WILDFLOWERS PART #2 - BY GLADYS
Have you ever
tried to grow PUSSY TOES (Antennaria
plantaginifolia)? It is a grey, soft little plant that hugs the
ground. In spring they send
up flower stems about 4 inches that are white and fluffy over an
efficient structure of underground runners. For their size, in a good
dry spot the plants form a thick mat that is too low for a mower to
harm. Lawn “purists”
are not fond of them. I
have seen entire hills covered as a carpet crowding out the grass.
They are enlarging their territory in my gray garden near the
mailbox but they are easy to control with all their parts right at the
The name comes
from the fuzzy white flower head that “looks like kittens on their
back waving their toes”. I
generally cut the blossoms off but I do like the soft grey cover they
make with their leaves. Each plant is either a male or a female. Some
colonies will not have any male plants but the females produce seed
anyway. The seeds have a
filament that carries them to new territory.
Painted Lady Butterflies use them as food for their larvae. When
I want to move them I take a spade full of plants to where I want it.
The leaves have been used as tobacco and also mixed with it.
Sometimes is called “women’s tobacco”.
Aristata, called BLANKET
FLOWER or INDIAN BLANKET
is hardy in zones 2-8 and has been so hybridized and improved that many
no longer consider it a wild flower, but you will find it covering some
of the hills in Nebraska. I have several of the new ones growing in the
parkway including “Oranges and Lemons” and “Fanfare”. The clumps
get a little bigger and a little stronger each year, blooming from June
until November, ignoring dry soil, wind and bugs. There are a number of
cultivars, all of which favor bright red or yellow or both together.
I have read that it does not do well in damp and humid areas.
Some of the instructions I read say it must be divided every several
years to keep it healthy as its roots become overcrowded. The flowers
last a long time in a vase.
of which there are many different size plants from 6 inches to 6 feet,
are a hardy bunch and again they are a group that has had much work to
create new species. Many
years ago I bought a red and blue New
England ASTER plant
without checking their history. The plants grew to 6 feet tall and wide
so each year now I take a shovel full of each color and put it in a hot
dry area. Both June 1st
and July 1st last year I cut it back by about a third. They
both still grew to over 3 feet tall and wide, completely covered with
blooms until the middle of October.
The seed gets around too as I have several clumps in new places.
Have you seen the purple Asters the Lincoln Parks and Recreation
Department has in several places? They get up to 2 feet high and
probably are never watered, and that bright purple!!! There are ground
hugger Asters available with pale, dainty blooms. Since they bloom late
they are very popular with insects looking for nectar. There is a SWAMP
ASTER as well as a FROST
ASTER that I have never tried to grow. They are very competitive and
nothing will grow but Asters in one of the clumps.
There are over 200 species, all fall bloomers, so you should be
able to find one that fits your garden.
I usually wait until spring (they start early), dig up the clump,
and chop it into as many pieces that I can find room for.
The shorter ones can be left alone for several years.
One of the best
known wild flowers is probably the BLACK
EYED SUSAN (Rudbeckia hirta). It is a western native but has moved east. The
government recommended it to control erosion on hillsides.
It survives drought and in some states became survival food for
cattle and sheep because of its ability to grow in poor and dry soil.
It is listed as a biennial but after your first crop, if you let
it seed, will become a permanent part of your yard.
I have noticed that in dry years it does not get very tall and
has fewer blooms. They last
a long time in a vase. They
also dry well for winter bouquets.
There are many species of RUDBECKIAS,
some are annuals, some are biennials, and some are perennials.
Nurserymen have done a lot of work to add to the species so there
are a great variety of plants. One of my favorites is the GLORIOSA
DAISY with its sometimes double flower, sometimes variation in
colors of red and brown. Do you remember your grandmothers GOLDEN GLOW DAISY (Rudbeckia
laciniata)? They would be 6 to 8 feet tall usually planted against a
building. In home territory (it likes wet areas) it could be 12 feet
tall and a green center. The petals are strictly to attract pollinators
and have nothing to do with seed formation.
The seeds need a cold period in order to germinate so it works
well to plant them in the fall or put the seeds in the refrigerator for
the winter. You can
transplant a whole plant easily but it’s nearly impossible to divide
one because their root system is very expansive and the plant wants all
of them! Spider mites and aphids like them but I will probably always
have SUSAN in spite of them.
This year I am going to try the Gloriosa
Daisy, CHEROKEE SUNSET,
with double flowers with brown and red. The seeds are here since I
received my first catalog before Halloween.
The germination percentage is low so they sent me 2 packets and
they are in the refrigerator. I
will start them in February to get blooms next summer.
I have had them before and they are not good about surviving
winters in Nebraska.
Copyright Dec. 2006