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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday: Some Plants Like to Challenge the Boundaries!

At Clay and Limestone we call several of them good friends.

Physostegia virginiana, aka, False dragonhead is a good friend of my garden. It's one of the rough and tumble wildflowers that makes gardening on my shallow, often dry garden soil worth the effort!

It's an enthusiastic grower, but, I decided years ago that a lovely lilac river of spiky flowers that attracts bumbles, small bees, skippers and hummers was worth having to pull out a few errant plants. (go here for more on this plant)
This mint can get a root hold in your moist, rich garden soil
Successful colonizers like False dragonhead do create work for gardeners. I've even heard several gardenblogging friends say they've banned them from their gardens! My dear friends, it's your garden plant what ever you want, but, please, don't call them invasive! They're colonizers! They're thug. They're highly competitive, but, they are not invasive species. Let's not scare off gardeners who may be considering planting more natives!
the first flowers open from the bottom
As many of you may know, my mostly native garden has its fair share of colonizers. I let them duke it out all summer and I am never disappointed by the fall show!

I do have to step into the fray occasionally to stop some of the more highly competitive plants like the  Solidagos from taking over. Goldenrods are the king of colonizing wildflowers, some more than others! Don't let that stop you from adding them to your garden, they are quite possibly the best wildflowers for critters and there are many delightful cultivars that are NOT thugs!
A Locust borer stops by for a snack
Goldenrods have great wildlife value. Native bees rely heavily on Goldenrods for both pollen and nectar to provide food for the winter brood's survival. Migrating butterflies stop by for the nectar to help them on their long flight and the seeds are needed by chickadees, finches and pine siskins during the winter. Goldenrods are also important attractors of beneficial insects like soldier beetles, hoverflies and pirate beetles.

We need those predators in our organic gardens....so plant goldenrods! Trust me, there's a perfect one for your garden!
This is the famous Frostweed in flower. It's a favorite of bumbles.
Verbesina virginica is another assertive native plant! Seedlings have germinated far from the parent plants thanks to wind and birds! That doesn't mean I would ban it from the garden, but, I am ruthless about removing seedlings of this biennial!
Buckeye butterfly visiting Verbesina
Verbesina is another good wildlife value plant. Bumbles, carpenter bees, beetles, butterflies and moths are frequent visitors. It's also the host plant for the caterpillars of the Silvery Checkerspot butterfly.

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae is another healthy colonizer, for which I am very grateful! After a long summer of Black-eyed Susan's I am ready for a big show!
New England aster with Helianthus salicifolius 'First Light'
A big lavender show is exactly what I have...This ex-aster spreads by seed, but this gardener is the one who has transplanted it to a dozen spots in my small sunny border! It's the perfect purple! It looks beautiful from across the garden and it is the perfect partner for one of my favorite late summer blooming asteraceas, Helianthus salicifolius 'First Light'.

You'lllove this flower massed in the garden
The same applies to this fantastic mist flower! If you have the space and temperament to let this plant go, please do. Conoclinium coelestinum is a plant that looks its best when allowed to naturalize. Cut it back in mid summer to keep it looking bushy and beautiful, and then let it do its beautiful thing. (go here for more on this wildflower)
Butterflies, skippers and bees are drawn to the nectar-rich flowers, while birds eat the seeds. If you want more, and once you see it massed you will, it's easily propagated from seeds or divisions. It can spread quickly if happy, but is pulled out just as easily. It grows in any soil except extremely dry. If you want easy care this is a great wildflower.
Thanks so much for stopping by to help me celebrate a few of my favorite boundary challenging native wildflowers! I've used words like colonizing, aggressive, thuggish, assertive, highly competitive, naturalizing, rhizome spread, and rough and tumble to describe them. But, don't let that scare you, colonizing plants make good garden friends.

Trust me, I'm a gardener!

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.


  1. Personally I love when my natives start spreading beyond their borders. We have the space and I am thankfully when it fills in naturally. Plus I get some winning plant combinations that I would have never thought of planting together. It's a win-win in my book!

  2. I also agree...I have grown to love my colonizers as they spread. This year I completely let the garden go as I could not get out there at all from spring until now. And the show is amazing with Obedient, helianthus, asters, goldenrod and Joe Pye another one that spreads beyond its borders and makes a stunning show that the pollinators and butterflies love. And the best part about Obedient is it is a late flowering plant for hummers...they adore it. Right now the monarchs are visiting all day every day and they seek out the asters and helianthus.

    I do have to pull up a few of these plants this fall but I wouldn't want any other plants and neither would my critters.

  3. Hi Gail, some really stunning photos here. How can we resist these 'challengers' when they bring so many beneficial friends with them!

  4. I have a bee and a butterfly - Wildflower Wednesday for pollinators, in both the new and the present gardens!

  5. So many beautiful images. The False dragonhead patch inspires me to try to grow some.

  6. You do have a set of aggressive growers in this post but what would autumn be without them?

  7. Where is my false dragonhead? I must get more. It did not like the spot I chose for it and that is why it has not colonized. Love all your 'thugs' although I must say I have a bit too much of that rampant opportunist, goldenrod. Given that I love to garden, it is no matter, I will just pull a bit out and leave some for the happiness of pollinators.

  8. I love your choice of words to replace "invasive" which is too often used to describe a native plant that simply does what plants are supposed to do--grow and multiply. I'd rather pull out seedlings of a vigorous colonizer than spend time trying to get unhappy non-native fussy plants to grow.

    I need to find a place for goldenrod, I've seen a beautiful stand of it in a local display garden so it does very well here.

  9. I have several of these same, er, thugs, too. But I'm not about to dig them all out, especially when I see them covered in bees and butterflies every fall. I'm still amazed how one spindly Obedient plant and one New England Aster planted several years ago have grown into such a colony:) The seedlings of both of these and the volunteer Goldenrod in my garden are easily identified, so I usually pull out a few of each of them each spring before they completely take over. Love all the butterfly photos!

    I'm waiting for a tall plant at the back of my garden to bloom before I post for Wildflower Wednesday. I have no idea what it is, and I don't remember planting anything there. I'm hoping it's not just another weed, but I've got my fingers crossed it might be Ironweed.

  10. What a fun post! I know your first one as obedient plant, named because if you bend the stem, it will stay bent, or something like that. I grew some in a bed at church, and found that it didn't always stay pulled. I am chicken to try it here, but it sure has nice looking blooms! I just saw a locust beetle for what I think was the first time on some goldenrod and learned what it was this summer. I don't remember if I planted the frost flower seeds you gave me. I'll have to find them and plant them. Can I do it in the fall? I do have the New England asters and just planted a couple clumps of blue mist flower this spring. So far, they have not spread much, but they are blooming very nicely. I look forward to reading more WW posts later.

  11. Beautiful Wildflower Wednesday post! I especially like the buckeye butterfly - verbesina photo.
    Hope you are having a wonderful day!

  12. Everything is beautiful, Gail! All great plants for autumn blooming! I wish I had something ready for Wildflower Wednesday, but due to travels, alas, no post. But I've enjoyed yours and thanks for hosting.

  13. Great post on the native colonizers in your garden. I just added Blue Mistflower this year. It's taking a bit of time to establish, but I'm not going to fret since everyone says it fills in with time. Thanks for hosting Wildflower Wednesday, Gail!

  14. Brilliant photos, Gail! Love the critters

  15. They are very floriferous and lovely. It seems like the weeds in temperate countries are maybe more colorful and bigger plants than ours. Now i didn't forget to link anymore here, haha.

  16. I enjoyed weeing all the bugs drawn to the flowers.

  17. OK, I'll stop using thug and switch to enthusiastic, but I will add and asterisk to enthusiastic*.

  18. The Physostegia is white in my garden. And it also grows in relatively dry soil, too. I have read, however, that it prefers moist conditions, since it like a marshy site. It grows very well in its home though.

  19. When spring moves around, they'll have had a lot of time to choose how and where to utilize the blessing you've given them.
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  20. We knew it was right for our landscape, so we took it home, stuck it in our garden and a week later, we're thinking, what's up? indoor plants australia


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson