Gypsophila spp. (Baby’s Breath)

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Systematic Position

  • Kingdom: Plantae
  • Division/Phylum: Angiospermae
  • Class Dicotyledones
  • Subclass Magnoliidae
  • Order: Caryophyllales
  • Family: Caryophyllaceae
  • Genus: Gypsophila

Gypsophila is the generic name for the florists’ delight, Baby’s Breath, aka Maiden’s Breath. Gypsophila species are herbaceous that grow to a height of one meter and love alkaline soil. While they are valued for their ornamental beauty, these plants are also noxious, invasive weeds that have been introduced in many countries from Eurasia and Africa during the early nineteenth century.

General Morphology

Habit: Herbaceous plants that average a height of 1 meter. Plants may also be as small as six inches tall.

Habitat: Originally from Africa, Asia and parts of Europe, now seen as a weed in the US continent. These plants love sandy, open and alkaline soil. They grow in a wide temperature range from arid desert conditions to very cold regions.

Roots: Rhizome with thick crown. Roots do not creep. Roots penetrate soil up to 4 meters, and can withstand frost and winter colds.

Stem: Stems are hard and woody, and arise from the rhizome crown (main tap root) and branch as leafless panicles. Each panicle ends in a Cymose inflorescence. Numerous panicles on the plant in dichotomous branch patterns make the plant look thick and bushy.

Flowers: Inflorescence on the panicles are cymose with numerous, pink or white flowers in a panicle. Each flower is ‘Caryophylleous’, that is, it is specific to this family of plants. The calyx is tube-like with the five sessile petals that are long and clawed. The inner whorls consist of 10 stamens and 2 styles. Flowers are devoid of bracts.

Fruit: Fruit is a capsule that releases 2 to many seeds. The seeds measure 2 mm long and may be disc or bean-shaped. Tubercles present.

Reproduction: Plants propagate by sexual reproduction and each plant produces thousands of seeds. Seeds are short lived and may germinate immediately next to the parent plant where they falls or may be carried by the wind. Severed roots do not give rise to new plants, nor do stems produce roots.

Economic Importance

The horticultural industry has found a productive way of dealing with this noxious weed menace, by using Baby’s Breath (Maiden’s Hair) as an ornamental addition to floral arrangements. As a weed, it can thrive under difficult conditions and throttle agricultural and economically important plants. The Gypsophila threat cannot be contained by pruning or mowing. Stems have to be detached from the crown in order for this weeds to be destroyed. There are hardly any effective herbicides that can destroy the many species of Gypsophila on a large scale without causing damage to other companion crops or plants.

Caution! Gypsophila species are toxic to cats, dogs and horses. Contact your local veterinarian or call your Animal Poison Control Centre in case of accidental poisoning.

Some common Gypsophila species are:

  • G. acutifolia – sharpleaf baby’s-breath
  • G.arrostii – Arrost’s baby’s-breath
  • G.cerastioides – chickweed baby’s-breath
  • G.elegans – showy baby’s-breath
  • G.fastigiata – fastigiate gypsophila
  • G.nana – dwarf gypsophila
  • G.oldhamiana – Manchurian baby’s-breath, Oldham’s baby’s-breath
  • G.repens – alpine gypsophila, creeping baby’s-breath
  • G.scorzonerifolia – glandular baby’s-breath, garden baby’s-breath
  • G.stevenii – Steven’s baby’s-breath
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Amanda Dcosta

Amanda writes about botany and plants from the deserts of Oman where summer temperatures climb to 130 Fahrenheit. Amanda has a BSc in Botany and is a co-author of Encyclopedia of Cultivated Plants: From Acacia to Zinnia. Read more articles by Amanda.

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