Flowering Native Plants
If you could only have two flowering native plants in your garden, what would you choose? It wasn’t hard for me to decide. I have a love affair with Spanish Needles (Bidens alba) and Turkey Tangle Fogfruit (Phyla nodiflora). These two native workhorses of the garden provide nectar and serve as larval hosts for numerous species.
A lot of people are shocked by my choices, and a great many people wouldn’t even consider either species, but I live in a rural area, so these native plants work exceptionally well in my natural landscape.
Spanish Needles (or Beggarticks), a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae) is a larval host for the Emerald Moth (Synchlora spp.) and a few unidentified looper moths.
While Spanish Needles may not fit into an artificially neat and tidy landscape, the seedlings are quite easy to remove and I can clip it or mow it down if it becomes unruly. The first frost makes it all disappear so you have a “do over” in spring where you can decide if it should have a chosen area. The seeds are off-putting to some but they insure the return of plants in spring. Sure they attach to your socks, your shoes, your pant-legs and to the dogs (which can result in them showing up on the comforter of your bed). Okay, maybe you don’t want a bunch of spikey seeds stabbing you, but, at my place, no other flower provides for as many butterflies, bees, moths, wasps and even dragonflies as this heavy hitter so I’m glad to put up with a little discomfort. Whenever I do a slide show of my butterfly photos, 70% of the shots will be of butterflies using the nectar of this prolific and wonderful native plant despite other choices in the garden.
Fogfruit a.k.a. Frogfruit is a member of the Verbena Family (Verbenaceae). This native plant is a larval host for the Phaon Crescents, Common Buckeye, and White Peacock butterflies. It also serves as a great nectar source for most other butterflies, especially skippers.
I find Frogfruit to be a great ground cover and encourage it to grow over the alien bahia grass, which one of these years it will hopefully replace. I’ve been told it makes a great hanging basket and I intend to try that application at some point this year (if we ever get rain to replenish my rain barrels).
One thing I have observed is that pollinators seem to favor the Frogfruit early in the spring and then switch over to favor the Spanish Needles later on. That’s not to say that both plants are not used simultaneously, but there seems to be a clear preference at different times in the season based on the numbers of different species alit at one time. I wonder if perhaps one is sweeter than the other at different times.
My two choices of native shrubs should be Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) and a recent addition to my garden, Elderberry (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis).
Wax Myrtle a.k.a. Southern Bayberry is very versatile and can be a great privacy hedge. It is one of the larval hosts for the Red banded Hairstreak (Calycopis cecrops) butterfly whose larvae eat the dead leaf litter below the plant. It is a dioecious species, meaning male and female flowers are on separate bushes. The females produce wonderful blue berries perfect for the bird smorgasbord or obtaining wax for bayberry candles.
I’ve found birds nesting in its prolific branches because it provides great cover. It grows tall enough to be trained as a tree, which provides habitat for our native green anoles. It also has a reputation via the old wives tale network to be a flea repellent and I have made an infusion from the leaves to spray on my own dogs. I don’t use the spot chemicals on them and on the two occasions that I did see fleas, I sprayed them and the fleas were gone, so I’m convinced it works as a spray and also alive in the garden since we rarely get fleas to start with. I’ve also used the leaves as the basis for a very pretty pale yellow dye.
I saw Elderberry along the rural roads here and it just had a happy look about it with the crowns of pretty white flowers. My decision to add it to my wildlife habitat garden was a no-brainer when I did some research, and according to USDA,
“At least 50 species of songbirds, upland game birds, and small mammals relish the fruit of American elder during summer and early fall. White-tailed deer browse the twigs, foliage and fruit during the summer. American elder is outstanding as nesting cover for small birds. During summer, the partial shade under American elder promotes a dense ground cover of grasses and forbs that offers good loafing or feeding areas for broods of young pheasants and quail.” It numerous ethnobotanic uses, including making the fruits into jelly, pie and wine. Use cautiously if you have livestock as new growth contains a glucoside that can be fatal.”
Since I don’t have cows, these are my choices. What are your two favorite native plants, both flowers and shrubs?
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