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: 

Campanulastrum Americanum

Common Name: Tall Bellflower 

I’ve long admired these growing in an old-growth forest bottomland near me, but only recently found them at a native plant nursery. I think they are far nicer than the invasive Creeping Bellflower, and wish they were more commonly available in garden centers. (As usual, the Plant Description and In The Garden sections are written by Shaun Booth, formerly from In Our Nature)

Scientific Name: Campanulastrum americanum  

Family: Campanulaceae (Bellflower Family) 

Alternate Common Names: American Bellflower 

Plant description: Tall Bellflower features erect, hairy, mostly unbranching stems with slight grooves along them. The leaves are found in an alternate pattern and measure about 7.6cm – 15cm long and 1.2cm – 5cm across, becoming smaller as they ascend the stem. They are lance to egg shaped, taper to a sharp tip, hairy along major veins on the underside with a rough upper surface and have serrated margins. The leaf base narrows to hairy leaf stalks. Stems terminate with a flowers spike measuring 15cm to 60cm long with shorter flower spikes emerging from leaf axils (where the leaf meets the stem). Individual flowers are 2.5cm across with 5 blue petals and a creamy white center ring. The petals have wavy edges and pointed tips. Each flower has a style (reproductive organ) protruding from the center of the flower. Flowers give way to three sectioned seed capsules up to 1.2cm long that release numerous tiny brown seeds when mature.  

Not to be confused with the common exotic garden weed, Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoide) which has more bell-shaped flowers compared to the saucer shaped flowers of Tall Bellflower. Creeping bellflower is also much shorter and more aggressive. 

Not native (and considered invasive in most jurisdictions in northeastern North America and beyond) is Campanula rapunculoides – Creeping Bellflower.

In the Garden: Tall Bellflower adds a strong vertical presence to gardens with delightful spires of violet-blue, star-shaped flowers. If its seeds are started in fall, then it acts as an annual. If its seeds are started in spring then it acts as a biennial. Due to its short-lived nature, it will persist in your garden via self-seeding. 

Skill level:  beginner 

Lifespan: annual/biennial 

Exposure: sun to light shade 

Soil Type: rich loam, clay, sand, circumneutral (pH 6.8-7.2)  

Moisture: moist to medium (plants need regular and even moisture) 

Height: 150-200 cm 

Spread: 30-60 cm 

Bloom Period: Jun, Jul, Aug 

Colour: blue 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems though slugs and snails are occasional visitors, and watch for aphids 

Natural Habitat: marshy ground, stream banks, openings in deciduous forests, and in disturbed areas such as trails, edges of fields and along railroads 

Wildlife Value: A number of bees, including bumblebees and leaf cutting bees, butterflies and skippers, seek nectar and or pollen, and deer occasionally eat the flowers and foliage 

Butterfly & Moth Larva Host Plant For: none 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-7 

Propagation: [NT, L] No treatment needed as seeds germinate easily, but they require light to break dormancy, so do not cover the seeds.  

Additional Info: Deadhead spent flowers to encourage additional bloom. Plants are annual or biennial but will easily remain in a garden by self-seeding. Tall bellflower is listed as Endangered in New York State. 

Native Range: 

Native range (shaded) of Campanulastrum americanum – American Bellflower.

Canada Lily 

Some of the most popular posts on my Facebook page are the images of my Canada Lily (Lilium canadense). Technically not native to the part of Ontario that I live in (it could be classified as a “near native” here), it nevertheless thrives in my garden. Each year this plant sends up more shoots and has more blossoms.  

I planted it as a small potted plant five years ago. A year later it was about 4’ tall and had two blossoms. The next year it shot up to just over 7’4” and had 24 blooms. Last year a second stalk appeared and the taller one reached an amazing 7’9” and there were 53 blooms between the two plants. This year, it just got bigger and more spectacular. A total of 8 stems produced 102 flowers and the tallest of these plants reached an incredible 7’11.5”. 

In this month’s Plant of the Month I am writing about this amazing species.  As usual, the Plant Description and In the Garden sections are courtesy of Shaun Booth from In Our Nature. 

Common Name: Canada Lily 

Scientific Name: Lilium canadense 

Family: Liliaceae (Lily Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Meadow Lily, Wild Yellow Lily, Yellow Wood Lily 

Plant Description: Canada Lily features smooth, light green stems that are unbranched, except at the top where the flowers are found. Leaves are distributed along the stem in whorls of three to eight with some smaller alternate leaves occurring along the upper portion of the stem. Each leaf is up to 15 cm long, 2.5 cm wide, smooth, toothless, and narrowly ovate. Stems terminate with up to 20 nodding, trumpet-shaped flowers borne on long stalks and can range in colour from reddish orange to yellow. These flowers are up to 10 cm across and feature six tepals that flare backwards (but not past the base of the flower), six stamens, and dark dots on the inside of the tepals. Flowers become oblong, 5 cm long seed capsules that are divided into three cells containing flat seeds. 

In the Garden: Canada Lily adorns the summer garden with trumpet-like flowers that hang gracefully from the plant. Besides its blooms, it is valued for its clumping habit and interesting whorled foliage. 

Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate 

Lifespan: Perennial 

Exposure: Full sun to part shade (prefers dappled shade) 

Soil Type: Rich loamy or slightly sandy soil 

Moisture: Moist to medium 

Height: 90–240 cm 

Spread: 15–20 cm 

Bloom Period: Jun, Jul, Aug 

Colour: Red, orange, or yellow 

Flowers may be yellow, orange, red, or a combination.

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: The caterpillars of several moth species feed on the leaves, stems, and corms of Canada Lily, and the introduced Lily Leaf Beetle or Red Lily Beetle (Lilioceris lilii) feeds on its leaves 

Natural Habitat: Wet meadows, moist rich woods, streamsides, and wetlands, and along wet roadsides and railroads 

Wildlife Value: The nectar attracts large butterflies, particularly the Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele) and various swallowtail butterflies. Some bees collect pollen from the flowers, but they are ineffective at cross-pollination because of their small size. A number of mammalian herbivores browse on the foliage, and voles and chipmunks are known to eat the corms. Rabbits ate off several new lilies I planted last year, and squirrels dug out the corms of others before I had a chance to cover them with chicken wire – but once established the plants seem pretty robust. 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: None 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Carrion Flower Moth (Acrolepiopsis incertella), Burdock Borer Moth (Papaipema cataphracta), Golden Borer Moth (Papaipema cerina), Common Borer Moth (Papaipema nebris), Sparganothis Leafroller Moth (Sparganothis sulfureana

USDA Hardiness Zones: 4–8 

Propagation: [WC; D] Canada Lily seeds must undergo a period of one to two months of warmth, at which time they will swell and become a small bulb. These then need another 60 to 90 days of cold before they begin to sprout. Seedlings typically go dormant by midsummer. Plants grown from seed will take five to six years before they flower. Propagation is easiest from division of the scaly bulb, which can be dug as soon as the plant goes dormant in late summer. 

Additional Info: Canada Lily is primarily pollinated by the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) and large butteflies such as the swallowtails. Canada lily is listed as Threatened in Indiana. 

Native Range (shaded area on map): 

Butterfly Milkweed

As I write this in mid-June, the Butterfly Milkweed in my southwestern Ontario garden is just starting to get an orange tinge to the flower buds. This brilliant orange flower loves sun and sand and its tuberous root (from which it gets its specific epithet – tuberosa) makes it a great drought tolerant choice for the garden. A favourite of butterflies, bees, wasps and other insects, no sun-drenched garden should be without it. Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, are courtesy of Shaun Booth of In Our Nature

Asclepias tuberosa flower buds starting to colour up in my garden.

Common Name: Butterfly Milkweed

Scientific Name: Asclepias tuberosa

Family: Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed Family)

Alternate Common Names: Butterflyweed, Chigger Flower, Orange Milkweed, Pleurisy Root

Plant Description: Butterfly Milkweed is characterized by rigid, hairy stems with lance-shaped, alternate leaves attached with little to no leaf stalk. Leaves measure about 5-15cm long and 2.5cm wide and are toothless, glabrous on top, sparsely hairy underneath and end with a pointed tip. Only the foliage exudes a milky sap. Stems are mostly unbranching except for at the top where several flat-topped flower clusters, up to 8cm across, can be found. Each cluster is made up of up to 25 individual flowers measuring about 1cm across. Flowers are characterized by 5 hoods with a curved horn emerging from each one and arching towards the central crown. Each flower has 5 backwards flared petals. Flowers give way to narrow, smooth, 15cm long seed pods. Each pod contains numerous flat brown seeds with tufts of white silk that allow them to be carried by the wind.

In the Garden: Butterfly Milkweed is valued in gardens for its cheerful orange flowers, long bloom time and high drought tolerance. It maintains a clumping form and is not an aggressive spreader which makes it suitable for small or formal gardens. The deep taproot makes it hard to transplant, so choose its location wisely. Stems remain upright well into the winter months.

Skill Level: beginner

Lifespan: perennial

Exposure: full sun – not shade tolerant

Soil Type: prefers sandy or rocky soil that is well-drained

Moisture: dry to medium

Height: 80 cm

Spread: 45 cm

Bloom Period: Jun, Jul, Aug

Colour: orange

Fragrant (Y/N): N

Showy Fruit (Y/N): N

Cut Flower (Y/N): Y

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems, though crown rot can be a problem in wet, poorly drained soils and it is susceptible to rust and leaf spot.

Natural Habitat: prairies, open woods or on roadsides

Wildlife Value: nectar source for native bees, butterflies and hummingbirds

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), Grey Hairstreak (Strymon melinus), and Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus)

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Unexpected Cycnia (Cycnia inopinatus), Delicate Cycnia (Cycnia tenera), Milkweed Tussock Moth (Euchaetes egle), Stalk Borer Moth (Papaipema nebris), Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella), Striped Garden Caterpillar (Trichordestra legitima)

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9

Propagation: Seeds sown in the spring require 30 days cold stratification. Plants are easily grown from seed, but are somewhat slow to establish and may take 2-3 years to produce flowers. Butterfly Milkweed does not transplant well due to its deep taproot, and is probably best left undisturbed once established. The quickest method of propagation is root cuttings. In the fall, cut the taproot into 2-inch sections and plant each section vertically, keeping the area moist.

Additional Info: Unlike many of the other milkweeds, this species does not have milky-sapped stems. Asclepias tuberosa will host monarch butterfly caterpillars but if other milkweeds are present this one is often ignored.

Native Range:

Spotted Jewelweed

Areas with a fair bit of moisture are perfect candidates for this beautiful annual flower, often found along shady stream banks and in low forested wetland areas. Long known for the ability of its crushed stems to cure the itch of mosquito bites or even poison ivy, its exploding seed pods are also a favourite of children of all ages. Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, are courtesy of Shaun Booth of In Our Nature

Common Name: Spotted Jewelweed

Scientific Name: Impatiens capensis 

Family: Balsaminaceae (Touch-me-not Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Orange Balsam, Orange Jewelweed, Spotted Touch-me-not, Wild Balsam 

Plant description: Jewelweed is a heavily branched plant with smooth, succulent stems that are reddish green and nearly translucent. Oval to egg-shaped leaves are borne in an alternate pattern and measure up to 7.6cm long and almost 3.8cm wide. They are smooth to the touch with widely spaced, broad teeth. Flowers measure 2.5cm long by 2cm wide and emerge from upper leaf axils (where the leaf meets the stem) in small clusters of 1-3 flowers. Each flower is tubular in shape with two broad lower lobes and one smaller upper lobe. Sticking out from the back of each flower is a long, narrow nectar spur that curls back underneath of the flower. Colour can vary but they are usually orange with red spots on the front petals. Note that these red spots may be very dense or even completely absent, depending on the specimen. Flowers give way to thin green seed pods that pop open from the slightest touch to spread their seeds away from the mother plant. 

In the Garden: The vibrant orange flowers of Jewelweed dangle gracefully between its lush foliage, blooming for months on end. It will eagerly self-seed and quickly cover shady, moist areas with beauty and wildlife value. 

Lifespan: annual 

Exposure: shade to part shade 

Soil Type: fertile clay, loam, sand with an abundance of organic material 

Moisture: moist, wet (submergence of the roots by flood water is tolerated for up to 2 weeks without apparent ill-effects) 

Height: 90-150 cm 

Spread: 45-75 cm 

Bloom Period: Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct (till frost) 

Colour: orange 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: few pest problems 

Natural Habitat: shady wetlands 

Wildlife value: Hummingbirds and butterflies seek nectar, and several native bees (listed by the Xerces society as of special value to bumblebees) collect pollen; deer will browse the foliage, while mice and many birds eat the seeds 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: none 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Obtuse Euchlaena (Euchlaena obtusaria), Pink-Legged Tiger Moth (Spilosoma latipennis), White-Striped Black (Trichodezia albovittata

The White-striped Black moth (Trichodezia albovittata) will grace your gardens if you have lots of jewelweed.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-11 

Propagation: [CWC, L, M] Seeds are best sown when fresh as they do not tolerate drying out. Jewelweed seeds need light to germinate and a period of cold moist stratification, followed by warm moist period, then another period of moist cold. They typically require 2 years to germinate in the wild, though depending on the winter conditions they may germinate after the first winter. 

Additional Info: The juice from jewelweed stems contains a compound called lawsone which has shown to have antihistamine and anti-inflammatory properties. It is said to relieve itching from poison ivy mosquito bites, stinging nettle and has also been used to treat athlete’s foot. 

The plant gets one of its common names, ‘touch-me-not’ because when the ripe seed pods are touched even lightly, the pods’ explosive spring-action projects the seeds for a distance of a meter or more. 

From my YouTube videos – this is a jewelweed seed pod “exploding” recorded at 1/8 normal speed. It’s no wonder their seeds find their way far from the parent plant.

Native Range: 

Very similar to Yellow Jewelweed: 

Scientific Name: Impatiens pallida 

Common Name: Yellow Jewelweed 

Alternate Common Names: Balsam-weed, Pale Jewelweed, Pale Snapweed, Pale Touch-me-not, Quick-in-the-hand, Silverweed, Slippers, Slipperweed, Snapweed, Speckled Jewels, Spotted Touch-me-not, Wild Balsam 

Yellow Jewelweed has fewer, but larger, yellow flowers than Spotted Jewelweed, with a shorter spur that bends down rather than parallel with the flower. It also has more finely toothed leaves and is a much larger plant overall. I. pallida also seems to prefer soils on the sandier end of the spectrum vs I. capensis, which seems to favour heavier soils. 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7 

Native Range: 

Caltha Palustris – Marsh Marigold

Caltha palustris is a very early blooming wetland species that brightens the forest floor each spring. Its bright yellow flowers seem to almost glow on the damp forest floor. Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, are courtesy of Shaun Booth of In Our Nature

Photo by Shaun Booth of In Our Nature (

Common Name: Marsh Marigold 

Scientific Name: Caltha palustris 

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Boots, Brave Bassinets, Bull Flower, Cow Lily, Cowslip, Crazy Beth, Crowfoot, Drunkards, Goldes, Gools, Horse Blob, King’s Cup, Mare Blob, Marybuds, May Blob, Meadow Buttercup, Meadow Cowslip, Meadow Gowan, Meadow-bright, Mireblob, Publican’s Cloak, Publicans-and-sinners, Soldier’s Buttons, Water Boots, Water Buttercup, Water Cowslip, Water Dragon, Water Goggles, Water Gowan, Yellow Gowan, Yellow Marsh Marigold (and a whole lot more!) 

Plant description: Marsh Marigold features hairless, hollow, regularly branching stems. The leaves are mostly basal, although a few alternate leaves can be found along the stems. Leaves measure 10cm long and across (alternate leaves are smaller), are round to kidney shaped with a deeply heart-shaped base, have scalloped to toothless edges and a succulent look to them. Small clusters of 2-5 yellow flowers are found on upper stems. Each flower measures 2cm – 4cm across and features 5-9 rounded, waxy, petal-like sepals surrounding a ring of numerous yellow stamens (the part that holds the pollen). 

Flowers give way to clusters of flattened, curved capsules (resembling a jester’s hat) with each capsule measuring about 1cm long. They start out erect and green then curve outwards and become a light brown colour with age. They split open at the top to release greenish brown seeds. 

In the Garden: In early spring, the cheerful yellow flowers of Marsh Marigold glow in enthusiasm for the warmer weather ahead. This plant is easily grown in wet, mucky soil, in the shallow water of a pond or a rain garden. Give it rich soil and never allow it to dry out. It is a well-behaved plant with a low-mounding habit. It spreads by seeds and rhizomes to form colonies but is not an aggressive spreader. Although its name suggests that it is related to marigolds, it belongs to the buttercup family. 

Skill level: beginner 

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: full sun to part shade (will tolerate full shade but is less likely to produce flowers) 

Soil Type: muddy, humus-rich soil 

Moisture: wet 

Height: 30-45 cm 

Spread: 30-45 cm 

Bloom Period: Apr, May, Jun 

Colour: yellow 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems though it may be susceptible to powdery mildew and rust 

Natural Habitat: marshes, swamps, wet meadows and stream margins 

Wildlife value: the nectar and pollen of the flowers attract primarily flies and bees 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: none 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: none 

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-7 

Propagation: [NT, M; D] Seeds should be sown as soon as ripe and cannot dry out before sowing. Seedlings do not flower until the third year following germination. Plants also reproduce easily by division in early spring as the plants are emerging. 

Additional Info: The Latin genus name Caltha comes from the Greek word for “goblet,” and refers to the shape of the flower while the epithet palutris means “of the marsh.” 

Native Range: This widespread plant can be found throughout Canada and in all states surrounding the Great Lakes, as far south as Tennessee and North Carolina, as far west at the Dakotas, and even along the west coast. This is a circumpolar species, found throughout Europe and Asia as well. 

As a consequence of its wide range, it has more common names than any plant I’ve come across – I discovered 60 different common names for this one flower, and that does not include all the variations in spelling for each name. This plant really is the poster child for why we like using the scientific binomial when identifying a species. 

Monarda Punctata – Spotted Beebalm/Dotted Horsemint

Monarda punctata – where have you been all my life?! About 3 years ago I bought a small plug of spotted beebalm on a whim while visiting a native plant nursery. Little did I realize that this would soon rank in my top 10 favourite plants (and with over 300 species in my yard – that’s saying something). If you give it a sunny spot with well-drained sandy soil and minimal competition, it will reward you with a show of beautiful pink bracts, spotted creamy-green flowers, and lots and lots of pollinators. It self-seeds in my garden and my single plants has grown to a patch about 3’ across. The seedlings are easy to dig up and relocate so I have since added more in other locations around my yard. The Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, provided by Shaun Booth of In Our Nature

A healthy patch of Monarda punctata in the garden. Photo by Shaun Booth of In Our Nature.

Common Name: Spotted Beebalm 

Scientific Name: Monarda punctata 

Family: Lamiaceae (Mint Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Bee Balm Horsemint, Dotted Horsemint, Dotted Mint, Horsemint 

Plant description: The stems of Spotted Beebalm are brown to reddish purple, 4-angled and densely hairy. Leaves are softly hairy and found in an opposite arrangement, measuring up to 7.5cm long and 1.2cm wide. You will notice that smaller leaves emerge from leaf axils (where leaves meet the stem). Lower leaves are serrated while upper leaves may have smooth margins. Tubular flowers are found in whorls around the upper leaf axils with one cluster being found at the very top of each stem. Each flower is 2.5cm long and yellow with purple spots. The upper lip of each flower is long, narrow and arching while the lower lip is 3 lobed. Each flower cluster is backed by 5-10 leaf-like bracts with pink, lavender or white upper surfaces. Note that some leaves can take on the colour of the bracts. Flowers turn into seed heads containing small, dry, oval seeds. 

In the Garden: The quirky beauty of Spotted Beebalm is sure to turn heads in your garden! It is one of the most drought tolerant of the Monarda species and certainly the most unique. Its foliage has a wonderful minty aroma and, despite being in the mint family, it retains a clumping habit. Herbivores rarely bother with this plant. 

Lifespan: annual, biennial or short-lived perennial  

Exposure: full sun to part sun 

Soil Type: sandy soil – requires excellent drainage 

Moisture: dry 

Height: 15-60 cm (occasionally to 90 cm) 

Spread: 30 cm 

Bloom Period: Jul, Aug, Sep 

Colour: yellow with maroon markings, however the bracts are showier and may be purple, pink, white or yellow 

Fragrant (Y/N): Y (foliage) 

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: susceptible to powdery mildew, though because this plant prefers drier conditions than its cousins, M. didyma and M. fistulosa, it tends to be affected less often than the other two 

Natural Habitat: sandy prairies and savannas, sand dunes around the Great Lakes and sandy fields with little grassy competition 

Wildlife value: Butterflies (it is a favourite of the endangered Karner blue), skippers, hummingbird moths, hummingbirds, honeybees, bumblebees and other native bees sip nectar from the flowers. In my garden, if you want to see a Great Black Digger Wasp (Sphex pensylvanicus) just stand by the M. punctata for a few moments when it is blooming – they are almost always on the plant. The strongly scented leaves and stems are usually avoided by mammalian herbivores. 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: none 

Moth Larva Host Plant For: Orange Mint Moth (Pyrausta orphisalis), Raspberry Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta signatalis), and Gray Marvel (Anterastria teratophora

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9 

Propagation: No treatment needed, though if holding for spring sowing, the seeds should be stored in a cool and dry environment. Seeds need light to germinate, so sow on the surface. It can also be propagated by 2-3-node cuttings of young plants. Because they are such a short-lived perennial, root division is usually not worth the effort. 

Additional Info: does not tolerate grassy competition 

Native Range:

Monarda punctata is known to be native in the shaded areas.

In the short (5 second) video below, you can watch the unique relationship between plant and insect. As the wasp moves from flower to flower, it’s back is dabbed with pollen, which it then spreads to the next flower.

Wild Columbine

I am frequently asked what my “favourite” native plant is. To me, that’s like asking a mother which is her favourite child. But invariably, when asked, Wild Columbine is the first to pop into my mind. I love how it is drought tolerant, produces abundant, easily collected seeds, and has amazing 2 tone flowers. It attracts butterflies, bees and even hummingbirds. And it is, oh, so photogenic. In my garden it grows in full sun to mostly shade and is one of the earliest plants to green up in the spring. (Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, are courtesy of Shaun Booth of In Our Nature).  

Common Name: Wild Columbine 

Scientific Name: Aquilegia canadensis 

Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup family) 

Alternate Common Names: Canada Columbine, Cluckies, Common American Columbine, Eastern Red Columbine, Jack-in-trousers, Rock Lily, Wild Red Columbine 

Plant description: Wild Columbine feature light green to blue-green, compound leaves that occur as basal foliage around the base of the plant and as alternating leaves up the flower stems. Each compound leaf is made up of three leaflets, each of which are lobed and measure 6cm long and wide. Nodding flowers, up to 5cm long, are borne on thin, branching stalks that rise above the basal leaves. Flowers are defined by five rolled-up, yellow petals that taper upwards, ending in nectar rich spurs. Dangling yellow stamens (the part that carries the pollen) protrude from the bottom of the flowers. The flowers give way to erect green seed pods that turn brown as they dry and then split open to release shiny black seeds. 

In the Garden: The graceful, nodding flowers of Wild Columbine are a unique and welcomed addition to native plant gardens. This plant is valued by gardeners for a stunning floral display, adaptability and ease of growth. This drought tolerant beauty is a jack of all trades in the garden. It is extremely adaptable to light and moisture conditions as long as drainage is good. 

Skill level: beginner 

Lifespan: short-lived perennial, but self-seeds readily 

Exposure: full sun to full shade, though does best in part shade 

Soil Type: sandy, well-drained soils, not too rich 

Moisture: dry to moist 

Height: 30-90 cm 

Spread: 30-60 cm 

Bloom Period: May, Jun, Jul 

Colour: red or pink and yellow 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: leaf miner 

The Columbine Leaf Miner leaves squiggly lines in the plant leaves, but these are cosmetic only and do not appear to harm the plant in any way.

Natural Habitat: woodlands and rocky slopes, slopes of deep ravines, steep stream and riverbanks, old-fields 

Wildlife Value: blooms attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and hawk moths while seeds are consumed by finches and buntings. 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: Columbine Duskywing (Erynnis lucilius

Columbine Duskywing butterfly

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8 

Propagation: Most easily propagated by seed sown on the surface in the fall (seeds need light to germinate, so do not cover). If starting indoors, it does best with at least 60 days cold moist stratification. Division of mature plants when not flowering is difficult but possible with care. Young seedlings, however, transplant easily when less than 15 cm (6”) tall and can be a great source of new plants as wild columbine readily self seeds. 

Additional Info: Wild Columbine is a short-lived perennial and will persist by self-seeding into bare soil. 

Allium Cernuum

This month’s plant is a member of the Allium family noted for its beautiful clusters of pink flowers in mid to late summer that attracts pollinators from far and wide. As a member of the onion family, the tender young stems can be used where you would use chives and the bulbs can be used raw or cooked – though they have a very strong flavour.  The Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, provided by Shaun Booth of In Our Nature

Common Name: Nodding Wild Onion 

Scientific Name: Allium cernuum 

Family: Liliaceae (lily family) 

Alternate Common Names: Lady’s Leek, Nodding Pink Onion 

Plant description: Nodding Onion features a tuft of basal leaves originating from a bulb. It’s arching, grass-like leaves reach up to 30cm long and 1cm wide. The leafless flower stalks rise slightly above the foliage and bend downwards at the top, producing a nodding umbel of flowers (hence the name “Nodding” Onion). All parts have a strong onion smell. 

In the Garden: Nodding onion is a small but showy plant that thrives in tough sites. For best effect, plant it in large groupings. It doesn’t like competition from taller plants so plant accordingly. This is a very well-behaved, clumping plant but may self-seed in optimal conditions. 

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: part shade to full sun 

Soil Type: humus-rich, neutral to alkaline soils but will adapt to acidity, sand to clay 

Moisture: medium dry to moist 

Height: 40 cm 

Spread: 8-15 cm 

Bloom Period: Jun, Jul, Aug 

Colour: pink (white) to light lavender 

Fragrant: (Y/N): Y (leaves produce an onion-like scent when crushed) 

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: prairies, rocky outcrops and at the edge of dry open woodlands 

Wildlife Value: supports a variety of generalist pollinators including native bees and the nectar attracts hummingbirds and butterflies 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: Hairstreak butterflies (Satyrium spp.) 

Banded Hairstreak caterpillars feed on Allium Cernuum leavs and flowers.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8 

Propagation: Spreads by seed and bulb offshoots. Sow seeds in the fall or provide 60 days moist, cold stratification if spring planting. Cover lightly with soil/growing medium. Plants benefit from being divided every third year or when 8-10 bulbs appear in the clump. Plants may be divided any time of the year. 

Additional Info: Walnut (juglone) tolerant. Nodding Wild Onion is rare in Ontario – it is believed that the only natural populations left are those growing in alvar habitat on Pelee Island. In New York it is classified as Threatened. 

Helianthus Divaricatus

As I write this, winter storms are threatening parts of the Great Lakes region, with snow and freezing rain forecast. So to help us escape for a moment from the impending winter, I thought this month’s native plant of the month should be the quintessential summer blossom. And what could be more summery than a Sunflower? Woodland Sunflowers will thrive in full sun to part shade and promise to brighten your garden for much of the summer and into the fall. 

Common Name: Woodland Sunflower 

Scientific Name: Helianthus divaricatus 

Family: Asteraceae (Aster Family) 

Alternate Common Names: Rough Sunflower, Rough Woodland Sunflower 

Plant description: Woodland Sunflower has rigid, upright stems that are unbranched except for where flowers occur. These stems are light green to dark purple and smooth or sparsely covered in short, stiff hairs. Alternate leaves are attached directly to the stem in an opposite pattern and are rotated 90 degrees horizontally from the leaves below them. Leaves are lance-shaped to ovate with a rounded base, pointed tip and measure up to 15cm long and 5cm across. Leaf margins may be toothless or have widely spaced teeth. Stems terminate with 2.5-7.5cm wide flowers borne on slender stalks. Each flower is characterized by 8-15 bright yellow, widely spreading ray florets (petals) surrounding a slightly darker center disk. Flowers are replaced by globular seed heads containing numerous black seeds. 

In the Garden: The radiant yellow flowers of Woodland Sunflower bloom in profusion and lighten up partly shaded areas of the garden. Its adaptability and long bloom time mean it will quickly become a favourite in your garden. The flowers fade to globular seed heads that persist well into the winter months to extend seasonal interest and wildlife value. 

Lifespan: perennial 

Exposure: sun, part shade 

Soil Type: sandy, loamy or rocky 

Moisture: moist to dry 

Height:  30-180 cm 

Spread: 30-90 cm 

Bloom Period: Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep 

Colour: yellow 

Fragrant (Y/N):

Showy Fruit (Y/N):

Cut Flower (Y/N):

Pests: no serious insect or disease problems 

Natural Habitat: dry, open woodland or savanna 

Wildlife value: the nectar and pollen of the flowers attract a wide variety of insects and native bees, and the seeds are eaten by many small birds, squirrels and mice 

Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) and Gorgone Checkerspot (C. gorgone), and Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui

USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8 

Propagation: Seeds direct sown in the fall will germinate in the spring. If starting the seeds in doors, requires 30 days cold moist stratification. Divide every 3-4 years to control spread and maintain vigor. 

The small sunflower seeds look very much like the larger ones we’re used to seeing in our birdseed. (Image source Prairie Moon Nursery)

Additional Info: Spreads over time by creeping rhizomes to form colonies. Woodland Sunflower is a vigorous spreader and therefore may not be suitable for small planting areas. 

Native Range: 

Shaded area indicates the pre-European native range of Helianthus divaricatus.