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Daisy fleabane
A 'margined calligrapher' on daisy fleabane.

By Lisa Brunette

We're nearing the end of year three here at the Cat in the Flock farmhouse, and that means a lot of the native plants we've either added ourselves or that have seen fit to volunteer are blooming. The saying with natives goes, "First year sleep, second year creep, and third year leap," and we're now in the leap year on many of these flowering plants.

Remember that last patch of grass we needed to mulch over? Well, I decided to let it go wild instead, just to see what it would do. In that back part of the farmyard, there wasn't much grass anyway. The above native daisy fleabane grew up everywhere of its own accord and seems to be a favorite of the hoverfly called 'margined calligrapher.' Yeah, I know it looks like a bee, but it's not. See the bulbed-out eyes? That's a telltale sign it's a fly. I also have confirmation from a few sources on iNaturalist. The leaves of fleabane are edible; they taste a bit like radish.

Amorpha fruticosa
False indigo bush, or Amorpha fruticosa.

I first learned of Amorpha fruticosa, or false indigo bush, at a free 'Plants and Pints' presentation at a local brewery. This was in the fall of 2018; the talk was called "Creating a Healthy Orchard Ecosystem," given by Dean Gunderson of Gateway Greening. He pointed out the nitrogen-fixing habit of this plant and recommended adding one for every two fruiting plants, a rule of thumb we're following in the home orchard, where we now have two apple trees, two pear trees, two cherry bushes, three blackberry vines, and so far four false indigo bushes. 

Amorpha fruticosa is a cool-looking plant, with those bottlebrush purple blooms. Over at Southern Meadows blog, you can read more about its attributes.

Monkey face flower
Allegheny monkey flower, or Mimulus ringens.

Last fall I scored a number of native plants on markdown sale. They were all past the bloom stage, so I had no idea what they would look like when the flowers came in, but I at least knew from its name that Allegheny monkey flower would resemble a monkey's face. Mimulus ringens, you do not disappoint! This one is well-sited in the shrub layer underneath our old lilac bush, where it's quite healthy.

The next pairing is sort of a mystery to me. I'm not sure if the yellow coneflower is the result of seeds I sowed exactly one year ago, in June 2019, or if it's a volunteer. My notes say I sowed monarda (bee balm) seeds in that spot, but maybe they weren't monarda. Clearly, coneflower would rather grow there instead. It looks marvelous with the pale yellow flowers of potentilla growing beneath it. Interestingly, both plants are known for their medicinal qualities, so their presence in the kitchen garden area makes total sense. Sometimes, plants are smarter than we are.

Yellow coneflower and potentilla
Mystery coneflower and potentilla.

Back in early spring of 2019, I picked up a small wild hydrangea at a native plant sale at the Butterfly House here in St. Louis. You might remember my post about all the spring bulbs coming up at the Butterfly House and my excitement about the native plant finds. Here's what the hydrangea looked like exactly one year ago, in June 2019. It's next to an insect hotel that fits in the palm of your hand.

Hydrangea 2019
Wild hydrangea, exactly one year ago.

This year, it's exploded with growth, nearly blocking the view of the air conditioner I was hoping it would conceal. Note it's covered in blooms. I've had to move the Japanese lantern three times as its growth keeps swallowing it up.

Hydrangea 2020
Wild hydrangea now.

Hydrangea is of course known for its lovely blooms, and the native variety doesn't hold back. It's just getting started here in mid-June.

Hydrangea bloom
Hydrangea aborescens starting to bloom.

This last native I have to admit is a new, exuberant purchase, and it went into the ground in full bloom. I had seen white milkweed in a catalog, so when I stumbled upon Asclepias incarnata 'Ice Ballet' at my local garden center, there's no way I could leave it there. Since most of my plants have been grown from 100 percent free seeds or starts, I consider a sizable potted plant like this a real splurge, but so far totally worth it.

Asclepias incarnata Ice Ballet
Milkweed is the only food for the Monarch butterfly.

Are you surprised to find that native plants can provide such a lovely range of blooms? It's a win-win, as they add beauty to your life, and they feed crucial pollinators in two ways: 1) by providing them with nectar from the flower and 2) by providing their larvae - such as butterfly caterpillars - with their preferred food (the leaves). Milkweed, for example, is the only food eaten by Monarch butterfly larvae, so without it, they won't survive. The 'Ice Ballet' I added here is one of three milkweed plants in the garden; the other two both came to us free from Wild Ones events, one as seeds and the other as a start.

What's new and native in your garden?

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