Verbesina virginica: A reason to look forward to winter

Two years ago, Gail at Clay and Limestone kindly shared with me some seeds of Verbesina virginica.

verbesina and beeI had never before heard of this wildflower, native to my area of the United States. I’ll blame my ignorance on the fact that Verbesina virginica grows in mostly in alkaline soils, which I don’t now and never have had. Also known as white crownbeard, Verbesina virginica can be either biennial or perennial, and grows from the Atlantic coast west to Texas and Kansas and as far north as Iowa and Pennsylvania. It spreads gently by rhizomes to form colonies in the dappled shade of large trees.

While beautiful in itself and appealing to pollinators, the real show comes in winter. Cold temperatures freeze the water in the plant’s stems, which then rupture under pressure. The ice expands as it freezes, forming elegant, curving ribbons. It’s this habit that gives the plant another of its common names, frostweed. I haven’t seen any frost ribbons from my own plant, as this is the first year it’s grown to any noticeable height, but the prospect of watching this natural sculpture form in my garden gives me a reason to anticipate the dark season ahead.

A "frost flower" of Verbesina virginica. Photo by Gail Eichelberger, © Used by permission.

A “frost flower” of Verbesina virginica. Photo by Gail Eichelberger, © Used by permission.

Verbesina virginica frost flowers. Photo by Gail Eichelberger, © Used with permission.

Verbesina virginica frost flowers. Photo by Gail Eichelberger, © Used with permission.

Forrest Mims III runs a time-lapse gallery of frostweed in glorious action on his website. And  Bob Harms at the University of Texas at Austin has a website devoted to the science and art of these stunning frost flowers, which he calls “crystallofolia.”



Wildflower Wednesday: Joe Pye Weed

My garden doesn’t have many fall native wildflowers (yet). One I do like very much, though, is hollow Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium fistulosum).

Hollow joe pye weed

Native to eastern North America, Eutrochium fistulosum forms a massive clump, growing 5-8 feet tall and 4 feet wide in the moist soils it likes. Mine is a bit on the drier side, and so grows correspondingly shorter, topping out at around 6 feet high and 3 feet wide. During rainy spells in summer, I can practically watch it grow. 

Butterflies and bees love the flowers, which are rich in nectar. 

My plant suffered a setback from last year’s weather, I think; it’s half the size it was last year. Or perhaps it’s time to dig and divide. I’m keen to keep it going because it attracts so much wildlife. And the seed heads look beautiful all winter, especially under ice.

Ice on Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium purpureum

Ice on Joe Pye weed, Eutrochium fistulosum

Season: midsummer through fall; winter interest
Height: 5-8 ft.
Flower Color: Rosy purple.
Hardiness: USDA Hardiness Zone 4-8
Foliage: Lime green, lightly serrated. Red stems.
Flower: Loose, rosy purple inflorescences.

Site: Prefers moist sites but will cope with average to dry soils.

Propagation: Division spring or fall.

Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Moist and well-drained to wet. 
Origin: Eastern North America
Life Cycle: Perennial

Wildflower Wednesday is a celebration of wildflowers from all over the world. It’s hosted by Gail and Clay and Limestone on the fourth Wednesday of each month. 

Offenders Get Jail Time for Ginseng Poaching in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Last month, two men were convicted of poaching ginseng from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These men illegally harvested 11 pounds of roots, some of which were 30 to 40 years old. Although fined $2500 and $5500 and sentenced to jail time, the fine is lower than the roots would have yielded in a legal trade market, either domestic or international.

Come on, folks. Fines need to be higher than the market yield if they’re going to provide any serious deterrent to poachers, and we need to be good conservators of our rare native plants.

American ginseng fruit and leaves. Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

American ginseng fruit and leaves. Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Read more:

Offenders Get Jail Time for Ginseng Poaching and Theft – Great Smoky Mountains National Park U.S. National Park Service.


Wildflower Wednesday: Joe Pye Weed

I am not going to win any awards for novelty with this post, but I do love Joe Pye weed.

Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium fistulosum

Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) is a plant well worth growing, if you don’t already. An excellent back-of-the-border plant that blooms for months from midsummer to mid-autumn, it asks little of the gardener and provides the nectar of choice for bees and butterflies. My clump is about 6 feet tall and thoroughly sturdy, although it would be smaller if I bothered to cut it back in late spring.  Every day I pass it on my way to the mailbox, and every day it is absolutely crawling with bees. And so far, the deer have left it alone.

Gail at Clay and Limestone hosts Wildflower Wednesdays. 


Prairie superstar: Nemastylis geminiflora

Meet my newest plant obsession: Nemastylis geminiflora, or prairie celestials.

These charming iris relatives are native to Texas, east to Alabama and Tennessee, and as far north as Kansas and Missouri. They prefer full sun and well-drained, alkaline soil. They look like grass until they bloom. The flowers last one day, opening in the morning and closing in the late afternoon, and are attractive to bees.  I understand that the flowers are as beloved by deer as they are by me.

Something that intrigues me is that although this plant is apparently neither rare nor endangered, it is difficult to come by commercially (we always want what we cannot have, no?). I have searched high and low for seeds or bulbs but with virtually no reliable source to show for my efforts. I contacted the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to learn if they knew of a commercial source for the plant (they don’t sell seeds or bulbs online, only through their on-location plant sales). They politely responded that they didn’t know, but they noticed that it was not native to my area and gently suggested I stick to plants native to central North Carolina.

Well, what else were they going to say? I respect both their mission and the problems that can arise from introducing non-natives into a landscape (Kudzu, anyone?). But there are also plenty of plants that adapt well given proper conditions, yet still behave themselves. To earn a place in my garden, plants must be self-reliant without being bullies. I’m too cheap and lazy to waste resources coddling prima donna plants, and life is too short and real estate too limited to set myself up for extra work with plants that can’t stay in control.

I intend to keep pursuing this plant, and hope to raise some from seed and grow them in a container until I see how they behave. I think they’d be a nice addition to my scree garden if they don’t multiply rapidly.

If you have experience with this plant, I’d love to hear about it.