Indian feather plants (Gaura lindheimeri), also called whirling butterflies and gaura, are deciduous perennials native to Mexico, Texas and Louisiana. They are not remarkably showy, according to Edward F. Gilman and David Marshall from the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, but have attractive, long-blooming flowers and work well in native landscapes, wildflower gardens and as specimen plants.
Indian feather plants grow between 3 and 5 feet tall with a 1- to 2-foot spread. They have a rounded, spreading form; tall, thin flowering stems; and simple, alternate 2- to 4-inch lance-shaped leaves with solid margins and a fine texture. The light-green foliage may have maroon spots. Clusters of four-petaled, butterfly-like flowers with long stamens appear in April and bloom throughout the summer depending on growing location. The young blossoms are white but change to pink as they mature.
Care and Cultivation
Gaura lindheimeri flowers are hardy in United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zones 6 through 9. Although they can adapt to a variety of soil types, they grow best in well-drained, nutrient-rich loam. These plants propagate easily by seed. Plant the seeds approximately 2 feet apart in a bright, sunny location. You can extend the bloom period by deadheading spent flowers. Mature plants may self-seed if you leave the flower stalks in place at the end of the growing season.
These plants are available in several cultivated forms, or cultivars. Guara lindheimeri "Crimson Butterflies" is hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 8. It grows around 1.5 feet tall with a 1-foot spread and produces bright pink blossoms. "Whirling Butterflies," which reaches heights of 2 to 3 feet with an approximately equal spread, yields white flowers, while "Siskiyou Pink" grows to around 3 feet tall, with pink-tinged white blossoms that become brighter in color as they mature.
Benefits and Liabilities
Gaura lindheimeri plants have low maintenance requirements. They have few insect problems, they are highly drought-tolerant, and they are generally noninvasive. Plants that grow in soil with inadequate drainage are susceptible to root-rot infections. They have a deep taproot and do not transplant easily, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center notes that the flower fragrance smells somewhat like cat urine. The flower stems are thin and tend to flop over, so they may need staking or support from other plants.