The three species on sale this week share a lot of common characteristics: heights over 6 feet (S. uvedalia can actually grow up to 8 feet tall); production of abundant yellow flowers in late Summer; reputation for being aggressive; and lack of availability from most nurseries because of the latter reputation. (At my first Lewis Ginter Plant Sale a few years ago, a proprietor of a native plant nursery came up and said to me: “I never saw anyone try to sell that plant [Verbesina alternifolia] before.”)
So if you like a neat, static landscape, you can stop reading this week. But if you have a large area you would like to “naturalize” with native plants or would like to add some diversity to a meadow habitat, these species are definitely for you as well as for wildlife. Butterflies and bees love the flowers, birds and other wildlife eat the seeds, and solitary bees can find cozy winter homes in the stems. Although it is true that these species can spread rapidly by both seeds and by rhizomes, they are perfectly well-behaved in a meadow environment with competition from grasses, goldenrods, bonesets, New York ironweed, etc.
In addition to attractive flowers, these species offer some unique landscape features. Smallanthus uvedalia (Hairy leafcup) has huge maple-like leaves that give rise to the other common name of Bears-foot. The stems of Verbesina alternifolia (Wingstem) and Verbesina occidentalis (Yellow Crownbeard) have four vertical “wings” along the entire length of the stems.
These species thrive in partial sun (e.g. habitat along the edge of woods) with soils that are moist to average in moisture. In nature, they can also be found under powerlines and other sunnier, dry sites where the large leaves may get droopy on hot summer afternoons. But these are tough, resilient plants that bounce back quickly from unfavorable conditions.
While many asters are associated with bright sunny sites, there is a wonderful group of native, perennial asters that thrive in filtered sun with dry soils. Eurybia divaricata (white wood aster) has attractive heart-shaped leaves and delicate white flowers with yellow centers that peak in September. With its relatively low foliage and ability to spread from the roots, this plant can make a great deciduous groundcover for shady areas. Look for it along wooded trails in our local parks. Symphyotrichum cordifolium (blue wood aster) also has heart-shaped leaves at the base of the plant. But it grows a little taller than white wood aster; produces its blue/lavender flowers later (October/November); and forms clumps that do not spread as aggressively. Symphyotrichum undulatum (wavy-leaved aster) is quite similar to blue wood aster in flower color, blooming time, and plant height. The major difference is its very unique leaf shape that is similar to a spoon. The relatively wide leaf tapers down near its base but then widens again to clasp the stem. The wavy leaves also provide a little extra interest in the landscape when the plant is not blooming.
The white wood aster is likely to bloom this year and the other two species will definitely bloom this Fall. With their late flowering period, the blue wood aster and wavy-leaved aster are especially useful to pollinators that remain active into November. Like most asters, these species will do some volunteer seeding nearby. And who would not welcome more of these plants?!
Chapter I: A Non-native Invasive Plant is Biological Trash!
Today’s post is influenced by a combination of factors: frustration at the horticultural industry (nurseries, garden centers, landscape designers and architects) for continuing to propagate, sell and recommend non-native invasive plants; disbelief that the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services continues to allow the sale of non-native invasive plants that are on a list compiled by another state agency (Department of Conservation and Recreation) charged with protecting our natural resources; and pent up need to vent after months of watching the impacts of COVID-19.
Although I am not big on “marketing”, I do recognize that words can matter. So some years ago I was happy to start replacing the phrase “storm water” with the much more evocative phrase “polluted runoff”. It is a perfectly accurate term and gets the attention of the public in a way that storm water does not and provides an opening for some education.
In the same vein, I have started referring to non-native invasive plants as “biological trash” because it generates a sense of disgust that is not produced by saying “invasive plants”. No responsible person wants to be guilty of littering. So if people start viewing invasive plants as trash, I think they are more likely to stop planting them and will hopefully remove them.
The adjective “biological” may not be the best word because it requires a little explanation. But the major point is that invasive plants are much, much worse than typical trash that just sits there until someone picks it up or it gets washed down a storm drain. (For now, let’s not get into damage cause by the degradation of plastics into small ingestible particles and the giant garbage heap in the middle of the ocean.) Invasive plants are living organisms that multiply and disperse – sometimes quickly and widely. It’s this ability to reproduce that allows invasive plants to degrade large swaths of native habitat – an impact which dwarfs a bag full of fast-food remains along the side of the road or a tire discarded in the woods. We will have turned the corner when a majority of people view invasive plants with the same disdain reserved for a discarded diaper in a park. (Let me know if you think of a better word than biological.)
While frustrated, I do recognize that the situation has improved steadily over the last several years. The current efforts to get people to take personal responsibility for invasive plants is analogous to where Richmond was 20 years ago on scoop the poop. The fact that most people now clean up after their dogs is a source of hope that people will change behavior with some effective education. Personally, I would much rather rip out an invasive plant than pick up dog poo. Let’s keep the momentum going until Richmond has been cleaned of biological trash.
The bonesets are a diverse group of native plants that are generally 4 – 5 feet tall and produce generous clusters of small white flowers. Depending on the species, peak bloom is as early as July or as late as October. While the white flowers are not visually stunning to most humans, they are extremely attractive to insects. Like mountain mints, the bonesets support a very wide array of pollinators. The small flowers allow insects with shorter “tongues” to sip nectar and the wide clusters of flowers provide a convenient platform for butterflies to land and feed. Species of Eupatorium are an important component of meadows and “waste places”. One of the damp meadows where I collect seeds has a minimum of 6 different species and the late Summer landscape is dominated by their white flowers with insects buzzing around them. No naturalized area created with pollinators in mind should be without bonesets.
All of the bonesets on sale prefer partial to full sun. Eupatorium pubescens (Hairy Boneset) and Eupatorium saltuense (Pasture Boneset) are fine with moist or dry soils. Some sources suggest that Eupatorium serotinum (Late-flowering Boneset) prefers moist soils; but I see this plant growing in some of the harshest environments around Richmond. I think it would grow in a crack in the sidewalk. This species is also the tallest among the plants on sale – in an artificial landscape it can grow over 6 feet tall. Eupatorium pilosum (Rough Boneset) generally grows in moist soils and makes a great rain garden plant.
Now is the time to start planning Fall landscape projects and Reedy Creek Environmental will be providing a Conservation Landscaping Workshop on Saturday morning, July 28, to jumpstart the process. Details and registration for the workshop Please note advance registration is required.
In addition, a native plant sale will follow the workshop at Createspace from 12:30 – 2:00 pm. 50% of the proceeds from the plant sale will be split between Createspace and Richmond Food Not Bombs. This is an opportunity to support two fantastic local organizations; obtain native plants of local ecotype; and also get answers to questions you may have about plant selection.
Please share this information with friends and family with an interest in conservation landscaping.
Two native plants of local ecotype will be on sale at the Carytown Farmers Market on Sunday, July 1, from 11:00 am – 3:00 pm. Swamp milkweed, a plant for sunny to partly sunny locations will be sold in 3 – quart pots for $6 each and Spicebush, a shrub for shady to partly shady areas will be sold in small tree pots for $8 each. Spicebush was propagated from seeds collected in James River Park (under a strict collection permit) and swamp milkweed from seeds collected in eastern Henrico along the Chickahominy River. For more information about these two native species:
During the last week, I have been watching our American hazelnuts (Corylus americana) very closely because the male catkins have been rapidly elongating. Yesterday, I tapped one of the catkins which released a yellow puff of pollen. American hazelnuts are wind-pollinated and so the catkins should not be releasing pollen unless the female flowers are open. Sure enough, close inspection revealed quite a few tiny red female flowers. Spring is on the way!!
If you want to read more about my love affair with American hazelnuts, read the post I wrote for the Reedy Creek Coalition last year.
And of course, you can purchase your own American hazelnuts from Reedy Creek Environmental. I usually manage to beat the squirrels to a few nuts.
Second-year plants in 1.25 quart pots – 3 plants for $10
Limit of 3 plants of each species/customer (up to 9 plants total)
Our native Lobelias are a must for any native landscape. The tubular flowers are designed for hummingbirds, bumblebees, and other insects with long tongues. With bright red flowers, Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower) is an absolute magnet for hummingbirds. Lobelia puberula (downy lobelia) and Lobelia siphilitca (great blue lobelia) also attract hummingbirds; but have bluish-purple flowers.
All of these Lobelia species can flourish in a range of light conditions from full sun to partial shade; but they require moist soils. If you don’t have a moist area, supplemental watering can be minimized by choosing a site with a fair amount of shade and mulching the plants well. Lobelia siphilitica is the most shade-tolerant of the group.
Blooming time is slightly different for each species starting with great blue lobelia in the middle of the summer, cardinal flower in late summer, and downy lobelia in early fall. Plant all three species and the hummingbirds will be happy for months. If possible, plant these flowers where you can easily observe the activity they generate from inside the house.
I finally got around to some routine maintenance over the weekend and discovered about 20 pots of Elephantopus carolinianus plants that apparently thrive on benign neglect. These second-year plants are in absolutely beautiful shape with their large, lush green leaves. Get them in the ground soon and you will have distinctive pink/lavender flowers to enjoy toward the end of Summer. This plant will also do a little volunteer seeding without being a menace.
Elephantopus carolinianus is one of three species of “Elephant’s Foot” that occur in the Richmond area and this species prefers a relatively shady spot with moist soil. Here is a brief thumbnail sketch and picture of the flowers: http://www.pwconserve.org/plants/elephantsfoot.html
If you only have dry shade and want these flowers, do not despair. You just need to plant a different species – Elephantopus tomentosus. This plant will become available in about 6 weeks.