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 bugguide.net, 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!