You might just keep walking if you saw a gas plant in a garden center or nursery. It really does not like being cooped-up in a pot and, therefore, does not always put its best leaves forward. If you decide to give it a chance though and take it home to plant it in your garden, you may wonder why you even bothered. Gas plants do not like to be transplanted either and will take a few years to start performing well. However, if you are patient, you will be very glad that you gave this perennial a chance.
The gas plant (Dictamnus) is a perennial hardy in zones 3-9. It grows to be 2-3-feet tall and can even be planted en masse to form a low hedge during the spring and summer months. (It dies back in the winter.) It has glossy dark-green leaves that are quite attractive in their own right. In the early summer, though, it produces spikes of lemon-scented blooms that last for about a month and are followed by interesting star-shaped seedpods. (Use the seedpods in dried flower arrangements.) The gas plant is a truly beautiful plant in the garden, but you will have to wait about five years for it to really start looking its best.
As previously mentioned, gas plants do not like to be in pots or transplanted. Those that are sold in pots are usually a few years old. Even given their age, they will probably not bloom the first year you plant them. You will then only get a very few blooms the second year. In fact, your gas plants will not reach their full glory until about the fifth year. Gas plants sold in containers, however, tend to be a bit costly; therefore, you can save yourself some money by starting them from seed. Sow the seeds in moderately rich, well-drained soil outdoors in full sun to very light shade. (Do not try starting them indoors and then transplanting them. You will most likely not have much luck.) Make sure you sow your seeds where you want your gas plants to remain. (Do you need to be reminded that they do not like to be moved?) The seeds should be planted in the fall since they need a period of cold in order to start sprouting the following spring. Only about a fourth of the seeds will germinate the first year, followed by the germination of another fourth the second year and then maybe, just maybe, the rest will germinate over the next 2-3 years. Once again, it will be 4-5 years for your gas plants to reach the point that they are one of your garden favorites.
Why the name "gas plant"? There is a volatile lemon-scented oil that covers the entire plant. On a windless evening, try holding a lit match to one of the blossoms and then watch the sparks fly, which are low-temperature and will not even harm the plant. You will then understand how the plant got its name.
Warning: The volatile oil that gives the gas plant its fragrance and its unique qualities can also cause allergic reactions in some people in the form of a skin rash, especially when the person handling the plant does so in the sun. Either wear gloves and long sleeves on the very few times that you will be working with this plant or do so after the sun sets.
Varieties available include: D. albus with white blooms and the very popular 'Purpureus' that has pink flowers with purple veins