The fragrant Stock flower has a history in the city of Siena in Tuscany, Italy, home of the Italian naturalist Pietro Andrea Gregorio Mattioli. Although Stock travels the world by a variety of titles, such as Brompton Stock, Common Stock, Garden Stock, Gillyflower, Hoary Stock, Ten-Week Stock, Violacciocca; its true botanical name is Matthiola Incana.
Matthiola Incana is an obvious extension of Pietro Mattioli’s surname, and homage to his achievements in medical botany, as well as general botanical studies and classifications in the 16th century. This is quite an honor for the Stock flower, as Mattioli was also the first European to identify the Golden Apple, better known as the Tomato, and we all know how much Italian’s love their tomatoes.
Just to the west of Mattioli’s home town is Siena’s coastal neighbor, the Port of Genova (Genoa), center of the Italian Riviera. Italy’s bountiful bloodline in the flower growing industry resides on the Riviera, on the Riviera dei Fiori in the city of Sanremo. It is along the Riviera that Botany Professor, Eduard Strasburger wrote about Matthiola Incana, or Winter Stock, in his book, Rambles on the Riviera. He describes a Castle on the Island St. Honorat, nestled along the Riviera as it extends north into France; hence the French Riviera.
Growing up the castle walls was the “violet sweet-scented Winter-stock, called in German ‘Levkojen’, which visitors to the island are so eager to get, but which fortunately has established itself on the castle in quite inaccessible places. This plant grows wild here, for the Mediterranean region is its habitat.”1
Many cut flowers have lost their potency in scents from mass cultivation, and others have been genetically harvested with fragrance, like the Stargazer Lily. Yet Stock remains a champion of the blissful fragrance that so many seek when they hover above a bouquet of flowers. Visually the flower’s structure is dense with tightly clustered petals and not terribly pronounced from the stem. This results in stock not being used often as a focal point of flower arrangements, yet its vibrant colors are not to be missed.
Stock’s rich shades of white, cream, fuchsia, lavender, peach, pink, purple and yellow are given playful names such as Cinderella Lavender, Harmony Purple and Legacy Pink. These are Gardner definitions, but as Allan M. Armitage explains in his Garden Annuals: a Color Encyclopedia, “stocks have so long been the domain of florists and cut flower growers.”2
Stock flowers are within the Matthiola genus, which belongs to the Brassicaceae Family in botany. This family of flowering plants are also known as crucifers, so called for their cross shaped petals. The Matthiola Incana, or Stock, shares its family classification which cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, radish and horseradish. Stock itself does not quite bear the cross-like flowers of its edible cousins and the oft-seen stock in cut flowers is double-flowered; prized for their thick floral showiness.
There is also the Malcolmia genus of the Brassicaceae family which includes a flower called, Malcolmia Maritima, sometimes also referred to as Stock, or Virginia Stock. Both Malcolmia Maritima (Virginia Stock) and Matthiola Incana (Stock) are Mediterranean natives. The Virginia Stock is not quite as fragrant as the Matthiola Incana Stock, and its flowers extend more delicately and sparsely from the stalk. This is why Matthiola Incana is sometimes called Hoary Stock, meaning dense.
In selecting Hoary Stock for cut flower arrangements, www.gardenguides.com has a few tips. About half or more of the Stock’s flowers on the stalk should be open, and the stems should be straight and sturdy. As with most cut flowers, those with decaying flowers towards the bottom should be avoided. When placing Stock in a vase, be sure to clear any foliage from entering the water. Floral Preservatives, or flower food can be used in preserving Stock’s vase life and the water in the arrangement should be replaced daily as stock is highly susceptible to mildew.3
Aside from generously complimenting a great variety of flowers in arrangements, Stock on its own can be a symbol of a happy life and contentment. Obtain this contentment by taking a visit to Mainstreet Flower Market in Parker, Colorado where there is an in-store special on Stock this week.
1) Strasburger, Eduard, Rambles on the Riviera, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906
2) Armitage, Allan M., Armitage garden annuals: a color encyclopedia, Timber Press, 2004.