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

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Weed In Your Lawn or A Gift In A Drought

Wild Petunia/Ruellia humilis is abloom in the midst of our hot, dry, drought ridden summer. The wonderful and amazing thing is that it's not just blooming, it's thriving and in the most inhospitable of all my gardening conditions~morning shade and blazing afternoon sun.
talk about inhospitable~it's growing up through a crack in the asphalt
It is one of a handful of nearly perfect drought tolerant native plants that are happy in a Middle Tennessee garden this long, hot, dry summer. The hairy stems and foliage are a natural defense against dry conditions. Can you say tough! This is one tough plant.
The nectar guides aren't showing, but the flower is perfect for pollinators
If you're lucky enough to have this cutie patootie in your garden, you may have noticed how very much it resembles ornamental petunia! Ruellia humilis is not a petunia. It's a native wildflower that looks its best in the hottest, driest spots in your garden. It's also, a perfect flower for Bumble Bees and other pollinators.

  • it's chock full of nectar,
  • has a tubular shape,
  • has a landing pad, 
  • is open during the day, 
  • is brightly colored, and 
  • just in case they are needed, it has the coolest nectar guides.
So,  you ask, "What does this fantastic wildflower have to do with weeds in a lawn?"


I'm glad you asked! While you and I see a blanket of lavender flowers humming with bee activity,  lawn aficionados often see wildflowers like Ruellia, Salvia lyrata and Western Daisy as weeds in their turf. Weeds that need to be stamped out in order to have a uniform green space.

I'm working hard to change this belief! I've been sharing information about the under appreciated beauties growing right under our noses with good friends and neighbors. I tell them that Wild Petunia loves the hot blazing sun and needs no special care all summer long; that the nectar rich flowers provide food for native pollinators from May through October; and, that they will never, ever, ever have to fertilize a lawn that is populated with wildflowers, native grasses and sedges.
Ruellia humilis with the pushy Susans

I remind them, ever so gently, that native wildflowers like Wild Petunia and other pretties, are built for our climate and can survive better than ornamentals and other non-native plants.  I show them how beautiful they look in the perennial border and how nicely they play with the intense orange of Asclepias tuberosa, the lavender pinks of the Echinaceas and that they are never mown over by Practically Perfect Pink Phlox Pilosa's exuberance.
After that, it's up to them to decide if it's a weed in their lawn/garden or a gift in a drought.

xoxogail

The facts: Zone 4 to 8; Dry, sunny areas; sprawling growth, will grow in  rock gardens, containers, borders, lawns; Pollinator magnet (Bees and Hummers) and host to Buckeye Butterfly caterpillar;  native to most states East of the Rockies

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.

30 comments:

  1. I cannot believe they are wild..bu then again all cultivars come form these hardy ancestors....beautiful..Do you know where the elephant sanctuary is in Hoenwald? Im too hot in zone 9...

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  2. I need this one, Gail! Must seek it out. Does it need alkaline soil? Thanks once again for introducing us to these wonderful tough guys!
    xoxoxo
    Frances

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    1. Frances, I don't know~I will keep checking.

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  3. I want this. I think it would look great in the lawn in my back yard and anywhere else it wants to grow.

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  4. I planted some when Prairie Moon Nursery had there latest container sale. Along with Compass plant, Ironweed, and Baptisia. I am amazed how well they are doing as I planted them in middle July during 100 degree heat and they don't even wilt. Looking forward for them to mature.

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    1. High praise indeed for a plant...You will love it.

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  5. I wish I had these 'weeds'! All I've got in my lawn are spurge, crabgrass and purslane. And those are DEFINITELY weeds! ;-)

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  6. I can very well relate to that as we have the Ruellia tuberosa along the barangay roads. It almost looks like that but maybe more blue. I also posted a lot of it last year, yes it also withstand long dry season here in the tropics. But i wouldn't want it in the garden as it is very invasive, a lot of small seeds dispersed in a short time. The area near us has been invaded in just 2 years! But i agree it is really beautiful. I searched for my old post and found it was my first linked post to Wildflower Wednesday. You actually mentioned R humilis to be related: http://abagillon.blogspot.com/2011/11/blooming-roadsides.html

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  7. I am not at all familiar with this Ruellia and am glad you posted about it. It could be that I just never paid it any attention. I grow R. brittoniana and I know it can be quite weedy here. I went by a garden today that was once very well tended and quite diverse. I think the owner has passed away, but R. brittoniana lives on and is quickly claiming more real estate.

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  8. This I have never seen. It looks like a keeper to me.

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  9. Hmmmm...beautiful plant and a great choice for a hot, dry garden!

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  10. This was growing in my father-in-law's pasture and I thought it beautiful so I brought some home and planted it in my berm. I lived to regret it and I am still pulling it up 5 years later. I would love it if I had a meadow but it completely took over my berm and my yard. I live in Jackson TN and it was all too happy here. I am glad to know it's name now as I have just been calling it PawPaw's plant.

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  11. Beautiful flower - wildflowers are so important for our insects, it's good to see them getting acknowledged as beautiful too! x

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  12. What a pretty 'weed'! I've never seen this one before, despite having a haven for weeds in my yard :) Very pretty!

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  13. sadly this is not native to NY but I have always loved it. It reminds me of the violets that grace our gardens and lawns all spring but to many they are weeds. How lucky your neighbors are....mine do not understand why I will not fertilize the lawn as they spray and spray...But I will keep my wildflowers.

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  14. Lovely post Gail and I would gladly add your wild petunia to grow with the bishop's weed (which does not do well in dryer times) horridly growing here. It will be interesting to see who wins out with our warmer and dryer summers.

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  15. Since we haven't had to mow in weeks due to the drought, I have lots of interesting weeds, er, wildflowers growing in my lawn, too. I would gladly trade my crabgrass for this lovely wild petunia!

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  16. Very pretty, I am not sure if we have any around here. Would sure love it!

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  17. I have daisies and summer dandelions in my lawn - a hawkweed or two - but no wild petunias. They are lovely.

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  18. Gail I live in W Tenn on a shady dry hill with clay dirt too. These little wild petunias grow all in my back yard everywhere in partial sun and shade. You are right as they are very tough. Tell Frances that my soil is acid but I figure they would grow in alkaline soil too.

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  19. Wow lucky you...so pretty. I would have to dig them up or hubby would mow them down.

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  20. i love this being as i am partial to purples and lavender. did you plant this or did it just appear in your garden? i would love to plant this...where can i get this ? i have taken out a lot of lawn in favour of natives and ground covers that do well in our climate. i really need to visit your garden...it seems silly that i haven't since i live so close.

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    1. It's naturally occurring in Middle Tennessee and grows all over my neighborhood. I wonder if it's not out on the side of the road in Leiper's Fork. Let me know if you can't find it. gail

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  21. Personally, when I see flowers in a lawn, I just rename the lawn to a 'meadow'! I'd much rather have a meadow, and with this summer's heat, anything that is still managing to bloom, without being babied, is welcome!

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  22. Lovely post, Gail! Having "weeds" as pretty as these will hopefully help you get some buy-in from the neighbors. :-)

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  23. Having failed to grow from seed Impatiens capensis, I'm now trying the Ruellia, it's still chilling in the refrigerator. I hope it is easier. I would so love to grow it. Of course most of the cool native flowers live on the eastern half of the USA, so I don't know if I can count on it here. Sigh. I do have little lawn daisies here, as well as Self-Heal, Prunella.

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  24. Hi Gail! We've never had them run rampant like your photos, but the wild petunia gets really rangy and tall if allowed to be in a flower bed. (In fact, it takes over and crowds everyone else out... so I pulled mine last year. I hope that wasn't a mistake!)

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  25. I think I've made peace with them here by cutting them back to the ground after they're done blooming to prevent so much seeding. They self-seed too aggressively here! Cutting them back made them look better too. They get SO tall here, and then start flopping all over the place. Even before I cut them back for the first time this year, they just seem to bloom in late spring to early summer, and then just add some green to the landscape after that. We'll see next spring if cutting them back helps with their aggressive seeding. I wouldn't mind them in the lawn, but the Lawn Man wouldn't like it!

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Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
they are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.


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