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

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Are you ready for the hummingbirds?

Trumpet honeysuckle and Eastern Columbine have bloomed just in time for migrating Ruby Throated Hummers and that's no coincidence. Hummingbirds and certain flowers have coadapted over millions of years to form a mutually beneficial relationship. Hummingbirds migrate thousands of miles annually and they're movement north typically coincides with the blooming of these preferred flowers.
Check out the map below to get a sense of the magnitude of their migration north and you'll understand why they need nectar rich flowers all along the route. By the time they reach our gardens they are hungry and searching for food. 

Hummers hover below these flowers to feed on nectar

 The red tubular and trumpet-shaped flowers of both columbines and trumpet honeysuckles hold more nectar than other flowers and are irresistible to hummingbirds. Their coadapted/mutually beneficial relationship is pretty cool. The long bill and tongue of these hummers fits into the throat of preferred flowers like columbines and trumpet honeysuckle flowers to easily reach the nectar, and while feeding, grains of pollen spill onto the head of the bird and is carried to other Columbines and Trumpet honeysuckle.

It's a marvelous dance that happens in gardens all over the Eastern United States and it's show time in Middle Tennessee.
'Cedar Lane' Trumpet honeysuckle/Lonicera sempervirens
It's not difficult to attract migrating RTH to your Middle Tennessee garden. Like all bird visitors and residents they need food, shelter, water, nesting sites and perching sites.
Columbine/Aquilegia canadensi
Just plant more flowers and shrubs with nectar bearing flowers. The following is a list of plants that you might consider adding to the garden.

red buckeye 
trumpet creeper 
red morning-glory 
wild bergamot/bee- balm  
trumpet (or coral) honeysuckle
cardinal flower 
royal catchfly and  round-leaved catchfly 
four o’clock (e)
salvia and scarlet sage

 There may not be as many nectar sources available with this crazy up and down spring we've had, so please consider hanging feeders. It's fun to watch the hummers up close and it's an easy way to supplement their nectar needs. You don't have to buy nectar, make your own, it's just sugar and water! There are recipes on the internet. Do not use the red dyed syrups.

this source/link will take you to the website
Have fun and remember this please! Never, ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides. I mean that now! Never. You really do want insects in your garden. Insects are a primary food of most birds, including hummingbirds.


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, March 29, 2017

Botany Vocabulary Word of the Day

Ephemeral: short lived

Cardamine concatenata
Spring in Middle Tennessee might be its best season. Beautiful ephemeral wildflowers begin emerging from the leaf litter in February. Trillium, Spring beauty, Toothworts, False Rue anemone, Rue anemone, Dutchman's Breeches, Troutlily, Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), Virginia Bluebells and Hepatica are a few of the ephemerals that can be seen in nearby parks and woodlands.

Found throughout the eastern United States and Canada, spring ephemerals thrive on the floor of rich, undisturbed woodlands. They are also very happy in the right garden setting. Most plants are available from brick and mortar native plant nurseries and the internet, so please don't dig them from woodlands, leave them for other critters to enjoy.
The solitary bee, Andrena erigeniae  specializes on Spring Beauties/Claytonia virginica

These remarkable and fragile beauties emerge early each spring, taking advantage of the rich, moist soil and full sunlight streaming through the bare branches of the deciduous trees. In the short period of time before the tree canopy emerges and blocks the sunlight they must grow, leaf-out, flower, be pollinated and produce seeds. This is called the epigeous or above ground growth phase. Once they fade they enter the hypogeous, or below ground growth phase when roots and buds are busy developing.

Freezes and frosts don't faze them. They grow very low to the sun warmed soil and some, even have hairy leaves/stems or leaves that wrap around the emerging buds, trapping warm air that keeps them from freezing.
 Enemion biternatum/False Rue anemone
They're a vital food source for pollinators at a time when there is little food available. Honeybees, bumbles, carpenter bees, flies and beetles seek out their pollen and/or nectar and ants feed on the elaiosome that surrounds some seeds. Their thick, fleshy, nutrient and carbohydrate rich corms, roots and tubers are especially attractive to white footed mice, chipmunks and voles.

So get out there and enjoy them while you can! It's already getting warm in Nashville and they'll be retreating underground before you know it.


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, 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.


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