Looking lovely in the garden this week is the amazing native small tree, Aesculus parviflora var. serotina ‘Rogers’. Despite this amazing plant being native only in Alabama, it thrives in gardens well north of Chicago. This named selection was discovered in the early 1960s in the yard of University of Illinois professor Donald Rogers, and named because of its more floriferous nature, as well as its more pendulous flower spikes.
The latest member of the clumping monardas of the Electric Neon series is ‘Electric Neon Purple’. Here it is in our garden this summer, looking absolutely fabulous. Look for this in our upcoming Fall catalog.
Flowering this week is our 2019 seed collection from Texas of the Evening Primrose looking Milkweed, Asclepias oenotheroides. This odd clumping milkweed, which tops out at 18″ tall, only grows natively from Louisiana west to Arizona, and south into Mexico in very dry sites. Hardiness is most likely Zone 7b-10b.
Looking lovely in the dryland garden now is the amazingly vigorous Agastache ‘Queen Nectarine’. This amazing giant measures 3.5′ tall x 3.5′ wide, and is adorned at any given time, May through October, with hundreds of flowers, perfectly designed for hummingbirds. Many of the non purple-flowered agastaches struggle in our hot, humid, rainy summers, but not this one. Hardiness zone 5a to 8b.
by Patrick McMillan
The past couple of weeks the small, freakish flowers of one of the strangest of plants have begun to open in our gardens – pipevines. It’s difficult to believe that nature could summon up anything as strange as the flowers of pipevines. If you remember the “regular” aka actinomorphic and the “irregular” zygomorphic flowers from high school biology then you would have to consider the strange, inflated flowers of pipevines highly irregular.
These plants are related to wild gingers/heartleafs (Asarum) and are members of the basal angiosperms, which are plants with lineages that predate monocots and true dicots. Many of the early angiosperms have flowers that are pollinated by flies or beetles that they lure to the flowers with the pleasant smell of rotting meat or dung. Pipevine is no exception. They trick flies into entering the strangely shaped flowers which often have a funnel-like flare with a narrow opening and trap the fly in a chamber with the pollen and nectar to accomplish pollination.
The general shape of the pipevine flower also approximates the anatomy of a uterus and birth canal. As was all the craze in the early years of medicine, the resemblance to the uterus must mean it is good for treating issues with difficult pregnancies and childbirth. This archaic mode of determining herbal remedies is referred to as the doctrine of signatures – basically if a plant part looked like a part of the human anatomy it would be used to treat ailments associated with that organ. This avenue of medical care led us to the highly unsuccessful use of liverleaf (Hepatica) to treat ailments thought to be caused by the liver, like cowardice and freckles. Medical science has since progressed, maybe?
The pipevines include herbaceous upright perennials, short rambling vines, and enormous lianas (woody vines). The toxic chemical aristolochic acid is contained in all parts of the plant and though it is known to cause kidney failure (which probably didn’t decrease the problems with difficult childbirth) this chemical has also been shown to have antitumor properties. Don’t go munching on the leaves! Pipevine Swallowtails depend exclusively on pipevines for their larval food source and all the species we grow are host to large numbers of caterpillars in the summer.
The Pipevine Swallowtail accumulates aristolochic acid which deters predators like birds from wanting to consume them (they don’t want kidney failure either). This may explain why Spicebush Swallowtails and Red-spotted Purples look so similar to the Pipevine Swallowtail, they’re taking advantage of blending into the poisonous crowd.
These beautiful butterflies always seem to find your pipevines, no matter how secluded you think they are. Don’t worry, we can’t have enough swallowtails and the vines regrow without issue. These are great plants to include in your garden to support our butterflies. The caterpillars have another interesting behavior, when disturbed they have bright orange “horns” that are technically referred to as osmeteria that it pushes out of the front of its body and emit a very foul odor!
Three native pipevines are found in the Carolinas. Common Pipevine (Isotrema macrophyllum) can become a huge liana, reaching the canopies of old-growth trees and spreads through runners and can be difficult to keep contained. It grows best in cool climates and tends to suffer or not grow in warmer parts of the Southeastern US.
Woolly Pipevine (Isotrema tomentosa) grows very well in hot, humid climates and is known from only a few native populations in the Carolina coastal plain. Like its mountain cousin it is very difficult to restrain and may quickly outgrow the space you envision for it.
The only other pipevine is very dissimilar to the others, Virginia Snakeroot (Endodeca serpentaria), which is an upright herbaceous perennial that rarely gets a foot tall. If you’re wondering why these former Aristolochia are now in the genera of Isotrema and Endodeca, well, it appears to all be about genetics. They are closely related but currently in different genera.
One of the easiest to grow and showiest, best-behaved species in our garden hails from Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia, Fringed Pipevine or Fringed Dutchman’s-pipe (Aristolochia fimbriata). The plants form scrambling vines that act more like a groundcover than a vine and have beautifully silver-veined small leaves. The flowers are intricately patterned with lines and fringed with long “tentacles” to create one of the most bizarre flowers you’ll ever include in the landscape. Though you wouldn’t pick a plant from Brazil to be rock-hardy here in Raleigh, this one has been fully hardy (zones 7a-9a). For those of you looking to add some swallowtails but unwilling to devote the space to a monstrous mass of vines this one is for you. Fringed Pipevine is also incredibly drought-tolerant and perfect for part-sun to dappled dry shade.
I’ve been surprised to see the black swallowtails regularly enjoying the nectar of the summer-flowering daphnes…in this case, Daphne x napolitana ‘Bramdream’. Our plants are thriving, growing in our full sun rock garden.
As gardeners around the country are encouraged to plant more asclepias to encourage monarch butterflies, many folks are finding out that not all species of asclepias make good garden plants. As a genus, asclepias consists of running and clump forming species. There are number of horribly weedy garden plants like Asclepias speciosa, Asclepias syriaca, and Asclepias fasicularis. These plants are fine in a prairie garden, but are disastrous in more controlled home gardens.
One of our favorite clumping species is the easy-to-grow, Arizona-native Asclepias angustifolia ‘Sonoita’. This superb species was shared by plantsman Patrick McMillan. It has proven to be an amazing garden specimen, thriving for years, despite our heat and humidity. Did I mention it flowers from spring through summer?
This is the time of year when the tiger swallowtails feast on our many patches of the amazing native Stokes aster. Our favorite clone is the upright growing Stokesia laevis ‘Peachie’s Pick’. Moist soils are best, but stokesia tolerates some dry conditions on a short term basis as long as it has 2-6 hours of sun.
One of the little-known native asclepias, milkweed, is flowering in the garden this week. Asclepias variegata, redwing milkweed, is a widespread native, ranging from Canada and Virginia south to Florida, and west to Texas. So, why is this virtually unavailable commercially? Our plants typically range from 1.5′ to 2′ tall, although 3′ is possible. For us, it performs best in part sun to light shade.
The specific epithet “variegata” which refers to two colors on the flower was certainly a poor choice, since most asclepias have multi-color flowers. Of course, Linnaeus didn’t have the benefit of the internet back in 1753.
If you’re able to visit during this years spring open house, it will be hard to miss the look of love in the air. We have a record 20 century plants in spike in the garden…a number far surpassing any flowering record we’ve set previously.
Agaves are a genus of mostly monocarpic plants…they live their entire lives to flower once, then after experiencing a giant-sized orgasm, they fall over dead. In the wild, many species take up to 100 years to flower, which is why the name century plant stuck as a common name. In our more rainy climate, our century plants typically flower in 12-15 years. Several of our current crop are actually less than a decade old, but their enormous size has already been achieved, so they’re ready to reproduce.
Some species of agaves offset, and in this case, only then central rosette dies, and the offsets continue as is the case with bromeliads. Those agave species which never offset are one-and-dones, but hopefully will leave behind a plethora of seed for the next generation. From the start of the spikes to full flower is usually about 8 weeks. Below are a few of our babies in spike.
We’ve been experimenting to see how many species of asclepias will survive in our climate, and one that has been quite fascinating is Asclepias subulata. This odd species from the southwest deserts of the US has evergreen glaucous stems, and not much in the way of leaves. It will be quite interesting to see what the butterfly larvae actually consume. It did flower for us this fall for the first time. This will be our first winter, so fingers crossed it can take our cold and wet temperatures. We sited this on a slope in one of our crevice gardens, so it wouldn’t drown in our summer rains.
We’ve written before about plants that get much larger than we are told in the catalog descriptions. Well, our latest example is Buddleia ‘Sleeping Beauty’, a hybrid of Buddleia lindleyana and Buddleia davidii. In two short years in the garden, it became a monster, reaching a 7′ tall x 12′ wide with no sign of slowing down. It was quite lovely and floriferous, but has now become a welcome member of our compost pile…sigh
We wanted to create a buffet for local butterflies by our patio, and a mass planting of Eupatorium purpureum ‘Little Red’ did just the trick. Not bad for a highway ditch native.
The 7′ tall, and very floriferous Hedychium ‘Flaming Torch’ is looking quite stunning today in the garden. Although they are commonly called ginger lily, they are not a true lily (genus Lilium) or a true ginger plant (genus Zingiber). Hedychiums are prized for their summer and early fall floral shows atop bold-foliaged stalks. The inflorescences are quite exotic looking, resembling clusters of orchids. Slightly moist, rich garden soils and at least 1/2 day sun are best for these hardy tropical looking plants.
The Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are munching away on any aristolochia (pipevine) in sight. This week, their favorite in the garden is the stunning Aristolochia fimbriata. Nature has created a wonderful balance where the catepillars each just enough to survive and grow, but not enough to damage the plant, which will quickly re-flush.
There are few times of year more exciting for us than lycoris (surprise lily) season, and we are right in the midst of that now. We’re also enjoying peak butterfly season at the same time, which is really great since butterflies love to drink surprise lily nectar. It’s hard to put the camera down with so many great photo opportunities, so we thought we’d share one of our favorites from this week…an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Lycoris x rosea. See the top 25 flowers that attract butterflies here.
We love plants that attract butterflies to the garden, and here at Juniper Level Botanic Garden, it’s been a banner year for butterflies. Allium ‘Millenium’ is always a favorite of yellow swallowtails…here are images from this week. See the top 25 flowers that attract butterflies here.
Joe Pye weed…aka Eupatorium is always a butterfly favorite. Here is a photo this week with yellow swallowtails taking a sip of Eupatorium dubium.
The pipevine swallowtails were enjoying the same eupatorium together with the yellow swallowtails. You can find a link to all of our butterfly favorites here. We hope you’ll plant to bring nature into your garden.
We know it’s hard for some folks to wrap their mind around being excited when insects eat your plants, but that’s how nature works. In the best scenario, the insect eating the plant is as beautiful or more so than the plant their eating. I just snapped this photo of the larvae of the Pipevine Swallowtail devouring all of our aristolochia (pipevines) in the garden. This actually doesn’t harm the plants, and before long, your garden will be filled with these beautiful butterflies below. No spraying, please. See the top 25 flowers that attract butterflies here.
Greetings from Plant Delights. We hope all is well in your hometown. It’s that time of year and the fall catalog will be on the way on Friday, August 11. If you want to get a head start on your friends, you can find the new catalog on-line at www.plantdelights.com.
We hope you are making your plans to visit PDN this fall, either for the PDN fall open house or for the JCRA 30th Anniversary Symposium.
Even though we may cringe at the idea of summer gardens, there are quite a few plants that relish the idea. The gingers and the colocasias are loving the summer heat, and I can’t think of a plant that more represents summer than the wonderful hardy hibiscus, which are in full flower as we speak. August is a fun month, since this is when many of the wonderful lycoris (surprise lilies) flower. I usually don’t like surprises, but I always break my rule when it’s lycoris time. Another bulb that just loves summer weather is the crinum lilies with their amazing stalks of pink, red, striped, or white flowers.
There are so many summer butterfly-attracting plants flowering now, from the long-flowering verbenas to the stunning eupatoriums (joe-pye-weed), to the well known buddleia (butterfly bushes). Since butterfly attracting plants are designed to flower when butterflies are in season, most of the summer flowering plants are probably good nectar sources. We hope you’ll take time to journey through the pages of the new on-line catalog and see what fun plants you can’t live without. (Read more about Buddleia here) (See the top 25 flowers that attract butterflies here)
On a sad note, we have lost one of our wonderful NC plantsman, Rob Gardener, to cancer. Rob retired from the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill a few years earlier, after devoting his life to gardening and in particular to the genus Sarracenia. Other than many of the sarracenia hybrids we carry, Rob will also be remembered for two of his other introductions, Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’ and Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’. We’ll certainly miss a good friend and fine plantsman.
For those who entered our Top 25 Contest, be sure to check how your favorite plants are selling. -tony