Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday

Asclepias purpurascens, (purple milkweed) is blooming albiet sparsely, for the first time ever. Added to our garden three years ago, purple milkweed is one of few asclepias that prefer part sun, although it will also grow in full sun to part shade. If these two little blooms are pollinated and set seed, the seeds will be collected and sent to Native Seed Gardeners, an organization that uses volunteer home gardeners to grow and harvest native plant seeds for restoration of protected conservation landscapes in the Spring Creek Forest Preserves in Chicago's north suburbs.

Purple milkweed is primarily pollinated by long-tongued bees, butterflies, and skippers, and Monarch butterflies feed on its foliage. Fortunately, it's rarely bothered by rabbits and deer, thanks to its bitter-tasting, toxic foliage. Although we don't have deer issues in our garden, we do have a lot of bunnies, and they can wreak havoc on vulnerable plants and shrubs here.

I found a little piece of the milkweed broken off a few weeks ago. A few lower leaves were removed, and it went into moist potting mix in our cool basement where a few summer vegetables are being started from seeds. The little cutting rooted easily with no special care, and is already growing and sprouting a crop of new leaves.

A favorite native in our garden,
Spigelia marilandica, or Indian pink, just started blooming this week. Attractive to hummingbirds, Indian pink is easy grow, and prefers well-drained, fertile soil in part sun to part shade. Gail grows this in her garden too, so I think it's safe to say that while it may prefer well-drained soil, it's adaptable and will also grow in clay soil. Ours gets no more than a couple of hours of mostly dappled sunlight, and produces lots of these sweet, unusual yellow and red blooms.

Tradescantia ohiensis, commonly known as spiderwort, is native in Illinois. We have a few passalong plants - new additions to our garden this spring. I was on the fence about spiderwort for years, but its sweet blue blooms and the fact that they were free finally won me over. I'm happy to have them in our garden, and hope the bunnies will leave them alone. Spiderwort's leaves and stems are edible for humans too - one of many edible wild plants enjoyed by foragers. If they get too spready here, a few just might end up in a stir fry one day!

This is
Penstemon digitalis - foxglove beardtongue, also native in Illinois, and blooming for the first time after three years in our garden. The tubular flowers attract honeybees, bumblebees, Anthophorine bees, Miner bees, Mason bees, and large Leaf-Cutting bees. Halictid bees, butterflies, Sphinx moths, and hummingbirds may also visit the very pretty blooms.

Growing in a spot that gets about an hour of sun in the morning and two more hours in the afternoon, it was slow getting established. As you can see it's blooming nicely now, although high winds and heavy rains have caused it rather poor posture. Even a bit bendy, it's taller in our garden than 'Huskers Red.' This native penstemon is a welcome addition with its pristine white blooms that show up nicely even at night.

Our garden is by no means all native, but the more of them that come to live here, the more I appreciate their quiet beauty and tough constitutions. Adding a few (or a few more!) native plants to an ornamental garden is one of the best ways to attract butterflies and other pollinators to our gardens, and to enjoy nature's beauty in our own backyards. For more Wildflower Wednesday posts, please visit Gail at Clay and Limestone.


  1. Linda, Love that asclepias beauty! An asclepias that tolerates shade is a wonderful addition to the garden. May the Monarchs be with you! Spigelia is one of my favorite plants~I like that Mother Nature combines yellow and red together so delightfully. Nature is grand. Happy WW! xogail

  2. This is a beautiful milkweed, Linda! The leaves look so much darker than the typical milkweed; I might have to think about adding this one to my own garden--Mr. P might not realize it's a milkweed:) Thanks for the reminder about the Indian Pinks, too; I'm always looking for more hummingbird magnets.

  3. where did you find the Spigelia marilandica? We have humming birds and they would love this. I want to keep them happy but would like to use mostly natives in our wood line beds.

    I am working on a planting plan for our pagoda bed and plan on using penstemon digitalis. I am for certain it will go in now after these pictures I can see how it would glow in the shade!

  4. I live on the edge of an area with lots of wild plants and I'm conscious that when they grow in my garden they are perceived as weeds.

    The Indian Pinks intrigue me. I've not seen them before.


  5. I like your Purple Milkweed and the Indian Pinks. :)

  6. Very nice! Native plants can be a real asset in the garden. Good post!

  7. You make me miss my woodland garden, so little space now to do much of the woodland plants.


  8. I'm smitten with the blooms Gail! (even if there are only two and they're very small!) Spigelia is a favorite of mine too - the blooms are SO unique.

    I think so too Rose. The foliage is a nice deep green, and I've been enjoying it the last few years while waiting patiently (not) for the blooms. I definitely think it could pass for not-a-milkweed to Mr. P.

    Indian Pinks are one of the top ten hummingbird plants at (#8)

    Danielle, I found it at Gethsamane Garden Center(Andersonville neighborhood in Chicago.) It's the only place I've ever seen them. This year I'm determined to capture some seeds! The first year here, there were only a few blooms and no seeds developed. Last year there were a few seed pods, but I waited too long to put the panty hose feet over them. (When ripe they 'explode.') If I'm able to collect any seeds this year I'd be happy to share some.

    Penstemon digitalis is wonderful in part sun - I love it against both the green and bark backdrops.

    I know what you mean Esther! Here, most of the weeds are tree seedlings. When I drive anywhere, I'm always checking out the roadsides for blooming native plants. A lot of people would call them weeds, but to my eye there are so many really pretty ones just as carefree as you please decorating the roadside and making my drive so much more enjoyable.

    Thanks Raquel!

    I think so too Victoria. They're definitely an oasis for pollinators here in suburbia.

    And I miss my sunny borders Eileen! Still, I think it's safe to say we both make the best use we can of the space we have. Your borders are really beautiful.

  9. I am going to keep my eye out for them when we go gazing at garden centers. they are pretty!

  10. Today, I heard a customer call the spiderwort, "widow's tears". I'd never heard it called that, so I went and looked closer and I wonder why??

  11. they are all so beautiful, a wonder to see.

  12. I wondered why too Sissy, and found this: "Long, shining strings of juice produced when a stem is broken are reminiscent of a spider web, giving the spiderwort its name. It is also called “widow’s tears” or “cow slobbers” because of this clear, stringy sap."

    They surely are wonders Tammie.

  13. Your garden is beautiful! Very naturalistic. I love that much more than the super formal gardens. Obviously, the bunnies love it, too! Cheers!

  14. Thank you Avis! I definitely aim for a natural approach to gardening and to life. I wouldn't mind if the bunnies loved it a bit less! Cheers back atcha!

  15. I enjoy you telling all about your native wildflowers. You know I have the same shady conditions and like to hear how others deal with it-it can be trying at times. Those Indian pinks are one of the bright lights in the shady garden, so pretty. I think its nice you will harvest your milkweed seed and send them off. I have tried milkweed here and have had limited success but that never stopped me before. I need to give the purpurescens another try. It's so nice you were able to root the broken off piece.

  16. Shady conditions can be challenging Tina, especially if one wants flowers! I definitely empathize. There are so many beautiful foliage plants that love shade, but I like lots of bloom.

    We have asclepias tuberosa here too, but it's clearly not happy, and wants more sun. Purpurea is doing well so far in our dry, loamy soil. Two blooms isn't much, but hopefully it will bloom more as it matures.

    I really enjoy participating in the Native Seed Gardeners project! It's nice to have a hand in helping with a local ecological restoration.

  17. Foxglove Beardtongue ... sounds like a name out of Harry potter but I love the plant!

  18. Me too Rosemarie. I love some of those old-fashioned flower names - so colorful!

  19. nice milk weed... i need to plant more of that myself.


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