Saturday, June 8, 2013

American Landscape Beauties- Herbaceous Edition #3

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 adaptability, 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 plants. This the Third of a series showcasing our landscape compatible native plants with 5 native forbs or grasses displayed each post.

(Ohio Spiderwort-Tradescantia ohiensis, Full Sun-Part Sun, Moist to Moderately Dry, Both)

While the Tallgrass prairie is predominantly still short in mid spring, spiderwort quickly ascends with grey bluish green foliage to about a height of 2.5-3.5'. Sporting grass like foliage, it adds an interesting texture early in the season within perennial gardens. It's flowering pattern is unique as it closes up the flowers in the afternoon, then reopens the following morning. Blooming from Mid May into June, on cloudy days the flowers remain open throughout the day adding a valuable color explosion. Biologically, mammalian herbivores occasional graze on the plant, and pollen is collected from the nectar-less flowers by honeybees, short tongue bees, long tongue bees, and different types of flies. Literature states that Ohio Spiderwort appears widely scattered in high quality environments, suggesting that as a prairie matures into "old growth" stages, this plant may decrease in dominance, as do most forbs. It reconstructed prairies though, large colonies can form. When gardening with pollinators in mind, diversity is always the key, minimizing the amount lag time in which pollinators cannot find actively blooming plants. Even though Ohio Spiderwort only blooms in the morning hours and throughout cloudy days, it is valuable to pollinators because of it's long bloom period and the fact that it blooms in a predominantly florally dormant part of the growing season. It's compatible with both naturalistic and formal landscaping. In naturalistic perennial beds, it would fit well within the "midground" between the foreground and background paired with broad textured mid-late summer blooming forbs like Prairie Dock. Finally, in formal designs one could use it as grass-like backdrop to broad textured shorter foreground forbs like purple coneflower.

(Purple milkweed-Asclepias purpurascens, Full Sun-Part Sun, Moist to Slightly Dry, Both)

Purple milkweed is one of thee more ornamental of the milkweed genus. Similar to Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), except it prefers more moisture, it is more shade tolerant, and is far less aggressive. Serving Purplish pink half-globe shaped blooms from Early June into July, it is a wonderful site to see on the roadsides, meadows, or perennial gardens. It is best suited for a naturalistic garden, but can perform well if placed into a formal design with native or well amended heavy soil in the “midground” area. It will form a few offset shoots but not half as vigorous as Common Milkweed colonies, comparable to how Russian Sage acts in the mainstream landscapes. In general, most milkweeds are supporters of diverse hoards of pollinators all competing for nectar and pollen. They all support the championed Monarch Butterfly larvae, but offer ecological support to much more than the famous beauty.  If you can figure out a way to incorporate the vibrant orange of its' sister, Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa) within the same design, you’ll have a powerful display that attracts humans and insects alike for early summer. This milkweed will grow 2’-3.5’ tall typically depending on the site characteristics.

(Stiff  Goldenrod-Oligoneuron rigidum, Full Sun, Moist-Moderately Dry, Both)

This tough Tall Grass and Mixed Grass prairie plant is headstrong in the prairie, and must be used strategically in formal design. It forms large monoculture clumps when there’s available moisture and weak competition. In mature girth, you could compare it to Shasta Daisy varieties that form large clumps in formal and/or naturalistic landscapes. Amongst tall grasses like Big Bluestem and Indian Grass it will persist and deliver a consistent bloom sometime from Late July to September depending on the site and mid-summer rainfall. It is adaptable to all soil textures climaxing at 3.5’ with flat topped blooms offering an attractive landing pad for pollinators. Do not spoil this plant with weekly waterings or fertilizer as it may flop while blooming. It is very attractive to native pollinators supporting beetles, butterflies, flies, long tongue bees and short tongue bees. This is another “mid ground” plant for perennial bed designs, but it’s grayish green foliage and erect midseason form may tempt you to use it in the foreground for walk by aesthetics. This plant is a must for Tall Grass and Mixed Grass Prairie restorations as it was a present species within the majority of both these ancient plant communities. If you’re looking for a unique textured-late summer blooming stalwart native perennial, Stiff Goldenrod is a good investment. 

(Jerusalem artichoke-Helianthus tuberosus, Full Sun-Part Sun, Very Moist-Moist, Naturalistic)

This is an interesting Sunflower for a few reasons. In naturalistic landscaping, when given ample moisture, it will produce a stunning display of large Sunflower-Yellow flowers born on 5’-9’ tall stems. Because of it’s potential height, and rhizomatous ways, it is best only used as a backdrop in limited quantity. The parade comes in Early-Mid September, attracting many pollinators, then American Goldfinches afterwards seeking out seeds. What also makes this Helianthus (Sunflower) intriguing is it’s edible tubers. When in a cultivating farm setting, studies have shown an acre planting will out produce an acre of potatoes. The edible nature of the native plant, has given it the alternate name of Indian Potato as Indians utilized the tubers as a food source.  I would suggest if you do fancy this beastly beauty enough to use it in a planting, to harvest and cook the tubers in the fall to keep the colonies under control. This helianthus is flood, and high moisture tolerant, but will not tolerate long periods of standing water. Full sun is ideal when given a monthly deep summer watering, but it is adaptable to drier conditions when properly planted in partial sun conditions. Riparian habitats, and depressions along with Northern and Eastern faced slopes /hillsides would be ideal depending on regional rainfall levels.

(Downy Wood Mint-Blephilia ciliata, Full Sun-Part Sun, Moist-Dry, Both)

A non fragrant member of the mint family, downy mint is highly attractive to the human eye as well as the tongues of insects. Downy Wood Mint serves as a nectar and pollen source for a most bees, flies, skippers, butterflies and other insects within it's native range. It occurs naturally as Far west as Eastern Kansas, as far south as Georgia and Alabama, as far as East as most of the East Coast, and North into Canada. Mammalian herbivores will rarely to never graze on this plant as they avoid the mint family in general. Downy Wood Mint will create circular clumps about 1-2' wide, and then extend flowering stems to a hight of 1-2' tall. In a formal landscape this can be used as a "mid ground" plant paired with an orange or yellow Late May/Early June blooming forb. Treat this plant like Catmint (Nepeta) in the landscape, cutting it back 2/3's after it's done blooming. In naturalistic design, it would be nice to incorporate forbs or grasses that mature to a height 3' or over by mid season allowing this mint to become an understory ground cover. Occurring in drier habitats it appreciates well drained soil with moderate to high sun exposure adapting well to lightly disturbed soils containing coarse materials like gravel , sand, and small rocks. Matching it with the native Coreopsis lanceolata in foreground is sure to give a great vibrant late spring contrast while providing a battleground for pollinators to compete. In prairie recreations, this Blephilia will persist in hotter, drier microhabitats of the East and Midwest. Within sandy mesic to dry hill prairies of the midwest they will also claim a niche and persist. However on moisture retentive, mesic (flat) soils that support tall grasses annually over 6' tall, Blephilia ciliata may be outcompeted. In general Downy Wood Mint is a good choice for most prairie recreations/constructions as they provide a valuable source of nectar and pollen early in the growing season. Lastly, Downy Wood Mint is very easy to propagate through stem cuttings, but be sure to use cuttings from different plants that you know aren't clones themselves to ensure good cross pollination ability.

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. We use goldenrod sparingly in our gardens as it tends to move about. We like to use stiff goldenrod in established gardens where boundaries are clear and he can't just go wherever he wants.

    As for Jerusalem artichoke, it is very invasive at least in our part of the midwest, Chicago. We don't use it urban or suburban gardens because it will squeeze out the other plants. In a wide open area or prairie, have at it.

    1. As with all uncultivated native plants they will reseed into open soil, basically they become a part of your weed maintenance in a formal landscape instead of other non-native weeds. I've used Jerusalem Artichoke as a back drops in limited quantity with success, spot spraying to control the spread of the colony is effective for control in the naturalistic design. Obviously it is incompatible with formal design.

  2. Thanks for all of this great information Solomon! I will be sure to incorporate as many of these as possible in my landscaping jobs:) Nice photos too!

    1. I am glad to hear this! Use google to find your local native plant nurseries.

  3. Replies
    1. Hey Nicholas, I checked out your blog and was very impressed I've got to catch up on reading your posts from this, an years past. Great work you're doing up north.

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  5. I have a bumper crop of Ohio Spiderwort here in New Jersey. Bees absolutely love it (it is like candy to them), but I find that the plant tends to fall over under its own weight and crush all of the emerging perennials I have in the foreground. Also it can tend to look a bit sloppy in an ornamental bed once bloom time is over. Still, it is so easy to grow and provides such a great pop of color.

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