Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday

Purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea, has been a favorite native plant for as long as I can remember. Silly me, when first starting our garden, was lured by some of the coneflower cultivars. I won't tell you how much money I spent wasted on bigger, supposedly better blooms in various colors, only to have most of them die within their first season. I wised up and bought a packet of seeds, had flowers the first season, and plants that have all been perennial in our garden for a tiny fraction of the cost of those long-gone cultivars.

Goldfinches LOVE coneflower seeds. I'm not thrilled watching them pick off the petals, but I love seeing them come to the garden for the seeds, and the swallowtail butterflies and hummingbirds who enjoy their nectar.

Nodding onions, Allium cernuum, are about to bloom. Monica shared these with me when she came for a visit last summer, along with a few other native plants that are happily settling into our garden. The blooms of nodding onions can be pink, white, or lavender. (Ours are white.) They're happy in full to part sun, and are to said not to like hot summers. I'm happy they're doing well here in spite of our weather! All parts of the plant are edible. It's a very nutritious plant that was widely enjoyed by Native Americans and early settlers. The juice is said to make a fine insect repellent. (I'm not sure I'd want my skin to smell like onion juice!)

This is a young Culver's Root, Veronicastrum virginicum. It had a smaller, single bloom spike last year. This year's one bloom spike is a little bigger, but still not as impressive as the candelabra of spikes it will hopefully have when it's more mature. At about thirty inches, it's also much smaller than it's eventual five-foot mature height. Still, it's a lovely plant. The foliage has stayed fresh all season, and shows no signs of insect damage or any fungus, yellowing, or crisping whatsoever. Culver's Root is visited by many pollinators. You can see a list of them at the Illinois wildflowers website at the link above, where you can also see a photo of the blooms on a mature plant.

The roots of Veronicastrum virginicum have a long history of medicinal use by Native Americans, mostly for digestive disorders, and as purifying herb which induces sweating. It's believed the plant is named after Dr. Culver, an American physician and proponent of its medicinal uses in the 17th or 18th century.

Eupatorium purpureum's buds are just starting to turn pink. I divided these plants last spring - not an easy task thanks to their very tough roots. The plants resented having their roots disturbed and looked pretty awful the rest of the season. They've recovered very nicely though this year, although they're not as tall as they were before dividing them. The divisions are doing well in another area of our garden, though so far there are no signs of flower buds.

Also known as Joe Pye Weed, these very large, tall plants are wonderful in the garden. Another native with usefulness as a medicinal plant, they're grown here primarily for their ornamental value and attractiveness to pollinators. They draw lots of different kinds of bees, every butterfly in the neighborhood, and even hummingbirds thanks to their tubular flowers. The pollinator traffic on Joe Pye Weed is truly something to behold.

To see more Wildflower Wednesday posts, please visit Gail at Clay and Limestone, who hosts this celebration of native plants and wildflowers on the 4th Wednesday of each month.


  1. So true about the coneflower cultivars. Nobody told me I should expect them to behave like annuals unless I got very lucky! I still have a garden full of the traditional purpureas that all came from a packet of seeds I bought back before I knew about fancy cultivars. Should have quit while I was ahead, I guess.

    Your garden looks so cool and refreshing!

  2. The only cultivars I've had any luck with from the Echinaceas are 'White Swan' and 'Sundown'. The purple one is a necessity in my garden for the Finches and it really stands up to our heat. You have some really pretty natives this week Linda. :)

  3. Linda, I feel the same way about the echinacea cultivars. I do grow E tennesseensis but, it's a species native that thrives in Middle TN. The crosses of the two are a delight also. Don't you love Joe Pye! gail

  4. Hi Garden Girl
    You just gave me hope back! Because I've never succeeded in bringing Echinacea into the next season. And as you I spent a lot of money for my experiments. But now I will try it with seeds as you did. Maybe that's the clue. I will tell you next year :o).
    Take care

  5. I'm so glad you featured my favorite native of all--the purple coneflower! After reading so much about the less than hardy new cultivars, I haven't bothered to buy any. But I did get a 'Big Sky Sundown' as a gift last year that seems to be doing well so far. I remember going plant shopping with Beckie several years ago, and I wanted another Echinacea to fill in a spot where I had a bare space. Thankfully, she stopped me from buying it--I have had no shortage of new seedlings ever since:)

    A nice variety of natives--I've been thinking about adding Culver's Root one of these days, too.

  6. That is the only cultivar of echinacea that is reliable for me, too! I did accidentally bring home a goofy one, that one probably will come back, because I got a dumb looking one!

  7. Just goes to show newer, bigger, and fancier isn't necessarily better Diane! It's definitely cooler in back where the garden is than out in the blazing sun.

    I do have one 'Magnus' left here Racquel - it's the only cultivar that survived.

    It's so cool when natives in the garden cross Gail. You never know what you're going to get! I love your pretty pink 'David' cross.

    Hi Alex, oh yes, definitely try the seeds! They sprout easily with no special pre-treatment, and they pretty reliably bloom their first year. I'm confident starting them from seeds will produce good results. I'll look forward to finding out how it goes!

    It would be hard for me to name a favorite Rose, but I sure do love the coneflowers. Hmmm. . . Racquel says 'Sundown' is a survivor for her too. That's one I haven't tried. My coneflower cultivar experiments ended before those were available around here.

    Last year when the Culver's root bloomed, I didn't recognize it, and had even forgotten I'd planted it! I'm looking forward to seeing those blooms when it's more mature. I think you'd like it - even the foliage is great. I can't believe how pristine it is, especially after all the heat and dry soil it's tolerated.

    You too Sissy! I feel better knowing I'm not the only one who can't seem to keep the cultivars going. At first I thought it was just this garden - so many things died here the first few years.

  8. I'm with you about the coneflower cultivars. Nothing beats the original species of them, as far as I'm concerned!
    (PS- Email NeighborSpace about your chard seeds and they will probably send you another pack. Mine should be arriving shortly. Thanks for the address!!)

  9. Hi Linda,
    I enjoyed seeing your wildflowers. You posted some that I have that I didn't get included into my post. I have a couple Culver's roots, one that I deadheaded after reading it would bloom some more, and another that is almost finished blooming. This is their first year here, and they are shorter than yours, but have more than one bloom stalk.

    I have planted several hybrid coneflowers, but won't plant any more, either. They have cross bred with each other and with the native ones I had, and the original plants died out, except for 'Magnus'. The 'Prairie Splendor' blooms have some problems, and may have aster yellows. I've been pulling out the different looking ones from the roots.

    I also forgot to include my nodding onions.

  10. All that sun you have must help your natives establish quickly Sue! I'm surprised the Culver's root even bloomed last year at all since it had only been here a year and I moved it in the spring. It's a rare native that blooms its first here in all our shade. Hopefully in the coming years the Culver's root will have many more blooms at once.

  11. Once again the natives win out Rose! I do have many cultivars I like. Still, if I had it to do over, I'd choose the native forms of most of them, hands down!

    When I think back on all the dead plants the first few years here, I think I would have had more success earlier with this garden if I'd used the native forms of them instead. Very, very few native plants have died here.

    So glad your seeds are on their way!

  12. I agree about those specialty coneflowers. Just about all of mine died after the first year. Magnus, White Swan and the one I can't identify lives on!


  13. This coneflower has become one of my faves, too, Linda. And to think that prior to blogging, I didn't grow them! I agree about the newer cultivars, although my 'Magnus' is still ok. I have lost so many plants over the past couple of years, getting excited to see new varieties. Some things we find out for ourselves through trial and error; you should have written this post (and I should have read it) a couple of years ago-I coulda saved some time & money!). Now I'm interested in trying some of that Joe Pye Weed. I might have just the spot for it;-)

  14. Magnus seems to be a good one Eileen. I had one surviving 'White Swan for a couple of years, but it's nowhere to be found now. Too bad - it was pretty.

    I've been lured many times by new, bigger, better, and fancier Jan. (and I have the empty pockets, and empty spaces in the garden to prove it!) I'm much more careful these days, and it's rare my head is even turned by anything other than the tried and true. It might be pretty, but chances are in a few months or next year, it will be pretty dead.

    Joe Pye weed's definitely on my tried and true list!

  15. With regards to medicinal use of native plants, sometimes I wonder how they discovered the benefits in olden days. Nevertheless, these plants are precious. Have a great weekend!

  16. Like mushrooms for instance Stephanie . . . how'd they figure out which were safe and which were poisonous! I'm guessing trial and error, and probably lots of times by accident they found out things they were eating, infusing, making poultices from, rinsing or washing with, and even smoking had medicinal properties.

  17. This is the first year I've seen goldfinches stabbing at the flower heads while they're blooming. Kinda neat. And I so agree--I will never waste my money on coneflower cultivars again. Straight species for me! I have a joe pye that, I'm guessing, is 8-9 feet tall right now. The birds love to perch there until I cut it down in March. God--I love gardening! (and my nodding onions are in their first bloom--so cool, don't you think?)

  18. Very cool Benjamin! The nodding onions are just starting to open here in the last few days. One Joe Pye here is about 6' tall - the other used to be about that tall too 'till I divided it. They probably don't get quite as tall here because of all the shade.

  19. Looking good Linda.

  20. Hi Linda, I'm so looking forward to seeing your garden in ~2 weeks! Also, every year I say to myself "I don't have Culver's root! I should grow it!" I now have it on my Official Short List! :)

  21. Looking forward to seeing you too Monica! I'll try starting a Culver's root cutting for you. If it works you can take it home while you're here. :)

  22. Your wildflowers are looking most wonderful and happy. Especially that Joe Pye weed-one of my favorites. I planted Culvers root last fall when Kathleen sent me some from Colorado and I am anxiously anticipating a bloom-even one would do. I hear it can be spectacular. Must take some time? Anyhow, Happy Wildflower Wednesday to you!

  23. I love Joe Pye weed Tina. I hope at least the larger of our two new chocolate Joe Pyes will bloom this fall!

    Most natives seem to take awhile getting established here. They might be quicker if there was more sun . . . Hope your Culver's root blooms this season!


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