Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A pretty little native plant of the Dakota prairies, scarlet gaura should be looked for just before evening when the flowers begin to open for pollination by night-flying insects. We are near the eastern edge of the range of this species as it occurs from Alberta and California to Missouri and Texas.
Scarlet gaura is sometimes called "waving butterfly" because the four white-to-red petals are twisted and move like wings in the slightest breeze. The stamens and style are long and look like insect antennae. The plant is a small, gray-hairy perennial about eight inches tall. Short, lance-shaped leaves are crowded on the stem below the slender, many-flowered tops. On older plants a long taproot extends deep into the soil.
This plant grows on fairly dry sites on the prairie. Grazing seems to have little effect on its abundance. I found no mention of economic uses.
Scarlet gaura is a member of the evening-primrose family (Onagraceae). Onagra in Latin is synonymous with oinothera, a name used by Theophrastus for the willow-herbs and fireweeds that are also in this group. The generic name Gaura stems from the Greek gauros meaning "superb." Coccinea means "scarlet" in botanical Latin. Scarlet gaura was first collected by the eminent botanist Thomas Nuttall and officially described for science by Frederick Pursh in his monumental Flora Americae Septentrionale published in 1814.