Sunday, April 28, 2013

American Landscape Beauties-Herbaceous Edition #1




America, just like most countries, has a wide variety of indigenous, uncultivated, wild growing plants adaptable to naturalistic-style and formal landscaping sites. Most people refer to these as native plants, and I'm going to create a series of blogs showcasing some of the midwest's most ornamental, landscape adaptable plants. Incase you don't know the background on why the native plant movement is growing, for your information, native plant gardens serve as building blocks of metropolitan or even small town ecosystems. American insects and wildlife evolved to rely on native plants, so when we increase the amount of native plant landscapes, we can directly better the health and biodiversity of our local ecosystems, assuming you've selected plants native to your region.

I'm going to set this up so the caption gives the Plant names, latin and common, sun exposure, moisture tolerance and landscape setting which will be either naturalistic or formal or both. Naturalistic landscape would be like cottage garden styles, small meadow gardens or even meadow/prairie seedings/installations. Formal would be traditional, grouped, mulched and manicured, homeowner's association compatible landscaping. Again this is the first of a series showcasing our landscape compatible native plants with 5 native forbs or grasses displayed each post.


( Maximillian Sunflower-Helianthus maximiliani, Full Sun, Moist-Dry, Naturalistic Only)

Native to western-midwest, the tall grass and mixed grass prairie regions, this Sunflower is very drought tolerant when grown in heavy soils. These occupy moister soils in arid regions, and drier soils in higher rainfall regions. Waiting until Late Sepetmber to bloom, it is the last of the helianthus to open and set seed offering late maturing seed sources for songbirds and nectar/pollen sources for pollinators. The display is eye grabbing from a distance, and upon inspection you will notice a chocolate like aroma from the bloom. The bloom period lasts about 3 weeks, blooming in colony forms, as they spread by rhizomes forming large clone clumps. Very aggressive for formal landscaping, more appropriate for backdrops in naturalstic perennial gardens, or prairie/meadow plantings. These do not require watering once established. In a prairie, many may search hard and long to find late season displays from wildflowers that can withstand competition from tall grasses like Indian Grass, Switch Grass, and Big Bluestem, Maximilian Sunflower is your ticket. It's easy to propagate from seed, and is very easy to seed in a prairie, in fact, be careful not to seed it nearly as heavy as other species, as this helianthus, like other helianthus, will outcompete most forbs and short grasses. I found this plant quite joyful to watch grow it's first year in pots or seeded into a prairie, maturing quickly and blooming mid season.



(Indian Grass-Sorghastrum nutans, Full-Sun, Moist-Dry, Naturalistic or Formal)

Indian Grass is one of my favorite native prairie grasses, typically green blue foliage stands erect supporting golden airy plumes in late summer to be followed by coppery orange or coppery gold fall color. Indian Grass stands up throughout the winter as long as it isn't over watered in the summer causing it to be to carbon-top heavy. Indian Grass is highly adapted to midwestern climates, conquering well drained clay soils nearly as well as well drained sandy soils. This grass traditionally competed with Big Bluestem in moderately moist to moist prairies, but also competed with short grasses in the more arid prairies. Use Indian Grass as a backdrop or for structure in formal gardens. In naturalistic gardens it's best used in moderation as accents amongst shorter broad leaf vegetation. Birds and other animals consume the seeds, the leaves are utilized by different kinds of caterpillars, and the structure offers infrastructure for ground nesting birds and mammals. In naturalistic prairie seedings, where the proposed design is for tall grasses to dominate which would maximize carbon sequestration in the soil, Indian Grass is a great companion to mix with Big Bluestem, and Switchgrass. Depending on the soil texture, available moisture, and soil horizons, Indian Grass roots will reach depths of 3'-8'.



(Butterflyweed-Asclepias tuberosa, Full-Sun, Moist-Dry, Naturalistic or Formal)

Butterflyweed has the adaptability to be a true landscape champion satisfying aesthetic wants and ecological needs substantially. All Butterflyweed asks for is to be placed in well drained soil. As noted in a previous blog post about an abandoned housing development project that left compacted graded topsoil-less clay subsoil behind, Butterflyweed can be well adapted to even soil as long as it has proper drainage and doesn't hold standing water for more than 24 hours. Butterflyweed is native to disturbed open areas of the east, and high quality arid habitats of the east that support shorter more drought tolerant vegetation like limestone or dolomite glades. It is also native to the Western Tallgrass, mixed grass, and shortgrass regions specializing in adapting to dry environments. In it's maturity it has short 1 to 2 foot compact bush form that gracefully sprawls while in full blooming forming stunning displays of vibrant orange uniquely shaped milkweed flowers. Milkweeds throughout North America and even South America support arguably the most diverse array of insects seeking nectar and pollen. And if you're reading this blog, you probably have heard that the Monarch butterfly only lays it eggs on this genus of plants, giving an added bonus to plant this hardy milkweed. Two rules for Butterfly weed, at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, and well drained soil, will produce stunning results in as little as 2 growing seasons from seed or plugs. Bloom period lasts from Late June through Early August. If you really want to make the plant a work horse, they can be cut back after their first bloom and kept watered to produce an additional late season bloom but it's best for the plant's health to let it go to seed naturally.


(Foxglove Beardtongue-Penstemon digitalis Full-Sun-Partial Sun, Moist-Dry, Naturalistic or Formal)

Penstemon digitalis is a harbinger of warm weather typically blooming in Mid or Late May through Early June. In this picture above it is shown in full bloom within a highly competitive tall grass prairie community at Ceaser Creek State Park. The seeds are very small at 120,000 per ounce, so in a prairie installation seed it over 3 seeds per square foot as seeds this small often get lost in the mix. Native bees of many kinds are supported by this early season bloomer, and I've even observed occasionally butterflies utilizing the nectar. This Penstemon is very versatile with the ability to flower under the partial shade of trees or while also remaining stout and healthy within a tall grass prairie community. As for formal landscaping, this native plant will not flop, or complain about lack of water or soil texture. All it would like is at least 3 hours of direct sunlight, well drained soil, and to be planted in a region of at least 28 inches of rain fall per year which is typically most of the Mid West and all of the East. If looking to support native pollinators this is a must to any garden or prairie installation.


(Downy Sunflower-Helianthus mollis, Full-Sun, Moist-Dry, Naturalistic Only)

This Sunflower, like most sunflowers, is aggressive, hardy, drought tolerant, showy, and supports a good diversity of pollinators. The foliage of Downy Sunflower is interesting, with gray hairs covering the leaf surface giving a gray look to it. The vibrancy of the gold can be seen from hundreds of yards away, and up close it is stellar. I personally don't recommend this plant for formal landscaping as it creates large clumps and flops if given too much water. But in a naturalistic garden or prairie installation this fits very well adding a long period of blooms in the dog days of the summer from July through August. In heavy drought years they will conserve their bloom buds and wait until the soil receives ample rain fall, last year because of the droughts, Downy sunflower didn't bloom until September in many Midwestern-Eastern regions. American Goldfinches feed heavily on the seeds, and the thick clump growing pattern gives broad structure/habitat to prairie grass dominated landscapes. Topping out at 3.5 feet tall this Sunflower is a great companion for Tall Grass Prairies and Mixed Grass Prairies along with backdrops for naturalistic gardens. Seed this Helianthus, and most other Helianthus species conservatively in prairie installations as their germination rate, growth rate, and ability to reproduce asexually will cause monocultures in favorable conditions reducing wildflower diversity.


Thanks for reading, I hope you've gotten something from this showcasing. If you have any comments, questions, or requests for specific native plant descriptions for ones you would like to learn about, leave them in the given space below.