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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: Trillium cuneatum

My garden has taken a beating the last two winters and it wasn't from the weather. It's been decimated by voles. Native wildflowers have disappeared. Gone are Trilliums, Erythronium albidum (white trout lily), Hepatica, Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman’s breeches), Camassias and several other ephemeral beauties.

Trillium cuneatum was one of the first native plants that I discovered when we moved here, so it was the first on my list to be replaced. The garden wouldn't be the same without that dramatic mottled foliage and those twirling sessile flowers!
Old stands of native ephemerals are precious and impossible to replace in a season
Finding replacement plants was not easy. Long time readers know buying local is important to me, but, when I couldn't find it at my favorite native plant nurseries, I had to go on the internet. Luckily, I found Trilliums for sale at Cottage Lake Gardens in Washington state. Susan Egan, the owner, shipped them bare root, wrapped in moss and ready to be planted. I couldn't be happier.
planted and mulched in shale and covered with a wire basket to protect from marauding squirrels
It's extremely frustrating to discover that a healthy practice I advocate~using leaf mold to mulch wildflowers~ was the very one that made it easy for voles to feast on the plant crowns, roots, and bulbs/rhizomes. I found their shallow runs when I pulled the mulch away to look for emerging plants. I was heartbroken to see depressions in the soil where my beautiful spring ephemerals ought to have been. Of course I did a mad search to see what other gardens were using to deter voles. I decided to use expanded shale/PermaTill in the bottom of the hole and also as a mulch. Voles have been described as a cross between a mouse and a mole. They're about five inches long and covered in brownish fur. The mole part of them makes them great diggers, but, they are supposed to dislike the rough shale and thus avoid the protected plants. I will let you know how well it works.
Not my garden
What better way to celebrate Trillium cuneatum's return to the garden, than to make it the star of March Wildflower Wednesday.

 Sweet Betsy can still be seen in remnant woodlands all over my neighborhood. Sixty or so years ago roads were bulldozed through farmland and forests west of Nashville to build one of the city's first planned communities for the growing post war population. Our little bit of the neighborhood with its shallow soil and exposed limestone bedrock had never been farmed, but, had been logged; what you see now is secondary growth with a few untouched areas in the hills and ridges surrounding us. The indigenous wildflowers~ False Soloman's Seal, Spring Beauties, Rue Anemone, Trout-lily, False Garlic, Blue-eyed Grass, Wild Sweet William and Sweet Betsy, have never  disappeared from roadsides and wooded lots. Each spring they delight residents with their arrival.
dark maroon sessile flowers above three broad mottled leaves

Long time readers might remember that I built this garden around those native beauties. The first spring in the house, I found Sweet Betsy in the wayback backyard and transplanted it to my new woodland garden. I remember carefully digging around it to get all the rhizome and roots and gently placing it in the garden. They survived and thrived despite my gardening ignorance.
It will be years before this one flowers
Trillium cuneatum typically flowers from early March to mid April. It can be found in rich, mostly upland woods, but, it is especially happy growing on Middle Tennessee's Ordovician limestone soils (neutral to basic soil). The two I transplanted multiplied to many. Trillium will be happy in your garden, if you give it a rich, moist soil, in shade, protect it from browsing critters and keep aggressive perennials from crowding it. They can live for a long time and usually do not flower until they are several years old. It's found growing across Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

seeds waiting to ripen and be harvested
It might be a few years before the new Trilliums will bloom, but this morning, I saw Trillium seedlings poking up. It looks like the ants did a great job on dispersing seeds before the voles ate the parent plants! Trillium is making a comeback! Hokey smokes, you know I was dancing in the garden.

Trillium cuneatum

Common Name: whip-poor-will flowerlarge toadshade, purple toadshade, and bloody butcher
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Melanthiacea, Little sweet Betsy falls within the sessile group
Flowering: flowers from early March to mid April. Showy, fragrant
Native Range: Southeastern United States
Zone: 5 to 8
Size: 1.00 to 1.50 feet tall and will spread to 1 foot
Bloom: Maroon to yellow to orange to reddish-green
Sun: Part shade to full shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Foliage: Colorful
Pollinators: produces pollen, but, I have never seen its pollinators! I assume Hymenoptera insects, including honey bees, bumblebees, and wasps visit the plant.
Propagation: Ants collect and disperse the seeds of Trillium spp. They're attracted to the elaiosome, which is a large, lipid-rich structure attached to the seeds. The ant dispersal process is known as Myrmecochory.  The ants take the seeds to their nest, where they eat the elaiosomes and put the seeds in their garbage (midden), where they can be protected until they germinate.Yellow jackets are also seed disperses.
Wildlife: Can be browsed by deer and roots and rhizomes can be eaten by voles.
Comments: Never pick flowers or leaves, you will lose your plant. Each plant in the genus Trillium features three leaves in a terminal whorl. A single flower emerges on a stem which is either peduncled (on a stalk) or sessile (stalk absent). Trillium cuneatum is a sessile form. It's the plant of the year at the Georgia Native Plant Society!

**You can search the internet for more information about controlling these little rodent thugs. I ask only that you never, ever, ever, use poisons to kill them! You don't want any roaming critters to eat a poisoned vole.

Happy Wildflower Wednesday,


Welcome to Clay and Limestone's wildflower celebration. Wildflower Wednesday is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. If you want to share a story about a dormant native wildflower, please do, after all, winter is a long season.  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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wildflower Wednesday: A Fine Native Hydrangea

It's hard for me to believe that I've never written about Hydrangea arborescens, it's my favorite hydrangea and the first shrub I planted in this garden 30 years ago. I first saw wild hydrangea while hiking a ridge not too far from my house and thought it was charming and just what was needed in my garden. It was clinging to the side of a slope and towering above it were hardwood trees like the ones at Clay and Limestone.
the sterile flowers stay attached after flowering has finished
Hydrangea arborescens, commonly known as smooth hydrangea or wild hydrangea is a gangly limbed deciduous shrub with large, opposite, toothed leaves and grayish stems. It is native to woodland slopes, hillsides and streambanks in the Eastern US from New York to Florida, west to Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana and as I shared earlier in middle Tennessee woodlands. Some maps show it growing as far west as New Mexico and Arizona, but, I can't corroborate that information. In warmer climates it's happiest in dappled shade with moist soil, but, it is tolerant of damp soil, dry soil and even rocky soil. The fact that it grows so well on slopes indicates to this gardener that drainage is important! So keep that in mind when you plant it. Adequate moisture is an ongoing issue in a middle Tennessee garden all summer long, be prepared to give this plant a big gulp of water every now and then, it can tolerate some dry spells, but don't expect it to flourish if it's dry all the time.
planted with Hypericum

Hydrangea arborescens is planted in three different beds. My favorite is the one planted with witch hazels, Hamamelis vernalis and a non native H x intermedia 'Diane'. Also in that section of the bed is a Fothergilla, Oakleaf hydreangea 'Ruby Slippers' and a cultivar H arborescens 'White Dome' they're underplanted with Seersucker sedges, camassias, ex-asters, Trilliums and Green and Gold.
Flat-topped clusters of white flowers (corymbs to 2-6”across) are produced in early summer.
What do I like about this hydrangea and why would I recommend it for your garden?

For lots of little reasons and for two big ones.
Dehiscent seed capsules ripen in October-November
First, I am wild about its "lacecap flowers". They're not as lacy as non native Hydrangea, but there's enough sterile flowers to make me smile. The flat topped clusters of creamy-white fertile and sterile flowers start out pale green and turn to a creamy white and eventually fading to brown in late summer.

The white flowers appear on tips of new growth, so you don't have to worry about winter's harsh blast killing the flower buds. Feel free to cut it back to control growth and encourage stronger stems in early spring.

It took me years to learn to appreciate winter browns, now that I do, I never want to cut back my garden until the very last minute in spring! Just look at what I would miss if I cut the stems of this Hydrangea to nubs in late fall!
nectar and pollen attract pollinators
The second reason I recommend wild hydrangea is for its wildlife value. Planting native plants that have high wildlife value is one of the guiding principles of this garden. Lots of plants are critter friendly, but some are absolutely better than others and those are the ones I plant.

Wild hydrangea has great wildlife value. It's a pollen and nectar source for pollinators and a host plant for two moths, Darapsa versicolor/Hydrangea Sphinx Moth and Olethreutes ferriferana/Hydrangea leaf-tier moth. I keep watching for them, but so far have missed their offspring and the moths.
bees across the flower making it hard to get them and the flower into focus
If you've ever watched a bee race over/work this flower you would guess it has a lot to offer. I love that little carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), Halictid bees, masked bees (Hylaeus spp.), miscellaneous wasps, mosquitoes, Syrphid flies, thick-headed flies, Muscid flies, dance flies (Empis spp.), tumbling flower beetles, and long-horned beetles (source) also visit the flowers.
Hydrangea arborescens 'White Dome'
Some gardeners think Smooth Hydrangea cultivars are more attractive than the species, they usually like the larger flower heads over the straight species, but, a big flowered cultivar like 'Annabelle' does nothing for me, nor does it look right in my woodland garden. But, if that's one you like go ahead a add it to your garden. If you can't find the straight species, you won't be disappointed with Hydrangea arborescens 'White Dome'. The flower head is also a "lacecap" shape with sterile and fertile flowers and it's equally attractive to pollinators.
 The yellow color of the wild hydrangeas are a perfect complement to the other fall tones
I think of Wild Hydrangea as offering year round appeal, except for very late in winter when I've cut the stems back. But, before long it's greening up and setting buds. The large serrated leaves and tall stems stand up straight and tall in my garden with flowers on every tip. As i shared earlier, they start out green, then they're turn a creamy white and once they're pollinated they fade to a sweet parchment color that lasts all winter.

Wild hydrangea has a nice yellow in the fall, that helps light up a dark corner in a woodland garden and acts as a supporting player to the more dramatic fall gold, reds and oranges. It looks charming with blues, even if it's only a container.
What do you think about its yellow leaves when planted with lilac ex-asters and the red leaves of a Japanese maple and Florida dogwood?

I love it.

Do give this native shrub a chance, it's really quite special.

It's a lovely, easy care,  year round pretty shrub.
It tolerates winter's cold blast.
It's a pollinator magnet and host plant.
It makes sense for a woodland garden.

The particulars

Common Name: smooth hydrangea, Wild hydrangea
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Hydrangeaceae
Native Range: Eastern United States from New York, into the mid-western states, south to Texas and Florida
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 3.00 to 5.00 feet, occasionally to ten feet
Spread: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Bloom Time: May/June to September
Flower: Flat-topped clusters (4 to 6 inches across) of small white flowers, larger sterile flowers may be present along edges of cluster, appearing in early summer. Flowers on new growth.
Fruit: Dry, light brown capsules appearing in early fall
Sun: Part shade, dappled sunlight, full sun with moist soil 
Water: Medium
Soil: clay soil, wet, dry, shallow and/or rocky soil. Acid to neutral ph.
Maintenance: Low, prune in late spring to control growth, can colonize
Suggested Use: Naturalize, Rain Garden, woodland garden, edge of woods, massing, stabilizing a hillside or slope.
Comments: Showy cultivars that I like 'Ryan Gainey' and 'White Dome', check to make sure you get a cultivar that is not just showy sterile flowers. There are two pink cultivars, but, I am not sure if they are just sterile flower heads. Its roots have been used for hundreds of years in folk and Native American medicine for the treatment of various ailments

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.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February Gardenbloggers' Bloom Day

There's not much showing in my garden right now. By not much, I mean any of my wildflower loves, but there are a few delightful non natives that have been in the garden since it's earliest days. Like the golden yellow daffodils that came with the yard. I've added more over the years and I'll have them in bloom until the temperatures soar into the 80s!

The rivers of Crocus tommasinianus that I planted every year have been eaten by hungry chipmunks and voles/mice. Mr I Don't Garden says I don't get to complain since I have invited wildlife into the garden. He's right, I do have a very welcoming sign posted in the front garden, but that doesn't mean, I want them to eat all my plants!

But, being a non-gardener, he doesn't understand how brokenhearted a gardener can feel when she waits all year to see crocus blooms on chilly winter days and instead of a river of the thousands she's planted there are less than a dozen. I know you all understand.
Did I say there were no native wildflowers blooming. How could I forget, Hamamelis vernalis! She's  still in bloom. I do love this beauty. It has the loveliest small orange/yellow/reddish crepe paper streaming petals that furl and unfurl as the temperature falls and rises. They perfume the garden with their sweet clove vanilla scent on warm days. I planted them for the earliest visiting pollinators and for that unforgettable fragrance. Once you smell them, you will, want them in your garden, too.

I love that not only do winter blooming shrubs and trees flower for months, they almost always have some fragrance. How clever of Mother Nature to give winter bloomers that something special to insure that a little fly, gnat or bee will follow the scent and pollinate the flower.
 Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane' is also in bloom. She's unfurled her spidery crepe paper petals like solar collectors. and they're in full sun receivership, waiting for any early pollinating visitors. Even the marcescence leaves do not detract from her red flowers against the nice blue winter sky. There's speculation that the leaves that cling (until after the last flower petal folds up for the season) actually help protect the blooms from foraging mammals, but, I wonder if they might protect the delicate looking flowers from the bitter cold winds that often arrive when they begin to bloom.

In a few weeks the earliest spring ephemerals will be shining heralds of spring's arrival and I will be back on GBBD to share them. In the meantime, head over to May Dreams Gardens to see lots of other posts celebrating blooms.


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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