Category Archives: Wildflowers

Weather & Wildflowers

The Upstate was plagued in 2016 with spring windstorms, summer drought, and an extended hot and dry autumn. Unfortunately, it looks like 2017 might prove equally unkind. A mild January and warm February stimulated an early spring that was squelched in March by the return of winter.  In the past week we’ve seen a low of 23 F (-5 C) and a high of 86 F (30 C), a difference of 63 degrees in just a few days. Then, on Tuesday evening, mighty thunderstorms swept across our region, pelting some areas with 2 inches of hail and others with nearly 4 inches of rain.

So, in my shady garden, where spring is the main event, the azaleas droop with brown flowers and there will be no blooms on the bigleaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla)  this year. (Sigh.)

Thank goodness there is joy to be found in the woodland garden, where a group of “rescued” sweet Betsy trilliums (T. cunneatum) are thriving.


Sweet Betsy trillium (T. cunneatum) moved from a nearby area.

Moved just 2 years ago from a property being bulldozed for construction,  the plants are already beginning to spread. Trilliums reproduce vegetatively from small rhizome offshoots, as well as by seeds. When seeds mature, they attract ants and yellow jackets to a lipid-rich food body (elaiosome) attached to their seed coat. Ants move the seeds short distances and yellow jackets disperse them further afield.

Here is another happy surprise.


More Sweet Betsy.

This naturally occurring patch of sweet Betsy has more than doubled in size since 2011. In fact, this group of trilliums is the very first I found here, surviving under a cloak of English ivy, which spurred our determination to clear invasive plants and reestablish natives.  Six years ago there were 18 flowers. When this photo was taken a few days ago, I counted 38!

Typically, the flowers of bloodroot are finished by now, but not this year.


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot is one of the most cherished signs of early spring.  The flowers, partially encircled by a single unfolding leaf, appear well before the trees leaf out.  Can you see the pollen on the lower petals?  Pollen eating bees and flies are attracted to the nectarless flowers, but if cross-pollination doesn’t occur within 3-4 days, then the anthers bend toward the stigma and shower it with pollen.

Look what else is waking.


Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Burned by frost, but with a bloom in the making.  Thank goodness all parts of this plant, except its fleshy fruit, are highly poisonous.  The local deer family, a doe with twin yearlings, was back for a browse yesterday.

In the garden, we can’t predict what tomorrow might bring…but fingers crossed for more good things ahead.





Wild Things

I visited the riverbank a few days ago during a survey of drought damage to the lower garden and discovered wild ageratum growing in clumps above the river’s edge. Though pretty in situ, it seemed a meager offering for “In a Vase on Monday,” so I looked for other blooms that could add to its modest charm.  Quickly assembled, the vase was put aside when I found the camera’s memory card was AWOL (once again) and then abandoned when I became busy with the concerns of the day.


Wildflowers from the bank and floodplain of the Reedy River.

Perched initially near the kitchen sink and then moved to the sunroom, these wild things have required a startling amount of water. Every time they’ve caught my eye, I’ve found their vase nearly empty.  And though they’re not quite fresh anymore and many gardeners would call them “weeds,” they still make me smile.  So why not share?


Conoclinium coelestinum

Wild ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum), also called blue mist flower and previously classified as Eupatorium, is a perennial wildflower native to the West Indies that grows from New Jersey to Florida and as far west as Missouri and Texas. The clusters of purple-blue flowers at the tip of each stem are surprisingly like those of floss flower (Ageratum), and though both plants grow best in full sun or part shade with rich, moist soil, their similarities end there.  The smaller floss flower is an annual with thin, fibrous roots, while this vigorous perennial grows from a mass of interwoven rhizomes, reaching up to 3-feet tall and about half as wide.


Persicaria longiseta

Oriental lady’s thumb (Persicaria longiseta) is an Asian knotweed that grows in the eastern half of the U.S. and much of Canada.  A common nuisance in the rice paddies of its native wetlands, it can grow in both moist and dry habitats, as well as sun and shade, and is found in marshes, meadows, and forests.


Unknown native aster.

I’ve never learned to distinguish one little white aster from another and find them impossible to decipher, so your guess is as good as mine on the identity of this native. I think it’s flowers with sunny yellow disks and thin white petals are delightful though, don’t you?

Beachside Beebalm

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.

Monarda punctata commonly know as spotted horsemint.

Monarda punctata commonly know as spotted horsemint.

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.

Hmm.....beebalm or phlomis?

Hmm…..beebalm or phlomis?

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.

Bumble bee coated in pollen.

Bumble bee coated in pollen.

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.

Our "little miss" holding the bouquet for the bride.

Our “little miss,” happily holding the bouquet for the bride.




Trillium by Seed

With garden travel and GFWC meetings claiming nearly all of my time in the past month, it’s been a good while since I’ve been able to write for pleasure.  This week, with a family wedding within sight, is no exception, but something happened yesterday I can’t wait to tell you about.

Despite our recent hot and dry weather, it occurred to me that the terrestrial orchids might be flowering in the woodland, so I headed towards the river to look. I didn’t find any orchid blooms, but I did notice that many of the Little Sweet Betsy Trilliums (T. cuneatum) are dying back.  When I bent down to examine one, I reached out and touched the large, burgundy seedpod that had formed at the tip of the stalk, and the pod separated from the plant.  In fact, it easily squished between my fingers like an overripe banana.


Trillium cuneatum dying back as they typically do in July, including a seedpod that squished between my fingers and a second plant with an intact pod.

I had never paid any attention to trillium seedpods in the past. What an amazing discovery!  I could see the pod was filled with 60 or more seeds, each about the size of a bb with a large elaiosome to one side.  An elaiosome is a lipid-rich structure eaten by ants that entices the insects to gather the seeds and move them away from the parent plant, aiding the germination and spread of the species.

What a bonanza! Dreams of thousands of tiny trilliums instantly popped into my head.  Sadly, the excitement lasted roughly 10 minutes—the time it took me to get back to the house, google “trillium grown from seed,” and read it takes nearly two years for seedlings to sprout.  This fun, I’m afraid, will have to wait until retirement, which is six (or more) years away.

I found a fabulous article about the process, however, on the Mt. Cuba Center website. Mt. Cuba is a botanical garden in Delaware (50 acres of display gardens and 500 acres of natural lands) devoted to native plants and ecosystems.  The fascinating piece on growing trillium from seed, written by William Cullina, Director of Horticulture at the Coastal Botanical Garden of Maine and previous Director of Horticultural Research for the New England Wildflower Society in Massachusetts, can be read here.


A closer look at the trillium seed, each with a large elaisome.

While I will not be growing trilliums from seed anytime soon, I plan to take Cullina’s advice to collect seeds and plant them in the woodland garden where I want to establish new colonies. Plus, I’m super excited to have this new info and eye-opening experience with one of my favorite plants.

Almost Wordless Wednesday–March 23, 2016


Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum nutans) is a perennial bulb native to the Balkan regions of Europe and Turkey which features white bell-shaped perianth flowers with six green and grey striped tepals. Although it is quite beautiful and has even won the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in the UK, it is considered an invasive species in parts of the Eastern US, especially in Maryland and surrounding states where it has out-competed many native forest species. Here it is shown in my woodland garden, in the floodplain of the Reedy River.

In a Vase on Monday, March 7, 2016

A quick hello and goodbye as I head to the airport this morning for a week-long meeting in Washington, DC.  The weather has been sunny and warm over the past few days and I already regret I’ll miss some of the pleasures of spring in the Upstate.

Here is a peek at what’s blooming in a vase today and a look at what’s happening in the woodland too.


In the sunroom: Store-bought lilies and another stunted hyacinth blub, unintentionally tortured. I’ll do better next year, I promise.


In the woodland: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), my favorite native wildflower.

For more vases, vist Kathy at Rambling in the Garden.


Bloom Alert

After another round of slushy snow on Wednesday and Thursday, today is bright and warm, so it’s been hard to stay focused on work.  Needing a break, I pulled my wellies on after lunch for a quick walk to see if any of the woodland natives had “endeavored to persevere” through our extremely cold winter.  I hoped to discover a sign or two of Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot), my favorite spring ephemeral, but couldn’t find a trace.

Surprisingly, however, many of the Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy), which I rescued from a nearby area of development last spring, are up and already in bud.  There’s still no sign of other, established trilliums.

Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy)

Trillium cuneatum (sweet Betsy)

Erythronium americanum, commonly called trout lily for its speckled foliage, is even further along.  One bud has apparently been eaten by a critter, but the rest are within a few days of opening.   The plant, given to me by a friend from her garden in 2013, has bulked up since last year.

Erythronium americanum (trout lily)

Erythronium americanum (trout lily)

I also found foliage of Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid), easily identified by the dark coloring on the underside of its leaves.  The foliage will die long before flowers appear in late summer.

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid)

I often refer to the terraces that extend down to the Reedy River at the rear of our property.  In the upper right-hand corner of the photo below, you can barely see the retaining wall that supports the back garden.   And just to the left of the photo is a second, but shorter, retaining wall.

Woodland between house and river.

Woodland between house and river.

Each neon-pink flag marks a spot where an herbaceous plant grows.  Though unsightly now, they help me remember where it’s safe to add new natives, and they’ll be removed when the area is better established.

The garden surrounding the house contains many non-native ornamentals, while the terrace closest to the river cannot be kept clear of non-natives because of periodic flooding.  The woodland shown here, about a quarter acre, is a haven for native plants only.

Home Happenings

While I was in New York’s Hudson River Valley, a couple of exciting things happened here at home.

In the category of flora, the first spike of cranefly orchid (Tipularia discolor) came into bloom. The species epithet–discolor–is Latin, meaning “two colors,” and refers to the wintergreen, summer-deciduous foliage. A single leaf, green on top and magenta purple underneath, arises from a small corm in autumn. Foliage wanes in late spring and by the time the flower spike begins to appear in July, the leaf is long gone.

Tipularia discolor

Tipularia discolor

A native perennial, the orchid is common in neighboring gardens but was absent from my woodland, probably because of the rampant English ivy (now removed). Lucky for me, a friend gave me a generous clump containing many corms from her nearby farm.

Individual purplish-green flowers are about one-half inch wide. Sepals and petals are narrow, as is the lip, which narrows into a crook at its tip. The column is bright green. A long spur, which accounts for the common name, extends from the back of the bloom.

Individual flower of Tipularia discolor.

Individual flower of Tipularia discolor.

According to Tim Spira (Clemson University), the flowers are pollinated by night-flying moths. In his book, Wildflowers & Plant Communities, Tim notes, “As a moth inserts its head into the flower to obtain nectar, a pollinium (a tiny ball of pollen) is attached to the moth’s eye and may inadvertently be deposited on the stigma of another flower. Amazingly, the deposition of pollinia on insect eyes is a common mode of pollen transfer in temperate orchids.”

In the category of fauna, my husband discovered a black snake coiled on a gutter of our front porch on Monday morning.

Black snake, view with head down.

Black snake, view with head down.

Although the photos aren’t well focused, you can clearly distinguish its dark form, with head down, taking stock of the situation. From the rear view, a faint diamond pattern can be detected across its midsection, while its darker tail loops downward. From the size of the hump in its midsection, the snake may have been resting after a meal. If so, I hope its breakfast was a chipmunk!

Black snake, back view.

Black snake, back view.

Although I don’t like to get too close, black snakes are welcome here because they’re not aggressive and are reputed to keep the venomous copperheads at bay. This one is an old friend. When I photographed it in April 2013, it was sitting pretty in an azalea in the woodland garden.

Black snake, spring 2013.

Black snake, spring 2013.