…along the way to Cistus Nursery on scenic Sauvie Island near Portland, Oregon.
Which is your favorite?
A week ago, when I left home for a trip to Washington and Oregon to gather information for a 2017 garden tour, rain had finally returned to the Upstate, thank goodness. Afternoon thunderstorms had popped up in our area in June and July, but my garden received no measurable precipitation for nine weeks. Not even a sprinkle. Temperatures, on the other hand, reached into the upper 90s almost every day.
The relief of those first rains continued throughout my absence (it was even drizzling when my plane landed just before midnight) and as I examined the garden on this first morning at home, I found tiny flower buds beginning to form on the dogwood trees (for next spring’s blooms) and a variety of mushrooms.
I know practically nothing about mushrooms, other than they are the fruiting bodies of fungi that break down organic material such as dead wood. I enjoy eating the ones grown for culinary purposes, but don’t have the expertise to collect from the wild. Nonetheless, they are a very welcome sign that our summer drought has abated, at least for now.
The recent wet weather has also given the cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) the courage to bloom, though the flower stalks I found are just half their usual height of 15 to 20 inches.
Common throughout the Southeastern US, this native terrestrial orchid is found in moist, humus-rich soils of deciduous forests. Moths pollinate the plant. Interestingly, a specialized structure that contains the flower’s pollen, called a pollinaria, hitches a ride on the moth’s eyes for transfer to another flower.
A crazy thing happened on the way to the wedding last week. Well, not really “on the way,” but I couldn’t resist using a funny line. It actually happened the day before the wedding when the bride and groom and several family members walked to the beach to see where the ceremony might take place.
So, what happened? In several locations between beach houses, I spied an unknown herbaceous plant, about 30-inches tall with pinky-purple tips, that was literally humming with bees and other insects. With more important things at hand, I stayed focused on the moment but made a mental note to scrutinize and photograph the plant later.
Now that you’ve seen the mystery plant, I hope you’re not laughing at my expense. I have the uncomfortable notion, especially after examining the USDA plant profile showing the extensive range of our native Monarda punctata, that I might be the last gardener in the Carolinas to know this mint, commonly called spotted horsemint or spotted beebalm.
Even worse, after seeing the plant up close, I admit I still couldn’t figure out what it was. At first I believed it was a beebalm, but when I couldn’t find a similar beebalm on the internet, I thought perhaps a phlomis (because of the number of flower whorls). Clearly, I was lost without my plant reference books. Finally, I had the good sense to email Terry, my “go to” friend for plant ID, and she immediately provided the name.
Many areas near the beach, from sun to part shade, were packed with hundreds of these plants, so the native obviously thrives in sandy soil and dry heat, and self-seeds freely. Interestingly, its pale yellow flowers are rather inconspicuous, but each flower head rests upon a showy circle of leafy bracts in an eye-catching shade of pink to lavender. The lance-shaped foliage smells amazingly like oregano, and I’ve since read it can be used as a substitute.
Most amazing of all, however, was the number and variety of insects visiting the flowers. Reliable sources say the plant also attracts butterflies, though I don’t recall seeing any.
As an interesting side note…..we had planned on a florist’s bouquet for the bride, but when the time of the wedding was moved from early evening to daybreak (because of the extreme heat), we realized the flowers wouldn’t arrive in time, so I offered to pinch-hit. Then, I had a fleeting thought of adding some of the “pink blooms” seen at roadside to a home-made bouquet before my brain leaped to “bees at wedding = not good.” You’ll be glad to know, I’m sure, that sanity prevailed and the flowers rustled up at a local grocery store worked out just fine.