Dictamnus albus

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Robert Pavlis

Dictamnus albus, by Robert Pavlis

Dictamnus albus, the gas plant, always makes a big splash in the garden when it is flowering and even when it is not flowering it is a very interesting plant with good leaf structure.  Even the star-shaped seed heads are interesting. So why is this plant not seen more in gardens? It is very slow growing and I think it costs nurseries too much to get it to a saleable size. Fashions have also changed and this fantastic plant has been left behind in favor of more modern plants. That is a real shame since few garden plants will match the presence of a mature Dictamnus.

Dictamnus albus, by Robert Pavlis
Dictamnus albus, by Robert Pavlis

The most common name is gas plant, but some people also call it burning bush, dittany, and fraxinella. The name gas plant refers to the of fragrant, flammable oils produced both during flowering, and while it produces seeds. The fragrance is lemony and quite pleasant.  If you touch the plant, you will feel the oils produced. Some, consider this to be the burning bush referred to in the bible.

Is the gas plant really flammable? Have a look at this video.

YouTube video

If the above video does not play try this link,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH7u4xFmpP0

Before you go and touch this plant you should be aware that it causes phytophotodermatitis (ie skin reaction) for some people where exposure to sun produces blisters. I don’t have this problem and most people don’t.

Dictamnus albus by Robert Pavlis
Dictamnus albus by Robert Pavlis

The gas plant has a long, deep tap root which makes it very drought tolerant but also difficult to divide or move. It is best to leave the plant where it is, and grow a new one from seeds. But even this can be a bit tricky. When the seeds are ripe, they are shot out of the seed capsule as soon as you touch them. It is best to bag seed heads and wait until they drop into the bag.

Microbe Science for Gardeners Book, by Robert Pavlis

Seedlings grow slowly, but are not difficult to raise. The plants are quite tough and should flower in 3-4 years. Once established, it will last a very long time.

Dictamnus albus 'Alba', by Robert Pavlis
Dictamnus albus ‘Alba’, by Robert Pavlis

Available in three main colours, pink with stripes (D. albus ‘Purpureus’), white (D. albus ‘Alba’) and a much less common red (D. albus ‘Rubra’). I looked for a picture on the internet for rubra and could not find one. Several nurseries sell a so-called rubra, but the pictures are clearly that of Purpureaus. Does a red one really exist?

Dictamnus albus

(dik-TAM-nus  AL-bus)

Life Cycle: perennial

Height: Plant is 60cm (2 ft) tall with the flower spike adding 30 cm (1 ft)

Bloom Time: Mid summer

Natural Range: Europe, North Africa and much of Asia

Habitat: open woodland

Synonyms: Dictamnus fraxinella, Dictamnus caucasicus

Cultivation of Dictamnus albus

Light: full sun

Soil: fertile and humusy – but not fussy

Water: drought tolerant once established

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3 – 9,  prefers cool climates

Propagation: seed, division with care

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

11 thoughts on “Dictamnus albus”

  1. Does anyone have step by step instructions to growing from seeds, I have read a few sites where you need to put the seeds in sand and keep in a bag for 6 to 8 weeks at 20 degrees then move the seeds to refrigerate for 6 to 8 weeks. After these steps can you plant in the garden and when should you start the hot cold stratification process before moving to the garden. Thank you

    Reply
  2. When I lived near Elora Ontario the Mennonite nurseries would sometimes carry good sized Dictamnus plants.Since that time I have moved to BC where I have grown the plant from seed…a long process for the impatient!

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  3. Thanks for the info—very informative. I, unfortunately, had a reaction to the plant while trimming off the spent blooms on a hot sunny day. My arm was burnt badly 😔.

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  4. I have both the white one and a pink one and I just love them. I have never tried the burning bush flame thing, but I think I will try to impress a few people with a demonstration next year.

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      • This is not so much a reply to your comment about a seed supplier as to the article itself (i.e. looking for more information about the plant). I have considered growing this as an “aromatic pest confuser”/ ornamental near espaliered fruit trees (i.e. some sunlight should remain available due to aggressive pruning of the trees) and because it is a caterpillar host for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly (the other hosts in my area are the woody natives Ptelea and Zanthoxylum, which take a lot of space, and common rue, which seems more phototoxic than Dictamnus). However I am a bit concerned what effect it would have on the trees (which would probably be pears on quince rootstock). How can such a long-lived perennial as Dictamnus avoid being shaded out by invading trees? Is it allelopathic (playing chemical warfare against neighboring plants)? And if so, do we know anything about which plants are affected (similar to published lists about black walnuts). Based on the synonyms, Dictamnus appears to be native to the Caucasus among other places, which is the homeland of quince and probably also European pears, which gives me some comfort, but not all American natives are resistant to (American black walnut) juglone even though that is statistically more common here, especially for plants from the same pH etc habitat as walnuts. Thanks.

        Reply
        • “How can such a long-lived perennial as Dictamnus avoid being shaded out by invading trees? ” – It won’t – trees will shade it out.

          Many plants are allelopathic to some extent and the issues with this have been mostly over exaggerated by gardeners.

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