin Co. (Boston, 1961)
  • Linum grandiflorum rubrum -

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Created: Sunday, December 12, 2004; Last updated: Monday, October 15, 2012
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