Used extensively by the commercial floral industry because of its spicy scent and long lasting blooms, Matthiola incana--stock--may have been commercially cultivated as far back as the Roman Empire. An English garden favorite since Elizabethan times, Matthiola incana produces both single and double flowers and long grayish-green leaves. White is the most common color, but Matthiola incana also grows in pink, red, yellow, lilac and purple.
Named for the 16th century Italian naturalist and physician, Pietro Andrea Matthioli (1500 to 1577) who first identified Matthiola incana. Imported into England immediately after its discovery and identification, Matthiola incana was bred extensively and soon became a favorite in English gardens. One of today's most popular cultivars, the Brompton, was bred in the Brompton Gardens in London, site of the present day South Kensington museums. William Townsend Aiton identified it as a member of the Brassicaceae, the mustard family in the 19th century, making note of its distribution in the Eastern United States at that time.
A Mediterranean and Southern Africa native, Matthiola incana is found in marginal areas such as cliffs and dry lands. Apart from its countries of origin, Matthiola incana can be found in Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Bulgaria, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States.
Matthiola incana has four cultivar lines: the Column, grown for the floral industry; the Brompton, a biennial; the East Lothian, a biennial; and the Ten Week, an annual.
Matthiola incana is a compact plant with grey-green spike shaped leaves that produces a tall, strong flower stem with clusters of spicy scented flowers that can be single or double; both sometimes occurring on the same plant. Matthiola incana comes in a variety of colors pink, red, yellow, lilac and purple, although white is the most common flower color. Matthiola incana does not tolerate the heat with a blooming period from March to August depending on the USDA growth zone. Long seed pods, called siliques, are set by midsummer. The seeds are oil rich with up to 65% of the oil consisting of omega 3 linolenic acid, one of the fatty acids essential to good health.
A number of named Matthiola incana cultivar series can reach up to 60cm (20 inches), while others reach only 30cm (12 inches). Brompton stock can produce 60 to 80cm (25 to 30 inches) flower spikes.
Many old English names were given to Matthiola incana including stocks, sea stocks, wallflowers and wall or gillyflowers. Gillyflower is thought to have originated from "gillofloure", the name English herbalist John Gerard gave it in 1597.