June 2-10 has been Nebraska Wildflower Week. And although the term “wildflower” almost seems an oxymoron in our nature-meddling lives, there is, nonetheless, an essence of wild that we crave in our home landscapes. So below is an abbreviated tour of some of my favorite Nebraska native perennial bloomers.
So few people grow this I’m putting it front and center. It’s probably the first of the summer bloomers in mid June. Although not photogenic, its small, cauliflower-like blooms are headlights on a dark road—this plant pops in the early summer garden and has nice winter interest. Although I must say insects don’t flock to it, and I never see leaf damage, so not sure what wildlife uses it. But it’s a native I hardly see, so it’s part of my collection. Get parthenium integrifolium (3’tall by 2’ wide).
I’ll keep preaching these until people stop asking me if it’s a weed. The definition of a weed is subjective at best. I grow several species, a total of thirty plants in 1500 square feet, because it feeds monarch caterpillars, and because while in bloom it’s nectar-sipping nirvana for insects. The best milkweed for me is Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed, a clumper that doesn’t spread), followed by sullivant’s, speciosa, syriaca, and purpurascens. Tuberosa, the short orange one, never gets caterpillars or butterflies. Ever. I raise 200 monarchs a year from eggs, and there just aren’t eggs on tuberosa, so I use its leaves to feed fat caterpillars.
Also not a weed, also a butterfly nectar magnet. I like the 8’ tall eupatorium purpureum, partly because it makes a quick summer screen, and partly because in winter birds love to perch on top of it. I have 2’ to 10’ varieties that bloom from July into mid Autumn. Some are a mottled cream / green (E. altissimum ‘Prairie Jewel’ that blooms white) and some are short purple-blooming (E. coelestinum). Slow but consistent spreaders, the lot of them.
Perhaps this is a cliché choice, but asters are so important for insects getting ready to batten down the hatches for winter. My top two performers in this regard are New England aster (4’tall by 1’ wide) and smooth aster (A. laevis, 2’ by 2’).
Both have clouds of butterflies, bees, wasps, moths, flies, and much more in September and October–it’s as if the plants are shooting off sparkler fireworks. Magical.
I pinch back my asters every day from mid May to July 4 for many more fall blooms. In fact, I pinch back joe-pye and the next plant, too.
Real quick, Salvia azurea ‘Nekan,’ a sport discovered in north Lincoln, Nebraska. Sky-blue flowers that hummingbirds like.
And the seeds are easy to germinate with no cold treatment necessary—perfect for hooking kids on growing plants (why plant green beans in elementary school when it could be fine-smelling sage?). 2-4’ tall by 1’ wide.
Real real quick. Don’t have a picture, but this slow spreader (which divides easily) gets white flowers in early summer that insects from every state visit. Indeed, I’ve seen insects with “La Vida Loca” tee shirts, so we must get some from Montana. Get pycnanthemum and brew it into a tea (2’ by 2’).
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