Red flax, also known as scarlet flax or crimson flax, is a herbaceous wildflower grown primarily for its bright red blossoms. Its scientific name is Linum grandiflorum, and it is a close relative to the flax plants grown commercially for both flaxseed and linseed oils. Scarlet flax, grown easily from seed, is used primarily as an ornamental flowering plant in landscaping and wildflower gardens. It is hearty and tolerates a wide variety of growing conditions, but it will die with the first frost.
Linum grandiflorum is native to Northern Africa, particularly Algeria, as well as Southern Europe. Because it can adapt to a wide variety of soil and rainfall conditions, red flax has been introduced in many other arid and temperate areas of the world. Red flax has become naturalized and can be found in North and South America, as well as the United Kingdom.
Red flax is a small plant; at full height it normally grows to between 12-24 inches (30.48- 60.96 cm). It grows upright and has long narrow green leaves that have a waxy feel. The short-lived flowers appear in various shades of velvety red; sometimes the petals have black edges. If planted in the spring it will flower continuously through June. Successive plantings later in the season will produce flowers until first frost.
The small, delicate habit of red flax makes it most attractive in landscapes when it is planted in mass. The red flowers are dainty; they create a continuous swath of color if planted close together. Red flax is often used to accent taller flowers with larger blooms; this is particularly striking when paired with white or yellow blossoms. Flax grows easily when mixed with other flowers, so it can easily camouflage the dying foliage of early spring bloomers such as tulips or crocus.
Since red flax is native to arid desert regions, it prefers to be planted in sandy soil and full sun. This plant has proven to be highly adaptable, however, growing in rich soils as well as poor soils. It can also grow in partially shaded areas, but it does best in areas where it receives several hours of sun each day. Red flax is highly resistant to drought; during excessive heat it may wilt and need additional watering, especially when grown in containers.
Flowering flax can be purchased from nearly any seed vendor or gardening center that sells wildflower seeds. It is generally inexpensive to purchase in large quantities. Flax is also one of the most common varieties found in bulk wildflower seed mixes. Left to naturalize, scarlet flax will readily seed itself and provide continuous color until first frost.