Lewis Flax


There are two species known as Lewis Flax, Linum perenne (also known as Blue flax) and Linum lewisii, which are so similar that they are indistinguishable to the casual observer.  Linum perenne, introduced from Eurasia, has been successfully planted throughout the United States.  Linum lewisii is an annual or short-lived perennial western native plant.  Both species are available here at Southwest Seed.

Linum lewisii, named after Captain Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, occurs naturally over a wide geographic area and a wide array of ecosystems.  It is found from Alaska to Mexico and from California to Quebec at elevations ranging from sea level in the northern reaches of its range up to 11,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.  It is a component of plant communities from salt desert scrub to subalpine meadow.

The seeds and capsules of Lewis Flax provide food for wild birds.  It is considered to have fair forage value for wild game and livestock, although sheep have reportedly been poisoned by Lewis flax because it contains a cyanide-like compound.  Native peoples made use of many parts of the plant for many purposes:  Fiber obtained from the stem was made into cordage for baskets, mats, snowshoe webbing, and nets.  Seeds were cooked for food. Stems were used to treat stomach disorders, and the entire plant was used to make eye medicine. Crushed fresh leaves were made into a poultice used to reduce swelling.

Lewis Flax is very drought tolerant because it has a tap root, and its semi-evergreen foliage make it fire resistant as well.  Although each showy 2-inch-wide blue flower lasts no more than 24 hours, new flowers continue to emerge for as long as six weeks.

Lewis Flax prefers open, sunny areas but will tolerate semi-shade.  It is best suited to sites with well-drained to moderately well-drained soils.  Seeds should be planted  ¼ to ½ inch deep in a firm, weed-free seedbed.  The best seeding results are obtained from seeding in late fall to very early spring on heavy to medium textured soils, and in late fall on medium to light textured soils.


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