Gardeners looking for plants that offer beautiful color and foliage, are tolerant of a number of soil types and conditions, and thrive in a wide range of hardiness zones need look no further than Achillea millefolium “Paprika.” The deep red petals and cheerful yellow centers add a striking note of color to any bedding design.
Plus, they make a great food source for several species of butterfly but won’t attract deer. Achillea millefolium “paprika” is a color variant of a major subspecies member of the yarrow family. Since this particular variation produces no significant difference beyond the aesthetic, much of the information in the article below may be applied to all millefolium types.
General Requirements and Growth Habits
Yarrow can be found in a variety of climates across the continents of North America, Europe, and Asia. It thrives from the harsh north to the humid subtropical, and will find footholds in poor soils that range from arid desert to lush coastal biomes. The key to this is drainage. As long as its feet don’t stay wet, yarrow will prove successful. This is true of all millefolium variants, including Paprika.
In North American hardiness zones, this plant has almost free rein, ranging from 3 in the north to 8 in the south, and even down to zone 10 in some cases. As a perennial, that’s something of an accomplishment, and yarrow is at home in almost every native species garden. This tough, attractive plant has much to offer to gardeners of every skill level and aesthetic disposition.
Growing to a height of roughly two feet, the ferny foliage is a pleasingly muted green. Paprika blooms exuberantly from June to September in most zones, spangling the garden with small, dusty red petals and yellow centers. Watering needs are limited, since yarrow tends to prefer a slightly dry environment, but individuals who include it in their garden shouldn’t ignore it completely.
Even though paprika will flourish anywhere you plant it, you should consider the final impression you want to create in your particular bed. As well, take time to plan what companion species you’d like to include in your design. It’s advised that, when planting millefolium, you leave one to two feet between specimens. This broad range permits a healthy population, even in smaller spaces. Concomitantly, if you’ve got room to grow, you can be more generous, which allows plants to stretch or gives space for other flowers.
Care and Cultivation
Yarrow of all varieties favor poor soil. It may seem counterintuitive to you if you’re just getting started in the garden, but many of the hardy, older types of plants follow this pattern. They’re flexible like that. You can grow all types of achillea millefolium in soils ranging from sandy loam to moderately rich clay soils amended for drainage.
Again, the key seems to be keeping their roots free of too much moisture, so don’t go overboard on the humus and other composts. Yarrow’s love of the sun can help you with this. All yarrow variants will grow in dappled shade, especially in places where sun exposure can be intense. However, it does its best when hammered by sunlight, thriving in spaces where little else will grow.
More interestingly, when you plant yarrow in partial shade, resulting growth tends to be leggier and less visually attractive. That’s not to say you can’t do this, but the plant is seeking the maximum exposure, so it reaches for light. When planted in full sun, you can expect this garden resident to produce compact and upright growth.
The flat, dome-shaped clusters of flowers almost resemble the umbel formation common with wild carrot or Queen Anne’s Lace. Wild and garden varieties alike share this characteristic with other members of their botanical family, such as daisies and asters.
Once your paprika yarrow has bloomed, you can encourage a second wave of flowers by trimming the spent blossom heads back to the first blooming node. This is just below the branching that holds the umbels. Because yarrow belongs the expansive family of Asteraceae, it’s classified as an aggressive self-sower. Hence, dead-heading your plants serves the practical purpose of keeping it where you planted it.
Another good reason for deadheading your paprika comes from the realm of plant genetics. Paprika yarrow is a garden cultivar. The wild parent is a survivor and cross-breeds with any acceptable plant in its family. That means if you let your garden baby self-seed, there’s a chance that this variety will produce plants that are genetically and aesthetically identical to the wild forebear.
While the flowers are extraordinarily attractive in dried arrangements and can easily be cut during the growing season, experienced gardeners recommend that you cut the plants back each season. In the colder climates, this is an autumnal cleanup task that can be performed just before the first snow. However, in warmer zones, experts recommend pruning in spring.
If your garden is in one of the latter zones, prune just prior to first budding, which will occur early in the growing season—March or April. Cut your yarrow plants back to approximately six inches above the soil line. This ensures compact, attractive growth in the season to come.
An alternative pruning technique also advocated by expert gardeners is a post-bloom cutting of the entire stem down to the basal foliage (what grows up from the ground around the base of the flowering foliage stalks.) This technique strengthens the protective basal stems and promotes the regrowth of hardier flowering stems in the next season.
While yarrow never met a garden plot it didn’t like, it’s a hardy native species to North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. Pretty much anywhere it could get a foothold, it did. That means that it’s a familiar plant to many cultures. And while it’s also amenable to domestication and variation, even garden varieties retain features imbued by this hardy, can-do spirit.
In the wild, it grows in disturbed soils that are dry and crumbly with little nutrient content. It will also self-sow on some of the least hospitable inclines, making it a wonderful natural stabilizer. Thus, it consolidates its place in the realm of useful plants—pollinator food source, erosion mitigation, and also a first wave colonizer that makes way for successive waves of ecological development.
Pharmacopeia and Practical Uses
While it’s important to weigh any evidence carefully, yarrow has quite a long-standing reputation in both indigenous pharmacopeia and folk medicine from a variety of cultures. Traditionally, the flowers are harvested when at their peak, prior to wilting. The leaves are best harvested in late spring to early summer, and are notably rich in tannins.
Most notably, yarrow has been used to both stop bleeding by activating clotting factors that work to bind platelets together. Almost counterintuitively, yarrow is also used to enable bleeding or increase blood flow. Another name for it is warrior plant, which links to more than one popular culture story about how people discovered it.
While it is useful in cleansing external wounds and may be used in conjunction with other plants as an antiseptic, it also works similarly on internal sources of bleeding. In addition to acting on wounds, it is also part of a folk cure for both amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea—absence of or excessive duration of the menstrual cycle.
Additionally, many cultures use it internally to treat gastrointestinal complaints or disorders, from ulcers to excessive bloating. While there are many folk beliefs about its purifying nature that extend beyond that which science can verify, it should by no means be dismissed as a quaint or backward feature of non-western or pre-enlightenment systems of belief.
Plants and their properties are often the precursors or foundations of modern pharmaceutical drugs. With this in mind, scientists have isolated the probable chemical structures that make folk remedies using yarrow effective. However, as always, caution is advised when harvesting or using any plant for medicinal purposes.
The main pharmacological attributes of Achillea millefolium include antimicrobial proazulenes, antiphlogistic sesquiterpene lactones, choleretic dicaffeoylquinic acids, and antispasmodic flavonoids. A scholarly inquiry of the efficacy and potency of these substances showed that only 50 percent of the samples met with established drug standards of the European Pharmacopoeia.
It’s important to remember that herbal remedies developed in the millennia prior to western science were administered via teas, poultices, decoctions, and many other methods. There were also collected and gathered by knowledgeable practitioners who lived in close proximity to their natural environment, unlike many individuals today. They were well versed in when and what to gather, how to process their harvest, and how to apply it.
Cultures around the world have made use of yarrow as part of their herbal medicine chest. In the time before antibiotics, its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties were invaluable for disinfecting wounds, skin irritations, and other potentially life-threatening but preventable conditions.
Of course, these remedies often come with an origin story. The most notable is in yarrow’s binomial nomenclature. Since Linnaeus and his adherents were particularly fond of the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, the Latin name for yarrow draws from that pool of folk stories.
According to myth, Thetis dipped her son into the waters of the river Styx. But yarrow was also featured in this narrative. Throughout his life, whenever Achilles bathed in an infusion of yarrow, he became invincible, precisely because of what his mother had done to him as a child.
In turn, Achilles used yarrow for its protective properties in an almost matter-of-fact way to heal his soldiers, who were not invulnerable. From this story, yarrow also takes one of its common names—warrior plant. But the binomial name mentioned above translates as Achilles’ thousand-leafed plant.
Whether you’re interested in growing Achillea millefolium “paprika” for its lovely color, its wonderful role as a hardy, drought-resistant protector of soil, its benefits as a pollinator food source, or for its medicinal properties, this is a wonderful plant to include in any design.
It is accommodating, easy to grow, produces beautiful flowers for an extensive period of the year, and is as delightful whether you manage its progress through pruning or not. Moreover, the flowers can be cut and enjoyed fresh or dried for autumn and winter color.