Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday: Cycles of Change

There's a change in the air.  Evenings are cool, and early mornings are even cooler.  More Monarch butterflies are seen floating through the air, and the hummingbirds are in a feeding frenzy at the feeders and at their favorite plants in the garden, perhaps fueling up for their fall migration.

It is still August, however, usually a hot and muggy month here in my little corner of the Midwest, but after the hottest July on record, the cooler days and occasional rainshowers of the past two weeks have been a welcome relief.  I can feel a little bit of fall in the air.

Nowhere in the garden is this subtle change more evident than in the natives. Goldenrod and asters are taking the spotlight in the butterfly garden. 

I'm not sure of the name of this goldenrod, possibly Solidago canadensis, Canada goldenrod, or Solidago altissima, tall goldenrod.  But it is definitely a native, having never been planted by a gardener's hands, but growing freely around the farm wherever it wants.

The asters are also growing at will in the butterfly garden, but these were intentionally planted--or at least one of them was.  One small seedling, simply labeled "Native Aster," probably a New England aster, was planted several years ago in this space and has multiplied over and over.  A few bloomed unusually early this year, as you can see from the faded blooms, but most are just now beginning to open up.

Also blooming in the butterfly garden is this Agastache 'Blue Fortune.'  Although it's actually a cultivar, at least one of its parents is a native, and in many ways it acts like a native.  It's attractive to butterflies and has a slight licorice fragrance; it has also been as tough as any native, surviving the hot, dry summer in an area that rarely receives any extra watering.

Another native that should have been included in my recent post on volunteers is this pokeweed Phytolacca americana. A giant specimen found growing behind the barn several years ago was cut down, but not before the birds decided to spread its seeds, apparently.  Technically, this is really a weed, but it's been pretty well-behaved thus far, and the birds love these dark berries, so I've left the few plants alone. 

One of them even found its way into the lily bed this year, and I decided to let it grow.  As you can see, I definitely belong to the "clown-pants" style of gardening mentioned recently by Cindy of Texas and a term coined by our hostess Gail.  The pokeweed is flanked by a 'Vanilla Strawberry' hydrangea, a NOID phlox, and not pictured, irises and Rudbeckias--whatever happened to my design plan for this garden??

Still carrying on during this transition time from summer to fall are the Susans.  There are Rudbeckia hirta in the butterfly garden, but elsewhere are a few Susans whose origins are a mystery to me.

I think these may be the brown-eyed sisters, Rudbeckia triloba, since they have reddish stems and a dome-shaped disk in the center.

I do know the name of this Rudbeckia, however--'Prairie Sun.'  I first found these last fall amongst the usual mums and kale for fall plantings at one of the local garden centers.  I just love this variety and started some seedlings this spring.  Only two of them have bloomed, and this one certainly doesn't do justice to this green-eyed species, but it's in the roadside garden, another place that I am very negligent about watering.  We'll see if it self-seeds like the other hirtas; I certainly hope so.

While the previous natives are just beginning their season, for many natives this is time for making seeds. There are still a few late coneflower blooms, but most of them are looking pretty tattered.  I always debate with myself--should I cut at least some of them down to make the garden look a little neater?  My decision was made last week when I spied a pair of goldfinches (his mate--I presume--was below him out of camera range) feasting on the seedheads.  Needless to say, the fading coneflowers will be staying the rest of the year.

The birds may not be fond of these seeds, but I think Baptisia seeds are very striking, and I like the way they rattle in the breeze.  Even my oldest son, who was helping mow one day, noticed these and asked me about this plant.  When one of my non-gardening children notices a specific plant, then you know it is something special!

   Butterfly weed, Ascelpias tuberosa, is a host plant for Monarch larvae.  I haven't noticed any caterpillars on my plants this year, but it was hard to miss these creatures--Large Milkweed Bugs Oncopeltus fasciatus (oh, the wonders of Google!)  According to, they feast on the seeds of milkweed plants. During the feeding cycle, they ingest toxins which can sicken any predators who might try to devour them.  Those bright-colored bodies are a warning to any foolish predators that danger lies within! As far as I can tell, they don't do any damage to the plant, but merely enjoy the seeds--and there are plenty of those to go around.

There are still a few blooms on the butterfly weed, but most have turned to seed pods,  I love the bright orange of butterfly weed when it is in bloom, but I think I enjoy this wispy stage almost as much.  Soon the winds will carry these tiny treasures off, and the cycle will begin all over again.

Wildflower Wednesday is celebrated the fourth Wednesday of every month by our hostess Gail of Clay and Limestone.  Thanks, Gail, for hosting this--I learn something new about wildflowers and natives every month!


  1. Sure wished we lived closer!! We have so many similar plants (and bugs!! mine milkweed is covered with the Large Milkweed bugs). Your Goldfinches are enjoying the Coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans....lots of seeds.
    I have a couple Baptisias and there is a seedling of something coming up near one....not sure if it is a Baptisia OR a weed. Time will tell. Love the seed pods.

  2. The birds seeded a pokeweed for me, too. It has been a fairly mannerly grower for me and I like the blooms and the berries.

  3. Rose, It sure looks like a change of seasons in your garden~No goldenrod in bloom in my garden, but, I've seen it in fields. Happy Wildflower Wednesday and Happy Clown Pants Garden's everywhere.

  4. Love the wispy threads and seeds of the Butterfly Weed! That is a beautiful photo. Not many wildflowers are blooming in my garden right now--most are planted natives, hybrids, and non-natives. But it sure is a beautiful August, as you mention. Enjoy, Rose!

  5. Those milkweed bugs are like yuck. I think there are some on mine but not that many. The rudbeckia and agastache have been stars here too. It's hard to believe it is almost fall!

  6. Isn't it a wonderful time of year? Love seeing all these wildlings.

  7. Yellow flowers, yellow bird! A lovely end to a day that started with a dead computer and a wiped-out hard drive. Your photos remind me of Nature's soothing effect on stressed- out brains.

  8. Lovely flowers!
    Great bird photo!
    Have a wonderful day!
    Lea's Menagerie

  9. You've really captured the feel of late August, and the end of a season. It looks like that here too, and feels the same. I love this time of year.

  10. Rose girl you have a lot going on in your gardens .. but I wonder why you don't have "iron weed" ? I have been seeing a lot of PR about how wonderful it is in the late summer garden for colour .. I have to look into myself because I am very curious .. I am waiting for a special peony to arrive for Fall planting .. I can't get over how beautiful the foliage stayed even in the horrible drought times we had .. they are amazing plants !
    I love seeing the milkweed silk and seeds .. mine packed up way too early for some reason .. so I am enjoying your pictures : )
    Ah ... cooler temps ... can't wait!! LOL

  11. It's the end of august and there also changes to see we will turn into autumn. But when I look at your photo's of your garden the colors are great. The last photo is very impresive. Never saw this seedheads before.
    Have a wonderful weekend Rose.

  12. Love your natives but I have to say I find pokeweed just so resilient and colorful as the berries brighten.

  13. Your natives have done so very well!
    We are in day 87 of the worst drought ever in K.C.....I just came in from watering the zinnias, my nectar flowers for the butterflies. I counted 29 Black Cats on the fennel, they give me hope. I think I will sow more zinnias for late September/October nectar. Someday the drought will end....until that time we have our straws in the river and water all day every day...very little thrive just staying alive .
    Please send rain.
    Sherry, who loves caterpillars

  14. Even your weeds are beautiful! Especially the wispy butterfly weed.

  15. neat vs goldfinches? The goldfinches! Every time.

  16. Hi Rose,
    I can't remember if I know the exact definition of a clown pants style of gardening, but if I have pink cleomes growing next to orange Mexican sunflowers, with lots of yellow and purple nearby, I'm thinking I may qualify.

    I enjoyed seeing your blooms. I didn't show my pokeweed because it's across the street, and I'm planning on doing a post on the area soon.

    I hope we continue to get some more rain this weekend and the rest of the season.

  17. Janet, I've often thought the same thing! I've picked a couple of pods from the baptisia, thinking I might try to start more plants from the seeds. But usually I have the best luck if plants re-seed themselves; I haven't seen any babies yet, though.

    Cindy, Compared to other weeds, the pokeweed really is very far. I just think it is such a cool plant.

    Gail, My goldenrod usually blooms early, and it always makes me think of fall, even if it really isn't yet. I remember when you explained "clown-pants" gardening to me--I'm definitely in that category:)

    Beth, The butterfly weed is such a neat plant; much more photogenic in this stage!

    Tina, I don't think I've ever had so many milkweed bugs on my butterfly weed before. I do hope I'm right that they don't cause any damage, because this plant has really grown.

    Lisa, The wild things are doing quite well here these days:)

    DJ, So sorry about your computer--I would have been very upset, too! I hope you can somehow retrieve your photos and other data.

    Lea, Thanks! This is the first decent photo I've ever been able to get of a goldfinch on my coneflowers. I think he was too hungry to notice me.

  18. Laurrie, We're back in the 90's this weekend, but somehow it still feels like fall. I'm hoping this heat is summer's last hurrah.

    Joy, Ironweed is a plant I've wanted to add to the butterfly garden for some time. I haven't found any locally when there are native plant sales, and I always forget when I'm catalog shopping. I need to write this down--it's one of those "out of sight, out of mind" plants for me:)

    Marijke, I've been trying to add more fall-blooming plants to my garden in recent years; the natives are the best.

    Layanee, I think the pokeweed berries are so cool, too.

    Sherry, You have really been hit hard by the drought; I am praying for rain for you. My fennel didn't grow this year at all, so I've missed seeing the caterpillars this year--29 is amazing! But I do have a few swallowtails anyway; the zinnias have drawn so many butterflies lately.

    Liz, I must confess I've only shown the pretty weeds. I have lots of ugly ones I am doing battle with:)

    Diana, It didn't take much convincing for me the leave the coneflowers as they are:)

    Sue, Gail explained the clown-pants style to me one time, and if I can quote her accurately, it refers to just plopping plants into the ground wherever there is room without thinking of color combos or foliage, etc. I definitely do a lot of that, and yes, I think you belong to the club, too:) We could definitely use more rain this fall, and I hate to say it, but more snow this winter to give the soil some much-needed moisture.

  19. Yes, your definition sounds like a lot of what I do, and it is better than blowing up a bunch of balloons, like most clowns do. Thanks!

  20. Hi Rose, yes, Goldenrod and Asters really say the end of Summer to me which I find particularly sad this year as, for us, it never really arrived :-( However, I'm sure you are glad of some relief at last!

    The Rudbeckias are so lovely and colourful, I particularly like the brown eyed ones. The Large Milkweed Bugs looked like they were in paradise but I was sorry to read you haven't seen any Monarch caterpillars this time.

    Lovely to see the pretty Goldfinch. I think it is definitely worth leaving seed heads for the birds and of course they provide snug Winter quarters for insects too :-)

    An interesting read as always Rose and lovely photos too.

  21. I've enjoy your clown-pants style of gardening, Rose. Ha! It's always a pleasure to take the tour with you, makes me wish I was there in person to walk around the farm with you.

    I haven't blogged since the end of May but thought it time to visit a few of my favorite bloggers.

    Hope it's been a happy summer for you and the family.

  22. Thank you so much for identifying pokeweed. Found one recently in the back of my nursing home. Quite majestic in its on way.

    The Canada Goldenrod. It puts the locally found native hereto shame.

  23. I always go back and forth on the decision to leave the black-eyed susan seeds for the birds or cut them as well. It ends up being a mix.

    I actually also love pokeweed, despite it's slightly weedy nature. I have a small stand of them threatening to take over my blueberry patch, but all the critters love them. At least the little seedlings are much easier to pull than the millions of crabgrass seedlings!

  24. You have a fantastic selection of natives, I particularly liked the goldfinch dining on the coneflowers, glad you decided to leave the spent blooms to the birds.

  25. Hard to think that summer is winding down, once again. It's been very very hot here and way too dry. Our water table is very low. I don't remember a summer being so hot and dry before.

    Love your pics, especially the silky milk weed at the end, oh and the monarch larvae. Never seen those before.
    I do miss my garden, but as fall approaches, I won't miss raking all those leaves (or watching them blow all over the neighbourhood). LOL

  26. What a beautiful post! I love the goldenrod. We don't have it here. I wish we did :-)

  27. I love the goldenrod! I wish I had all the space you have for so many varieties! Thank goodness for a break in the heat! Cheers!

  28. What wonderful wildflowers! I must remember to join in next month with my Baxter wildflowers. Your golden rod is so vibrant. I mark the end of summer and early fall when the monarchs start heading south.

  29. The natives do love the fall, and I'm thankful for them everyday. My goldenrod doesn't mind heat or lack of rain. It just blooms and blooms. Also, the gorgeous asters are something to behold (the real asters and their former relatives). I love your garden Rose. I really do.~~Dee

  30. Songbird, Yes, I will be glad to say goodbye to the extreme heat of this summer, though we're sure to have more before fall. I've never found any Monarch caterpillars on the butterfly weed, but perhaps they're hiding.

    Donna, So good to hear from you! I've missed your posts; I hope it's been a good summer for you, too.

    Patrick, I think the pokeweed is interesting, too, and worth staying in my garden. I don't need any hybrid goldenrod here!

    Indie, I always wind up leaving the Susans and coneflowers over the winter, too; the birds do love them. You're right about the pokeweed--if it was harder to pull out, I probably would have yanked this one out of my garden long ago.

    Marguerite, This was the first time I'd ever been able to get a photo of the goldfinches on the coneflowers. I love the zoom on my new camera!

    Wendy, This summer has indeed gone by quickly, though some of those hot days seemed to drag on forever:) I wouldn't miss raking leaves, either!

    Ruth, Not everyone thinks the wild goldenrod is pretty, but I certainly do.

    Garden Diaries, I have lots of space--I just wish I had the energy to dig up more of it for more plants!

    Sarah, I do hope you'll join in for WW next month! I'd love to see some of your Maine wildflowers.

    Dee, Thanks for your kind words. Yes, the natives don't seem to mind the heat and drought nearly as much as the rest of my garden.


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