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

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Wildflower Wednesday: 2019 Roundup of Wildflower Stars

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Happy Holidays to all.

A past Wildflower Wednesday Star.
I love gardening in the Middle South, but, this has been an especially challenging year. September had a record number of 90˚ days with no rain at all and we still are ending  2019 as the 5th wettest year in our record keeping history with over 61 inches of rain. Weird weather or as climatologists have said, "Expect extreme weather patterns." None the less, we are fortunate to have four seasons in the middle south; a mercifully short winter and a delightful spring and autumn which make up for the steamy hot and often too dry summer weather. The days are starting to lengthen and before long the earliest spring ephemerals will break dormancy and the gloriously long bloom of wildflowers will begin.

Here are the 2019 Wildflower Wednesday stars

January Wildflower Wednesday: Winter Blooming Witch Hazel

Hamamelis vernalis is a lovely native shrub/small tree that blooms when you have just about given up hope that winter will end and warmth will return to the world...In my Middle Tennessee garden it often begins blooming in early to mid January and it's not unusual for it to continue blooming into February and sometimes March.

Ozark witch hazel's flowers are an unusual reddish color with four yellow/orange crepe paper streaming petals that unfurl as the day warms and furl back up when the temperature drops. This is a marvelous adaptive behavior that insures that the spidery blooms will survive the fluctuating winter weather and be in bloom for almost two months.

They perfume the garden with their sweet clove vanilla scent on warm days. I planted them for the earliest visiting pollinators and for that unforgettable fragrance. Once you smell them, you will, want them in your garden, too.

I think they're spectacular in my mostly brown winter garden and I planted one along the front walkway so visitors can enjoy the blooms and their sweet scent.

February Wildflower Wednesday: Winged Elm

I almost missed the first of my native canopy trees in bloom! That's what happens when your eyes are searching for spring ephemerals on the woodland floor.

Look what you will see when you look up... the prettiest red flowers that pop against the blue sky.

Ulmus alata is the botanical name and those corky, ridged wings on young stems are a hallmark of this native tree. Winged elm is also called corked elm. It's a small- to medium-sized deciduous tree (in the best conditions they can be much taller) native to the southern and south-central woodlands of the United States. It has a vase-like shape, with lateral branches and a rounded, open crown.

Elms are host plants to over 200 butterfly and moth species (think important bird food) and squirrels and chipmunks eat the nutlets of the samaras. I've never seen this tree offered at a local IGC, but, it can be found at specialty tree farms and orchards (search online).

The tree is often grown in parking lot islands, medium strips, and along residential streets. Winged elm trees tolerate air pollution, poor drainage and compacted soil. Wow. Poor drainage and compacted soil~No wonder it's doing well at Clay and Limestone.

March Wildflower Wednesday: White Trout Lily

Welcome to Wildflower Wednesday and a celebration of one of my favorite spring ephemerals, the White Trout Lily.

Erythoniums is a genus of Eurasian and North American plants in the lily family. Of the nearly 25 species found in North America (mostly in western USA)  only 4 are found in Tennessee.  Those are: Erythronium rostratum, Erythronium umbilicatum, Erythronium americanum and Erythronium albidum.  Erythronium americanum, the yellow flowered trout lily (above) and E albidum the white flowered trout lily, are both found growing in Davidson county, TN where I live. The yellow flowered seems to be more abundant and on a recent walk I spotted them in bloom at the Warner Parks.

I feel so lucky to have found White Trout Lilies growing in my garden. I've seen small colonies in nearby woodlands and in a neighbors small sloped side yard. Of course, I hoped the flowers would be white not yellow. Don't get me wrong, I would have loved the yellows, but, there's something extra special about these sweet white flowers.

Wildflower Wednesday: Phlox pilosa is still a star

I love introducing you to new wildflowers, but, this month I want to honor a very old and dear wildflower friend. Practically Perfect Pink Phlox is our star....and what a star with fragrant delicate pink blooms that last for more than a month.

Phlox flowers are the classic butterfly plant with their perfect landing pad (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 (6 weeks if the temperatures stay cooler) means there's plenty of nectar for pollinator visitors from early to mid-spring. I've seen butterfly, skippers, bumblebees, Minor bees, carpenter bees and Flower flies visiting. I've read that Hummers visit as well and since it's blooming late here, they might stop by, too.


May Wildflower Wednesday: Blephilia ciliata

Downy Wood Mint and I have been gardening friends for over 30 years. I met it the first summer after we moved into this house. It looked like Monarda growing in the shady freedom lawn behind the carport shed. Although, it wasn't Monarda, it was definitely a mint with its square stems, opposite leaves and whorled light lavender flowers at the top of the stalk!

I have never seen it growing in the wild, but, once upon a time my neighborhood was a woodland and there are still wildflowers growing in lawns and woodland edges. I wonder how many of my neighbors are even aware that this pretty and others might be growing along the edges of their yards.

As more people move into Nashville and older ranch homes are torn down our freedom lawns with Salvia lyrata, Western Daisies, Fog Fruit, Ruellia humilis, clover and other "lawn weeds" are herbicided away. It makes me very sad and motivates me to continue to advocate for planting for wildlife in our gardens through my garden writing.  

June Wildflower Wednesday: Asclepias syriaca

I am super excited to share Common milkweed with you today for Wildflower Wednesday. Three years ago I planted one small plant and now I have well over a three dozen plants and most bloomed. That's both wonderfully exciting and terrifying. Now, if only a Monarch butterfly would lay eggs and cats would start consuming the leaves!

Bumbles and other bees love the nectar and pollen rich flowers
It's 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. Trust me on this and plant it were you don't mind it taking off or be prepared to dig them up when young (taprooted, so transplant when young) to share with others. Yes, it's aggressive, but, planting milkweed is important to Monarch butterfly. Besides, you do need this fragrance in your garden.
balls of pink fragrant blooms

July Wildflower Wednesday: Hibiscus laevis

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and the July Wildflower Wednesday celebration. Please get comfy and let me tell you the story of how our star wildflower arrived in the garden.

Late this past spring we attended a gardening fair and I immediately started looking for native plant vendors. There were a few tables, but, only one vendor offered unusual natives and it was there that I spotted Hibiscus coccineus. It was a beautiful plant with well branched stems and a healthy root system, so I gladly bought it and carried the pot around while enjoying the show.

Hibiscus coccineus is not native to Tennessee, but long time readers know that I will occasionally push the native plant boundaries and add a non Tennessee native plant if it has something special going for it and Rose Mallow has that it quality! It meaning it's a dramatic and striking plant with bold palmately lobed leaves, glossy red flowers that bloom most of the summer and is beloved of hummingbirds.

 Of course I bought it!

The first blooms opened in late June, they were quite lovely, only they weren't big or red. Instead the blossoms were a lovely white with deep maroon throats.

My Rose Mallow was really Hibiscus laevis/halberd-leaved rose mallow. I feel so fortunate to have a new wildflower to celebrate and love in my garden.

August Wildflower Wednesday: Wild Senna

 Senna marilandica or  Senna hebecarpa

Let me be absolutely honest with you from the start. I have no idea if my plants are Senna hebecarpa or Senna marilandica. For many of us they're indistinguishable from one another until their seeds ripen. The pods look the same, but they behave differently, Senna hebecarpa seeds will be expelled from their pods, while the seeds of Senna marilandica will stay tightly enclosed within the seed pod for months. I'll come back and relabel this post as soon as I know which Senna I have.
Wild Senna is a perfect plant for any gardener who loves pollinators, especially lovers of the bumbles. It seems that bumbles are picky eaters and prefer plants with nutrient-rich pollen. Wild Senna is one of their preferred pollen sources.

How do I know this?

 A "2016 study by researchers at Penn State found that bumble bees preferentially visit flowers that produce pollen that has higher protein-to-lipid ratios, and wild senna was the favorite of bumble bees amongst the plants used in the study." In case you're curious,
spiderwort and Culver's root were also among the highest visited plants in the study.

This is a plant that belongs in every garden, especially pollinator gardens. I've only seen it offered online (most often as seeds). It's frustrating to see the same old same old perennials at nurseries when there are fantastic native plants that make the most sense for our gardens...but, I digress.

September Wildflower Wednesday: Euonymus americanus

Euonymus americanus is displaying its gorgeous ripened fruit in my garden. The stems and leaves are deer candy and I count myself lucky to have any of the brilliant red fruit on the shrub this fall.
photo taken at Edwin Warner Park

 Strawberry bush/Hearts-a-bustin' is a delicate, airy deciduous shrub that can grow to 10' tall under ideal conditions. Which means it's closer to 5 foot in my garden. It is native to wooded slopes, moist woodland and creek or river areas, and is found in a variety of soil conditions ranging from sandy to clay. The typical range is from New York coast all the way south and across Texas and inland to the midwest from all those points. (source)
 5 green petals which frequently have a reddish tinge

If a plant were to be chosen just for its bloom, Strawberry bush might not make the cut. Most people are under awed by the Spring flowers, in fact, they might even miss them. They are tiny and pale with 5 green petals that have a reddish tinge. In order to see them you are going to have to get quite close, which might mean getting down on your knees, since they're only 1/2 inch wide! I think they're worth crawling around on the woodland floor to see.

October Wildflower Wednesday: Zigzag Goldenrod

Our Wildflower Wednesday star is Solidago flexicaulis also known as zigzag goldenrod or broadleaf goldenrod. It's a rhizomatous (creeping rootstock) perennial that is native to rich woods and thickets from Nova Scotia to North Dakota south to Georgia and Arkansas.
Zigzag goldenrod is my favorite goldenrod. As regular readers know I love take care of themselves, rough and tumble, colonizing wildflowers with great wildlife value and this goldenrod fits the bill! Plants are tough and adaptable prospering in part sun or part shade and in moist well drained soil and more importantly, they're superfood for insects.

woodland ex-asters are great companion plants

According to the Wild Seed Project (wildseedproject.net) “Asters and goldenrods attract loads of late season pollinating insects. In the wintertime, they provide food and habitat for many birds and small animals that feast on the seeds and find shelter in the dried stalks."

November Wildflower Wednesday: Ostrya virginiana is still dancing in the garden

Can you see the dancer in the tree?

I do.

She's still there, dancing in the tree all year round. It's been forever ago that I first saw her; so long ago that I can no longer remember when. What I do remember is saving this beauty from an invasive Japanese Wisteria that was strangling it as it climbed snake like up the tree. It could have been my imagination, but, I know the tree breathed a sigh of relief when the wisteria was cut away.

It's a lovely small tree, that I would miss terribly if it weren't here. My goal has been to provide habitat for critters in a visually attractive space and Ostrya virginiana brings grace, beauty, while providing for wildlife.

Ostrya virginiana also provides shade for wildflowers and mosses to grow. Each spring when the sun warms the soil,  Trilliums, false rue anemones, spring beauties, toothworts and other spring ephemeral blooms crowd the woodland floor beneath her skirt.

Hophornbeams are totally under appreciated native trees that would be lovely in our gardens, if only we knew about them! You aren't going to find them at your local garden center, so you will have to search the internet or native plant nurseries. Trust me, this little understory woodland tree is worth the trouble to find.

My friends, I wish you a very Happy Wildflower Wednesday and thank you for planting more wildflowers. Thank you for taking care of the bees and other pollinators and all the critters that visit your gardens. Thank you for tolerating pesky wildlife that too often eat your favorite flowering plants. Thank you for another year of your friendship, visits, comments and joining me in celebrating wildflowers all over this great big wonderful world. You are the best and having you in my life has enriched it beyond measure.


Most of you have been very busy with the holidays, but, if you have the time to join this Wildflower Wednesday, just add your link to Mr. Linky and leave a comment. Please remember, it's not necessary for them to be in bloom!

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. Thank you Gail for brightening my Wednesdays.
    Question: What do you use for a camera?

    Dave T.

  2. Great post Gail, I enjoyed it very much. I love all of these, especially Hearts a bustin, which I remember seeing the woods behind my parent's house.

  3. Hi Gail, it was fun seeing your photos and reading about the plants. I am ready for spring, and for my knee to be well enough to garden.

  4. Such an interesting selection of attractive (and worthwhile) plants.

  5. Oh, this is wonderful--the year in review, and so much to look forward to! You do have a very nice climate, Gail. :) I added Wild Senna this year, so it will be interesting to see if it comes back and how it will do in the growing season ahead. Happy Wildflower Wednesday and Happy New Year!

  6. Wonderful choices and information. Despite the extreme weather the garden has done surprisingly well. Native plants rock! I will do my best to be a better participant in WW in 2020. Thanks for being such a wonderful hostess! Best to you and your family for new year. Looking forward to seeing you at the Blogger Fling!

  7. Thank you for the recap of wildflower stars. Sad to say I have only two out of 12 - the Zigzag Goldenrod and Wild Senna.

  8. Blissed out bees on asparagus fern for you. Happy New Year filled with wildflowers and pollinators!

  9. A beautiful walk through your year!
    Happy New Year!

  10. I have zig zag goldenrod and wild senna (partridge pea) in my garden, too. I love your hophornbeam! I wish I had a spot for one.


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