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

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Wildflower Wednesday: Rudbeckia triloba

The Susans are summer sizzling beauties and if you've heard me say this once, you've probably heard me say it a dozen times: I cannot imagine gardening without them.  In fact, I can't imagine gardening without the Rudbeckia family of beauties. When you garden in the middle south you learn to plant and appreciate these rough and tumble golden yellow beauties. Especially in our hot and dry summers. The yellow composites keep this garden floriferous when the Phloxes are beginning to look puny, the Joes have faded and the ex-asters haven't broken into song. All with their golden yellow flowers are must haves in the middle to deep south in our blazing sun. They don't fade or melt in the intense sunlight.**

 I didn't need to learn to appreciate yellow or the Rudbeckias. I am crazy about the entire genus! They're my go to late summer flowers. They're reliable, easy to grow, low maintenance and with the many different species to choose from, you can have flowers from June to frost. 

Growing in a container

One of my favorites in this delightful clan is our Wildflower Wednesday star, Rudbeckia triloba. Rudbeckia triloba also known as the brown eyed or brown-eyed Susan, thin-leaved coneflower or three-leaved coneflower is a species of flowering plant in the family Asteraceae, native to the Central and Eastern United States. It is often seen in old fields or along roadsides. It's been in my garden since, well, forever, most likely transpooped by a visiting bird. While it is a short lived perennial, it never fails to reseed, sometimes in the perfect spot (like the first photo in this post). It's anywhere from 2 to 3 foot tall/wide to 4 to 5 foot wide/tall.  It's happiest in full sun and moist well drained soil (so many things are).  

smaller plant in dry full sun

Brown eyed Susan is an easy peasy plant to grow. Just scatter seeds and voila... To encourage more blooms deadhead the flowers. I let the seeds fall where ever and transplant them while small.  Songbirds, especially American Goldfinches, eat the seeds in the fall, so, I don't deadhead them. The Rudbeckia triloba  flower is smaller with fewer petals than either R hirta or R fulgida. The bushy plants are more floriferous than all the Rudbeckia.Which is a fabulous gift in late summer before the ex-asters bloom.



Another difference is in the leaves. They have 3 lobes and a rosette of leaves that originate at the base of the stem and persists through the winter, creating an attractive winter ground cover. 


Brown eyed Susan, partridge pea, milkweed and frostweed

 Why plant this beauty?

  • It's easy peasy
  • great wildlife value
  • fills the space it's planted in
  • golden color in late summer with cool purplish stems
  • color does not fade in sunlight, especially intense summer sun
  • rosette of leaves in winter
  • plays well with other wildflowers
  • untouched by deer
  • floriferous and will rebloom when deadheaded 
  • self shows
  • transplants easily
  • Can survive some drought


Look at that list of positives! I am always shocked when I hear gardeners pooh pooh yellow composites. These are mainstays in my garden. One of my favorite English garden designers, Carol Klein, had this to say in an article about growing Rudbeckias: "Some gardeners are snooty about yellow. I used to be one of them." Here's another tidbit from the UK: Rudbeckia triloba has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. I love when our plants get raves across the pond! 

As I said earlier..."golden yellow flowers are must haves in the middle to deep south in our blazing sun. They don't fade or melt in the intense sunlight." 

The Particulars

Family: Asteraceae

Rudbeckia triloba 

Common Names: Brown Eyed Susan

Habitat: Rudbeckia triloba occurs from Vermont to Florida and west to Minnesota, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah and Texas.    This species is indigenous to Blackland prairies, savannas, thickets, woodland edges and clearings, edges of fens, creek and river banks, disturbed prairie remnants, abandoned fields, roadsides and railroad right-of-ways.  Plants occur in high quality natural areas but are found more often in disturbed sites. (New Moon Nursery) 

Height: 2-5 ft 

Spread: 2-3 ft 

Spacing: 3 ft 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-8

Maintenance: Prefers moist well drained soil, but can deal with drought once established

Bloom Color: Yellow with  brown cone

Comments: This is a fabulous plant for naturalizing in a meadow, or wildflower garden. Deadhead to keep it blooming. Leave some seeds for the birds.

Wildlife Value: Attracts bees, butterflies, and other pollinators with nectar and pollen in the blooms. This is a larval host plant for Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) caterpillars which have one brood in the north and two broods from May-September in the rest of its range. This plant also supports Wavy-lined Emerald (Synchlora aerata) larvae. The adults feed on nectar from red clover, common milkweed, and dogbane. Songbirds, especially American Goldfinches, eat the seeds in the fall.

My friends, please embrace R triloba. You won't be sorry, you'll have fabulous golden color in the late summer. Let it naturalize to create a mass planting that will delight you and the critters until frost. 


It plays well with other wildflowers


 **Let's talk about sun light for a bit. Our sun isn't brighter in the south, it just feels that way because the angle of the sun strikes the earth more directly here (and other southern cities) than cities in the north. The closer you get to the Equator the more directly the sun strikes the earth.  I think this affects how we experience colors and frankly, we need intense colors to deal with the sun light.

 Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. I am so glad you stopped by. 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 and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave your url when you comment. I love your comments, so thank you for leaving them.

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, July 27, 2022

Wildflower Wednesday: Clematis viorna

I love Clematis and when I discovered that there were native Clemmies I had to have one or two or more. So far I've planted three in my garden: Clematis virginiana, C pitcheri and C viorna. I wasn't surprised to find out that like other Clematis they can be placed in groups that determine how and when to prune. Clematis viorna is our star and it fits in group 3, which means it blooms on new growth and you need to give it a hard pruning in late winter. Be sure you've harvested seeds or enjoyed their frothy fall look before pruning.

But, I digress, let's start with getting you acquainted with this delightful herbacious vine native to rich wooded banks and thickets throughout the north, central and eastern United States.

Clematis viorna has many common names, but the one I am most familiar with is Leatherleaf. It's a delicate looking vine given to irregular branching that will scramble across the woodland floor looking for someplace to climb. Expect it to reach ten to twelve feet in your garden when given a sturdy structure. "The scattered 1 inch flowers are mostly solitary at a branch tip or a leaf axil. Each is purple-rose in color, the usually 4 sepals (no petals) being very thick and fleshy (leathery) with the shape of the flower being a "closed-looking" vase or urn with slightly turned up sepal tips, usually facing downward." The tips are creamy white. (source)

Photo by Fritz Flohr Reynolds

One of the many characteristics that I love about Leatherleaf is its long bloom time. The first bloom at Clay and Limestone was May 26 and it still has buds today. That's three months of charming flowers, cool buds and delicate twining stems.

last week in July 2022

 It climbs by twining petioles/leaf stalks, so give it a structure or even a shrub to climb on that will accommodate its mature growth. The flowers attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies and then mature to become beautiful, dramatic seed heads for birds to enjoy. The achenes with their feathery tails extend the attractiveness of the vine into the fall, so hard prune it once the seeds have been collected, eaten or wind dispersed. (source)

Seeds starting to feather fluff up which helps the wind disperse them

It's happily growing in a large container in morning sun where I can see it every day and keep it well watered. It likes moist, rich soil that is well-drained. Clematis viorna is a classic woodland plant and would have gotten lost in my habitat of rough and tumble wildflowers which I manage by letting them go to battle for garden dominance. Also, it needs to be watered regularly in what has turned out to be a brutal summer of drought and heat.

I plan to collect and sow seeds, eventually planting them among the smooth Hydrangeas and Hamamelis vernalis.  I think it will look smashing scrambling along the ground and eventually climbing into the shrub's branches. Planted in that bed assures that this delicate Clemmie will get the filtered sunlight and moist soil that makes it happy. 

I sure hope you give this sweet Clematis a try. It's worth the hassle of trying to locate one online! Nashvillians try GroWild. While you are looking try a few other native Clemmies. Thanks for stopping by.


 The Particulars

Scientific Name: Clematis viorna L.
Common Names: Leatherflower, Vasevine, Northern Leatherflower
Family Name: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)
Plant Type:  A small, mostly non-woody, herbaceous perennial vine.
Light Requirement: Full sun, Partial/sunny, Partial/shady
Bloom Times: May, Jun, Jul, Aug
Flowers (or reproductive structures): Single, bell-shaped, perfect flowers 1" across by 2" long, in various shades of pink, violet to dull purple, with thick, fleshy, reflexed, petal-like sepals (no petals), creamy white interior. 
Flower Color: Pink/rose
Soil Conditions: Moist, well-drained soil with a neutral to a slightly alkaline pH. 
Fruit: Large seed head with many individual seeds, each seed attached to a fuzzy plume of a tail for wind distribution. 

Natural Distribution: rich woods, thickets 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4 to 9 
Comments: Great for naturalizing, meadows. Showy fruit, with great fall interest
Wildlife value: Bumblebees pollinate the flowers. Other insects (thrips, midges) feed destructively on the flowers. Butterfly, moth and fly larvae feed on the foliage and stems. The foliage is probably poisonous to mammalian herbivores. All Clematis provide useful cover and nesting habitat for many songbirds in open wooded areas.  Attracts bees, Attracts Hummingbirds, Attracts birds, Showy fruit, 
Pharmacology: All parts of this plant are toxic, causing internal bleeding of the digestive tract if ingested in large amounts. Foliage has bitter taste and is therefore safe from pets. It is also reported to be deer resistant.  
Propagation: From seed/Achene (dry, flat seed, in this case dark brown) or, by semi-hardwood cuttings, or by layering.     

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, June 22, 2022

Wildflower Wednesday: June Blooms and Their Pollinator Visitors

  I appreciate all the pollinators at Clay and Limestone, but, my favorite has always been Bumbles.

We moved into this house in early fall 3 dozen years ago. The yard was a mess and there were no real garden beds, but the Summer Phlox and blue wood aster were still blooming. I was captivated by the Bumbles who were actively working the flowers as much as I was by the flowers. Those bumbles stole my heart. Over the years I noticed how hard they worked in the garden. They were the first pollinators up and about each morning and the last to leave each night. I found them sleeping on flowers on cool mornings and watched them nectaring and gathering pollen on the last of the latest blooming ex-asters in November. They were a joy to watch and I wanted to learn all about them. (from earlier post) 

Many years later and Bumbles still make me smile, but, so do a dozen other pollinators. To celebrate June Wildflower Wednesday and Pollinator Week here are more wildflowers and their pollinator visitors.

Phlox paniculata and a Carpenter bee


 Although, Bumbles are hard workers, they are not the only active garden visitors. When the Bumbles are slow to arrive Eastern Carpenter bees are out and about visiting some of the earlier flowers.  They are generalist foragers and are known to pollinate garden crops and garden plants. Who could not love these giant beauties. The menacing/dive bombing carpenter bee you encounter is only protecting a nest. It's a male drone and he's all buzz and no sting! In the photo above you can see them "nectar robbing" Phlox.

The first Phloxes in this garden were here when I arrived. They were the offspring of whatever the previous gardeners might have planted 30+ years ago and were all wonderful magenta flowered beauties. They are still here, well, the offspring of the offspring are still here and after years of letting species and cultivars go to seed, real treasures have been produced in the crossings of the crossings.

 Butterflies, moths (including Hummingbird and Sphinx moths) and skippers are the primary pollinators of phlox. Their proboscis are long enough to reach the nectar at the base of the narrow phlox corolla and pollen is carried to the next flower. In fact, Phlox has all the characteristics of a classic butterfly nectar flower.

  • clustered flowers with a landing platform
  • brightly colored
  • open during the day
  • ample nectar producer 
  • nectar deeply hidden in corolla

 Silvery Checkerspot on Gloriosa Daisy. 


The Gloriosas have most of the characteristics of their Rudbeckia hirta parent, except the flowers are three times as large and their colors are mixtures of pure yellow or bicolored, many with dark mahogany red splotches at the base of the petals. Yes, I do love the many colorful varieties and  the big flowers, but I also love that they're all rough and tumble flowers that can take the heat and humidity of our Middle South summers and continue to bloom until frost (deadhead them).  Gloriosa Daisies do very well.  

Butterflies, bees of all sizes, wasps, beetles and even little loper caterpillars rely on the many Susans for food, and shelter.  Plant them in your garden and sit back and watch the pollinators. I've already seen small Carpenter Bees, Green Metallic bees, Bumbles and skippers visiting the flowers to feed and/or gather pollen.  Above photo: Silvery checkerspots which can be seen in meadows and forest openings.

  Partridge Pea  and Bumbles

First, cool thing: Those cool flowers, that the bumbles make a mad dash for every morning, have no nectar, only pollen. The bees are attracted to the food pollen on the purple anthers, and get dusted with the reproductive pollen from the yellow anthers. Nature is amazing and plant reproduction is so cool. Second, cool thing: Partridge Peas are not nectarless. Nectar is produced at the base of the leaf in tiny, reddish-orange glands called nectares. Ants visit them regularly. Third cool thing: These are annuals and they will always be in your garden because they seed about so beautifully. Fourth cool thing: They're the larval host for  Cloudless giant sulphur, Orange sulphur, Sleepy orange butterflies. See photo of Sulphur on Coneflower later in post.

 Mountain Mint and a fly

 The flowers of Pycnanthemum muticum might be small, but they are mighty!

The researchers at Penn State's The Pollinator Trial  found that Clustered Mountain Mint was the best plant for flowering longevity; for pollinator visitor diversity; for sheer number of insect visitors (78); and, for sheer number of bee and syrphid visitors. 

...and yes, it's a mint so be prepared for it to move across your garden!


Ruellia strepens and a butterfly


Much to my sorrow, I have never, ever seen pollinators on a blooming flower, but, I've read that long tongued bees, miner bees, carpenter bees and parasitic bees are its primary pollinators. Apparently, fertilization has been very successful in my garden, because the progeny is all over. Maybe, the pollinators are sneaking visits when I am inside. But, it's more likely as Researchers at a college in Missouri, discovered: flowers of R strepens open during the early morning dark hours, allowing pollination by moth species. That's good to know. According to another source the lavender-blue trumpets attract hummingbirds and butterflies, too. Here's a link to a site with a bee foraging on the flower! Let me tell you, I was thrilled to find it!


Asclepias speciosa bumble and Eastern Tiger swallowtail

  "Common milkweed is Nature's mega food market for insects. Over 450 insects are known to feed on some portion of the plant. Numerous insects are attracted to the nectar-laden flowers and it is not at all uncommon to see flies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies on the flowers at the same time. Occasionally hummingbirds will try, unsuccessfully, to extract nectar. Its sap, leaves and flowers also provide food. In the northeast and midwest, it is among the most important food plants for monarch caterpillars (Danaus plexippus). Other common feeders are the colorful (red with black dots) red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetraophthalmus), the milkweed tussock caterpillar (Euchaetes egle) and the large (Oncopeltus fasciatus) and the small (Lygaeus kalmia) red and black milkweed bugs. The latter two are particularly destructive as both the adults and nymphs are seed predators. They can destroy 80 to 90 percent of a colony's seed crop. The red (or orange-red) and black coloration of most of these insects is known as aposematic coloration; that is, the colors advertise the fact that the organism is not good to eat." Source

...and yes, this is an aggressive plant, so plant it where it can move around all it wants/can.


Spiderwort  and a bumble


I love my garden in the early morning. Once the sun has made it past the trees, it begins to spot light the shadier garden nooks. Tradescantia look their best in that cool morning sun. The sun light makes those feathery violet hairs glow. Later in the day they're washed out by the hot, bright light, but that is the case for many delicate flowers. Spiderworts are pollinated by bumbles and that makes me really happy. Beautiful and unique flowers that are not terribly temperamental about soil. They come in a kaleidoscopic palette of sumptuous colors. If tamed with a cutting back the plants can bush out and possibly rebloom.

...and yes, some can be aggressive. I don't care, I adore them.

 Hydrangea arborescens and a bumble

 I love watching the Bumbles work a Hydrangea arborescens flower. They move so fast it's nearly impossible to get a good photo.  Hydrangea arborescens, commonly known as smooth hydrangea or wild hydrangea, is a gangly limbed deciduous shrub with large, opposite, toothed leaves and grayish stems. The dome shaped flower head is composed of sterile and fertile flowers that begin to bloom in June in my garden. It's native to woodland slopes, hillsides and stream banks in the Eastern US. I adore it.

Most of you know I garden for wildlife, so the wildlife value of plants I bring into the garden are important. Wild hydrangeas have pretty good wildlife value: they're pollinated by many species of native bees and beetles and it's a host plant for two moths, Darapsa versicolor/Hydrangea Sphinx Moth and Olethreutes ferriferana/Hydrangea leaf-tier moth. 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) visit the flowers, but, watching a bumble bee race back and forth is fabulous.

Echinacea purpurea: Imperfection doesn't stop a pollinator

Not one of these critters is bothered by the imperfect chewed on petals.
The Cloudless Sulphur butterfly still sips nectar and bumbles collect pollen even on damaged flowers.

We've been convinced by advertising that a garden should be perfect and that insects are harmful and must be eliminated or they will damage our flowering plants and make them ugly. I encourage everyone to reconsider beauty and to begin to appreciate the insect damaged plant as providing food for a critter that may in turn be food for a spider, another insect or a song bird. 

 A friend told me she use to pull the caterpillars off her fennel before she knew they were Swallowtail butterfly cats. I told her what they were! New gardeners need to make sure ugly bugs aren't beneficial insects before you pluck them off or squish them. Some of the "good bugs" include lacewings, lady beetles, minute pirate bug, soldier bugs, assassin bugs, braconid wasps, tachinid flies, flower flies and aphid mites. Their larva aren't always attractive!

So embrace imperfection in your garden!

  • You can help create a paradigm shift that redefines garden beauty to include imperfection.
  • You can refuse to be shamed or swayed by the judgement of perfection worshipers.
  • You can say no to pesticides that poison flowers and kill our important garden visitors.
  • You can let nursery managers know that you don't need or expect them to offer "perfect plants" that have pre-treated with insecticides (often neonicotinoids).
  • You just have to do it!

 Your garden will not be magazine perfect, but, pollinators don't care if your flower petals are chewed on.  They need flowers bursting with pollen and nectar. Your garden will be teeming with life. Spiders will build webs; the beneficial insects will keep aphids in check; pollinators will pollinate; and, birds will hunt the insects.

It will be a beautiful imperfect garden, just as it's supposed to be.

When you let go of pesticides and embrace imperfection you become the change our world needs.


I am so glad you stopped by. xoxogail



Want pollinators?~~Here's what we can do:

  • Plant many different flowers that bloom over the entire growing season to encourage different native bees to move into your garden.
  • Plant flowers in drifts....It increases pollinator efficiency and looks prettier!
  • Plant the pollinator power house wildflowers for your neck of the woods.
  • Plant night blooming and fragrant flowers.
  • Make peace with weedy lawn natives.
  • Let our gardens be a little messy, so that there are nesting places and shelter.
  • If you want to encourage a diversity of pollinators~~ you will need to provide open areas (e.g. bare earth, large stones) where butterflies, may bask, and moist soil from which they may get needed minerals. 
  • Accept that not all pollinators are pretty and not all are well behaved; Wasps! Beneficial insect larva.
  • Accept that when we invite pollinators into the garden, plants will get eaten and look ratty for awhile.
  • Remember birds and bats! Leave the insects alone.
  • Provide a water source with easy access for pollinators.
  • Plant oaks and other trees that support a lot of pollinators.
Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday. It's the fourth Wednesday of each month and time to celebrate wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. I am always glad when you stop by and I so appreciate when you make a comment.


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.