Posts Tagged wildflower
The recent and uncharacteristic (at least for the last few years) August rains in my area have encouraged the local Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) population to new heights of enthusiasm. When we first moved to our patch of NC Piedmont over 20 years ago, I didn’t see any of this common wetland wildflower, so I actually bought a couple of plants to add to the back of a flowerbed, where the height of these late-summer bloomers would not overpower smaller flowers.
Ironweed is perfectly happy in a typical flowerbed, as long as it receives adequate moisture, but it flourishes best in its native habitat — creek edges and floodplains, where its purple flowers contrast beautifully with the many native composites and goldenrods that can make late summer a monotony of yellow.
Of course, after I planted my store-bought plants, I began to spot native volunteers all over the wetter areas of our yard. Clearly, they had been there all along; I had simply overlooked them in the early years.
During drought years, I sometimes see no blooming plants, or at best, one. This year — the dampest we’ve had in a while (though not wet at my house) — Ironweed is blossoming randomly all over the moister portions of the yard.
When it’s truly happy, it can grow seven feet tall. My wildflower volunteers are more in the 4-5-foot range, which I deem quite respectable, especially given that two-week round of 100+-degree temperatures we endured in July.
The flowers are beloved by pollinators, and the seeds, which botanists call nutlets, are favored by a number of native bird species. I leave my plants wherever they pop up and let them complete their life cycles on their own terms. Inevitably, a few seeds escape the birds and sprout into new plants the next spring. You can also propagate this perennial from stem cuttings taken in June or July.
Even the native asters that come into their own a bit later in the season are not as deep and rich a purple as the flowers of Ironweed. I highly recommend this trouble-free native perennial wildflower for any spots in your yard that can accommodate its height and moderate moisture requirements. Your reward will be amethyst-colored flowers for over a month, abundant butterflies, and happy local seed-eating birds — a wildflower win-win for everyone.
A day or so ago, someone found my blog by searching on this question: “Does honeysuckle make beans?” I knew at once that someone had mistaken a Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) vine that had produced seed pods with our native Coral Honeysuckle. These pods are long and quite bean-like to a casual observer. Because the bright orange-red flowers are tubular — similar to the shape of our native Coral Honeysuckle — I’m not surprised that someone mistakenly assumed that it was a honeysuckle vine with “beans.”
A closer look at this high-climbing (up to 35 feet) native vine reveals its many differences from Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). First, Trumpet Creeper flowers are considerably larger than those of our native honeysuckle, and they usually are a bit more of an orange-red. Next, the leaves are completely different. Trumpet Creeper leaves are pinnately compound and much larger than honeysuckle leaves.
The vines themselves are different too. Honeysuckle vines wrap themselves around objects they climb. Trumpet Creepers produce aerial rootlets — similar to those of non-native English Ivy — which attach themselves to trees, buildings, telephone poles — whatever is handy. And, like the rootlets of English Ivy, Trumpet Creeper aerial rootlets can damage mortar between bricks, so don’t let it climb on any structure you want to last.
The fruits of these two native vines are completely different. Coral Honeysuckle produces little red berries, which are enjoyed by wildlife. Trumpet Creeper fruits are, botanically speaking, capsules, but anyone looking at them would call them long beans. The pods turn brown when they are ripe and split in half to release papery seeds. In late summer and fall, I find their emptied pod halves all over my floodplain.
As far as I know, no wildlife eats the pods, and deer don’t much like to graze on the leaves, although the leaves are food for the caterpillars of the Trumpet Vine Sphinx Moth. But those big trumpet-shaped flowers are irresistible to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which is reason enough for me to leave these fairly aggressive natives alone in my landscape where I can.
You must watch this native vine. It pops up from underground roots all over the place in softer soils, and it can shoot up a telephone pole or the side of a house phenomenally fast. Drought doesn’t much slow it down. Rain sends it soaring. If it sprouts in your lawn where you don’t want it, mowing will control it.
On my five acres of Piedmont, I allow Trumpet Vine to flourish uncontested on our floodplain. A number of vines have scaled the mature pines there, where they often successfully outcompete poison ivy. From June through August, orange-red trumpets dangle from the treetops, much to the delight of chittering hummingbirds zooming from flower to flower.
Trumpet Creeper is native to the southeastern United States, but it has managed to spread itself up and down the East Coast and well into the middle of the country too. It has a couple of other common names, including Trumpet Vine and Cow-Itch Vine. That last name likely arose because some folks get an itchy rash when they touch the leaves and vines of this native. I always wear gloves when I handle it; I don’t want to find out the hard way whether or not my skin reacts to it.
Here’s a link that offers you photos of the pods and the various flower color variations you can find in the wild. Horticulturalists have developed quite a number of varieties of this vine that offer you some color choices. For example, ‘Minnesota Red’ is a nice, deep red. ‘Flava’ and ‘Judy’ both sport yellow flowers, and ‘Madame Galen’ offers deep orange-apricot flowers. All of the cultivars share the native version’s vigor, so site this vine carefully if you decide to add it to your landscape. And whatever you do, don’t feed it! It doesn’t need the help, trust me.
Despite its somewhat aggressive tendencies, I think any Piedmont landscape is improved by having a few Trumpet Creepers growing up sturdy trees in out-of-the way spots. If you’ve got such a locale, consider giving this native vine a try. The hummingbirds will thank you.
Does this plant look familiar? If you turned it into a tree and made the leaves and flowers larger, it would look a lot like a non-native, invasive tree common to many southeastern Piedmont landscapes: Albizzia julibrissin, commonly called Mimosa Tree.
But this is not a young Mimosa Tree. This is an inconspicuous native vine of our region. Like the Mimosa Tree, the Eastern Sensitive-Briar (Mimosa microphylla) is in the Legume family, which likely explains the resemblance.
I learned about this vine when I became a tour guide at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC. It grows in the Sandhills Habitat Garden, where this vine covered in tiny (not really pain-inducing) prickles sprawls over other plants in the exhibit during the growing season. It is easiest to spot this time of year when it is covered in pink flower clusters shaped like globes.
Because I learned of the plant in that exhibit, I thought it was a native characteristic of the Sandhills geographic region, and it is. But this delicate deciduous vine is more widespread than I realized, thriving in dry woodlands and forests and in disturbed areas throughout much of the Carolinas and Georgia.
I discovered it growing in my yard last year right where my research told me to expect it: along the disturbed edge of my woods beside my road. The mixed mess of vegetation growing along my roadway is an area I have largely ignored over the years. Its purpose is to create a barrier between the road and the rest of my yard, and it fulfills its function admirably.
So I was pleasantly surprised last year as I was mowing the strip of grass along the road to spot this vine sprawling on nearly barren ground at the edge of the woods. This year, it has spread a bit, but it is not invasive, and it’s a great novelty plant, so I’m letting it sprawl where it will.
And why, you ask, do I think of it as a novelty plant? The answer to that lies in its common name — Eastern Sensitive-Briar. This refers to the touch-sensitive nature of its leaflets. Have you ever noticed how the leaflets on Mimosa Trees fold up at night? If not, check it out sometime.
Eastern Sensitive-Briar is more touchy. Its leaflets close when they are bumped into — even in bright sunlight! Allow me to demonstrate. Here’s a shot of the vine before I touched some of the leaflets:
Now take a look at the same vine after I fondled a few of the leaflets:
You may need to click on the above photo to enlarge it for a better look.
Personally, I think this is a nifty feature, and I know whenever I volunteered as a tour guide at the NC Botanical Garden and demonstrated this trait, it elicited astonishment from visitors.
It would have never occurred to me to deliberately plant this little native vine in my yard, but since it found its way on its own, it is welcome to stay. The diminutive pink powder puff flowers are lovely, and the child in me will never grow tired of tweaking a few leaflets to make them close.
Lyreleaf Sage (Salvia lyrata) is blooming all over my yard at the moment. In fact, it’s blooming all over my area; I noticed several large stands thriving on a shady roadside near my house this morning.
Another common name for this plant is Cancer Weed, because it has been thought by some to cure skin cancers; it’s still considered to be a cure for warts by many herbalists. One source I read said it was thought to cure cancer, because it spread vigorously — like a cancer — on the earth. But I think that’s overstating this native’s aggressive tendencies quite a bit.
The lyre in its name refers to the shape of the evergreen basal rosette of leaves that someone decided resembled the shape of a lyre — a U-shaped instrument from ancient Greece. I don’t see the similarity myself, but the leaves are very distinctive, making it easy to identify this wildflower even when it’s not blooming.
Here’s a close-up of the leaves:
Although it is a member of the mint family, this common wildflower is not particularly fragrant, but the flower stalk does sport the square shape that characterizes this group of plants. Lyreleaf Sage grows and spreads on sandy and loamy soils; it’s not a fan of clay. It can tolerate deep shade to full sun, periodic flooding, and moderate drought.
Some have recommended this native for use as a groundcover, comparing it to ajuga, and it certainly is as tough as ajuga — but not nearly as dense a spreader as far as I’ve seen.
I think the blue flowers are lovely, and the unique leaves of its basal rosettes add a touch of color to my patchwork “lawn.”
Odds are it’s either already growing or would happily grow in your Piedmont yard. Do you have a shady spot where grass won’t grow? Try establishing a patch of Lyreleaf Sage in your bare spot. You’ll have a year-round, attractive evergreen groundcover, and stately stalks of blue flowers every spring.
I have long admired the great sweeps of blooming Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea, formerly Senecio aureus) that adorn part of the woodland garden at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill every spring. The bright yellow daisy-like flowers on 1-3-foot stems add a lively glow to the early spring landscape. The NC Botanical Garden has mixed these flowers with other early-blooming natives like blue Woodland Phlox, producing a wildflower meadow beloved by pollinators and people alike.
Bloom time in my part of the Piedmont of North Carolina usually occurs in March and April. The picture above was taken when my stand was about to reach peak bloom on March 17. It still displays some blooms even now, although many of the flowers have finished, replaced with a white tuft of seeds.
I suspect that’s how this flower got its common name. Someone thought the white fluffy seed heads looked like rags, and wort is just an old English word for plant, hence, ragwort.
I like what Golden Ragwort offers my landscape: early bright color in a moist area at the bottom of a hill in a shady area that grows shadier as the canopy above leafs out, a low basal rosette of heart-shaped evergreen leaves that are deep green on top and deep purple underneath, and a spreading habit that makes this wildflower an excellent groundcover for moist areas. The flower buds are deep purple too, as are the bloom stalks. It’s just a lovely little plant.
You can find this wildflower fairly easily at speciality nurseries. Mine were passalong plants. The landscaper we hired to erect our deer fencing decided our yard needed Golden Ragwort, so he dug up some from his yard and brought it to us. It’s been three or four years now, and the basal rosettes are spreading nicely. Thanks, Matthew!
After the plants finish blooming, I cut off the old stalks, making it easy to mow over any plants that are migrating into the “lawn” without hurting them.
Golden Ragwort is listed as a toxic plant. However, the toxicity is considered low, meaning that touching the plant doesn’t usually present a problem, and you or your animals would need to eat a pound or two of leaves to ingest enough poison to do serious damage. But if you keep pasture animals, you probably don’t want this flower growing where your animals can graze on it.
There’s a widely repeated myth in England that a related species can kill horses when the horses inhale a single seed of the English species of Golden Ragwort. Not true, impossible really. But such is the power of these myths that when an English friend of mine visited my garden and asked about the lovely yellow flowers, she visibly recoiled in horror when I told her their name.
Many plants — native and non-native — are toxic, some much more than others. Hellebores, for example, are more toxic than Golden Ragwort. Unless your garden is visited often by small children or pets with a fondness for dining on vegetation, most of these plants can be safely integrated into your landscape. Of course, err on the side of caution if you are worried.
But if you have a moist area — say a drainage or a low spot at the bottom of a hill — consider adding Golden Ragwort to your landscape. As long as this plant remains in at least somewhat moist soil, it can tolerate light levels from full sun to dense shade.
And in the springtime, it will awaken your early spring landscape with sunshine.
When I took this photo, I didn’t even notice the spider hiding below the flower, waiting for an unsuspecting pollinator to drop by and become its dinner. All my attention was on the bloom of this lovely native wildflower common to our moist, shady woodlands. Most folks I know call it Jewelweed, probably because the yellow and orange flowers glow like gems among its tall, succulent stems and green scalloped leaves. Another name is Spotted Touch-Me-Not, and I’ll tell you why in a moment. The botanists call this wildflower Impatiens capensis.
My floodplain is covered in large stands of this tall (2-5 feet) wildflower this year — the first year I’ve been able to say that in about seven or so years. In recent years, the deer population has been so heavy that these plants were chomped before they ever got a chance to bloom. But this year (knock wood), the deer seem much less abundant.
I suspect I can thank the enormous 1000-acre suburb being erected by a California developer just a mile or so from my house. A few years ago, when the bulldozers erased the mature forest on that spot, all the displaced deer moved to my yard — or at least that’s how it seemed to me. For a few years, those displaced deer were so hungry that they ate everything — even the poisonous plants like pokeweed and Mayapple. But now, deer browsing is much less severe. I think the deer have gone back to graze on the newly planted lawns and fertilized shrubs planted by the California development company. Given a choice between fertilized ornamental plants and native growth, I’ve observed that deer will eat the fertilized goodies every time. Frankly, I’d rather have the thousand acres of forest back. But since I can’t, it seems only fair that the deer have returned to graze their old stomping grounds.
Now my Jewelweeds flourish in every corner of my floodplain. See how the back end of the flower in the photo above tapers to a point? That’s custom built for hummingbird dining pleasure. They zip among the flowers sipping nectar as soon as the flowers start blooming in late June. Migrant hummers passing through to their winter homes south of here can spot my stands of Jewelweed easily. I like knowing I help ease their travels. The last straggler is long gone before frost kills these long-blooming wildflowers.
As for the Touch-Me-Not designation, that’s because of their nifty seed pods. These longish pods swell as the seeds develop. When they’re mature, the lightest touch causes them to explosively split open and shoot their seeds in all directions. It’s great fun to coax the pods into exploding between your fingers. I’ve never met a child or adult who isn’t instantly enthralled by this activity. Here’s a shot of flowers and pods:
Now you’ll know what to look for when you spot these distinctive yellow and orange flowers. The fatter the seed pod, the more violent the explosion. No wonder the flowers spread themselves around — those seeds travel quite a ways when the pods pop.
Butterflies and bees also love these flowers, and the juice of the stems is purported to cure the itch of poison ivy rashes. I’ve never tried this, but I know some folks who swear by this remedy. Jewelweed conveniently tends to grow in the same kinds of places that poison ivy likes, so you may one day find yourself in a position to try this folk cure. The juice also has documented fungicidal properties and has been used to cure Athlete’s Foot. I’ve never had the need to try that remedy either.
But even if this lovely wildflower had no medicinal properties, it would be worth adding to your moist shady spots for the hummingbirds and other pollinators — and to light up your shaded areas with their warm jewel-like colors.
Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum, formerly Eupatorium coelestinum) showed up on my floodplain about five years ago. I recognized it immediately from seeing it on my trips to the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, and I was delighted to see it volunteer its presence beneath a deciduous holly in damp, sandy silt deposited by occasional floods from the creek that borders our property.
When it first appeared, it was even smaller than the plant pictured above. Creek-deposited volunteer wildflowers come and go on my floodplain, and I wasn’t sure it would last, but I needn’t have worried. A bit of research revealed that this wildflower spreads by rhizomes (fleshy roots), and even has a reputation for being a tad aggressive in fertile garden soils.
Over the past five years, this clump of Blue Mistflower has spread, but I think its location likely prevents it from any takeover plans. It is suggested as a good groundcover for moist areas, and that’s exactly what my colony is doing. From August through October, the base of my 20-foot deciduous holly is completely surrounded by this low-growing, long-blooming lavender blue wildflower.
It looks a bit like the bedding annual, Ageratum, that you see in all the garden centers. But this wildflower is not related to Ageratum, and it’s a perennial, relying on its rhizomes to resprout and spread every spring.
Our native pollinators love the flowers, which is all the reason I need to welcome this beauty’s spreading ways. Add to that the lovely, long-lasting blue blooms, which come when native yellow composite flowers dominate the Piedmont landscape, and now you have a reason to find a spot for this beauty too.
Nothing lights up the landscape on a cold January day like a few male cardinals perched on a snowy branch. Their fiery feathers draw the eye by adding sharp visual contrast to an otherwise black and white world.
The deep scarlet of Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) in an early fall landscape provide a similar effect. In a slightly faded green world, the tall stalks (3 to 5 feet) full of ruby-lipped flowers provide the eye a welcome place to settle.
This beauty, native to our floodplains and swamps, adapts well to more formal garden settings. For most of the year, a low basal rosette of leaves waits patiently. As long as you don’t bury the leaves in mulch or let the soil go completely dry, flower stalks will shoot up in mid-summer. A few flowers open in early August, but in my yard, they set the landscape on fire from late August through most of September.
Hummingbirds, always seduced by tubular red flowers, are the primary pollinators. Although I also have observed swallowtail butterflies delicately inserting their long tongues for the nectar.
New plants form a clump around the original rosette and are easy to pull apart and replant when flowers are replaced by seed capsules. After I relocate the new rosettes, I carry the seed stalks down to my floodplain, shaking them vigorously to release the seeds. If I’m lucky, next year, scarlet spikes will glow among the jewelweeds and goldenrods that also light my autumn wetland.
Two years ago, I decided to add our other native lobelia to my landscape. One of the many benefits of membership in the North Carolina Botanical Garden is the free seed giveaway that members are offered every year. They send you a list of the native seeds they have to offer, and you send in your selections. Of course, the sooner you send in your picks, the more likely you are to get what you asked for. High on my list: Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).
Great Blue Lobelia seeds proved to be just as easy to germinate as their Cardinal Flower cousins. I ended up with many, many tiny seedlings. I opted to grow them in pots for a year to get them to a better size for transplanting success. Last fall, I set out the basal rosettes in areas where my Cardinal Flowers were already flourishing.
Great Blue Lobelia flower stalks don’t grow quite as tall as their carmine cousins, topping out at a height of usually no more than three feet. But the deep blue flowers provide a tranquil, cooling rest for the eyes. And hummingbirds seem to enjoy them almost as much as Cardinal Flowers.
Because all parts of both species are quite poisonous, they are supposed to be less tasty to deer. But I’ve noticed that hungry deer will happily eat the flower stalks if given an opportunity. However, inside my deer-fenced area, and in a few other protected spots, my lobelias are flourishing, bringing a welcome burst of color to my late summer landscape.
Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata) is currently blooming in a pot sitting in my little front yard water garden. I love this native water-lover for its deep, true-blue flowers and its knack for attracting pollinators, including many species of butterflies. I’ve seen hummingbirds stop by for visits too.
Pickerel Weed is described as an “emergent aquatic” by botanists, which means its roots like to sit in shallow water, while its leaves and flowers grow up out of the water. A typical flower spike is between one and two feet tall. Its flowers open from the bottom up on the spike.
This common native (the entire eastern half of the United States) likes shallow, quiet water — slow stream edges and ponds. According to various sources, it can be weedy, even clogging up the edges of ponds or streams. If you are concerned about it spreading, the simple solution is to grow it in pots submerged in shallow water.
That’s what I do, but I did it because I wanted the flowers in my water garden. When my pots of Pickerel Weed become overgrown with rhizomes, I remove some of them. I’ve tried planting them in a small pond on my floodplain, but they never last long. The deer invariably eat them into nothingness during summer droughts when they can easily reach the plants.
I wish I could get some established along my quiet creek and pond. The seeds are supposed to be a favorite food of ducks, so I know the Wood Ducks that paddle my stream would appreciate the presence of Pickerel Weed. And the submerged parts of the plants are supposed to be favorite habitat for small fish, which do inhabit my little creek and could benefit from more cover.
Alas, unless I can figure out a way to protect the plants from deer without inhibiting their growth, I may never manage to grow any outside of pots in my water feature. That’s a shame, because my sources tell me that the dried seeds are edible and can be mixed in with granola; the very young shoots are supposed to make tasty salad greens. However, I’m not willing to eat the few plants growing in my water feature, so I may never know how tasty Pickerel Weed can be — unless I can persuade the deer to tell me.
Most gardeners recognize this distinctive perennial flower immediately. Native to prairies, this species has been widely cultivated by the horticulture industry; numerous multi-colored cultivars abound. Although the fancy newcomers provide a certain novelty to landscapes, I prefer the plain species — which is surprisingly variable without any help from horticulturalists.
I grew my Purple Coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) from seed originally. They sprouted readily in my greenhouse and were soon large enough to plant in beds throughout my yard. They are pollinator magnets, so some of them grow in an edge flowerbed in my vegetable garden, where I’ve tucked in a diverse array of flowering beauties to spiff up the veggie area, and invite pollinators. They also grow in my front flowerbed … and a side-yard flowerbed … and a rock garden bed .. and probably some other spots I’ve forgotten at the moment. You see, what I learned about these perennials is that, if they are happy, they will multiply.
The blooms last a long time. Purple Coneflowers are in the Composite family, which means each flower consists of two flower types: ray flowers — the ones sporting the lovely, usually purple petals, and disk flowers — the inconspicuous center flowers that, in the case of this species, grow into the “cone” that gives the flower its name as its seeds develop.
These seed cones are a bit prickly to the touch, and the genus name — Echinacea — is derived from the Greek word for hedgehog — echino. Teas and extracts of this plant provide popular herbal remedies. I haven’t tried them, but I know plenty of folks who swear by them.
My plants thrive in full to mostly full sun in good garden soil. I’ve read that they prefer soils on the basic side, so if your soils are very acidic, they might not thrive. But to me, good garden soil means a neutral pH, so this really shouldn’t be an issue. After they are established, they are very drought-resistant, and the pretty petals linger quite a while before they drop off and the cones enlarge as they fill with maturing seeds.
These flowers, which grow between one and three feet tall, depending on where they are and how much competition they have, look great in the front of flower borders. They attract all pollinators, including butterflies. And when the seeds are ripe, the goldfinches tear them to shreds, devouring the seeds with gusto.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must note that deer will eat these flowers. The blooms aren’t their first choice, but if they are hungry, or in the neighborhood, or just feeling spiteful (OK, I admit that’s a personal theory of mine), they will eat the flowers, leaving headless bloom stalks behind.
The goldfinches are responsible for the abundance of Purple Coneflowers now scattered throughout my yard. They are messy eaters. Inevitably, they disperse some seeds into adjacent areas. Every spring, I am surprised by more of the characteristic basal rosettes of leaves that identify this flower.
I mentioned the variability of the seedlings of this flower a bit earlier. Note the flower at the top of this entry. See how the petals droop gracefully? Not all of my Purple Coneflowers look like that. Many have ray flowers that extend straight out, horizontal to the disk flowers. And some of them aren’t even purple. Every so often, a white-petaled Purple Coneflower pops up. I assume it’s a genetically recessive trait that occasionally manifests.
Here’s a parting shot of a group of seedlings that planted themselves together. They amply demonstrate the variability I’ve described.
My advice to every southeastern Piedmont gardener with a sunny flowerbed: If you haven’t done so already, find a spot for a few Purple Coneflowers. They feed native wildlife, and they look fabulous for most of the growing season. They won’t disappoint you — that’s a promise from this Piedmont Gardener!