Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Three Wildflowers for Wednesday and Thursday

It's time for Wildflower Wednesday once again, a monthly discussion of wildflowers started by native enthusiast Gail at Clay and Limestone.  Two years ago I couldn't tell the difference between a cup plant and a compass plant, so it has been an enlightening and enjoyable experience to learn about wildflowers from Gail's and now others' posts.  I have become more aware and curious about the plants growing freely around me and have begun to do some research on my own to learn more about them.

I didn't have to look far, though, to find three choices for today's posts--all of these are blooming in my garden right now:

This is the first year for blooms on my Physostegia virginiana, otherwise known as 'False Dragonhead' or 'Obedient Plant.'  A member of the mint family, Obedient Plant has single-branched stems that can grow up to 4 feet tall. The flowers are tightly clustered in long spikes at the top of the stems.  Blooms are usually rosy pink or purple, especially in cultivated forms, while the native wild forms are usually white with some pink or purple tints.  The name 'Obedient Plant' comes from the flowers' tendency to stay in the same position, even if moved to the side.  'Obedient Plant' is pollinated by bees and visited by other insects and hummingbirds.

Neither of my sources* mentioned that this is an aggressive spreader, other than in moist sites, but I can attest to the fact that it does spread rather easily.  Last year I planted one lone plant, purchased from the local Prairie Plant Society.  Before it grew much past two feet tall, a rambunctious Sophie knocked it over and  broke off the stem.  I thought that would be the end of it, but apparently it had had time to set some seed because this year I have a whole cluster of Obedient Plants at the back of my Butterfly Garden, as seen in the top photo.

Also blooming at the back of the Butterfly Garden right now--and behind the barn and the sheds, next to my compost pile, and pretty much anyplace with undisturbed soil--is the native Goldenrod.  This is not your neat, dwarf cultivar, but  probably  Solidago Canadensis, or Canada Goldenrod, a native perennial common throughout Illinois, despite its Canadian name.  This wildflower can grow up to 7 ' tall; its hairy stems are topped with flower heads arranged in a pyramidal cluster on the upper side of the branches.  Blooms last for about three weeks from late summer to early fall.

Fortunately, more and more of the public is now aware that Goldenrod is not the allergy culprit it was once accused of being.  In fact, Native Americans used to make a tea from it to treat kidney problems and chewed the crushed flowers to treat sore throats.  A wide variety of insects are attracted to this plant, including species of wasps and flies who play an important role in insect control.  Several species of birds as well as deer and rabbits are also attracted to Goldenrod. I found this out for myself while taking pictures for my last post--each plant was full of bees, butterflies, and other insects.

And now, since tomorrow is Cindy's "Three for Thursday" and I usually don't post two days in a row, I hope you don't mind that I do double duty here by adding a third wildflower for Thursday as well.  Asclepias tuberosa, or 'Butterfly Weed,' is a native perennial and one I know most of you are familiar with.  As its name implies, it is popular with butterflies, especially the Monarch, which is why I planted it.  The larvae consume the leaves, and the adults feed on the nectar.  I've never been able to photograph a Monarch on it, but I have seen them sipping the nectar, and evidence can be found of their feasting by the chewed off stems.  It also attracts long-tongued bees and hummingbirds. 

Once called 'pleurisy root,' because it was considered a cure for pleurisy, Butterfly Weed was also a favorite of some Native American tribes, who used it to treat a host of physical ailments.

Asclepias tuberosa lacks the milky latex sap typical of other members of the Milkweed family, and is the only orange milkweed in Illinois.  While the orange blooms have provided a lovely display in my garden all summer,  its fall appearance is pretty cool, too.  Vertical seedpods develop atop the plant, as seen in the previous photo, and then open, displaying the seeds.  (I just had to enlarge these last two photos because i thought they were so cool:) Notice the milkweed bug to the right center of the photo.)

When the seed pod is ready,  a host of seeds attached to silky threads burst forth, ready to be scattered by the wind.  I really should collect some of these seeds before they spread to who knows where.  Butterfly weed is so easy to grow, though is slow to develop and may not survive the winter if a young plant's taproot is planted too close to the surface.  Although I learned this from my sources, I also learned it through experience.  A few years ago I planted two in my roadside garden; only one survived.  Last year I planted two in the Butterfly Garden; only one survived.  But both plants have really taken off this year, the older one in particular, and for me, they are as appealing for their aesthetic value as for their butterfly magnetism. Definitely a plant to include in your garden plans!

*All specific information here comes from two of my favorite sources: Illinois Wildflowers, by Don Kurz, a book I checked out over and over again from the library last summer until I finally broke down and bought my own copy, and a website, Illinois Wildflowers, a source I've noticed that even Gail and others have also used.  Even if you're not from Illinois, you will find both of these sources very useful.  The book has excellent information, accompanied by color photographs of nearly 400 species of wildflowers in the Midwest. My favorite feature of the book is that it is organized by color of blooms, which is certainly useful when you see a wildflower and can't identify it.  The website is also well-researched with color photographs, usually more than one of a plant.  The only problem I have with this website is that the index is organized by botanical names, which makes it a little difficult if you can't identify the plant in the first place.  But if you can determine the botanical name from somewhere else, it is a wealth of information.  And be sure to check out the photographs--almost all were taken in East Central Illinois, in locations very near where I live!

Check out other Wildflower Wednesday postings at Gail's site, and why not join in next month?

And tomorrow, be sure to check out Cindy's creative "Three for Thursday" post!


  1. This is a great post Rose. I have a form of all of these flowers. The Obedient plant is no more obedient than Luna. Geez. It can be invasive, at least in my garden.

  2. Your three are three of my favorites~OKay, I'll tell the truth I love almost all wildflowers~I say almost because I haven't met them all! There's something for every garden in wildflowers and native plants~If the tall goldenrod is too tall~cut it back early on and it will branch like crazy but be shorter~That's my experiment this summer and it seems to be working~gail

  3. I was warned a long time ago to never plant obedient plant and gooseneck loosestrife but I must say the obedient plant is one I really like. It looks so healthy. The goldenrod is a favorite as well. I let that seed in my garden sometimes. (Actually sometimes I can't stop it so have no choice:). Love the milkweed seeds!

  4. The Obedient Plant has such pretty flowers! Any idea if it will grow in Zone 8? I live in Louisiana.

  5. A lovely post for Wildflower Wednesday, Rose. I have a special fondness for the milkweed that holds great memories, playing with them as a child. (Less for the Obedient Plant, which for me is anything but!)

  6. Beautiful photos and great information. I have a field of goldenrod, which I use in arrangement. I've been letting the milkweed grow when I can, but I haven't ever seen any monarchs on it. I planted my first Butterfly weed this spring. It is not doing great. I think I need a spot with more sun.

  7. Hi Rose

    I have the obedient plant in my garden aswell but its not ready to flower just yet - mine is the pinkish variety.

    I love those silky seeds from the milkweed

  8. I laughed when you mentioned that one obedient plant can lead to many. Our horticulture society has a plant sale in the spring and a large number of donated plants are obedient. They are just too easy.

  9. Your wild flowers are lovely Rose, so pretty.

    I am a lover of golden rod and have the dwarf variety in the garden. It seems to be a favourite of hoverfly.

    The butterfly seeds you sent me have produced seven large plants but I do not have any blooms. Hopefuly next year??

    I enjoyed this post Rose, I do love to read about wild matter where their home is!!

  10. All wonderful plants, but I find the Obedient plant can be aggressive in the garden.

  11. Your obedient plants look great! Mine didn't get as much moisture as they needed this year and their blooms were pretty wimpy and brief.

    Love Illinois Wildflowers! Isn't it great?

  12. I had some pink obedient plant when I lived in GA. It was very invasive but I didn't mind.

    Now I have some white growing here. I just planted it about a month ago so I'll have to see how invasive it is.

  13. Very nice post Rose! These three natives are so showy. You've definitely shown how beautiful many of our native plants and their blooms are.

    Our butterfly weed has been slow establishing, and hasn't bloomed yet after two years. My fingers are crossed for next year.

  14. I love Kurz's book and use it even here in Florida. Some of the flowers he features in it also thrive here. I think it's the native lore behind the flowers that makes the book so appealing, and his photos aren't shabby either. Your pic of the seeds and their mode of dispersal is fantastic.

  15. Lovely post! I've so enjoyed my visit. I'll be back again soon!

  16. love those obedient plants. i may possibly have some of them next year but i'm not sure yet if that's what they are hehe.

  17. Lisa, ha, ha, Luna sounds like Sophie:) I hope I don't regret planting this Obedient plant.

    Gail, cutting back the goldenrod sounds like a good idea, but my problem is I don't know what it is until it blooms:)

    Tina, Next year, I might be pulling out Obedient plant seedlings and scolding myself for planting it:)

    Mary, I would think it would grow in Louisiana. My book tells me it likes moist soil, but it also tends to really spread in those areas.

    Joey, I was more familiar with the tall milkweed as a child--fun to blow the wispy seed pods apart:)

    Pat, I am enjoying the wild goldenrod here; it's one "weed" I don't worry about. Butterfly weed does take some time to get established; you might be surprised by it next year.

    Rosie, This is the first year I've noticed the seed pods on my butterfly weed--aren't they cool?

    Gardening, They must be easy to survive a near-death experience last year from my dog:)

    Cheryl, I wonder which seeds we sent? If it's the same butterfly weed, it does take some time to establish itself. I never realized before how much the bees love goldenrod!

    Garden, I'm noticing how many commenters are saying the same thing. Next year I might be doing a post on how to get rid of these "darned things":)

    Rose, It's been so dry here, and I haven't watered this garden area in so long. Not sure if you mean the book or the website--but both are fantastic resources.

    Susie, We may both be pulling out seedlings next year:)

    Linda, My older butterfly weed really took off in its third year, so do have patience. I'm really beginning to appreciate the natives, especially during a hot, dry summer like this one.

    W2W, Thanks; the timing was just right for getting those pix. I think learning about the older uses of these natives is so interesting.

    Meredehuit, Thank you, and thanks for visiting!

    Rachel, You sound like me:) I wasn't sure if this is what they were this spring or just another weed.

  18. "How can they say that there's no God?"

    Your photos make me think that too.

  19. Hello Rose,

    I do love all three plants. We do grow Asclepias here in the desert as well. I love your Obedient plant. The green spikes and flowers are so beautiful :-)

  20. Yep I can attest to Obedient Plant being a spreader. That's why I keep mine contained in my large red tub. ;) Have a nice weekend Rose.

  21. Such a wonderful post, Rose. I have the pink obedient plant and there are 3 of them. This is their 2nd yr (maybe 3rd...I'm losing track) but they remain small, and really have not spread at all. I suppose the climate and conditions where it is planted might make a difference on whether it goes crazy or not. So far so good, and in fact, I wish it would spread for me like it seems to for everyone else!
    I don't have any goldenrod...but enjoyed your photos.
    A. tuberosa is definitely in my garden, and I noticed some green pods on it just recently. I'll keep an eye out for the seeds and silk. I remember the 'common' milkweed from my childhood...always loved to touch it and play with the pods. Now I've learned the 'milky' substance is poisonous/toxic. I wonder why more of us didn't die back then. We didn't know anything or take any precautions (ie: helmets, seatbelts, being gone all day in the woods with no cell phone, etc. Playing with milkweed...ha.

    Thanks for a lovely post!

  22. My obedient plant, in a dry location, has spread into a HUGE mass. Not that I'm complaining, the bees LOVE it. But, yes, it spreads. Aren't milkweed pods the coolest? I don't mind milkweed popping up wherever it wants in my garden. If you ever want to save the seeds, you can easily separate the seeds from the fluff by placing them in a metal container (an old baking sheet even) and setting a match on it. The fluff burns off quickly and safely burns itself out, leaving just the seeds. :)


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