Sunday, June 12, 2011

Native Summer Perennials in Georgia

Summer flowers are not always appreciated because they come during the hot weather when many of us hide inside.  But still they bloom away, providing beauty for us and nectar for the butterflies.  Here are some of native ones that grow in my garden (and some from friends’ gardens).  These are all herbaceous perennials that die back to the ground come winter in North Georgia.  By now a few of these have finished blooming, some are blooming now and a few are yet to come (at least in my garden).

Most of the flowering summer perennials love sun, so I’ll start with those.  The few shade ones are at the end.

Penstemons are known as "Beardtongues".  Most of them are white, but I found a spectacular purple one at Home Depot (of all places) several years ago: Penstemon smallii.  Penstemon likes full sun.  A popular cultivar of Penstemon digitalis is ‘Husker Red’ which has outstanding foliage that is a deep green with purple veins and stems.

Penstemon smallii

I am learning to appreciate the various native species of Iris more and more.  I talked about the spring blooming dwarf ones in my Spring Blues post.  In the sunny border by the blueberries I have Copper Iris, Iris fulva.  I find the bloom most unusual compared to the familiar, but non-native, bearded iris.  You can find a picture of it in this post.

Bee-balm is an old-fashioned favorite.  Common names include bergamot and Oswego tea.  Monarda didyma is a popular one; cultivars like ‘Jacob Cline’ have been bred for mildew resistance.  The fragrance of even the foliage is intense.  On rescues we often find Monarda fistulosa which has a wide range of shades from white to almost purple and is a bit more shade tolerant.

Monarda didyma, Scarlet bee-balm
Monarda fistulosa















Phlox paniculata

Growing in the same sunny field as Monarda at one rescue site are several kinds of Phlox, including Phlox paniculata.  We also find Wild quinine, Parthenium integrifolium, which has a huge root structure.  The large smooth leaves are attractive even when the plant is not blooming.


Parthenium integrifolium













Some of the most well known native perennials are Spiderwort (Tradescantia), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), and Coneflower (Echinacea).   I have two species of Spiderwort that I am trying for the first time thanks to contributions from friends.  Rudbeckia and Echinacea are the backbone of many a sunny border design. I love my two Rudbeckia species: R. hirta and R. fulgida var. fulgida (the second one blooms later in the season).  I have not cultivated Echinacea much and the ones I have are in too much shade, but here is a lovely one from my friend Debbie’s garden.

Rudbeckia hirta


Echinacea purpurea




Blooming beautifully now all over gardens and roadsides is our native milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa.  Tolerant of dry roadsides thanks to a large taproot, the bright orange is a welcome addition to the garden as well.  Another bright perennial is Turk’s cap lily (Lilium superbum).  Mine are too young to bloom yet, but here is a gorgeous example from Debbie's garden.

Asclepias tuberosa


Lilium superbum











I’d like to sneak in an annual if I may.  This is a reseeding annual so once you have it, you are sure to have it every year, making it seem like a travelling perennial!  This is Salvia coccinea, or Scarlet sage.  Germination is late – seedlings often don’t show up until May; mine is just blooming this week for the first time this year. Of course there are several cultivars of Salvia greggii (native to Texas) that are good perennials.

Salvia coccinea




Salvia greggii






Next on my bloom chart is Stokes’ aster or Stokesia laevis.  The gorgeous and long lasting blue flowers are a favorite of pollinators.  Even the foliage is a handsome clump of strap-like leaves with a faint white line down the center.  Mine will probably bloom starting next week and continue to have blooms off and on until frost.  I have the cultivar ‘Peachie’s Pick’ which I got from Niche Gardens – very floriferous!  Another late blooming perennial is Skullcap (Scutellaria) – a strange name but a nice blue flower.  As far as I know, mine is Scutellaria incana.
Scutellaria incana



Stokesia laevis








The shade garden offers a few blooms this time of year.  Although the canopy closed in when the trees leafed out, enough filtered light makes it through to support these plants.

Galax urceolata

Galax (Galax urceolata), commonly known by the dreadful name of “beetle-weed”, is a nice evergreen groundcover that has a wand-like flower with white blossoms.  It is really far prettier than it’s name would imply!



Actaea racemosa











Black cohosh, known by many for it’s medicinal properties, is a substantial perennial that I think could double for a shrub.  The foliage itself grows almost 3 feet tall and the flower wand extends upward another 2-3 feet.  The multi-flowered wands are full of small flowers and it is a favorite with pollinators.  The current scientific name is Actaea racemosa, but it was known before as Cimicifuga racemosa.  This one by the front of the house grows up through an azalea - they were rescued together and have lived happily ever after here.

Aruncus dioicus

Aruncus dioicus is known as Goat’s beard (or Bride’s feathers!), and it is also a substantially sized perennial.  It blooms a little bit before Black Cohosh, and the dried bloom persists in an attractive form as the seeds mature.
Amianthium muscitoxicum














Fly poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum) is a member of the Lily family and offers both attractive foliage and a nice bloom.  I had never heard of it until we found it on a rescue site, and now it is one of my favorites.  One nice aspect – deer do not bother it.

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