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

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Wildflower Wednesday: Corydalis flavula

Our Wildflower Wednesday star is a delicate and inconspicuous beauty that blooms early and disappears completely by mid-summer. It is easily overlooked in the decaying leaves of the forested woodland where it thrives. I think you'll be as excited as I was to discover it growing so near my own garden.

It's been on my want list for years. There's now a small clump in my garden thanks to the generosity of my son who found some growing on the slope in his way back backyard. The leaves look a lot like Dutchman's Breeches and it wasn't until the yellow blooms opened that we were sure of its id.  

Yellow fumewort has been described as a small sprawling annual. Indeed, it was sprawling all over his yard on a slope with years of decaying leaves and fabulous drainage. It appears to be happiest in floodplains, woodlands, ridges and ravines, but, I've seen it on a dusty trail in a local natural area.   Some sites list its habitat as being sparse with no tree canopy and slightly calcereous soils. My take away from the various described growing conditions is that it needs good drainage and good fortune in it's reproduction process.




I've planted it among the biennial Purple Phacelia. I can't wait to see the royal purple and golden yellow blooming together. If it's happy and survives to set seed early springs in this garden will be even more glorious.

Yellow fumewort is a winter annual. Winter annuals germinate in autumn or winter, live through the winter, then bloom in winter or spring.  The plants grow and bloom during the cool season when most other plants are dormant or other annuals are in seed form waiting for warmer weather to germinate. Winter annuals die after flowering and setting seed. The seeds germinate in the autumn or winter when the soil temperature is cool. They typically grow low to the ground and protected from the coldest nights by snow or decaying leaves. They take advantage of warm periods during winter to grow. Western Daisy, Blue-eyed Mary, chickweed, and winter cress are winter annuals that grow in my garden.

the flowers do resemble other Dicentras

The flowers that begin blooming in late winter or early spring in my middle Tennessee garden grow in terminal racemes/clusters at the ends of the stalks. The petals converge into a tube like appearance with a spur; the supporting stem is attached near the center of the flower rather than at the end. Bees who visit need a long tongue and have to work to open the tubed flower. Nectar robbers are known to visit and there is some evidence that they can aid in pollination. 

 


After blooming and successful pollination long reddish decorative seed pods develop. The seeds ripen and fall on the soil to germinate and grow into a small flowerless plant in the fall. The overwintering leaves look very similar to a Dicentra, with a glaucous/pale grey or bluish-green and finely divided leaflets. It blooms when temperatures warm in the spring. 

"It is self-compatible and occasionally cleistogamous, but likely depends on insects (especially bees) for pollination, out-crossing, and the maintenance of genetic heterogeneity (Mitchell 1983).  Its seeds, produced in May-June, show unusual dormancy characteristics, germinating in the fall and producing seedlings that overwinter (Baskin and Baskin 1994, Farnsworth unpublished data).  These seeds have conspicuous, fatty elaiosomes attractive to ants that transport the propagules to nutrient-rich nest sites favorable for germination (Beattie etal. 1979). (source)

glaucous, finely dived leaves that resemble Dutchman's Breeches


The survival of a delicate species like Corydalis flavula is dependent upon several environmental factors

  • availability of pollinators (bees, some flies and the falcate orange-tip butterfly/Anthocaris midea
  • sufficient rain,
  • soil nutrients, 
  • insect seed dispersers (ants),
  • habitat security, and
  • a special dormancy period of hot summer days followed by cool autumn nights

 



Source

The Particulars

Botanical name: Corydalis flavula

Family -Fumariaceae and Papaveracea - The Fumitory family is a subfamily of the Papaveracea family.

Common names: short-spurred corydalis, yellow corydalis, fume-root, fumewort, yellow fumewort, yellow fumitory, yellow harlequin

Range: USA: AL , AR , CT , DC , FL , GA , IA , IL , IN , KS , KY , LA , MA , MD , MI , MO , MS , NC , NE , NH , NJ , NY , OH , OK , PA , RI , SC , TN , VA , VT , WI , WV Canada: ON

Zones: 5 to 8

Habit - Annual, occasionally biennial, taprooted forb. Has characteristics of an early "spring ephemeral" throughout its range, reaching reproductive maturity in March through April in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia (Wofford 1989).

Stems - Loosely ascending, to 30 cm, branched and sometimes multiple, from a spreading base, glabrous, often reddish. 

Bloom time: It blooms in mid-spring to early summer.

Flower: Inflorescence - Racemes, to 8cm long, mostly not extending past the foliage, those with open flowers 6-12-flowered racemes, those with cleistogamous flowers 1-5-flowered clusters. Flower stalks (except sometimes in cleistogamous flowers) 9-22 mm long, ascending at flowering, often pendent at fruiting, subtended by leaf like bracts, these to 1 cm long, 7 mm broad, acute.

Habitat - Bottomland forests, ravines, bases of bluffs, streambanks, shaded roadsides, railroads, rich woodland soil. Hoping it can survive my rather dry in the summer garden.

Faunal Associations: The flowers are pollinated by bumblebees, flies and one butterfly. The oily appendages of the seeds (elaisomes) attract ants (particularly Pheidole bicarinata), which undoubtedly help to disperse the seeds. The poisonous foliage is avoided by mammalian herbivores.

Comments: This plant contains a variety of alkaloids and other chemicals that render them toxic. They may have been used medicinally in the past, but do not ingest them.

Companions: Spring ephemerals and less aggressive perennials that won't crowd them out.

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 24, 2021

February Wildflower Wednesday: An exceptional Carex

Carex plantaginea/Plantain leaved sedge/Seersucker sedge is a wonderful addition to a woodland garden, you might even say it's an exceptional sedge.

Carex plantaginea

 I've planted it along the stone path to the front porch with Blephilia subnuda, Camassia, Christmas fern,  and Trilliums. Planted close together means they provide an attractive mulch beneath the grassy Chasmanthium latifolium and Hydrangea arborescens. I like how the different textures intermingle. What would you think about planting it with native Sedums, wild geraniums and other finer leaved sedges? I'm going to give that a try this spring.


Carex plantaginea is one of the easiest sedges to identify with its shiny, wide deep green leaves that are puckered like seersucker. If you look closely at the photo above you can see that each leaf has three prominent longitudinal veins. Like most sedges it is semi-evergreen.

 

 Wildlife Value

Seersucker sedge is more often chosen for its attention getting puckered evergreen leaves but, don't over look their flowers. Flowering in early to mid-spring, the male flowers at the top of the flowing stem appear yellow due to the pollen. The female flowers below them on the same stem are purplish thin and black-tipped. It's been described as not especially showy,  but I appreciate the colorful flowering wands that decorate it in early spring. So do butterflies, other pollinators and song birds. 


The seeds of native sedges are eaten by many kinds of wildlife including ducks, grouse, wild turkeys, sandpipers, and sparrows, to name a few. They're also a food source for caterpillars and small mammals. Because they bloom in spring, sedges provide an early meal before most native grasses begin to bloom.

The male and female purplish/black flowers are interesting when back lit by the setting sun.


Seersucker Sedge is found growing in meadows and rich woods in the Eastern USA from Minnesota to Maine and south to Alabama and Georgia (Zones 4-8). An evergreen plant with showy foliage, it makes a great texture plant for moist shady places. It will slowly spread to make a nice ground cover; you can speed that process along by dividing your plants every couple of years. A very low maintenance plant that requires only the removal of the dead leaves in late winter. I am especially found of its semi-evergreen habit since so much of my woodland garden is brown during the winter. 


According to some sources, it's a Goldilocks of a plant and prefers a rich woodland soil that's not too wet or not too dry. Finding the right spot for them in a garden that is often too wet or too dry wasn't nearly the challenge I thought it would be. The soil along the path has been enriched with leaf mold for years and is the perfect medium. The ferns and other natives that are planted with it should make that part of the garden glow this spring. (Not The Climate For Xeric)


an unknown Carex in a container


Let's talk about sedges for a bit. I've been thinking about them for quite some time. Not only would I like more native sedges in my garden, I would love to be able to identify the ones that are already here. 

Sedges are grass-like plants, but their leaf shape differs from grasses.  I know you are probably are familiar with this Mnemonic: “Sedges have edges, Rushes are round, Grasses are Hollow, straight to the ground”

They really do have triangular stems, but they don't all look the same. Their leaves can be short and fine-textured or bold and wide-bladed like our Wildflower Star. Their flowers and seed heads are also attention getting, many have showy bristles or mace-like capsules.


Sedges are for the most part perennial and evergreen. They're often cool season, shade loving, but, several very attractive for our gardens can take full sun if the soil is moist or wet. It’s the largest genus of flowering plants in North America (about 500 species) which means there are a lot of sedge choices, if only more were available. Native sedges are found thriving in just about any environment, from woodlands to marshes, and even dry sand. Arching, spiky, mounding, compact or airy, their ornamental qualities and their many uses have made them increasingly popular in the designed landscape. (source)

Biologist and Carex expert Dr. Robert Naczi says sedges are poorly understood in nature and few have been cultivated. “When people catch on to the diversity of colors, growth forms and growing conditions, they will embrace them in a big way,” he predicts. “There’s a sedge for every spot.”(source

Claudia West (source) says “We need to move away from mulch and fill gaps in the landscape with plants to provide habitat and hold the soil. Sedges provide essential soil-building function and support wildlife. They may not be the showiest, but many are evergreen so you see them in winter – green, lush and gorgeous.”

 Sedges, especially native sedges, have been lumped into the weed category for years! Which is too bad, that means most of the sedges for sale are usually not native. Once again our natives are overlooked for the showier exotic from the other side of the world. Those exotics might be lovely variegated beauties, but, I want more than beauty from plants that I add to my garden. I expect plants to feed the critters while they feed my soul. (Gardening For Wildlife)

I plan to add more Carex to the garden this year. In case you still need convincing!
  • There's a Carex species for most of our ecological niches (sun, shade, wet, dry, etc.), 
  • They make lovely specimen plants, 
  • They're great as a living mulch
  •  They make a great lawn substitute
  • They control erosion in wet areas
  • They're mostly evergreen, what garden doesn't need more green in the winter
  • They have wildlife value


You can find Seersucker sedge and many others that will fill the ecological niche that's your garden from most native plant nurseries.  I appreciate that they bring more diversity to Clay and Limestone. Native sedges are part of my woodland eco-system, they were here before I started gardening and their seeds and flowers continue to provide food for butterflies, birds, and mammals. Now to learning just which ones I have, besides our exceptionally wonderful Wildflower Wednesday star.

Please plant more native sedges! xoxogail

 

The Particulars

Botanical name: Carex plantaginea 

Common Name: Seersucker sedge, Plaintain-leaved sedge

Sedge Family: Cyperaceae 

Native Range: Western North America 

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone: 3a, 3b, 4b, 4a, 5b, 5a, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8b, 8a

Height: 10"-12"

Bloom Time: April and May

Bloom Description: Small purple brown flowers

Leaves: Showy in the garden with a seersucker like puckering of wide leaves

Sun: part-shade, shade

Water: moist

Soil: acid, neutral, alkaline, rich, average, loam, clay, gravel/rock

Maintenance: Low 

Suggested Use: Water Plant, Naturalize, Rain Garden, Butterfly garden, woodland garden, meadow garden, containers, Shade garden

Flower: colorful flowering wands

Wildlife Value: This plant supports various Satyr larvae. Song birds, butterflies and other pollinators

Tolerate: Deer, Drought

Comments: evergreen, fall interest, ornamental foliage, rock garden plant, shade garden plant, woodland plant. Kristen Grannan  says that Carex works and plays hard. I agree with her. It’s a versatile grass and can be used as turf, to fight erosion, or as a volunteer in a bioswale.


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, January 27, 2021

Wildflower Wednesday: Panicum virgatum

My Panicum virgatum is still standing tall in the garden, I hope yours is, too.
It dances all winter in the wind...

Panicum virgatum or switchgrass as it's commonly known, has a long history on this continent. It's native to the tall grass prairies of the Great Plains from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean (including Tennessee and other southeastern states)* Grasses like switchgrass, big bluestem, little bluestem and Indian grass dominated the tall grass prairies and were grazed by bison, deer and elk. It’s an upright, warm season bunching grass that can still be found growing in ‘remnant prairies’ and along interstates. These grasses are sometimes called "The Four Horsemen of the Prairie". (source)   


Would you forgive me if I say that Panicum virgatum is a work horse in my garden? Keep reading to find out why I love this plant and value it as a hard worker.

Despite its long historical association with most of the United States, it's rather ironic that it took European plant breeders to open our eyes to the versatility and beauty of Panicum virgatum. They've brought us lovely cultivars and spurred American breeders to get on the native grass bandwagon. It seems that each year a new cultivar is introduced to gardeners. I look at them and hope that their best wild characteristics haven't been bred out of them. I love a good looking plant that also has great wildlife value. 

One of my favorite cultivars is 'Northwind'.  I am happy to report that it's as wildlife beneficial as the straight species.

'Northwind' planted in 2009

Panicum virgatum is climatically adapted throughout the most of the United States, except California, Oregon and Washington state and in all of Canada except, British Columbia and Alberta. Wow...that means almost any of us can successfully grow them.

 


Switchgrass is a perennial, warm season native grass. It is drought and salt tolerant, needs no fertilizer and does well in shallow, wet soils and even droughty soils in the eastern USA. Its long roots improve soil and water quality by absorbing nutrients and sequestering carbon dioxide. The tall bunch grass benefits wildlife, offering optimal nesting and cover.

I am thrilled that it's happy in my shallow soil that's dry in the summer and wet in the winters. That's one reason it's called a work horse in my garden.

Panicum virgatum has year round beauty. Summer color is an interesting olive green that works well with Phlox, Iteas, Penstemons and other native wildflowers.


It's a warm season grass and produces growth from April to September. Look for the airy, pink-tinged flower spike blooms that rise only about a foot or two above the foliage. The inconspicuous flowers with burgundy anthers and stigmas dangle from the well-branched panicles. Teardrop-shaped seeds about 1/8 inch long develop from single-flowered spikelets. (source) The seed plumes persist well into winter, with the seeds eaten by songbirds and upland game birds. Self-sowing is usually minimal but can be prolific under ideal conditions.


It's the perfect partner for most summer blooming wildflowers. My favorites are Phlox, Echinaceas, Rudbeckias and Hypericums. It really shines in the fall when Vernonias, Solidago, and the ex-asters bloom.

But, holy-moly, what really makes this grass attractive is the long season of golden color starting in September in my garden and continuing all winter.

 fall color is especially gorgeous in the late afternoon when it's backlit by the setting sun

It's a tawny gold for several months, but, by the end of the winter it's a striking pale blonde that looks incredible in my almost total brown landscape!

Late winter is the best time to cut it back! 

I promise, you won't be sorry to let it stand all winter.



                         Floppy grasses have softened the sharp corner of my house along the path to the porch

 I am on a mission to convince my neighbors and any readers who still have their mow and blow crews buzz cut their ornamental grasses back in October to adopt late winter cut back as their preferred practice. Btw, the only plants I cut back after the first frost are Phloxes, because their stems can harbor a rather destructive phlox bug. I leave everything else standing until late winter.  

Here's why I cut my grasses back in late winter or early spring before the new growth emerges for:

  •  wildlife: they provide food and shelter. Ground-foraging birds (Sparrows, Juncos, Robins) eat the seeds that persist on the grass most of the winter and shelter in the foliage
  • winter interest with warm colors and dancing in the wind
  • ease of maintenance: it's easier to cut cut after a winter of being buffeted around
  • the little grass skippers that lay eggs and overwinter on base of switchgrass stems


Just in case I haven't made my case to convince you to switch to cutting switchgrass down in late winter, consider this: They fill the garden with movement and beauty all year long.

Not bad for a plant, especially in winter.

 xoxogail
 

 The Particulars

 Common Name: switch grass

Type: Ornamental grass

Family: Poaceae 

Native Range: North America and most of Canada

Zone: 5 to 9 

Height: 3.00 to 6.00 feet 

Spread: 2.00 to 3.00 feet 

Bloom Time: July to February 

Bloom Description: Pink-tinged 

Sun: Full sun to part shade 

Water: Medium to wet 

Maintenance: Low 

Comments: Its long roots improve soil and water quality by absorbing nutrients and sequestering carbon dioxide. 

Tolerates: Drought, Erosion, Dry Soil, Wet Soil, Black Walnut, Air Pollution.

 


Uses: Naturalize, rain garden, butterfly garden

Flower: Showy

Good Fall color and winter interest/color

Wildlife value: In addition to the many birds and mammals that use Switch Grass, the Tawny-edge Skipper and the Delaware Skipper also use it as a host plant.  This bunch grass benefits wildlife, offering optimal nesting and cover. Switchgrass is a particularly beneficial warm season grass for use in riparian buffer zones

 * May Prairie in Middle Tennessee

 


 

 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.