Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wildflower Wednesday: Spicebush

Lindera benzoin is one of the earliest blooming trees in my garden. I love how the sulphur yellow flowers  light up the dark corners of the woodland. It's a wonderful small understory tree and you'll find it on my list of perfect native plants that ought to be in more gardens.

What makes it a perfect plant?

It's easy peasy to grow. Spicebush's ideal habitat is a moist woodland with fertile, leaf covered soil in partial shade. You're more likely to see Spicebush growing in wooded bottom lands, low swamps, and also along streams in Eastern North America. But, don't let all the talk of moisture scare you off! Plant it in dappled shade, in good fertile soil that isn't xeric, mulch with leaf mold and it will flourish. Well established trees adjust to periods of drought in my garden just fine.

Spicebush near the Radnor Lake Visitor center
It's a good looking tree. Spicebush in bloom is especially lovely when the rest of your garden or the woodland is still brown. It's bright yellow flowers glow in the shade. Once the bloom is over the tree settles into its role as a host plant (see below). Come fall, Spicebush kicks back into gorgeousness when the leaves turn bright yellow.
You can't beat those bright yellow leaves

It has great wildlife value. The flowers are cross-pollinated by small bees, wasps, beetles and flies.
Early spring bloom draws a host of pollinator visitors
If pollinated the female plants form oval green drupes that ripen to a brilliant red in the fall and are eaten by dozens of different species of birds and small mammals. The drupes are high in the lipids and fats that migrating birds need to fuel their migration.~and not like the nutritionally worthless bush honeysuckles that have taken over our Middle Tennessee parks!
sexing the flowers~don't google that or you'll be in trouble!
Honestly, I had no drupes on my lone tree. Spicebush is "dioecious" which means that there are separate male and female plants, so, I planted two more last spring.
Let's hope that there is at least one male and female in the trio so those beautiful oval red drupes adorn the tree in September and make the birds and small mammals happy!

To continue shining the light on it's wildlife value, Lindera benzoin is the host plant for Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. I love when she stops by the garden! I love all the butterflies that visit, but this one is striking. It has a black body dotted with white and shiny blue or green wings, with blue between two rows of orange spots on the underside of the hind wings and the colors on the upper side of the hind wings have one row of white spots.
To summarize, Lindera benzoin ought to be in more gardens. It's easy to care for, good looking and has great wildlife value...Don't go looking for fancy cultivars, as far as I know there are none. Seriously, a tree like this doesn't need to be "improved", it's already perfect!

Happy Wildflower Wednesday.

The Particulars:
Common Name: spicebush
Deciduous shrub in the Laurel family
Native Range: Eastern United States (including Texas)
Zone: 4 to 9
Size:  6.00 to 12.00 feet tall by  6.00 to 12.00 feet wide (so far much smaller in my garden)
Blooms in March in Middle Tennessee
Flowers are a greenish yellow and the golden yellow fall coloring is outstanding
Will grow in full sun to part shade. I think it's happiest in dappled sun unless the soil is always moist.
Can tolerate deer, drought, heavy shade, clay soil~In other words it's happy at Clay and Limestone!

Thank you for stopping by and welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not; and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave a comment when you add your url to Mr Linky.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Winter annuals for a native plant garden!

Two of my favorites, Entireleaf Western Daisy and
Blue-eyed Mary are showing off their attractive rosette stage.  (A Passalong Plant:Blue-eyed Mary)

We have a tendency to think of winter as a dormant season with plants at rest, but there really is a great deal of growing going on all winter. Just take a walk in your garden and you'll see signs of active life! Mosses, fungi and lichens are alive and thriving and the weedy winter annuals are reminding you that weeding isn't too far away! (go toThe Fascinating World of Fungi for more on them)
Edible Auricularia auricula/Jelly Ear growing on dead hardwood branch (January)
The stars of this post, Blue-eyed Mary and Entire leaf Western Daisy have been germinating and developing underneath the leaf litter in my garden. They both are cool season growers, are tolerant of really cold weather (and snow) and, are excellent reseeders in most gardens. By the way, that's how other winter annuals like Chickweed, Henbit, etc. get a toe hold in our gardens.
Astranthium integrifolium/Entireleaf Western Daisy

Entireleaf Western Daisy starts blooming in April (and keeps on going most of the summer). Blue-eyed Mary is also an April bloomer, but, blooms only for about three weeks. If pollinated, they set seed that matures and drops onto the garden soil where it has several months of warm stratification (necessary) before it germinates. I find they both germinate best in situ and you need to be on top of  the BEM in order to  harvest ripe seed, (it needs to be planted immediately).

Here's what works for me: Place a soil filled container near them to catch falling seeds; leave the container in the garden until the following late winter or early spring and then plant those seedlings when the ground is no longer frozen. Repeat to increase your collection.

Collinsia verna/Blue-eyed Mary
The only problem with these wonderful winter annuals is that they they aren't generally available at nurseries. I suspect that seed collection is a big issue. They're also rather fragile, especially Blue-eyed Mary, and that's not an ideal selling point. I know that GroWild (call them) had a few Collinsia verna/Blue-eyed Mary for sale. When it comes to Astranthium integrifolium/Entireleaf Western Daisy, unless you know me and live in Middle Tennessee, you may be plumb out of luck trying to find it.

I am hopeful that there will be blooms to show you later this spring, in the mean time, here's a peek at what's to come.

Happy Spring my friends.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


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