Thursday, August 18, 2011

Native Plants - Little Gems

Ruellia humilis (Wild Petunia)
Don's been hard at work again, shooting some outstanding images of native plants from the garden, which is looking downright amazing right now.  I know a lot of folks struggle this time of year to have something interesting to look at in their gardens but mine little private paradise is positively bursting with beauty, from the giants (Vernonia missourica, Silphium perfoliatium and S. integrifolium, Helianthius giganteus and Rudbeckia laciniata, to name just a few!) to the tiniest gems tickling their feet.

Ruellia humilis (Wild Petunia) is such a gem, a delicate lavender flower, each of which lasts only one day.  I purchased these plants from my friend Trish last year and they did flower a bit, but only a few and always one at a time.  This year was a bit challenging, as my resident bunny (who may have moved on, but we're still not sure - he or she certainly did have an eclectic palate, and plenty of opportunity to try lots of tasty tidbits in my yard!) thought these were a nice salad green early in the year.  Maybe the rogue pruning did it some good because it is blooming like gangbusters right now, and has been for a few weeks.  This is a smallish plant, rather prone to the ground with flowering stems that do rise from the basal foliage.  As the flowers fade, they just fall off the plant, so it maintains a tidy appearance.  It looks great near my purply-green-foliaged short sedum and my Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium), making a nice contrast of glaucus foliage, even when most of the composition isn't even in flower.

 Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)
One of my goals in creating a haven of native plants has been to provide nectar and host plants for our butterflies.  Obviously, I'd love to have lots of the charismatic species coming through - the Monarchs and Swallowtails - but I'm also interested in providing for the less... prestigious species.  One such is the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis).  The larvae for this butterfly are pretty interesting - all spiky black and orange - and very messy - they weave little webby nests to protect themselves while feeding.  They also host on a range of plants, including Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta), Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium) and Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).  All are characterized by pale green foliage with lots of white fuzzy hairs but otherwise vary rather widely in habit - Pussytoes (perennial) is quite prone to the ground while Sweet Everlasting (annual or biennial) is quite tall as it matures, over 18 inches.  Pearly Everlasting (perennial) comes in right in the middle.  I received my colony of these plants from my friend Michelle Wysocki when I visited her earlier this year.  It's settled in very nicely in the ensuing months.  A word to the wise:  Although butterfly larvae may seem to decimate your plants, fear not:  They have evolved the ability to rebound completely after having been eaten to the ground!

Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens)
There is a subsection of my garden I refer to as my "Zoo Garden", an idea I've borrowed from my friend Trish.  She has a playhouse for her girls (now all grown up) on her property where she put in a garden of plants with animal names, many of which are actually native plants - Turtlehead (Chelone glabra), Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Dotted Horsemint (Monarda punctata), Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta); I used to have Goat's Rue (Tephrosia virginiana) and hope to have it again some day.  One of my favorites in my "zoo" is Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens), so called because the flowers look a bit like a monkey's face, or so I'm told.  This, like Turtlehead and Cardinal Flower (funny how that works), likes  it on the moister side, so I keep all of these guys on the side of my garden that does not get quite as much burning hot sun and, by keeping them all together, it's easier for me to water them when necessary.  Like the Wild Petunia, this plant went in last year, from a single pot I purchased from Val and her friends at the Wild Ones booth at the Marshall Area Garden Tour in 2010.  This Spring, when transplanting, I was able to divide that one clump into nine or ten individual plants, making a nice little mass in the garden.  The plant sends up tallish flower spikes which can flop a bit - but then seem to do OK with a bit of staking, if you're so inclined.  I'm hoping to be able to share in 2012 or '13!

Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa)
Finally, I wanted to share what is probably a plant oddity for most folks in this part of the country.  I know most of us associate cacti to the desert Southwest of North America, but there is a member of the cactus family native to the Upper Midwest, the Eastern Prickly Pear (Opuntia humifusa).  I received my first few pads from my friend (and former gardening associate) Andrew Lathrup.  For some reason, the squirrels thought they would be good to eat, or bury, or something, but would - shortly - decide such was not the case.  Meanwhile, the damage was pretty much done; maybe one little pad survived from that attempt.  I was able to augment the plant later that year with a gift from my friend Karen Bovio of Specialty Growers of Howell, Michigan.  As The plant grows, it sends out new pads, which include all of the thorns the mature pad will possess; in fact, it was difficult for me, at first, to tell what was a pad and not a flower bud.  Now, two years later, the cactus flowered for the first time with seven flowers, each of which did not last even a whole day.  They usually open in the late morning and are closing as the sun begins its decline.  This made it quite a challenge for Don to get a picture - lots of last-minute e-mails and phone calls on this one!  We finally got our selves coordinated and managed to capture the sixth flower.  This plant does bear edible fruit but I don't think any of mine were pollinated.  Maybe next year!

All photos by Don Schulte of Notable Greetings,

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