Sunday, June 24, 2012

Glue and Inspiration

I love native plants and their unique communities with a passion and fervently believe more people need to know about them and their value in the world in which we live. Much to the embarrassment of my children, I try to impart this message to people I meet in gardening centers, on trails or wherever the subject comes up. By myself, I can only reach a few people to convey my message. But when I join with other people through organizations, the message goes further.

I like to think of these groups, these organizations, as the glue that binds us together as well as a source of inspiration for the cause. I certainly learn a lot from them, but that is not their main strength. It is the combination of people together and the shared inspiration that they can impart to each other that really furthers the cause. 

 You see, left on my own, my enthusiasm might wane or discouragement might set in. 

Then my periodical from Audubon arrives or I get an email from the Georgia Conservancy or another group and I read inspiring stories about successes that others have had, such as : 

  • the May/June Audubon story about working with farmers, ranchers and foresters to benefit a range of imperiled birds.
  • the recent communique from the Georgia Conservancy about their accomplishments in conserving private land through their Land Conservation Initiative.
  • the work by The Nature Conservancy on facilitating water use discussions on the Colorado river and its tributaries to get more water flowing to downstream communities of native fish and plants and improving the health of the system; work that can be applied to situations throughout the U.S. and the world.

I also enjoy participating with local groups like the Georgia Native Plant Society and the Georgia Botanical Society. With them I have a chance to attend meetings and conferences with speakers, participate in informative workshops, or go on field trips to places I might not be able to go to on my own.

Sabatia angularis

Meeting and talking with like-minded people help me realize that people are making a difference. I am inspired anew to share my message and to renew my commitments to groups that band together for greater impact. The local groups I support get more than my money, they get my time as well.

That’s how I know that organizations need your support.  I have been on the administrative side, and I know that every ebb and flow in membership levels is disappointment (ebb) and joy (flow). If you don't belong to organizations like these, please consider joining. Your participation and support joins that of many others to magnify their impact on local, national and global causes.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Rudbeckia Returns

The flowers of the genus Rudbeckia are beginning to flower in my garden and along the roadsides.  Rudbeckia flowers are known generally as “black-eyed Susan” or “coneflower”. The latter name can lead to some confusion because flowers in the Echinacea genus and the Ratibida genus are also commonly known as coneflowers. But Rudbeckia is always a cheery yellow so we at least have that consistency!

Rudbeckia hirta

The one that I have which flowers the earliest is the oft-used (and well-loved) Rudbeckia hirta, or black-eyed Susan. The leaves and stems of this particular species are quite hairy; the species epithet “hirta” is one of many epithets that indicate that the plant has noticeable hairs (hirtum, hirtifolia, hirtissima , hirtifolius , hirsute, hirsuta, hirsutum, hirsutus, hirsutissima – there are more!). 

Listed as an annual, a biennial and a perennial, Rudbeckia hirta has more lives than some cats. I have had individual plants live in one place for years (a perennial) while others seem to live only briefly (annual or biennial). There are always some around and for that I am grateful. This species has the most variable flower shapes. The petals might be few and widely spaced or they might be numerous and so crowded that the flower almost appears to be a double form. I enjoy discovering each new one.

Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’

Rudbeckia fulgida is often known as “orange coneflower” and has wide, quilted leaves and a spreading habit. Populations in my garden have slowly expanded sideways over time.  When I dig them up to share with friends, the roots are noticeably rhizomatous.  The species has a well-known cultivated form: R. fulgida ‘Goldsturm’. This has been widely available for years and resides in many a garden. 

Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida

I actually have a different form, R. fulgida var. fulgida, and it has smooth leaves and smaller flowers. It flowers later in the summer thanks to deer browsing but once they get tired of it (and they do) it flowers from then until frost. You can see in the picture on the left how different the leaves are.

Rudbeckia triloba

Rudbeckia triloba apparently has a softer look – she is known as “brown-eyed Susan”. True to her botanical name, though, she does have leaves with 3 lobes.  This Susan and I only hung out for one year together and then she was gone.

I know you're thinking that these all look alike with their brown centers and yellow petals. But taxonomists assure us they are different! I can attest that the leaves on these are all fairly different if you lined them all up to examine.

But one trait that does keep them together (besides the yellow petals) is the arrangement of the involucral bracts (the green parts that used to enclose the flower bud) on the back of the flower head. Rudbeckia flowers can be distinguished from others in a seemingly endless parade of summer yellow flowers (wait until you meet the Sunflower family!) by examination of the back of the flower head. Perhaps this looks like a typical back of the flower to you, but once you learn to recognize how they are shaped and arranged, you can distinguish several of the most common yellow flowers. Give it a try sometime.

Rudbeckia bracts

Rudbeckia laciniata is one Rudbeckia that does not have a brown center.  The common name is cutleaf coneflower because it has deeply lobed leaves. It has a very wide range throughout the U.S. and is found near me in on a sanctioned rescue site.  It gets too much shade in my yard and hasn’t flowered, so I found this picture to show you the green center with bright yellow petals.  It is one of the tallest in the genus, easily reaching over 3 feet; it also has a reputation for spreading underground so gardeners in small areas should be cautious about using it.

Rudbeckia laciniata
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA,
If you're looking for a dependable full-sun perennial, consider one of these old-fashioned favorites. You'll be happy when they return each year in your yard.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Common Names - say what?

People love to use common names when discussing plants. I know that scientific names are intimidating: they are hard to remember and hard to pronounce. Even when we get some easy ones (remember Aster?), some taxonomist decides to change things around (North American asters are now in the genus Symphyotrichum – come on, guys!). Sometimes though I have to scratch my head about how they came up with some of these common names!

Helmet flower, Scutellaria integrifolia

Many common names are given based on appearance or characteristic – things like ladyslipper (Cypripedium spp.), copperleaf (a weed you may recognize from your yard: Acalypha virginica) and beardtongue (Penstemon spp.) clearly describe some aspect of appearance while summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin) are based on fragrance/smell. Some are a little less obvious – buckeye (Aesculus spp.) must describe how the round shiny nut resembles the eye of a deer, but you don’t know that until the plant is mature enough to produce nuts.

Then there are the plants whose name reflects what people thought they could cure: liverwort, spleenwort, toothwort, bladderwort, birthwort, navelwort ... and all those other "worts": sandwort, nailwort, ragwort, lousewort, hornwort, butterwort, milkwort, pillwort, figwort, starwort, umbrellawort (seriously?),  spiderwort, bellwort, soapwort, coolwort, awlwort, pearlwort,  waterdropwort (ok, now we're just getting silly). Look: here's a list in Wikipedia of plants just with "wort" in their name. It should not come as a surprise that the word "wort" is related to an old English word for "plant".

Beyond all the silly wort names, here are some of the plants I have (and love) with doofy common names.

Helmet flower (Scutellaria spp.) - more commonly known as skullcap but I came across this common name when I was researching one of the new species that I found recently.  Based on those two common names, clearly folks felt this flower was some sort of headgear!  To me it's just a beautiful summer perennial.

Fly poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum)
Fly poison (Amianthium muscitoxicum) - according to, "Pulp from a crushed bulb, mixed with sugar, is used to poison flies, hence the species name, from the Latin muscae (flies) and toxicum (poison)."  I'd like to know who was the first one to figure THAT out? I'm not going to waste any of my bulbs that way.

Beetleweed (Galax urceolata) - I could find no reason for this name. It's a very desirable evergreen plant that doesn't seem weedy at all, let alone weedy for beetles.
Beetleweed (Galax urceolata)

 Scorpionweed (Phacelia spp.) - must we call everything a weed? This is a beautiful spring flowering plant that likes to seed around in places that have good soil. Seems like a benefit to me, not a bad trait. Apparently the name refers to the shape of the flower cluster, curling like a scorpion's tail.  Phacelia bipinnatifida is the one most common around here, although perhaps one day I'll get to see it's cousin Phacelia purshii which is curiously known as "Miami mist".

Phacelia bipinnatifida
Chamaelirium luteum

Fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum) - well at last a somewhat complimentary name! I think we can all guess that someone fancied these petite flowers to be magic wands belonging to fairies. It is a great little perennial that has both male (small, curved wands) and female plants (tall, upright wands).

Here are some names that I came across while looking at pictures posted on Facebook from the Georgia Botanical Society:

Twining snoutbean (Rhynchosia tomentosa) - since when do beans have snouts?
Climbing dogbane (Trachelospermum difforme) - not the only dogbane around; others (Apocynum spp.) resemble milkweeds based on their appearance.
Prairie blue hearts (Buchnera americana) - a very sweet name, but why?
Western marbleseed (Onosmodium occidentale) - makes me want to see what the seeds look like!

And here's one I found while researching some of these other plants: Turricula parryi, known by the common name poodle-dog bush. I think that's gotta be our winner. Native to southern California so I doubt I'll come across one.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Roadside Plants in June

There is a time and place for everything when it comes to blooms on plants.  The early summer roadside is mostly green but there are a few blooms worthy of discussing either because they are good things or because they are bad things.  These are blooms that I see driving around in North Georgia.  It takes special plants to withstand roadside conditions that are usually exposed, hot, and often dry but sometimes wet depending on the drainage.  And it takes an educated eye to be able to recognize some of these at 45-55 miles per hour!

Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)

One of the most eye catching blooms is a vine that peeks out from inside of shrubs, scrambles up trees and makes use of whatever utility poles it can find. Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) is a bit aggressive in the garden but a delight on the roadside.  Hummingbirds love it of course.

This picture looks orange, but it really can be quite red when you see it in person. There are orange and yellow cultivars that you can buy.

White flowers blooming now include elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis), a big shrub that loves moist roadsides. The flowers are rather flat in appearance and can be as large as a dinner plate. The flowers will turn to clusters of purple berries in time.

Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis

Frequently seen is the naturalized Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota), a non-native perennial with flowers that are whiter than elderberry’s more cream-colored flowers and have a more domed shape.  I get briefly excited when I see it on the roadside, thinking it might be elderberry, only to be disappointed when I realize it is not.

Queen Anne’s lace
Chris Evans, River to River CWMA,

Another white flower blooming in abundance is eastern daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus). This annual flower has up to 20 small flowers per plant, creating a delightful display when there are hundreds of them together. It provides valuable nectar for small native bees, flies and small butterflies.

Erigeron annuus
There is nothing like a bright orange plant to catch your attention as you pass at a high rate of speed. I remember the first time I saw orange butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) – it was like “Whoa! What is that?”. Now I look for about this time every year.  I’m always excited to spot more of it in the wild because I know it is important for monarch butterflies.  Often the flash of orange that I see is not milkweed. More common now is the naturalized orange daylily (Hemerocallis fulva) that blooms at the same time. This non-native lily decorates ditches and sunny roadsides in May and June.

Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

Pink flowers are well represented this time of year. The pink blooming tree that is – alas – so common in Georgia is actually non-native but has been with us since 1745 when it was brought over from China. It is usually called mimosa tree but is also known as silk tree; the scientific name is Albizia julibrissin

Mimosa microphylla

I suppose the common name “mimosa” is due to its resemblance to a group of perennials in the genus Mimosa. I noticed one blooming on the roadside where I walk this week. The tiny blobs of pink fluff were arranged on a prickly vine-like plant whose foliage contracted upon contact; it’s common name is “sensitive” plant.  I think the one I found is Mimosa microphylla.
Phlox paniculata

Other pink perennials you might see are the tall pink phlox (Phlox paniculata), non-native pink cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) in the median strips when DOT plants wildflower seed mixes, and of course thistles.  Thistles are an often overlooked plant, usually scorned for their prickly foliage. There are native ones and non-native ones – I found this non-native Carduus nutans yesterday while photographing something else. In the fall I find the native Cirsium altissimum blooming; it’s prickles are a lot softer!

Carduus nutans

Blackberries can look like pink flowers from a distance

Blackberries have formed bright clusters of pink berries that might appear to be red flowers when you’re whizzing by them in the car. I snapped pictures of what I believe is Rubus argutus on the roadside near me. Give them time and they will turn from pink to red to black.

Two confusing plants are sumac (Rhus spp.)  and tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). While they have similar looking compound leaves, they are really very different. Tree of heaven has long finished blooming while sumac is blooming now. Sumac is considered a shrub while tree of heaven can grow 20-50 feet tall.  The bright orange seed heads forming on female Ailanthus altissima can make it appear that they are blooming. Sumac shrubs will have conical upright flower clusters that transition to clusters of red berries over the summer.

Seeds on female Ailanthus altissima
Flowers on staghorn sumac,  Rhus typhina

Besides dandelions and dandelion-like hawkweeds (Hieracium spp.), the only yellow flowers I have seen are black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and whorled coreopsis (Coreopsis major). We will see many more yellow flowers soon enough.

Rudbeckia hirta
Coreopsis major