Early Buttercup 

As I write this in mid-June, my Early Buttercups are long finished blooming and have gone to seed. However, I chose to include them this month simply because I captured an amazing photo of the seed head a couple of weeks ago (which was the subject of this month’s jigsaw puzzle elsewhere on my website – you can access it at https://nativeplantgardener.ca/june-jigsay-puzzle/) and it has me thinking about this plant. 

As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. 

Scientific Name: Ranunculus fascicularis 

Common Name: Early Buttercup 

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Acrid Crowfoot, Bundle-root Buttercup, Cowslip, Dwarf Buttercup, Early Crowfoot, Low Buttercup, Prairie Buttercup, Thick-root Buttercup, Tufted Buttercup 

Plant description: Early Buttercup features both basal leaves and stems. Basal leaves are borne on long, hairy leaf stalks and divided into 3-5 leaflets that each measure about 2.5cm long. Each leaflet is lobed into 3-5 parts and has rounded tips that sometimes have a sharp point. Leaf surfaces are silky-hairy. Flowering stalks rise up from the basal leaves, bearing 1-2 stalkless leaves themselves. These stalks are green to purplish-brown and hairy. At the top of each stalk is a single flower characterized by 5 shiny yellow, oblong petals surrounding a yellow center that turns green with age. Each flower is about 2.5cm wide. Behind the flowers are 5 yellowish-green bracts that are shorter than the petals and covered in spreading hairs. The center of the flower matures into an oval shaped cluster of beaked seeds. 

In the Garden: The radiant yellow flowers of Early Buttercup are some of the first blooms you will see in the spring. Great for rock gardens and borders where it can be paired with plants of similar height. Herbivores leave this plant alone. 

I have found that my Early Buttercup plant is quite happy in a shallow planter on my deck (along with some other alvar plants). 

Skill level: beginner 

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: full sun to full shade 

Soil Type: any well drained soil, prefers a rather poor soil containing rocky material or sand 

Moisture: dry to medium 

Height: 15-20 cm 

Spread: 15 cm 

Bloom Period: mid-Apr, May 

Colour: yellow 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious pests 

Natural Habitat: dry, open woods and prairies 

Wildlife value: a source of pollen for native bees and the seeds are eaten to a limited extent by various game birds and small mammals 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: none 

Moth Larva Host Plant For:Sparganothis Leafroller Moth (Sparganothis sulfureana) –

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9 

Propagation: The seeds are viable for a relatively short period only. Ideally propagate by sowing just before seeds ripen and keep the soil moist. Germination may take some time. Seeds need 60 days of cold moist stratification if starting indoors. 

Additional Info: This spring ephemeral goes dormant in the summer. Caution – in some people, contact with cell sap can result in skin redness, burning sensation and blisters. It does not like competition from taller plants. Note: this plant is considered Threatened in Ohio and Endangered in Pennsylvania. 

Native Range: 

Parlin’s Pussytoes 

As I write this in mid-May, my Parlin’s Pussytoes are full of blossoms AND full of tiny caterpillars. This early blooming perennial is not as showy as some, but it is a welcome sight with butterflies flitting about laying their eggs on the leaves in early May. These eggs turn into tiny, spiky caterpillars that make a tent out of leaves and silk, eventually molting through several stages and finally turning into American Lady or Painted Lady butterflies.  

These plants make a great garden edge – low enough that even the lawnmower is unlikely to do them much damage. I also love they way they spread their windborne seeds and pop up in unexpected places in my garden.  

As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. 

Scientific Name: Antennaria parlinii 

Common Name: Parlin’s Pussytoes 

Family: Asteraceae (aster family) 

Alternate Common Names: Ladies’ Tobacco, Smooth Pussytoes 

Plant description: Parlin’s Pussytoes feature both basal and alternate leaves. Basal leaves are up to 9.5cm long and 4.5cm wide, toothless and rounded at the tip. The leaves have 3-5 prominent veins and fine hairs that give the leaves a gray-green appearance with the undersides of the leaves taking on a more silvery-gray look. Widely spaced alternate leaves are found along the flowering stalk and are much smaller than the basal leaves but are still hairy with smooth margins. From the basal leaf clumps emerge hairy flowering stalks, each topped by a cluster of small flowers that give the appearance of a cat’s paw. Flowers give way to tiny brown seeds topped with a cotton-like tuft of white hair that allows them to be carried by the wind. 

In the Garden: Parlin’s Pussytoes are an adaptable, low growing groundcover that thrives in tough conditions. 

Skill level: beginner 

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: full sun to full shade (prefers full sun) 

Soil Type: lean, gritty to rocky or sandy-clay, well-drained soils 

Moisture: dry to medium 

Height: 15-25 cm 

Spread: 20 cm 

Bloom Period: May 

Colour: white 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: prairies, dry meadows, sloped open woodlands and in disturbed sites like eroded banks or abandoned fields. 

Wildlife Value: the leaves are a preferred food for deer, quail and rabbits. 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis), Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Everlasting Tebenna Moth (Tebenna gnaphaliella)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5-9 

Propagation: There is little information available on starting Parlin’s Pussytoes from seed other than that it may be difficult and is slow to germinate. The very small seeds require light to germinate therefore surface sow. New plants may be propagated by dividing clumps in the spring, or from cuttings. My experience is that this plant readily self sows in the garden, so I’m thinking it should be a great candidate for winter sowing.

Additional Info: One of the few native plants that does well in dry, shady locations, it does not do well in fertile, humusy soils, particularly if drainage is poor. This plant is similar to Field Pussytoes (Antennaria neglecta) but the leaves on that plant tend to be narrower and shorter and do not have the prominent veins underneath.

Native Range:  

Virginia Mountain Mint 

The fragrant minty leaves of this plant can be used in your dinner, but I prefer it to leave it in the garden where lots of bees and other pollinators can be found on the flowers. The tiny white flowers, upon close inspection, are covered in little purple polka dots. This delightful flower is a must have in your native plant garden, and it tolerates a wide range of light, soil and moisture conditions. As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. This Plant of the Month article has been adapted from our book The Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants of the Southern Great Lakes Region. 

Common Name: Virginia Mountain Mint 

Scientific Name: Pycnanthemum virginianum 

Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family) 

Alternate Common Names: American Mountain Mint, Common Mountain Mint, Mountain Mint, Mountain Thyme, Pennyroyal, Prairie Hyssop, Virginia Thyme, Wild Basil, Wild Hyssop 

Plant description: Virginia Mountain Mint is a bushy plant with frequently branching stems that are 4-angled, green to reddish in colour and have scattered hairs along the edges. Opposite, stalkless leaves are found along the stem, the largest of which measure up to 6cm long and 1cm wide. Each leaf is toothless, hairless and has a pointed tip and rounded base. Stems terminate with numerous flat clusters of densely packed, tubular flowers. Each flower is small, at about 0.6cm wide, and features an upper lip with 2 lobes and a lower lip with 3 lobes. The upper lips often look like one lip. Both lips are white with purple spots. Flowers each mature into a dry capsule that holds 4 tiny, black seeds. 

Similar to Slender Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium) which has smooth stems and narrower leaves. 

In the Garden: There are many reasons to love Virginia Mountain Mint including its copious, long-lasting blooms to its persistent seed heads that provide excellent winter interest. The minty foliage not only smells delightful but is rarely, if ever, bothered by browsing herbivores. 

Skill level: beginner 

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: full sun to part shade 

Soil Type: sand, clay, loam 

Moisture: medium to moist to wet 

Height: 75-90 cm 

Spread: 30-45 cm 

Bloom Period: Jul, Aug, Sep 

Colour: white with purple 

Fragrant (Y/N): Y (leaves) 

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems, though stressed plants are susceptible to rust 

Natural Habitat: mesic to wet prairies, edges of streams, marshes and sedge meadows 

Wildlife value: typical visitors include honeybees, and a wide variety of native bees, beetles, and seems to be a favourite of Pearl Cresecent (Phyciodes tharos) butterflies 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: none 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: none 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7 

Propagation: No pretreatment of seeds is necessary, but the tiny seeds need light to germinate so simply press into the soil in spring. Easily propagated by tip cuttings taken in June, or by lifting the clump in late fall or early spring and dividing. 

Additional Info: Tolerates flooding early in the growing season only. Drought tolerant. Can be an aggressive spreader but is less so in drier soil. 

Native Range:  

Bloodroot 

Scientific Name: Sanguinaria canadensis 

This month’s plant is one of our early emerging spring ephemerals. I always love the cigar-like tube of furled leaves that unfurl after the flower has shown itself. This forest floor species is sure to brighten you shade garden in the spring.

As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature.

Family: Papaveraceae (Poppy Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Bloodwort, Indian Paint, Puccoon, Red Puccoon 

Plant Description: Bloodroot only has basal leaves. They measure up to 13 cm wide, are lobed into three to nine parts, and have a deep indent at the base. The leaf edges have shallow, rounded teeth and the leaf surfaces are smooth. Flowers open before the leaves fully unfurl in the spring. A single flower is borne at the top of each naked, 10 cm tall, reddish stem. Each flower measures 7.6 cm wide and is characterized by eight to 16 white petals surrounding numerous yellow stamens. Each flower matures into a long, tapered seed capsule that splits open to release 10 to 15 dark red seeds. 

In the Garden: The early, fleeting beauty of Bloodroot flowers is a springtime show you don’t want to miss! Each delicate flower blooms for only one to two days, but the bold leaves that emerge shortly after will persist well into late summer and make an excellent groundcover. The foliage is not often eaten by herbivores. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Full shade to part shade (during early to midspring, this plant should have access to some sunlight, otherwise the flowers may fail to open) 

Soil Type: Well-drained, humus-rich soils 

Moisture: Medium 

Height: 10–20 cm 

Spread: 7.5–15 cm 

Bloom Period: Apr, May 

Colour: White 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: Rich deciduous woods and forests 

Wildlife Value: Pollen of the flowers attracts various kinds of bees and other insects 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Southern Armyworm (Spodoptera eridania) and the Tufted Apple Bud Moth (Platynota idaeusalis

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8 

Propagation: The most reliable method of propagation is by seed, which have a double dormancy requiring two 30-day periods of cold separated by a 30-day mild period. Seeds must not be allowed to dry out and are best planted immediately following harvest. In nature they take two years to sprout, and some seeds may not sprout for two years even with artificial stratification. Plants can be propagated by rhizome division in either fall or early spring, but wear gloves and wash your hands after handling the roots as the sap is potentially toxic. Bloodroot is a challenge to germinate and grow to maturity. I have had considerable success growing new Bloodroot plants from pieces that break off when being dug in my garden, as long as there is a piece of root still attached. 

Additional Info: Bloodroot seeds are dispersed by ants, which take the seeds back to their nest to consume the energy-rich appendage called the elaiosome before discarding the seed. 

Range Map: 

Sharp Lobed Hepatica 

Spring is just around the corner, and to help us start dreaming about spring, this month’s Plant of the Month is one of the earliest native flowers to bloom in my garden – Hepatica acutiloba – the Sharp Lobed Hepatica. This tough little perennial stays alive all winter, waiting for the first warm weather, and will often produce flowers before the snow is gone.  

As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. Shaun is also the co-author of our new book The Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants of the Southern Great Lakes Region. The book is now available to preorder from booksellers and should be on bookshelves by March 1, 2024. The Plant of the Month articles are adapted from the book. 

Common Name: Sharp Lobed Hepatica 

Scientific Name: Hepatica acutiloba 

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Liverleaf, Mountain Hepatica 

Plant Description: Sharp Lobed Hepatica is a low, stemless plant with three-lobed basal leaves. Leaves reach 7 cm long and wide on hairy stalks that reach up to 15 cm long. Each lobe is egg shaped with a pointy tip that distinguishes it from Round Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana). A solitary flower is borne at the end of each hairy, leafless flower stalk. Flowers contain five to 12 petals, measure up to 3 cm across, and are backed by three hairy bracts. The flower stalks emerge before new leaf growth. 

In the Garden: Sharp Lobed Hepatica is among the first flowers to bloom in the spring, often flowering before the trees above have leafed out. Best planted in big clumps to add a delicate, cheerful statement to a shade garden. It’s slow to establish, but it will quickly become one of the plants you most look forward to in the spring. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Full shade to part shade 

Soil Type: Well-drained, semi-rich calcareous soil with a neutral pH 

Moisture: Moist to medium 

Height: 15 cm 

Spread: 10–15 cm 

Bloom Period: Apr, May 

Colour: White (pink, purple) 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: Rich deciduous or mixed woods, often in calcareous soils 

Wildlife Value: Early pollen source for native bees 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: None 

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–9 

Propagation: Seeds should be sown immediately or stored moist (damp sphagnum moss works well), as they will not tolerate drying out. If starting indoors, they will benefit from 30 days of cold, moist stratification. Plants will not bloom until three years old or more. Plants may be divided in the fall, but it is important to make sure you do not break the leaves off as they are needed to keep this evergreen plant alive through the winter. Plant so the leaf buds are just at the soil surface, then mulch lightly. Divisions, however, are slow to increase. When dividing a clump, it is best to leave two to three buds in each division. 

Additional Info: Deer and rabbit resistant; it will tolerate somewhat dry conditions, but too much sun will damage the leaf edges. 

Native Range: 

American Spikenard 

As I write this in mid-January, I sit and dream about my spring, summer and fall gardens and one of the plants that always brings a smile to my face is my American Spikenard – Aralia racemosa. This large-leaved, shade tolerant plant produces masses of burgundy coloured, edible berries in late summer, early fall that are a favourite of the birds (I find them delicious, too, but the birds usually beat me to them). The plants can get up to 5’ (150 cm) tall, but in ideal conditions can get even bigger. Each fall they die off and re-emerge in the spring like a phoenix. As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature.) 

Common Name: Spikenard 

Scientific Name: Aralia racemosa 

Family: Araliaceae (Ginseng Family) 

Alternate Common Names: American Spikenard, Hungry Root, Indian Root, Life of Man, Old Man’s Root, Pettymorrel, Small Spikenard, Spiceberry, Spignet 

Plant Description: The smooth, maroon-coloured stems of Spikenard hold a few large (up to 60 cm long) compound leaves that are made up of many smaller leaflets, each measuring about 14 cm long. Leaflets are heart shaped at the base, sharply toothed, and abruptly taper to a pointed tip. Spikenard often grows wider than it is tall. Large, tapered flower clusters are made up of many tiny, stalked flowers. Individual flowers are under 1 cm across with five triangular petals. Flower stalks are covered in many fine hairs. Flowers give way to dense, hanging clusters of dark-red-to-purple fruit, 0.5 cm in diameter. 

In the Garden: Spikenard is a large, spreading perennial that gives the appearance of a shrub but dies back to the ground every year. It is valued in gardens for its lush leaves, ability to tolerate deep shade and its attractive broad form. The summer flowers bloom at a time when not much else is blooming in shade gardens. The dark red berries look like little jewels but don’t stick around long as they are a favourite food of many songbirds. Excellent as a specimen or in small groups. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Part shade to full shade 

Soil Type: Fertile, humus-rich loams, but tolerates a wide range of soils including rocky and clay ones 

Moisture: Wet to medium 

Height: 90–150 cm 

Spread: 120 cm 

Bloom Period: (Jun), Jul, (Aug) 

Colour: White 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N): Y – ripening from mid August to early September (in southern Ontario) 

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: Rich, usually moist beech-maple and hemlock-hardwood forests, especially along edges and clearings and in cedar swamps 

Wildlife Value: The berries of Aralia spp. are eaten by woodland songbirds and some small mammals 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: None 

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–8 

Propagation: Sow seeds immediately or keep moist. Germination is enhanced with scarification, either in a mild sulphuric acid or by rubbing with sandpaper. Cold, moist stratification may help germination, but artificial stratification seems to be hit-and-miss with these seeds. Easiest propagation is to divide old rootstocks when the plants go dormant in the fall, though plants may be slow to bloom after being disturbed. Plants may also be started from root cuttings. 

Additional Info: Plants will slowly spread over time by self-seeding and creeping rhizomes to form thickets. 

Edibility: Although I don’t usually comment on the edibility of garden plants, I will make an exception in this case. The ripe 4-6 mm diameter fruit has a very pleasant taste and can be used to make juice, fruit leathers, jellies, etc. Each berry does contain several seeds, so when you eat them raw (I find them quite delicious) you’ll be spitting out seeds. The root can be used in soups and imparts a spicy, anise-like flavouring (it has been used as a substitute for Wild Sarsaparilla – Aralia nudicaulis – to make root beer) and the young shoot tips can be cooked as a vegetable or used to flavour soups. 

Native Range: native throughout the southern Great Lakes region 

Lobelia Cardinalis

Cardinal Flower 

The last “Plant of the Month” for 2023. Since we really don’t have any native plants blooming at Christmas (other than, perhaps, Hamamelis virginiana – American Witch Hazel), I thought I’d do the next best thing and at least pick a plant that has “Christmas colour”. For that I chose the nice, cheery reds of Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal Flower. 

This moisture loving, short lived perennial is a an essential rain garden or pond addition, and is sure to draw hummingbirds to your yard as it is one of their favourites (at least in my yard it is).  

As usual, the Plant Description and the In the Garden sections below are courtesy of Shaun Booth. 

Happy Native Plant Gardening! 

Common Name: Cardinal Flower 

Scientific Name: Lobelia cardinalis 

Family: Campanulaceae (Bellflower Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Indian Pink 

Plant Description: Cardinal Flower has an unbranched central stem that is light green and variably hairy. Leaves are attached to the stem in an alternate pattern and are up to 15 cm long and 4 cm wide but usually only get to half this size. The lower leaves have short stalks while the upper leaves are stalkless. Each leaf is coarsely toothed, sharply pointed, and usually hairless. Stems terminate with spike-like clusters of tubular, ascending red flowers, each measuring up to 4 cm long and 2.5 cm wide. The upper lip of each flower has two lobes that spread out sideways while the lower lip is divided into three lobes. A red style with a hooked tip rises above the upper lobes. Flowers turn into small capsules containing many tiny seeds. 

In the Garden: Cardinal Flower is nothing short of a showstopper! In midsummer it sends up magnificent spikes of scarlet red flowers that add a strong vertical presence to the landscape. Fortunately, herbivores tend to avoid this plant. 

Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate 

Lifespan: Short-lived perennial 

Exposure: Full sun to full shade (but does best in part shade) 

Soil Type: Clay to sandy, limestone-based soil and humus-rich soil 

Moisture: Moist to wet (needs constant moisture to thrive) 

Height: 30–120 cm 

Spread: 30–60 cm 

Bloom Period: Jul, Aug, Sep 

Colour: Red 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems, though snails and slugs may munch on the leaves 

Natural Habitat: Wet ditches and other low damp areas, seasonally inundated depressions in open woodlands, and along streambanks 

Wildlife Value: An important nectar source for hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies (Papilionidae

A favourite of the ruby throated hummingbird.

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Pink-washed Looper Moth (Enigmogramma basigera

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–9 

Propagation: Surface sow as the very tiny seeds need light to break dormancy. Seeds require 60 days of cold, moist stratification to germinate if starting indoors or spring sowing. Surface sow in the fall. Basal offsets may be separated to start new plants. Plants may also be started by taking stem cuttings (be sure to include one or two nodes), but to ensure the plants have developed a good basal rosette, the earlier these cuttings are taken in the season, the better. New plants may also be propagated by layering; in midsummer, carefully bend the plant over and pin it to the ground, lightly covering the plant with soil. New roots will grow along the stem and new shoots will emerge, which can be transplanted in the fall. 

The very fine, almost powder like, seeds of Lobelia cardinalis require light to germinate.

Additional Info: Though this short-lived perennial typically only lives for two to three years, it can carry on in your garden by dividing it or moving it every year or two. This plant is at its finest when growing with minimal competition in forested wetlands. Note that commercial garden centres often sell cultivars of this plant that may or may not be as valuable to wildlife as the true species. 

Native Range: 

Cardinal flower can be found throughout the southern Great Lakes region, wherever soils are moist enough.

Common Name: Pearly Everlasting 

Scientific Name: Anaphalis margaritacea 

Family: Asteraceae (Aster Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Western Pearly Everlasting 

Plant Description: Pearly Everlasting has many upright stems that are clumped closely together, giving the plant a mounding appearance. The leaves are up to 10 cm long and 2 cm wide and, like the stems, are covered in numerous small hairs, giving the plant a silvery-green appearance. Numerous, 1 cm wide, yellow flowers enclosed in white bracts can be found blooming at the end of the stems. The seeds are very small and have tufts of white hairs that carry them off in the wind. 

In the Garden: Pearly Everlasting is an easy-to-grow plant that reliably thrives in the driest of sites. It is highly valued in gardens for its long bloom time. Caterpillars of the American Lady and Painted Lady butterflies feed on the foliage and will weave the leaves together with silk to create small tents. This is nothing to worry about because it is a sign of life in your garden. Your plant will make a full recovery from the hungry caterpillars. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Full sun to part shade 

Soil Type: Sandy or gravelly soils 

Moisture: Dry to medium 

Height: 30–100 cm 

Spread: 30–60 cm 

Bloom Period: Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct 

Colour: White 

Fragrant (Y/N): Y (when crushed) 

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N): Y – Pearly everlasting makes excellent dried flowers for arrangements. It can also be used for fresh cut flowers 

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems, though there is some susceptibility to chewing damage from caterpillars 

Natural Habitat: Dry prairies, open woods, roadsides, and waste places 

Wildlife Value: Flowers are magnets for pollinators, such as butterflies and bees 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)  

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Everlasting Tebenna Moth (Tebenna gnaphaliella

USDA Hardiness Zones: 2–7 

Propagation: No pretreatment of seeds necessary, but surface sow as the tiny seeds require light to germinate. Plants may be divided in the spring or started from stem cuttings. Anaphalis margaritacea flowers are dioecious, meaning flowers are either male or female, and only one sex can be found on an individual plant, therefore if you want seeds you will need to have both a male and female plant. Male flowers are ball-like (globular) with many slender, erect yellowish-brown staminate flowers in the yellow centre disc. Female flowers are globular to egg-shaped with a yellowish to dark brown bristly ring around the top of the flower head. Both flowers have numerous tiny white bracts in many layers around the centre. The bracts on the female flowers do not spread out much until the seed starts forming. 

Additional Info: Pearly Everlasting flowers, leaves and stems have been used to produce yellow, gold, green and brown natural dyes. 

Native Range (shaded area):  

Gentiana andrewsii

There isn’t much flowering in my southern Ontario garden as I write this in Mid October. A few asters, a couple of goldenrods, a few harebells (Campanula) and some Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia). One that stands out, however, is the Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii). This very late purple flowering plant with blossoms that stay tightly closed has been blooming for several weeks now. As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature.

The tightly closed blossoms of Bottle Gentian are a lovely, though unusual, addition to the garden.

Scientific Name: Gentiana andrewsii

Common Name: Bottle Gentian

Family: Gentianaceae (Gentian Family)

Alternate Common Names: Andrew’s Gentian, Blind Gentian, Cloistered Heart, Closed Bottle Gentian, Closed Gentian, Fringe-top Bottle Gentian, Gall Flower, Prairie Closed Gentian, Sampson’s Snakeroot

Plant Description: Bottle Gentian has smooth, unbranched stems that are round and light green to purple. Opposite, stalkless leaves are found along the stem with the uppermost set of leaves being whorled. Leaves are broadly lanceolate, glossy on top and become larger as they ascend the stem, reaching up to 10 cm long and 5 cm wide. The stem terminates with a cluster of tubular flowers, but there may also be secondary flower clusters emerging from leaf axils. Each flower measures 2.5 cm to 4 cm long and has five fused petals with tiny teeth around their tips. The flowers never open and resemble closed buds even when in full bloom. Each flower turns into a papery capsule that splits open to release many tiny seeds. Each seed has papery wings that allow them to be carried by water or wind.

In the Garden: Bottle Gentian is valued by gardeners for its intriguing flowers and bold leaves. The flowers add a welcomed touch of blue to the late-summer garden, while the leaves take on shades of purple and burgundy in the fall. Bottle Gentian is not competitive, so choose its companions wisely. Slow growing but well worth the wait!

Skill Level: Beginner

Lifespan: Perennial

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Soil Type: Humus-rich, slightly acidic, sandy loam

Moisture: Moist to wet

Height: 30–60 cm

Spread: 30-­50 cm

Bloom Period: Aug, Sept, (Oct)

Colour: Blue, purple

Fragrant (Y/N): N

Showy Fruit (Y/N): N     

Cut Flower (Y/N): Y

Pests: Mature plants are rarely bothered by foliar disease or leaf-chewing insects

Natural Habitat: Moist and shaded sites, meadows, damp prairies, and along shores

Wildlife Value: Especially valuable to bumblebees, just about the only insect with enough strength to force its way into the closed flower

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Verbena Bud Moth (Endothenia hebesana)

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–6

Propagation: Germination of seed requires cold, moist stratification for at least 60 days, and exposure to light (surface sow). Bottle Gentian are said to be difficult to start from seed, though William Cullina states that sowing outdoors in the fall produces excellent results. Some sources suggest plants may be propagated by dividing the root crowns in fall or early spring, but this is apparently tricky to do without killing the plant.

Bottle Gentian seeds are very tiny and should not be covered with soil as they need light to germinate.

Additional Info: Plant tends to lean at maturity, so plant among sturdier plants for support. If left undisturbed, plants in optimum growing conditions will naturalize over time into large clumps.

Native Range: (shaded area of map)

Smooth Aster 

It’s fall, the time for Goldenrods and Asters. For this month’s Plant of the Month, I will be covering Smooth Aster – a beautiful purply-blue, prolifically blossoming fall staple in the garden. One of the earlier asters to bloom in my garden, it signals the coming of autumn with its cooler temperatures and fall colours. As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. 

Symphyotrichum laeve (Smooth Aster) and Solidago nemoralis (Gray Goldenrod) – the colours of autumn

Common Name: Smooth Aster 

Scientific Name: Symphyotrichum laeve 

Family: Asteraceae (Aster Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Glaucous Aster, Purple Aster, Smooth Blue American Aster, Smooth Blue Aster, Smooth-leaved Aster 

Plant Description: Smooth Aster features one to a few erect, hairless stems that are usually green but can be a reddish colour. Leaves clasp the stems in an alternate pattern and measure about 10 cm long and 4 cm wide. They are smooth (almost waxy), shiny, toothless, and greenish blue on top and light green underneath. The basal leaves are toothed with winged petioles and are oblanceolate. Open, branching flower clusters are found at the top of the plant. Flowers can also arise from upper leaf axils (where the leaves meet the stem). Individual flowers measure up to 2.5 cm across and feature 15 to 30 oblong ray florets (petals) surrounding yellow centres that turn purplish red with age. Petal colour can vary from light blue to light purple. Four to six layers of bracts surround the base of each flower. They are smooth, appressed (flattened), and light green to bluish green and have diamond-shaped ends with a dark tip. Flowers give way to dry, brown, narrowly cone-shaped seeds, each with a tuft of light brown hairs that allow them to be carried by the wind. 

In the Garden: Smooth Aster is valued by gardeners for its copious blue blooms and non-aggressive growth habit. The flowers are frost hardy and bloom late into fall while the tough stems will persist through the winter months. Smooth Aster is easy to grow but doesn’t like being shaded by taller plants. A favourite food of rabbits, possibly due to the smooth leaves. 

Skill Level: Beginner 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Full sun 

Soil Type: Any well-drained soil 

Moisture: Dry 

Height: 20–70 cm (occasionally to 120 cm) 

Spread: 30–60 cm 

Bloom Period: Sep, Oct (to frost) 

Colour: Blue 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: No serious insect or disease problems, though powdery mildew can affect the plant in some years 

Natural Habitat: Fields, open woods, and roadsides 

Wildlife Value: The nectar and pollen of the flower heads attract many species of native bees, butterflies, and other insects and Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus) and Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) feed on both the leaves and seeds of asters; the seeds are also eaten by mice and American Tree Sparrows (Spizelloides arborea

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis), Tawny Crescent (Phyciodes batesii), Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta), Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui

Moth Larva Host Plant For: At least 40 species of moths, including members of the tiger moths, ribbed cocoon-maker moths, case-bearer moths, twirler moths, geometer moths, leaf-blotch miner moths, slug caterpillar moths, owlet moths, clearwing moths, flower moths, trumpet leafminer moths, and tortrix moths. 

USDA Hardiness Zones: 3–9 

Propagation: Direct sow the seeds in late fall or early spring. No pretreatment is necessary even when starting indoors, but seeds need light to germinate. Germination is said to be slow. Transplanted seedlings will likely bloom in their first year. You can also multiply plants from root cuttings. 

Additional Info: Symphyotrichum laeve will tolerate short durations of seasonal flooding. It also self-sows strongly in open areas that are burned and mowed and is walnut (juglone) tolerant. 

Native Range: