Plant toadflax in gardens, meadows, open fields

January 9, 2013
A little toadflax seed goes a long way. An ounce of seed will plant 2,700 square feet.

Pity the toad. A toad in the garden can be a welcome eater of insects, but the word toad is now part of a litany of wrongs. A toady is an obsequious flatterer shortened from “toad-eater” (1742), referring to the assistant of a charlatan, who ate a toad (believed to be poisonous) so his master would expel the poison and impress the crowds.  Mushrooms are delicious and nutritious, but toadstools will kill you. Before 1851 when kids were “knee high to a grasshopper” the original phrase was “knee high to a toad.”  There is something fun about toads, so pork sausages baked in Yorkshire pudding is "toad in a hole."

And toads, of course, are welcome in any garden. So why not a toad plant? A little-used yet spectacular wildflower is the toadflax (Linaria maroccana (Scrophulariaceae).  The name toadflax may come from the similarity of the flower to little toads, while some people see a resemblance between the mouth of the flower and the wide mouth of a toad. Maybe they call it toadflax because toads shelter themselves among its branches.

This is an erect, slender annual native to Morocco with small, delicate flowers with long spurs sparkling from short spikes. This upright branching annual grows 18 to 24 inches tall with fleshy blue-green leaves.  Toadflax, also called baby snapdragon, blooms in colors ranging from yellow, red and pink to white or purple. These easy-to-grow plants prefer full sun or partial shade and do well in all kinds of soils.

Sow the very fine seed in early spring after danger of frost is past.  The seedlings are not winter hardy. Toadflax is stunningly beautiful with a dreamlike quality when planted thickly in an isolated area.  It will bloom from early spring through June.

Choose a seedbed in direct sun or partial shade.  Only till the soil a few inches deep, to prevent bringing weed seeds to the surface.

Because toadflax seed is insanely small, with 6,850,000 seeds per pound, you may want to mix the seeds with fine sand for easier handling. Luckily, a little seed goes a long way, and you can plant an acre of toadflax with just a pound of seeds.  An ounce of seed will plant 2,700 square feet.

Toadflax seed is often available at local garden centers or at online seed companies such as Wildseed Farms or American Meadows.

Surface sow the toadflax seed atop the soil in early spring, as soon as you can work the ground.  Press the seed lightly into the soil, but be careful and do not cover the seeds at all, as they need light to sprout. The seeds germinate in 10 to 20 days, with an ideal soil temperature for germination between 55-65F.

Plant toadflax in floral gardens, as part of wildflower mixtures, in meadows and open fields, or along your borders.

This quick-to-blossom, fun flower is easy to grow from seed and spectacular in bloom. Hummingbirds and bees will love it.  After all of his verbal abuse, there among the toadflax you will provide a hiding spot among the toadstools and shelter in the rain for our insect-eating friend with the American-made nickname: the “hop toad.”

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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