Fairy Dusters

When I was little, I’d tiptoe up and spy into the center of each tulip blossom hoping to catch a glimpse of Thumbelina before she woke and slid off her throne. I believed in fairies and in elves and in the other magical creatures that made their homes somewhere between the azaleas and the corn flowers in my grandmother’s garden.

Red Fairy by Sott Gustafson

Red Fairy by Sott Gustafson

Early modern fairies don’t seem to have a single origin rather they appear in old English and Germanic literature. In his 1691 manuscript, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, Reverend Robert Kirk, of Aberfoyle, Stirling, Scotland, wrote:

These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People…are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (lyke those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the sublety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.

As I got older, I fell deeply into the mysterious drawings of iridescent beings that flitted amongst in the natural world scattering glitter. Somewhere towards the end of my adolescence, I found the work of the Christian seer, Edgar Cayce. His alleged abilities not only caused individuals to heal from tragic illnesses but he was often seen bending down in the garden to pet one of the ethereal sprites that he acknowledged. It seems that for centuries, fairies have teetered on the edge of both folklore and spirituality.

Red Fairy Duster:

Red Fairy Duster

Red Fairy Duster

Today my fairies no longer linger in their invisibility cloaks. Rather they bask beneath the desert sun in full red regalia. The Baja Fairy Duster (Calliandra californica) is a beautiful option for desert gardens. It’s feathering red blossoms come and go all year long and are very low maintenance. The flower is actually a pack of spiky red stamens that are followed by seed pods.  The scarlet fairy skirts pop amongst other desert plants which so often bloom in yellow and the flowers attract hummingbirds –  a welcome feature.  

Red Fairy Duster Care and Maintenance:

The Red Fairy Duster thrives in full desert sun but can also grow in light shade. Fairy Dusters require water until well established – more often in the summer than when the temperatures are cool. Ours is on a drip system which can be adjusted throughout the year but we do irrigate it which helps it bloom year round. Be cautious however. They hate to have wet feet and like so many of our desert plants, won’t tolerate over-watering. On the off chance that it suffers a cold winter freeze, it grows back from the roots. 

If you do grow a Red Fairy Duster, be patient. They grow slowly yet can get up to 5 ft tall and just as wide. And, if you want to be authentic, please don’t shear it into a ridiculous round shape. Control it’s size with hand pruners and cut it back in the late spring but allow it to retain a natural shape. Fairy Dusters thin out in the winter but remain evergreen. As with any plant, the best advice comes from a local master gardener or extension service.IMG_2082

I relish in the description of fairies as the middle nature between man and angel.

Do you believe in fairies? What magical flora do you have in your garden?

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36 Comments

  1. That’s a pretty plant, Tami. I’ve never seen one before.

    Reply
  2. Lovely plant. I really enjoyed the Dessert Museum when I was in Tucson while a lot was in bloom.

    Reply
    • If your daughter is still here, you must contact me again when you return.

      Reply
      • She is in grad school near home now but daughter #3 will be checking out ASU next year. My oldest (who rightfully says she would give the best tour) and I (who am paying either way) are arm-wrestling about who gets to escort her! I’ll let you know if I win ;-)

        Reply
  3. Loved the blog, bringing the fairies and such back into consciousness.

    Reply
  4. Claudia Wilson

     /  February 9, 2014

    Hi Tammy – I love this blog. Katie and I do fairy gardens each summer with wonderful paths, miniature plants and all kinds of fun tiny items. Most mornings I come downstairs to find that the garden has magically rearranged itself! Katie or the fairies? Today she announced that we must go to the garden store because a prairie dog fairy garden was needed. So, off we will go and she will use her imagination to create what I am sure will be a marvelous prairie dog land!

    Hope all is well. So great seeing Jenny! Claudia

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Reply
  5. I love that you went looking for Thumbelina! I have sent all the kids looking for fairies at the bottom of the garden as for sure, they exist :)

    Reply
  6. I’ve seen this plant before but didn’t know it was known as a fairy. I too used to believe in fairies! I was so thrilled when I was a ballet student and was asked to be a fairy in the annual production – I still have the costume I wore when I was six! xx

    Reply
    • We are having the Shakespeare theatre group do a fairy show in the botanical garden this summer and I can’t wait.

      Reply
  7. Renee

     /  February 10, 2014

    What a beautiful flower. I wish they could thrive in Minnesota!

    Reply
  8. Lisa H

     /  February 10, 2014

    Fairy Dusters are so pretty. The red is vibrant and the petals so delicate. And yes, I do believe in fairies: They are the small acts of kindness we receive from others.

    Reply
  9. What a cool flower, so pretty & lovely beautiful too! Pretty cool & colourful!

    Reply
  10. Tammy,
    I just tried to send this post to a blogging friend. I don’t think the link works.

    Reply
  11. Oh how beautiful, Tammy! I love these red fairy dusters, and your special words “fairies as the middle nature between man and angel”. Gorgeous!

    Reply
  12. living in Tennessee, I’ve never seen such a beautiful flowering plant, aptly named! it’s nice to think about benevolent beings that exist somewhere between this plane and another.

    Reply
  13. I would love to grow these Fairy Dusters…but, alas, I live in NW Oregon! Lovely post…thanks!

    Reply
    • Yes, that won’t work for you but you have other beautiful ethereal creatures that thrive in moisture.

      Reply
  14. The burst of color I needed in the middle of a long, cold, gray winter.

    Reply
  15. Aww, they bloom so beautifully!!! :D I believe in the supernarural. The world is magic, if you think about it. There’s a lot of space for things and beings we can’t perceive, or probably are just used to overlook.

    Reply
  16. A gorgeous plant, Tammy. Fairies? I believe there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy :-)

    Reply
  17. I do not know this plant. What a great name.

    Reply
  18. They’re so pretty. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds, too, so that’s a big plus. I don’t have one but really should get one…

    Reply

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