WILDFLOWERS PART #1 - BY GLADYS
What is a
wildflower? One definition I found is “plants that have the capacity
to make it on their own without human assistance.” Some people think
of wildflowers as native to an area. All of them probably at one time or another were wildflowers,
or their ancestors were. People
have found these plants may or may not have any “useful” purpose,
except for the pleasure of seeing them grow to bloom. As you can see
there are many definitions of wildflowers.
there such a thing as a “tame” flower? If one can buy seeds or
plants from a catalog or nursery does this make it lose its title as
wildflower? Any flower is a native somewhere. Who sorts the wildflowers
from the flowering weeds? Or is it as simple as, “If I like it, it is
a wildflower, and if I don’t, it is a weed”?
tuberosa) is a good example of this.
Farmers try to keep it out of their fields but it has a very deep
root that can find and use water their crops cannot.
There are a number of milkweeds, including the SWAMP
MILKWEED that loves wet areas.
Its blooms are pink and can grow five feet height.
The entire family produces seed pods that are fun for kids to
play with as baby cribs (and baby) before they are mature and then as
parachutes to blow away. The
plants have been called WILD
COTTON. The early settlers used the fluff in pillows and mattresses.
During World War II it was used in life preservers.
It is also
known as pleurisy
root as the Indians used it to treat pleurisy and rheumatism.
Its juice is very bitter and toxic and was used to induce
vomiting and used in wounds to stop bleeding. The Monarch Butterfly
larvae, which eat its leaves, are avoided by birds. They will never eat
a second one as they have been seen to vomit for several hours after the
first one. A number of butterflies beside Monarchs love the flowers for
the nectar which does not contain cardiac glycosides.
find them hard to grow. They
resent transplanting so start with a very small plant or plant seeds. I
find it easier to plant in the fall by dropping the seeds and stepping
on them so they won’t be covered deeply, and then mark the spot.
They are not the first plants to come up so be sure and mark the
spot. Freezing and thawing seems to help them germinate.
As with many new plants they need moisture to get started but
then survive well in a hot and dry area.
The plants get about 2 feet tall and wide and nothing can beat
that bright orange color. If
nothing else plant them for the butterflies.
(Aruncus dioicus) is a
perennial that does best in some shade, likes moisture, whose blooms do
look like a beard. It can
get to 4 feet when in bloom. Some plants are male and some female, both
of which have white soft beards with each seed flume (beard) up to 18
inches long. If you have only one plant you will not be bothered by
seeds. There is a dwarf
form but I like the tall one. It blooms at the same time as the giant,
purple alliums in my favorite corner for about 2 weeks.
The root can be divided in the spring.
This is recommended to keep the plants in good condition.
The leaves are dense, deep green and compound, making a neat
background for shorter plants.
There are a
number of anemones
named as wildflowers but the one I have is the WOOD
or WIND ANEMONE (Anemone quinquefolia). The Greek word for wind is anemos and
quinquefolia means five leaves. The
leaves are deeply cut, each without its own stem, coming directly from
the main stalk. The flowers
are single and white but the plant soon spreads into a colony in partial
shade in early spring. They
can crowd out less hearty plants in a few years making a white patch
between 6 and 12 inches high.
GINGER has a similar plan for spreading its plants.
Ancient people used the plant for “headaches, gout, leprosy,
sore eyes, and ulcers”. However I don’t plan on making any
“medicine” as they are also listed as somewhat poisonous. The patch
I planted is under the cottonwood under the outer shade of the lowest
branches. The ant’s
garden can be found several places each spring but they are easy to hoe.
A superior ground cover for shady places!!!.
STAR (Dodecatheon media)
is a neat little shady plant. I have had only 2 or 3 for a number of
years without expanding numbers. This way I have to keep an area around
them bare as they are only about 12 inches high and as wide.
They droop badly if they get dry and go dormant early in a hot
spring. Mine are white but
there are lavender ones. They
do have a sharp pointed tip with petals streaming behind as though in
flight at all times. They go dormant after blooming and this will vary on the type
of spring we are having. They
don’t like hot or dry. In “TIMES
WILDFLOWER GARDENING Book they describe the flowers: “The flower
petals sweep backward, exposing beaklike anthers which look as though
they are plummeting earthward.” They have also been called the mad
violet, mosquito bill, bird bill, and prairie pointer.
If you hunt you can sometimes find started plants in the spring
but mark their spot. Seeds
are not reliable as the germination rate maybe below 10%.
Next week I
will have more on wildflowers in Part #2. In the meantime keep warm,
take care of those houseplants, and if we have a warm spell make sure
your garden is cleaned up so you don’t overwinter bugs and diseases on
old plant material.