Don’t be fooled…

Don’t be fooled by the common name of this plant. Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale – http://bit.ly/1BOq8ke) is no threat to you allergy sufferers. In reality, this lovely fall blooming composite is a wonderful addition to a native landscape. Late summer and fall are dire times for organisms living in temperate regions. The looming threat of winter causes a hurry amongst creatures big and small to store up enough energy reserves to survive the coming months of scarcity and famine. Any plant that blooms late into the fall offers a beacon to pollinators that need all the food they can get to overwinter. Sneezeweed is such a plant. Often still blooming when the first frosts hit, its beauty also offers us humans the last vestiges of botanical enjoyment before our backyards go to sleep. Its daisy-like flowers with their domed center disks even verge on what one would consider as cute. Sneezeweed likes a decent amount of sun and moist to wet soils. If given these conditions it will reseed readily. What seeds don’t germinate will be greatly appreciated by overwintering birds and mammals. The common name of this species comes from the erroneous idea that crushing up the flowers of this plant and snorting them could cure the common cold. A rather toxic chemical within the plant, when snorted, causes severe bouts of sneezing. With that being said, as long as you are not ingesting the plant in any way, it can only offer beauty and enjoyment to your native landscape.

 

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Under-appreciated Goldenrods

It is hard to think of a group of native plants that is as under-appreciated than the goldenrods (Solidago sp.). Far more than just some yellow flowering plants that show up in fallow fields and abandoned lots, the goldenrods are an ecologically important group that offers pollinators and other animals a literal bonanza of food, shelter, and nesting materials well into the fall. There are two major groups of goldenrods based on the type of habitats they prefer. The prairie goldenrods contain many of the species we are most familiar with including early goldenrod (Solidago juncea – http://bit.ly/1tm64Rl), stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida – http://bit.ly/1uXcObm), grass-leaved goldenrod (Solidago graminifolia – http://bit.ly/VEWey2), and late goldenrod (Solidago gigantea – http://bit.ly/1lhRcDG). These species prefer a good amount of sun and can be quite aggressive in open habitats. This, coupled with their overall size, means that you should plan ahead if you are short on space. The woodland goldenrods are some of my personal favorites and are arguably some of the most showy. These include zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis – http://bit.ly/1BCGEUm), elm-leaved goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia – http://bit.ly/1peNEC7), and swamp goldenrod (Solidago patula – http://bit.ly/VEWDjT). As you may have guessed, these species prefer a bit more shade than their cousins. There is a species for almost every occasion. For those of you with more specific habitat needs, perhaps a species like bog goldenrod (Solidago uliginosa – http://bit.ly/1peO23f) or cliff goldenrod (Solidago sciaphila – http://bit.ly/1kVlBHw) may offer up something different. For something entirely different, why not consider upland white goldenrod (Solidago ptarmicoides – http://bit.ly/XADSQh)? Unlike its bright yellow cousins, this lovely little plant throws off white flowers, which resemble those of true asters. Whatever your preference or situation may be, there is a goldenrod to suit all occasions. Sadly, goldenrods often get blamed for causing the dreaded hayfever. This is simply not true. Goldenrods are all insect pollinated plants. Their pollen is quite large and sticky so as to better adhere to the body of visiting insects. Because of this, goldenrod pollen cannot become airborne and can never make its way into your sinuses. The true cause of hayfever is the wind pollinated ragweeds, which broadcast copious amounts of lightweight pollen into the air. We cannot stress enough how important goldenrods are on the landscape. Including them into your property will provide ecosystem services will into the fall when most other plant life is shutting down.

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Standing at over 7 feet tall

Standing at over 7 feet tall, it is a wonder why sweet Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum – http://bit.ly/1rhvfah) doesn’t get more attention. Far more tolerant of shade that its more common cousin, sweet Joe Pye weed offers those needing something tall and showy in darker areas. Given rich soils, this species really is a show stealer. It has soft pink flower clusters that are pleasantly aromatic. Clump a few of these plants together and the aroma will even rival the site. Of course, the scent of a flower isn’t there to simply amuse us humans. Instead, floral scent is meant to attract pollinators and attract it does. Everything from small solitary bees to some of our largest butterflies pay a visit to this plant. There are few sites more stunning in a shade garden than a flock of tiger swallowtails and monarchs feeding at the flowers. What’s more, sweet Joe Pye weed is deer resistant! Even when not in flower, the whorls of large, serrated leaves put on a display like no other. As summer begins to wind down, sweet Joe Pye weed is there to soften the blow. Make sure to add this species to your fall planting list. You won’t be sorry you did.

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The Original Bluegrass

Few groups of plants are more iconic to the prairies of North America than the warm season bunch grasses. The idea of amber waves of grain was present on this continent long before the agricultural revolution hit. Two of the most hardy and iconic species of grass native to eastern North America are the bluestems. Though they aren’t in the same genus, big blustem (Andropogon gerardiihttp://bit.ly/1oEtLny) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scopariumhttp://bit.ly/1nJyAHa) are often grouped together by the blueish hue their leaves take on during the growing season. Both are warm season grasses meaning that when all other plants are taking a hit from the often insufferable heat and dryness that comes with the dog days of summer, the bluestems are just starting to grow. Both are what we call C4 grasses. Without going into too much detail, this basically means that while other plants need to open the pores in the leaves during the day to take in CO2, the bluestems wait until night when it is cooler and evaporation isn’t as prominent. They take up and store CO2 all night so that this way they can keep them closed all day while the process the CO2 collected the night before. Being bunch grasses, the bluestems respond well to fire. They are also quite immune to browsing pressure as their growth centers are near the base of the plant instead of at the top. Either way, bundles of big and little bluestem are an impressive sight to see, especially during the hottest parts of the summer. In fall and winter, their foliage takes on a pleasing red hue. Flocks of overwintering birds will descend upon a stand of bluestem to feed on the seeds. All in all, you can’t go wrong with the bluestems!

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Lovely Lobelias

As a whole, lobelias pretty much sell themselves. All it takes is seeing one in bloom with the naked eye and even an ardent cynic would have a change of mind. The genus as a whole is quite a varied grouping of plants. Lobelias come in many shapes and sizes and their diversity of habitat preferences are considerable. Here at Prairie Moon, we offer four fantastic species – cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis – http://bit.ly/1oEUlMG), great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica – http://bit.ly/1knUqET), Indian tobacco(Lobelia inflata –http://bit.ly/1sxWvhV), and pale spiked lobelia (Lobelia spicata – http://bit.ly/1lBX1WZ). All are late summer bloomers that thrive in moist soils. They start easily from seed and prefer a fair amount of sunlight. Lobelias produce a secondary compound known as “lobeline,” which deters herbivores. Flower colors range from some of the truest blue in the world of botany and some of the softest lavender to a red so deep that, when standing in front of a patch of cardinal flower in full bloom, one must almost squint to take it all in. A camera will never do it justice. Once established, lobelias can be quite hardy. Consider putting some of these species in your garden. Your friendly neighborhood pollinators will thank you.10553325_10154417385760268_8186277911502168274_n 1620436_10154417385810268_2101045614114067832_n 1426480_10154417385870268_9139059206482002259_n

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Shrubby St. John’s Wort

As far as shrubs go, you simply cannot go wrong with shrubby St. John’s wort (Hypericum prolificum – http://bit.ly/1tKDVWG). It is rare that you get such beauty out of something so hardy. Able to grow under just about any soil condition you could throw at it, this lovely shrub is also quite resistant to deer and rabbits. Its secret lies in the toxic substances within its tissues that irritate the gastrointestinal tracts of mammals. It is, however, quite attractive to a wide array of pollinators. Bumblebees are especially fond of the bright yellow flowers. It is also a host plant for a variety of caterpillars. Given enough sun, shrubby St. John’s wort will take on a rounded appearance but it can be pruned back as well to give it a more dense habit. On the decline in some parts of its range, this species is actually considered threatened in New York and endangered in New Jersey. In the wild it can be found growing everywhere from stream banks to barren, rocky outcrops. This is a great addition to a native garden as it provides aesthetic appeal as well as ecosystem function. Humans won’t be the only creatures enjoying this shrub. Get your bare root orders in now so you will be able to get them when we ship again in the fall.

 

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Culver’s Root

With towering spikes of densely packed, white flowers, Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum – http://bit.ly/WNXYWJ) really stands out amongst the late summer vegetation. Standing over 5 feet in height, one could hardly miss the display. That goes for pollinators as well. At least in my garden, one would be hard pressed to find another plant that gets more attention from a wider array of pollinators than Culver’s root. In the wild it prefers moist soils and a lot of sun. Offering it these conditions in the garden is a sure way to success with this species. It can handle a bit of shade but it will tend to flop over after a while. Culver’s root can take some time to get itself established but once it is happy, you will be rewarded with increasing amounts of flower spikes year after year. It produces copious amounts of small seeds too. $50 per ounce of seed may seem like a lot but when you consider just how many seeds make up an ounce (roughly 800,000), it is actually some of the cheapest seed we offer. Finding Culver’s root in the wild is becoming harder in harder throughout its range. With shrinking habitat and increased pressure from white tailed deer, vast numbers of this plant are disappearing season after season. Choosing plants like Culver’s root for a native planting helps ensure that this plant will be around well into the future.

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