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

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Summer Blooming Phlox

I've been waiting for the summer Phlox to bloom. The garden seems to come alive when the various shades of pink, magenta and white pop open. They bloom in full sun, part sun and even shade.
this cross has the brightest eyes that may have come form P' Laura'

The first Phloxes in this garden were here when I arrived. They were the offspring of whatever the previous gardeners might have planted 35+ years ago and were all wonderful magenta flowered beauties. Many of those original plantings are still here. The offspring of the offspring are here and after years of letting species and cultivars go to seed, real treasures have been produced in the crossings of the crossings.

Over the years I've added others, including a few hybrids. The ones that have survived and thrived are in bloom right now.

Here's Phlox 'David' which is a stunning white. There are  several groupings of pure white seedlings, none that I planted.

Phlox 'Jeana' has smaller flowers than other summer phlox, but she's big on nectar and draws the most pollinators.

Phlox 'Wanda' blooms all summer if deadheaded. You have to love that in a flower and yes, bees do visit this hybrid.

An unknown seedling from a cross.

Another unknown cross in a luscious color.

Some of the seedlings are brightly colored and others are pale pinks.

All of them are beautiful to me.
Practically Perfect Pink Phlox pilosa demonstrating butterfly attracting qualities
Phlox flowers are the classic butterfly plant with  landing pads of deliciousness (flared petals), a narrow tube that is accessible to the long proboscis of butterflies and fragrant flowers that occur in loose, rounded clusters. The long bloom time means there's plenty of nectar for pollinator visitors from July into August. I've seen butterflies, skippers, bumblebees, Minor bees, carpenter bees, flower flies and Snowberry Clearwing Moth visiting. I've read that Hummers visit as well and I hope they might stop by, too.

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

If you want to attract butterflies, moths, skippers and other pollinators to your garden, then plant more Phlox! That's what I've been doing. Phlox paniculata 'Jeana' was planted several years ago and she rocks as a butterfly magnet. I add at least one plant a year, more if I can find them in 3 inch pots. They do better in spring planting if they're smaller.
These moths hover and stabilize their flight by resting their front legs on P 'Jeana's' blossom

But, right now I am wondering what happened to all the butterflies that usually flock to my Phloxes?

There have been rare sightings this spring/summer. I just saw a Yellow Sulphur on the Partridge pea and the Phlox, but it zipped by too fast to pose for a photo. Yesterday, a  Swallowtail was nectaring on  'Jeana'.

 It's been disappointing and disconcerting to say the least. Here we are in  the fourth week in July and the butterflies and skippers are missing in action. I'm not alone in this wondering what's going on, other gardeners have been asking "Where have  the butterflies have gone?" Thankfully, Phlox are able to do their thing despite the missing butterfly.

What is their thing?

Looking pretty! Well, that's a given, but..

P paniculata sps
More importantly, Phlox provides nectar for pollinators during this critical time.

Critical time!

Yes, critical! Mid-to-late summer is usually one of the toughest times for nectar and pollen-feeding insects. Plants like Phlox are very important producers of nectar.

Nectar robbing Carpenter bee

That's good to know. Is there anything else you can tell me about phlox?

I don't think one can have too many Phlox

I'm glad you asked!

Phloxes are native to North America and found growing in diverse habitats from the coldest alpine tundras to prairies, woodlands and meadows. With over 65 different species in North America there are options for many habitats.

They're all beautiful and fragrant.

Phlox will grow in partial shade or full sun~
Phlox paniculata sps and cultivars love moist, rich, well draining soil and flower best in full sun. What they get here is shallow, summer dry, clay soil that's been amended with leaf mold and compost. I do give them a nice big drink if we don't get rain. If you can keep them relatively moist and provide decent drainage you'll have good success (hardiness zones 3 to 8) and keep the pollinators well supplied with nectar.
More robbing!
If you want to see what kind of offspring you can get from all the cross pollination that will be happening, then don't deadhead your plants, let them go to seed and self sow. The parent plants always bloom true, but seedlings will be a pleasant surprise of mixed colors for your garden.

P paniculata 'David' and unknown mother= A pleasant pinkish surprise.
Isn't this seedling adorable? I need to remember to thank the pollinators

7-25-2020 Spicebush swallowtail! So excited!

The particulars
Botanical name: Phlox paniculata
Common Name: garden phlox, summer phlox
Family: Polemoniaceae  
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Native Range: Eastern United States
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet
Bloom Time: July to September
Bloom Description: Pink-purple to white
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy, Fragrant Attracts: Birds, Hummingbirds, Butterflies
Tolerate: Deer, Clay Soil, Black Walnut

Phlox Wanda. (info/source)
Phlox hybrid ‘Wanda’
Type: Herbacious perennial
Family: Polemoniaceae 
Native range: same as Summer phlox
Zone: Hardy in zones 5-10
Size: 18" to 24″
Bloom: Spring through summer, deadhead for continued bloom
Bloom description: Bright pink flowers
Water: requires moist well-drained soil
Maintenance: deadhead
Sun: Full sun and semi shade 
Comments: Wanda is thought to be a hybrid, and some speculate that the genes of Phlox divaricata might be in there along with P. pilosa. The plentiful flowers are a strong fuchsia, perhaps magenta, and may vary a bit on whether you place her in full sun or partial shade.  (info/source)
Tolerant: Heat and humidity tolerant

Phlox paniculata 'Jeana' 
Type: Herbacious perennial
Family: Polemoniaceae 
Native range: same as Summer phlox
Zone: Hardy in zones 5-10
Size: 5′ tall beauty
Bloom description: impressive floral display and fragrant
Bloom: from mid-July through early September.
Maintenance: Water when droughty
Sun: Full sun
Comments: This cultivar was discovered growing along the Harpeth River near Nashville, Tennessee and named after its discoverer, Jeana Prewitt. ‘Jeana’ attracted more butterflies than any other garden phlox in the entire  Mt. Cuba trial. With a top rank in both horticultural and ecological evaluations, Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is hard to beat. (source)

Disease/insects: PS The biggest problem I have had has been an attack of Phlox Bug~A nasty creature that sucks the plant juices and disfigures the plant. I cut the plant back after the first frost and trash the stalks....Never composting them. Phlox bug over winters in the stalks and this takes care of most of them. You can read about my battle with them here.

Posts about Phlox
Nectar Robbers are at it again
Early Summer Pollinator magnets
Summer Phlox

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 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.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Where are all the pollinators

Here are some.

All over the common milkweed! The bumbles were slow to arrive, but, once the Asclepias syriaca bloomed they were all over it from early morning to dusk.

It was a delightful sight.

Common milkweed is an interesting looking plant with gorgeous flowers that smell delicious. It typically grows 3-4' tall on stout, upright stems with thick, broad-oblong, reddish-veined, light green leaves (to 8" long), although, in ideal conditions it can grow to be 6 foot tall.
It's a colonizer and when you plant one you can be guaranteed that there will be dozens before you know it.
I planted one that I found at a plant fair in the sunniest spot in my garden, aka the mailbox garden. Since then it's been duking it out with the ex-asters, Goldenrods, Verbesina virginica and River Oats. It might be winning.
Did I mention that is smells divine?

Some times the breeze carries the honey like scent all the way up the driveway.
Trust me on this and plant it were you don't mind it taking off or be prepared to edit them out. I cut them down and don't bother trying to save them, there will always be more!
Yes, it's aggressive, but, "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). Source

 That's some good wildlife value! Besides that, you do need this fragrance in your garden.


 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 24, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Ruellia strepens

Ruellia strepens is offering up a bloom here and there in its less than generous fashion!

It's a pretty little flower, but, its here today and gone this evening habit, can make it less attractive to folks who are into more floriferous wildflowers. There was a time when I seriously thought of just ripping them all out, but, I have grown to enjoy the sweet lavender blue petunia like flowers that always surprise me peeking out of the greenery in the shadiest spots of my garden.

Limestone Wild Petunia is a native perennial in the Acanthus family (Acanthaceae). Not surprising that with a name like Limestone Wild Petunia it would be found growing in rich woodland soil underlain by limestone. Of course it's happy here with my 444 million year old Ordovician limestone bedrock.

It is a sparingly hairy clump-forming perennial that grows 1-3’ tall. Its strongest feature are those pale lilac to lavender petunia-like flowers (to 2” long) with five flaring lobes. If you look closely at the sweet flowers you might notice that one petal is slightly larger than the other four. This zygomorphic quality is typical to both R strepens and R humilis (another middle Tennessee native). I think of that extra large petal as a good landing pad for any pollinators that happen by.

Many of you are probably more familiar with R. humilis. I have seen it offered in several online native plant nurseries. It's very similar to our star, except, it's happier in sun and blooms throughout the hottest, driest times of the summer. I also grow it and love the Petunia like flowers.
The flowers bloom in the leaf axils; note the fine veined nectar guides

 It really is a beautiful flower. At the throat of the corolla, there are several fine veins that are purple and somewhat reticulated; they function as nectar guides for visiting insects. I think they're cool. The flowers are funnel shaped and last for one day and are strangely, easily detached if bumped against.

The fruit is a capsule that explodes open to dispel seeds

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!

But, speaking of pollination. Many species within this family produce two kinds of flowers - those that have open flowers, which can be pollinated by insects, and those that don't open, which must self-pollinate. Ruellia strepens, our star, often relies on self-pollination for reproduction. Its "perfect flowers" never even open to entertain the idea of cross-pollination. Scientists call these flowers "cleistogamous," which translates as "closed marriage." (source)

I am glad it has a mechanism for self propagation, but, I would love to see some insect action!
The Particulars

Ruellia strepens
Common Names: Limestone wild petunia, wild petunia, smooth wild petunia, woodland petunia
Family: Acanthaceae 
Type: Herbaceous perennial

Native Range: Eastern United States including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska
Zone: 5 to 8
Habitat: Limestone woodlands, floodplains, rich soils
Height: 1.00 to 3.00 feet Spread: 1.00 to 1.50 feet
Bloom Time: May to September
Bloom Description: Lilac to lavender
Sun: Part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Wildlife Value: Pollen and nectar, Leaf cutter bees have been observed cutting pieces of the corolla to use in their brood nests. They layer it in the nest, seal it up and then die. The next generation is on its own! 
Comments: The roots are fibrous and not easy to dig from dry clay soil. Genus name honors 15th–16th century French herbalist, Jean de la Ruelle.
Conservation status:

Pronunciation: Ruellia (rew-EL-ee-uh) strepens (STREH-penz)
Deer resistant



PS. It's National Pollinator Week, what better time to take this pledge. Now, please raise your hand and solemnly swear that you will never, ever, ever, ever, ever use pesticides in your garden. Now don't you feel better for having made that commitment! I know I do.

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  Thank you all for joining me as we celebrate and share our marvelous and beautiful wildflowers. I hope 2020 is the year we all plant more native wildflowers for the many critters that live in and visit our gardens. Let's be sure we celebrate them every day, not just WW. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom or not, you can still share them. Please leave a comment and add your name to Mr Linky so others can pop over to see your Wildflower Wednesday post.

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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