Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Elephantopus tomentosus

For this month's Wildflower Wednesday post, I am sharing a plant that occurs naturally on our property [we did not introduce it]. These types of plants are worth celebrating because they teach us about the native landscape where we reside and connect us to our local environment.  

[Common] Hairy Elephant's Foot (Elephantopus tomentosus) is a native wildflower that we first found in clearings in our woodland garden. It grows in the pathways, which are fairly compact and dry. Plants often choose where they grow best, so we leave them in their chosen location instead of moving them to the landscaped beds. 

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Over the years, this wildflower has colonized in dry, woodland areas and even appeared closer to our home in several flowerbeds. The tiny, pale purple, flowers first appear in late summer and continue into mid fall. 

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A few small flowers emerge at a time from the flower head. To really appreciate them, it is best to get down low and view them at their level. 

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The petite flowers attract small butterflies, bees, flies and other pollinators. These delicate blooms quietly provide a nectar source for our native insects reminding me that there is much that happens in the ecosystem that goes unnoticed or underappreciated. 

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thick headed fly

Elephantopus tomentosus is classified in the Asteraceae family, commonly referred to as the aster family. The genus name, Elephantopus, comes from the Greek 'elephas' meaning elephant and 'pous' translated as foot. The species name, tomentosus, is Latin for hairy. So hairy elephant's foot becomes its common name. 

The large, hairy leaves lay flat on the ground allegedly resembling an elephant's footprint. I think it looks more like an elephant stepped on the plant! The plant's leaves form a basal rosette with different leaf sizes, overlapping around the stems. The leaves are foraged by wildlife.

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The flower stalks are bare but small leaf-like bracts appear under the flower heads. These flower heads consist of two to five individual tube flowers. Unlike other composite flowers in this family, these are asymmetrical with the five--pointed lobes of each tube radiating outward.

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In nature hairy elephant's foot is often found in areas that are managed with fire. In a study on The Understory Plant Community Response to Seasonal Burn in Longleaf Pine Forests, it was found that this plant benefited most from winter/spring burns.

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After blooms have expired, seed clusters begin to form. These clusters dry as the plant goes into dormancy making seeds available to wildlife or dropping to develop into new plants next year. 

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If you discover the rosette leaves growing in your garden do not disturb them (pull them up thinking they are a weed) and they will reward you with delicate flowers. 

Please be sure to visit Clay and Limestone to learn about other exceptional wildflowers offered by fellow bloggers. 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Native Bulbs for the Spring Habitat Garden

Now is the time to start thinking about your spring garden. Fall being the best time of year to add plants as the ground temperature is still warm and allows the roots to get founded in their new environment. In the southeast, rain is most abundant during the winter months, which also helps get those plants established. Come spring these shrubs, trees and perennials are ready to emerge and grow strong. As you think about plants to fill those empty spaces in your garden, revitalize flower beds or create a container garden, considered adding bulbs for additional charm. 

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Mention bulbs and most gardeners typically think of crocuses, hyacinth, daffodils, and/or tulips, but did you know there are several native bulbs worth including in a habitat garden? Native, early blooming flowers add value to your garden ecosystem providing the first nectar sources to many at risk pollinators.

Camassia (Camassia Lindl) are starry shaped, blue flowers that burst open in March. These nectar rich flowers are an important food source for our native bees. Camassia grows best in moist yet well-drained soil in full or part sun. They can also make great container companions for an early spring show.

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Pair with columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) or shooting star (Primula meadia) for a showy statement or plant near earlier blooming ephemerals for succession planting. This spring bulb is deer resistant but voles may eat them. 

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Trout Lily (Erythronium umbilicatum) is another March bloomer that prefers the woodland habitat on our property. These spring ephemerals take advantage of the sunlight that hits the forest floor before the canopy trees leaf out. 

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Their nodding, yellow flowers provide a welcome spark of color against the carpet of brown leaflitter. The foliage is mottled with reddish/purplish brown giving it the common name trout lily. The trout lily miner bee feeds almost exclusively on the nectar of these flowers. 

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The root system is a corm with fibrous roots and stolons that create offshoots from the mother plant, which will produce a lovely colony over time. This bulb grows well from Zone 3-9. 

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Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) is a delicate, native wildflower that is found in moist woodlands and meadows. In nature it grows in rich, humusy soils; however, it tolerates a variety of average garden soils. This early spring ephemeral has white to light pink petals with dark pink stipes. It will grow in dappled sunlight in spring where the blooms close at night or cloudy days.

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photo credit:

The Xerces Society lists this flower as one that creates significant value for native bees. This is another flower that hosts, almost exclusively, a miner bee (spring beauty miner bee). This low growing plant produces roots that look like little potatoes. It spreads by these underground tubers or by seed.  

Spring blooming bulbs are best planted in fall so they can get established during the winter months, giving them a good start before the blooming season. Bulb companies are taking orders now for fall shipping and it is my experience that they sell out fast. Get planning, get shopping! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

September Blooms

Fall flowers are essential for all the insects and birds that feed on nectar. Pollinators need sustenance to prepare for winter or build energy reserves for their journey to their overwintering grounds. In our garden, September sees more pollinators as populations migrate through to their final destination. 

It is Garden Blogger Bloom Day, so lets take a look at what is blooming in our Georgia Piedmont, Zone 7b, habitat garden. 

In our wildflower garden, which runs along the main road of our subdivision, the white doll's daisy (Baltonia asteroides) blooms are abundant. September is peak flowering time for this native perennial. Despite the small flowers, it makes a bold statement. 

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The flowers are reminiscent of another native perennial that blooms in early summer, prairie fleabane (Erigeron strigosus). 

The passiflora incarnata vine climbs through the white doll's daisy using it as a natural trellis. The result is that many of the fritillary caterpillars use the white doll's daisy stems as a place to form their chrysalis. 

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One of my favorite features of a wildflower gardens is when plants mingle, creating lovely companions, like this coreopsis and white doll's daisy. 

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Another great example, is the homestead purple verbena (Verbena canadensis) with another coreopsis spp. The verbena was planted in early summer to fill in some gaps in this bed. In the corner little blue stem (Schizachyrium scoparium) is starting to come into its fall color and will make a beautiful show. 

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This is the first year for the white solidago (Solidago ptarmicoides) to bloom in our garden. This wildflower is unique in that it has aster-like flowers; hence the common name prairie aster, but the foliage is more goldenrod-like. This perennial tolerates drought and dry soil. The tall stalks have leaned over so the flowers are closer to the mulch, but pollinators don't mind. I could stake it but this way the seeds don't have so far to fall. Maybe next year we'll see a few more plants. 

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The first of our asters to bloom, New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), is feeding our native bee population. 

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bumblebees are especially attracted to the yellow centers

The rough-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) cultivar 'fireworks' has spread prolifically on an area we affectionately call pollinator hill. Partnered with Helianthus hirsutus it creates a lush vegetation of yellow flowers in the fall.

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four toothed mason wasp

Another beauty is this stone mountain daisy, a reseeding native annual. Every year it is a surprise to see where it will show up in our garden. 

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Cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) is in its second year in our garden. It needs some better companions to really make it proud in the landscape. Thus far, it hasn't been to robust. It is a long blooming perennial providing nectar source for bees, butterflies, wasps and other tiny pollinating insects.

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sweet red-banded hairstreak resting on the petals

Want to see more fall blooming gardens? Jump over the May Dreams Gardens for a list of bloggers who are sharing their inspiration. Happy Bloom Day!

Sunday, September 13, 2020

More from the Rain Garden: Seashore Mallow

Seashore mallow (Kosteletzkya virginica) lights up the rain garden during the month of September with its parade of light pink flowers. Pollinators are all over it, sipping nectar and basking in the morning sunshine. 

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The flowers open in the early hours as the sun hits the shrub from the east. Like other members of the mallow family [cotton, okra], the flowers wilt later in the day. Each bloom only opens for a day; however, the shrub flowers in such abundance you hardly notice this tendency.

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Seashore mallow is a wonderful addition to a habitat or pollinator garden. It provides a nectar source for late season bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. This is the time of year that our hummingbird population explodes. The migrating RTH are joining our hummers that have been in our garden all summer so its critical to have multiple feeding sources as they are very territorial. 

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ruby throated hummingbird

The yellow butterflies are especially fond of these rosy flowers. Cloudless sulphurs and Eastern Tiger swallowtails flutter around regularly.

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cloudless sulphur butterfly

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Carpenter bees are constant visitors. Coated in pollen, it is fascinating to watch them fly with all that pollen clinging to their abdomen. 

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carpenter bees

In nature, seashore mallow grows in the brackish marshes along the southeastern seashore but they adapt well to a variety of garden conditions from rich, wet soil to normal garden soil. It is a stand out plant in our rain garden surrounded by other moisture loving perennials. Seashore mallow shares similar growing requirements with joe pye weed (Eutrochium spp.), iron weed (Vernonia spp.), and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) and would make great companions for a fall show of texture and flowers. 

* * * For more on our rain garden see post on rain lilies (Zephyranthes atamasca) * * *

Below are four views of our seashore mallow shrub that grows in the rain garden bed at the front of our south facing home. This provides you with a 360 view of the shrub. 

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with Sisyrinchium angustifolium, and
lavender (which will need to be transplanted to drier bed)

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Clethera alnifolia, Thelypteris kunthil, Zephyranthes atamasca,
rudbeckia hirta and gaillardia

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with Spirea tomentosa, Stokesia laevis, Zizia aurea
and Cercis canadensis

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with Iris versicolor, Iris cristata, Monarda punctata,
Zephyranthes atamasca, Penstemon digitalis

This underused [in landscapes] perennial shrub is often overlooked in favor of hibiscus plant species but is a worthy addition to a garden for late summer / early fall color. The leaves fall in winter and stems can be cut back in spring as new shoots emerge. Below is a photo from June when other perennials are blooming in this bed. You can see the size of the seashore mallow between the lavender and penstemon. It easily triples in size from mid-summer to fall. 

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mid-summer view of bed

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Wildflower Wednesday: Zephyranthes atamasca

For this month's Wildflower Wednesday, hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone, I am featuring a rain garden favorite, Zephyranthes atamasca.  More commonly referred to as native rain lily. 

Nomenclature History

If the botanical name sounds Greek to you, it is. The genus name Zephyranthes comes from Zephyrus, the mythical Greek God of the west wind, known as the fructifying wind, the messenger of spring. Appropriately, Zephyrus was also the husband of the goddess of flower, Chloris. The species name, atamasco, was the original Native American name for flower. 

Originally, this plant was classified in the genus Amaryllis by Carl Linnaeus. However, botanists decided to restrict the Amaryllis to a single species from South Africa. So, in 1821, William Herbert placed it in the Zephyranthes genus. 

floriferous flowers after a good rain 

Plant Profile

This native plant grows from a subterranean bulb. The flower petals emerge a pale pink transforming into a gorgeous creamy white in full bloom. These showy trumpet like flowers bloom on a leafless scape; each scape providing a single bloom. The sedge-like foliage is evergreen making it a good all season perennial. 

soft shades of pink in emerging and spent flower heads

Rain lilies perform best in full sun and have an incredible tolerance for heat. Established plants deliver a spectacular show after a much needed summer pop up shower. The secret to these plants blooming prolifically in your garden is to alternate between wet and dry periods. This triggers them to bloom. They flower spring through fall but their most abundant flowering time is in summer.

This plant is native to my county in Georgia as shown on the 
USDA plant profile database.
Mysteriously, the flowers close up at night and open again the next morning. This movement is called nyctinasty [nik-TIN-as-tee] or sleeping movement. You may be familiar with this habit from another common plant, morning glory. It is not fully understood why plants do this but there are many theories. Some tests indicate that nyctinasty occurs in plants with smaller leaf areas and reduced biomass. 

Wildlife Value

Rain lilies are a popular pollinator plant too. Small skipper butterflies and flower flies often visit for the pollen and nectar. 

skipper butterfly

a not so graceful flower fly

red wasp gathering pollen for nearby ground nest

I find it fascinating to observe all the insect around plants. Not just the pollinators who visit but other beneficial insects that keep the equilibrium in the garden. Here are a few that have been hanging out in the rain lilies.

pink spotted lady beetle on rain lily

spider lurking on the petals for unsuspecting prey 

pale green assassin bug nymph

How to use it in the landscape

We planted rain lilies as a perennial border in our rain garden. This is a highly visible garden at the front of our home. On the street side of the bed, the rain lilies are partnered with cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), southern blue flag iris (Iris virginica) and blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium). In the middle of the bed is seashore mallow (Kissteletzkya virginica), summersweet clethera (Clethera alnifolia) and wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera).

street view: rain lily border 

On the house side of the bed, the rain lilies are planted with black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and southern shield fern (Thelypteris kunthil), which will grow in full sun when constant moisture is available.

house side of rain garden: with black-eyed Susan and Southern shield fern

In nature rain lilies grow in acidic, mesic soils with lots of leaf mulch but in the home landscape they can make a great addition to a rock garden, perennial border, wildflower meadow or even in container plantings. They can perform in evenly moist soil or well drained soils. 

Rain lilies growing with gaillardia and creeping thyme in rock garden

This is a versatile, low maintenance, native wildflower that is a worthy performer in the home landscape. Give it a try.