Sunday, May 12, 2013

American Landscape Beauties-Herbaceous Edition #2

America, just like most countries, has a wide variety of indigenous, uncultivated, wild growing plants adaptable to naturalistic-style and/or 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 uncultivated native plants. In case 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.
The caption of the following pictures will give the plant names, latin and common, sun exposure, moisture tolerance and landscape setting which will be either naturalistic or formal or both. A naturalistic landscape would be like cottage garden styles, small meadow gardens or even meadow/prairie seedings or installations. Formal would be traditional, grouped, mulched and manicured, homeowner's association compatible landscaping. This the Second of a series showcasing our landscape compatible native plants with 5 native forbs or grasses displayed each post.

 (Grey Headed Coneflower-Ratibida pinnata, Full Sun, Moist to Moderately Dry, Naturalistic Only)

Grey Headed Coneflower ranges west to Nebraska, south to Florida, East to New Jersey, and North into Canada. Here in the midwest it prefers moderately moist to moderately dry soils, but is adaptable to well drained sandy soils in regions with over 24 inches of rainfall per year. Small butterflies and skippers are sometimes seen seeking nectar on this plant, but it is primarily pollinated by different species of bees. In formal gardening it will be hard to maintain, as it responds with vigorous floppy growth when given water, fertilizer, and little to no competition. In naturalistic gardens, meadow gardens, and prairies it is at home standing tall and erect at 3.5-5 feet giving a vibrantly gold blaze topped with an oval shaped cone that begins grey-green colored and turns brown as individual flowers open. The versatility, pollinator support, and aesthetic elegance of this native plant gives it the potential to be a staple plant for naturalistic gardening and prairie installation. This plant blooms from Late June to Early August depending on rainfall, and site. If your local midwestern or eastern state park or county park has a prairie preserved, or reconstructed, you will most likely find this plant in full glory mid-July.

(Prairie Dropseed-Sporobolus heterolepis, Full Sun, Moist-Dry, Formal or Naturalistic)

Prairie Dropseed is the very fine textured bunch form grass pictured growing in this formal landscape around Baptisia australis. Prairie Dropseed grows in moister areas of the shortgrass prairie region, and drier areas of the mixed and tallgrass prairie regions. It's native range is west to Wyoming, south Oklahoma, East to the coastal states and North into Canada. This grass will get 1 to 2 feet in height with a weeping mop-like form. One unique value of this grass is that when in bloom, it give of a fragrance many compare to popcorn! It has very good manners for your formal garden designs, but also is tough enough to not disappear within your naturalistic designs. In prairie seedings, seed it heavier than the tall grass species as the tall grasses will already have a competition edge by nature. The soft, needle-thin blades soften any hardscape edge, and give wonderful contrast to broad textured plants. The fall color and winter form are most impressive, serving coppery gold in the fall, and relaxing gracefully with a golden brown in the winter time. Ecologically, as a dominant grass within areas of the mixed and shortgrass prairies, they are a cornerstone species within the states they populate most. In the East where they are less common, they still can serve as high quality habitat for prairie dwelling insects and animals when planted in mass or seeded as a dominant specie. 

(Blue False Indigo-Baptisia australis, Full Sun, Moist-Moderately Dry, Formal or Naturalistic)

Easily one of my top 5 favorite native herbaceous plants to landscape with because of it's mesmerizing blue blooms that only a skilled photographer could do justice to, the formation of the leafs along the stems, and the bushy yet well mannered habit. When planting Baptisia, as with many other native plants, one must accept that native moths and butterflies, will lay their eggs on this plant and their caterpillars will follow. I've never seen the caterpillars do significant damage other than to plugs that were less than 2 months old. In addition to Baptisia being a good host plant, it is a Bumble Bee magnet in Early to Mid May. The bloom period lasts about 2 to 3 weeks. Only to give way to large bloated bean pods that turn an attractive charcoal black retaining interest throughout the growing season. Baptisia australis fixes it's own nitrogen with the help of microbes, like many other legumes. Along with being efficient with nitrogen, it's deep taproot prove the plant to be drought tolerant throughout the East, South East, South, and Midwest. To make sure your seed crop is highly viable (if you plan on growing), and to ensure a yearly breath taking display, water your Baptisia just once or twice late summer in the case of prolonged droughts, until the subsoil is moist again. That isn't necessary, but is a good rule of thumb for most landscape perennials, native or non-native. Baptisia australis is native to moist and seasonally flooded or seasonally wet prairies known as mesic and wet-mesic prairies. So even while it will be more drought tolerant than most landscape plants because of it's prairie origin, you'll make a life long friend with deep watering during the late summer months. Literally, a life long friend, Baptisia have been found to live over 50 years long. In formal landscapes use Baptisia as an ornamental herbaceous shrub, or grouped in backdrops. In naturalistic gardens utilize fine textured grasses to complement Baptisia australis' bold texture. Depending on what kind of prairie you may construct, the Baptisia genus is full of adaptable spring time bloomers which are hard to find in the prairie community. 

(Obedient Plant-Physostegia virginiana, Full Sun, Momoderately Dry-Moderately Wet, Naturalistic)

Obedient Plant favors moist, sunny habitats west into Montana, South to Tennessee, throughout the East and North East, and North into Canada. It is called obedient plant for one's ability to twist and turn the flowers and have the flowers conform to their newly faced positions. It is incompatible with most formal landscapes, and would have to be skillfully designed into such a design. The root system consists of a central taproot and lateral rhizomes which are responsible for aggressive asexual spread in open moist to seasonally wet soil. The formation, habit, and color of the plant in flower make it highly attractive to naturalistic designs and prairie/meadow seedings. It brings it's stunning display late in the year, around Cincinnati, usually not until Late August-September. Bumble Bee species (Bombus sp.) are responsible for the bulk of pollination, but the larger species that would rather not squeeze into the flowers, steal nectar by puncturing the flower from the outside to retrieve nectar with out pollinating. This plant is also occasionally visited by Hummingbirds. In a moist-mesic or wet-mesic meadow seeding this is a great plant for late season color and general diversity, but should not be planted or seeded to be a dominant species as it's wildlife value to birds, mammals, and insects is relatively low. Maturing at 2 to 3 feet, this plant is sure to stop any camera bearer in their tracks for a close up in the late summer.

 (Tall Coreopsis-Coreopsis tripteris, Full Sun, Moist-Moderately Dry, Naturalistic Only)

The tallest and perhaps most interesting of the American Coreopsis is arguably Tall Coreopsis. Native to wet mesic and dry mesic Mixed Grass Prairies and Tall Grass Prairies, this will compete with bully tall grasses like Big Bluestem and Indian Grass effectively. Tall grasses actually help prop this lanky specimen up, usually reaching a minimum of 4 feet tall, but more commonly over 6 feet tall. The foliage turns an attractive dark red in the fall and the plants look best in mass with at least 3 grouped together within the backdrop of a naturalistic landscape design. In prairie and meadow seedings/installations, plant/seed them randomly as the tall accents will add great vertical interest where ever they land. The coreopsis genus flowers in general are very friendly to a wide variety of pollinators. From short tongued to long tongued bees, butterflies and flies so if planting for ecological value this is a solid pollinator supporter in the hot dry month of August. Tall Coreopsis will also diversify the infrastructure of your prairie or meadow garden. Many insects bore into the stems of such tall forbs and over winter within them, so leaving these up over the winter into spring raises the habitat value of your planting.  Don't bother trying to work this plant into a formal design, it's habit is too "free" to conform to such a controlled landscape, which I think adds to it's appeal within naturalistic designs.

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.


  1. Great postings - thank you! I really like that you state how they are best used. This is often what has the public frowning on native gardens - when the wrong plant (and a good plant!) is used in the wrong place. It is so important to attract nature and make up for the smaller spaces they have to survive. Hopefully with this understanding, the general public will embrace using natives in all landscapes!

    1. Thanks Karen! If you ever need some suggestions for one your plant designs shoot me an email and I'll do you a favor. I know you're off on your own now.

  2. Solomon, GREAT idea! The pics are gorgeous and I agree some plants are best NOT used in formal gardens! The info is good, and you are so right to promote these native cornerstones in our cities and suburban areas. These "naturalistic" and even formal native gardens really can help our native and migratory birds and pollinators survive. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for supporting my blog! I agree with the format comments, but I still hope to improve over time :-)

  3. Great blog, very informative and taking a direction so needed in our world today. Love the plant narratives, so helpful in proper planting placement.
    My own blog touches on your own...not as well written or informative but it's evolving.

    1. THanks for the kind remarks, you're photography is stellar :-)