As bluebonnet season winds down, Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) becomes one of the dominant flowers on the landscape in Central Texas. It is named from its resemblance to the bright red, gold and bronze shades of traditional colors of Native American blankets in the Southwest. They begin blooming in May and with plentiful rain or supplemental watering, plants can bloom through August. Also known as firewheel or blanketflower, the flowers are pinwheel shaped with petals red at the base and the yellow tips have three teeth at the end. Colors may vary from plant to plant, some with more red others with more yellow. The stems are hairy and branched. Indian blanket plants fill pastures and roadsides with a beautiful red color. The plants grow from one to two feet tall and the flowers are one to two inches in diameter. They make beautiful landscape plants. During the blooming season, one plant can have as many as 185 simultaneous blooming flowers. Deadheading encourages a longer bloom time.
Indian blanket is an annual plant, reseeding itself each year and easy to grow. To encourage seed production for the following year, it is best to wait three weeks after the peak flowering season before mowing. Seeds are readily available. When planting the seeds, barely cover them, as they need light to germinate. As a cut flower, it has a vase life of six to ten days. The plant is drought tolerant growing well in a dry, hot climate in full sun. While it grows in many soil types, sandy and well drained soils are best. Planting Indian blanket seeds in the fall may help reduce the amount of the invasive species, bastard cabbage.
The common buckeye and checkerspot butterflies use the Indian blanket flower as a host plant for their larvae. The blooms provide nectar for other butterfly species.
From the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center: The legend tells of an old Indian blanket maker whose talent for weaving produced such beautiful blankets that other Indians would travel many miles to trade for one. The old blanket maker had never taken an apprentice and when he realized that he had only a short time left, he began weaving his own burial blanket. It blended his favorite browns, reds and yellows into the beautiful patterns for which he was so famous. In time, the old man died and his family dutifully wrapped him in this blanket, which was to be his gift to the Great Spirit when they met. The Great Spirit was very pleased because of the beauty of the gift, but also saddened, because He realized that only those in the Happy Hunting Ground would be able to appreciate the old blanket maker’s beautiful creation. So, He decided that He would give this gift back to those that the old Indian had left behind. The spring following the old man’s death, wildflowers of the colors and design of the old Indian’s blanket appeared in profusion upon his grave … to bloom and spread forever.
Native Americans used the roots as tea for gastroenteritis. The tea was also used to increase fertility and as a blood tonic and diuretic. Poultices made from the entire plant were used to treat sinus headaches when applied to the forehead. Inhaling powdered flowers relieved other headaches.