Zinnia Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder

While visiting with my grandparents recently I shared a picture of my newly opened zinnias. I planted them from seed at the edge of my garden. My grandmother, a flower enthusiast, delighted in the colors. She remembered her mother planting zinnias around the garden, too. This made me curious. Why are zinnias such great garden flowers?

I was hoping to find some folklore stories on the matter. However, there wasn’t much I could find on the traditional practice of planting zinnias around the garden. The history behind these colorful beauties is rather surprising though, and too good not to share! Besides that, there are many fine reasons to plant zinnias-in the garden or just for fun.

Zinnia History

Zinnias, native to Mexico, are named after a German anatomist and botanist named Johann Gottfried Zinn. In his 32 years of life Zinn made a lasting impression on both the medical and botanical fields. He was the first individual to create a thorough anatomy of the human eye. One part of the eye has been named after him as well-the zonule of Zinn or Zinn’s membrane.

In addition to his medical studies, he was passionate about plants. The German Ambassador to Mexico once sent Zinn a pack of zinnia seeds. But at that time, the plant was better known as ‘mal de ojos‘ which means ‘sickness of the eyes,’ or ‘ward off the evil eye‘ to the people of Mexico. There the plant was deemed an uninvited weed. Zinn wrote the first botanical description of the plant, and therefore it was named after him.

Having a fondness for these bright bursts of color, this came as a big surprise to me. How would such beauty be considered a weed? Then I remember all the beautiful “weeds” growing around here-dandelion, clover, chicory, …and the list goes on.

Why Grow Zinnias

I’m glad I could partake in the planting of zinnias around my vegetable garden as so many have before me. Zinnias offer many benefits beyond the natural cheerfulness you can’t help but feel when you look their way.

  • Zinnias are easy to grow, and a great project for kids. Just barely cover them with no more than 1/4 inch of soil in full sun. Water daily until sprouts appear and in no time you’ll have flowers to adore.
  • Zinnias are low maintenance. They don’t require much in the way of fertilizer, mulch, or even water-maybe an inch a week is all they ask. The Zahara species will even clean itself-no deadheading required. And they tend to self-seed for the next year.
  • Zinnias attract pollinators with ease. Their bright, multiple colors call out to the bees and butterflies making them helpful in pollinating garden veggies.
  • Zinnias believe variety is the spice of life. They come in every color except for blue, and their sizes range from 6 inches to 4 feet tall. They either have single or double layers of petals.
  • Zinnias make it easy to grow more and more at no cost. To collect their seeds you’ll just need to let them dry on the stem before gently smashing their flower heads between your hands. This will let the seeds come out, and you can store them in a cool, dry place until the next growing season rolls around.
  • Zinnias make lovely cut flowers. Their colors will brighten up any room, and they will last for quite a while in a vase of water.

Zinnia’s beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, yet their potential and benefits cannot be debated. Their history as a weedy wildflower is unbelievable as I gaze toward my garden. Seeing these zinnias standing tall makes me wish I had planted more. They will always have a place in my garden, as I hope they will yours, too!








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