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

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday 2020 Roundup of Wildflower Stars

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Happy Holidays to all. 

I am especially thankful that I have had a garden to take my troubles to this year. My garden has a great big heart and arms that envelope a troubled spirit. That's what I've done more days than I can recall during this crazy year. Sitting there on my bright blue waiting chair, I noticed my heart would stop racing, my breathing would slow down and my thoughts would fill with celebration instead of worry or complaining. If life is getting to be too much find a quiet place to sit and breath. Pay attention to what's happening in the moment; that's your moment; your moment in your life. It's precious and so are you.xoxogail



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. It's the holiday and there's lots going on and people are busy, so no Mr Linky this month. Should you want to share a post, please leave a link in comments. Mr Linky will be back in January. xoxo

January 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: Resurrection Fern

Pleopeltis polypodioides is remarkably beautiful and resilient. If you've seen it covering the limbs of an ancient oak tree you'll know what I mean by beautiful and if you've seen it shrivel up in a drought and resurrect when the rain returns, you will know what I mean by resilient.

Resurrection fern in Edwin Warner Park

 Pleopeltis polypodioides is found in hardwood forests throughout the Southeast, as far north as New York and as far west as Texas. Due to its ability to withstand drought, it can be found in a variety of habitats, but it needs a host plant on which to anchor itself. Resurrection ferns often favor oak trees and the one's I have seen in nearby woodlands have all been oaks.

The resurrection fern is a type of epiphytic fern, which means it grows on top of other plants. It is not a parasitic plant and does not harm the host plant. It gets its nutrients from the air and water. Like all ferns, it reproduces by spores, not seeds or fruit. The spores are housed in structures called sori on the underside of fronds.

February 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: Alabama Croton Revisited

I can clearly recall the first time I saw many of the Wildflower Wednesday stars, but, Croton alabamensis is not one of them. What I remember was how long and hard I searched for it. I was thrilled when Paul Moore, a dear friend and fellow wildflower aficionado offered a seedling to me. I clearly remember the day I drove to his garden to pick up the Alabama croton. If one can dance while driving it was certainly me.

 Alabama croton is endemic to a few counties in Alabama, one county in Middle Tennessee (Coffee) and three counties in faraway Texas (Croton alabamensis var. texensis/Texabama croton) and is still nearly impossible to find for sale.

Alabama Croton is the bees knees.

  • it's not deterred by dry, poor, limey soil
  • it easily braves hot summers like we've been having the past few years,
  • it will grow in decent garden soil that is well draining,
  • it grows in the full sun, but, can appreciate a semi-shady location, 
  • it's native to Middle Tennessee, 
  • it's locally sourced, and 
  • it has year round interest.
This rare, semi-evergreen southern shrub is worthy of wider use in gardens. Alabama croton is an irregular, multi-stemmed shrub that grows to 5′ tall. Its bright green foliage with striking, silvery scales beneath is attractive in summer as well as in autumn when it develops pumpkin-orange colored foliage.


March 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: Virginia Bluebells

Mertensia virginica is in gorgeous bloom in natural areas all around middle Tennessee.**

It's hard to believe, but, this is one wildflower not in my garden. Once upon a time there was a small, but, lovely stand that made me smile every spring. A dozen years ago we reworked the front garden path. We made it wider, built a small wall and had the workers place a beautiful boulder a few feet from the new path. It wasn't until the following spring, when I couldn't find any blooming Virginia bluebells that I realized that the boulder was sitting on top of them. 


Mertensia virginica is a member of the Boraginaceae (Borage) family. Wildflowers in this family are most often blue, mauve, pink or purple, and many of them change from reddish to blue as the flowers age. The leaves of most species in this family are hairy, and some of them can cause uncomfortable skin irritation if they are handled repeatedly. Although, Virginia bluebells share the color changing flower characteristic with other Borage family members, their leaves, stems and flowers are not hairy. The genus name Mertensia is in honor of the German botanist Franz Karl Mertens (1764-1831).


April 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: Eastern Red Columbine

Aquilegia canadensis has bloomed just in time for migrating Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and that's no coincidence. Hummingbirds and certain flowers have co-adapted over millions of years to form a mutually beneficial relationship. Hummingbirds migrate thousands of miles annually and they're movement north typically coincides with the blooming of these preferred flowers. Eastern red columbine (trumpet honeysuckles, too) hold more nectar than other flowers and are irresistible to hummingbirds. Their co-adapted/mutually beneficial relationship is pretty cool. The long bill and tongue of these hummers fits into the throat of their preferred flowers to easily reach the nectar, and while feeding, grains of pollen spill onto the head of the bird and is carried to other columbines insuring pollination.


The bumblebee is another important pollinator and collects nectar and pollen for their larvae.  Some of our larger queen bumblebees, which are also active in early spring, have proboscises long enough to reach the nectar; others “cheat” (Eastern carpenter bees are known nectar robbers)  by tearing holes in the spurs to steal nectar without performing pollination services.

The co-adaption dance is marvelous and it's happening in gardens all over the Eastern United States.


May 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: Penstemon calycosus

 As I walked the garden this month and watched Penstemon calycosus go from bud to full bloom I was reminded of when we first met. It was love at first sight, but, it took me years to find it. Here's the story.

Finding new wildflowers is still a joy, but, back then, I was recovering from feeling like a complete garden failure. I was terribly inexperienced and it hadn't occurred to me that the plants that I saw growing so happily in other gardens wouldn't grow in mine. I had no idea that my garden conditions were not like my friend's yards. I assumed they were because we were gardening in the same neighborhood. It took a bit of research to figure out that this yard used to be part of a woodland of native trees, shrubs, perennials and ephemerals before developers bulldozed it to create new housing for a growing middle class in the post war 50s. They built brick houses that had deep backyards and bare front yards. They left a few trees, but took out the understory and planted lawn grasses, so that boys and girls could play baseball, kickball and reach for the sky on their backyard swings. There was one owner of our property before we bought it. Lawn was sparse when we moved here in 1985 and it's obvious to me now that it must have always struggled, but, shagbark hickories, elms, ashes, oaks, junipers and rough leaved dogwoods kicked butt and thrived. So did the wildflowers which were growing in the woodland remnants on the edges and corners of the garden. 


Penstemon calycosus became a foundation plant for my late spring garden. I transplanted it to the front garden where it began to set seed and spread. I still delight in the buds and blooms and wait impatiently for the first Bumblebees to visit it in May. It's a major food source for bumbles and hummingbirds. I miss the activity when bloom time passes, but other beauties move in to provide for them.
It's a fantastic plant for moist sunny garden beds or woodland edges. I like the lance-shaped, semi-glossy, medium green, finely saw-toothed edged foliage that is semi-evergreen in my garden. The snapdragon like flowers are produced on terminal panicles that bloom for at least a month, especially if the spring is cooler. Folks further north might have a longer bloom time than here.


June 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.


July 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.

August 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: Verbesina virginica

It's rough and tumble wildflower time in my garden.

The take care of themselves Autumn beauties are beginning to bloom and our wildflower star, Verbesina virginica is looking its wildflower best, dressed in white flowers and wearing nature's late summer visiting jewels.

If you're new to Clay and Limestone, rough and tumble wildflowers are simple wildflowers that bloom their hearts out and require the easiest of care. Many have never been hybridized, which means they haven't had their best characteristic bred out of them. Rough and tumble wildflowers, like Frostweed, are doing the job nature intended them to do, which is to make a lot of food (nectar and/or pollen) and bloom exactly when the critters need it. Once bloom is past and the seeds ripen, they become feeding stations for over wintering birds which seek out those seeds.

I know you'll agree with me when I say, nature's design is amazing.


September 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: Partidge Pea, a Fabulous Fabaceae Goes To Seed

 I love plants that make a big show and Chamaecrista fasciculata/Partridge Pea out did itself this year. I scattered seed (with inoculant) a few years ago and it's grown from a few plants to a large and floriferously beautiful patch. If you want a long blooming plant (mid June to today) that also attracts butterflies (Cloudless sulfur) and bees then this annual is a great choice.

Partridge Pea has been a Wildflower Wednesday star twice and most regular readers are familiar with its wonderfulness:

 Here's what I love about it!

  • long bloom season
  • pollinator magnet
  • pretty flowers
  • ferny leaves that add texture to a garden bed
  • host plant for butterfly caterpillars. Cloudless Sulphur caterpillars will feed on both the Partridge Pea’s leaves and its flowers. You can tell which the caterpillar concentrated on by its color, which may be yellow or green. 
  • Nitrogen left in ground from decaying matter improves soil fertility.
  • ecologically valuable 


October 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: Porteranthus stipulatus

Our October Wildflower Wednesday star is a beauty each fall as the deeply cut, toothed, trifoliate, medium green leaves turn a delightful golden orange.

I fell in love with its fall color.

 I am not sure why Porteranthus stipulatus isn't in more gardens, after all, who needs big showy blooms on every plant when subtle beauty and charm can be found on this lovely native. It is found naturally growing in rich woods in a good portion of the Eastern US. It can take full sun in northern states, but, I recommend half sun in gardens that are on the hot/dry side. It has tolerated dry conditions in my garden, blooms every year and the fall color is grand.

 Trust me on this, it is a charming plant and worth the search. Try GroWild here in Middle Tennessee and if you live way north of here, check with Prairie Moon Nursery.


November 2020 Wildflower Wednesday: A favorite late blooming Asteracea

I appreciate flowers that bloom later in Autumn and that's exactly what I've come to expect from our star, Symphyotrichum praealtum

 Symphyotrichum praealtum is a tall grass prairie native that is harder to find than a tall grass prairie in Tennessee. It's listed as an endangered and threatened species in several states, including Tennessee, and in several Canadian provinces. (Go here to read about rescue efforts in Canada.) 

Luckily for me, a blogging friend generously shared several starts of the plant she calls 'Miss Bessie'. I am happy to say they have bloomed at Clay and Limestone for over a dozen years. It's ironic and wonderful that an endangered Middle Tennessee wildflower found its way home via North Carolina.

 After the ex-asters fade Symphyotrichum praealtum/Willowleaf aster bursts into blooms. Suffice it to say that it reigns supreme as my longest blooming rough and tumble wildflower, often continuing to bloom after freezing temperatures. Rough and tumble wildflowers are simple flowers that haven't had their best characteristics hybridized out of them. They bloom their hearts out and require no special care. That's Willow-leaf aster to a T.


Thank you for stopping by. I hope you have a Happy Christmas and New Year


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. I enjoyed your roundup of native wildflowers! You always say such positive things and the joy you find in gardening radiates through your writing.

    I’ve always wanted Alabama croton but it probably wouldn’t like our very acidic soils here. You’re not kidding when you say it’s hard to find, Woodlanders doesn’t even sell it.

    I am so glad Miss Bessie has done well for you. It’s such a boon for insects late in the season.

    Here is my contribution to WW: https://sweetbay103.blogspot.com/2020/12/wildflower-wednesday_23.html

  2. So many favorites here, Gail. It's always a pleasure to view your photos, and to remember the past year and dream of the growing season ahead. Happy Holidays!

  3. I love how you champion the wildflowers each month with your beautiful photos and compelling text, dearest Gail. Love xoxoxo

  4. I always look to your blog for wildflower inspiration Gail. I have many of these plants as the ones that grow in my area. I can just see you dancing in your car as you drive home to plant the Croton Alabama. That would be one happy gardener. :)
    Merry Christmas.

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  6. Gardeners have the advantage of being able to shut out the world while outdoors enjoying our labor. Definitely how I maintained my sanity during this awful year. Onward to 2021, with hope!

  7. My December wildflowers


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