From the Wildflower Garden

August 11, 2022

Monarda fistulosa
Wild Bergamot

This wildflower’s showy lavender flowers are clustered at the tip of the stem. Flora of the Chicago Region has a long description of the many butterflies, moths, beetles, ants, bees, and bugs that visit Monarda.  

These insects have many different techniques for gleaning nectar, including siphoning it from holes at the base of the flower drilled by other insects. When the Ruby-throated Hummingbird visits the flower for nectar, it comes away with its head dusted with pale pollen. The white pollen fluoresces in ultraviolet light, providing guidance to its insect visitors.  The mildew commonly infecting its leaves is part of the natural order of things and not a cause for concern.

Wild Bergamot is a member of the mint family and thus the source of several oils. Its leaves are fragrant when crushed. Bergamot oil is one of the flavoring agents of Earl Grey tea.  Many Native American groups made the leaves into a tea commonly used to treat colds.

August 4, 2022

Rudbeckia laciniata
Green-headed Coneflower

The large sunflower-like plant in the middle back of the First U Wildflower Garden is Rudbeckia laciniata, commonly known as Green-headed Coneflower or Golden Glow. The common names refer to the greenish-tinged cone-like cluster of disc flowers in the middle of the “flower” (which is actually a cluster of flowers or an inflorescence) and the glowing yellow outer ray flowers which are usually bent backwards or reflexed.  The leaves are deeply 3- or 5-parted.

Many native insects like the Hummingbird Clearwing moth, butterflies, bees, and bumblebees visit the flowers. Later, songbirds such as chickadees or juncos may come to harvest its seeds. The plant may reach three meters in height and blooms for two months

July 29, 2022

Eutrochium purpureum
Purple Joe-Pye Weed

Purple Joe-Pye Weed has come into flower in the back of First U’s wildflower garden.  Its domes of dense pale pink flowers serve as landing pads for the butterflies and skippers that feed on its abundant nectar – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Hummingbird Clearwing, Pearl Crescent, Red Admiral butterflies, Silver-spotted Skipper, and Tawny-edged Skipper in the Chicago Region. It also may be visited by 15 species of native bees.  In local natural areas it is often found near the edges of woodlands because the woodlands themselves have become too dense with invasive woody plants for the Joe-Pye Weed to survive.
The plant is found throughout eastern and central North America. Its clumps grow to 1.5–2.4 meters (4.9–7.9 ft) tall and about 1.2 meters (3.9 feet) wide. It is propagated easily by seed, which we will collect in the fall for anyone who would like to have some.

July 23, 2022

Silphium perfoliatum L.
Cup Plant

Cup Plant dominates the southwest corner of the First U garden, although we are trying to move it to the back of the garden. The plants reach 8-10 feet in height. Its opposite leaves meet at the stem, forming a cup that holds water. 

The flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects. The long flowering period makes it especially useful for bees; the honey produced from it is rich in fructose. The cups of water are also used by wildlife.  Birds are attracted to its fruit. Cup Plant is considered one of the best native plants to use for wildlife.
Cup Plant is potentially useful as an energy crop. Its colonies can be harvested for up to 20 years.  However, it is potentially invasive.

July 13, 2022

Amorpha canescens
Lead Plant

The First U garden has one Lead Plant somewhat hidden in the middle of the garden.  

It “can be identified by its small purple flowers grouped in long spikes and its grey-green leaflets that are alternate and pinnately compound.” 

The plant produces fruits in the form of hairy legumes each with one seed inside.”  Some authorities claim that its name derives from the belief that its presence indicated lead in the ground.

Wilhelm and Rericha say that it produces an abundance of pollen and nectar and attracts an uncommonly diverse array of insect species, including butterflies, beetles, bugs, wasps, and ants.  “Lead Plant is pollinated primarily by bees.  The pollen-carrying structures of this group of insects are noticeable when they are laden with bright-orange pollen from the flowers of this plant.  In the Chicago Region alone, 81 species or about 20% of the region’s known bee fauna visit the flowers.”

July 7, 2022

Aquilegia vulgaris L.
Garden Columbine

This non-native species is usually some shade of blue, purple, white, or pink, whereas the native Columbine is red, orange, or yellow.  

Native Columbine flowers have straight spurs; Garden Columbine flowers have spurs that are strongly hooked.  Its sap may irritate the skin.  Hummingbirds and butterflies are attracted to the flowers, but they are ignored by rabbits and deer.  Most of the flowers in the First U garden (July 5) have “gone to seed,” i.e., the showy petals have fallen, and the ovaries have turned into fruits as their contained seeds ripen.

June 16, 2022

Penstemon digitalis Sims (Foxglove Beard Tongue)

Penstemon is a native plant that is flowering now in many Hyde Park gardens, including First U’s (see photo). It is often planted with Spiderwort because they flower at the same time and their purple and white flowers contrast nicely.  Its common name refers to the fact that its finger-like petals resemble the plant Digitalis (Foxglove). According to Alan Branhagen, the white flowers glow in the dark, attracting pollinating sphinx moths.  

Among its other pollinators are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and 24 species of native bees in the Chicago region. Taxonomists have recently moved Penstemon from the Figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) to the Plantain family (Plantaginaceae).

June 10, 2022

Tradescantia ohiensis (Ohio Spiderwort)

Ohio Spiderwort has been blooming in the wildflower garden outside Chris Moor Parlor for a couple of weeks.  Spiderwort flowers last for just a single day.  When the flowers open at dawn, the fluid from inside the sepals (green part of the flower) concentrates or collects in the concave sepal bases.  

The fluid surrounds the base of the ovary in the center of the flower and glistens in the sun.  Insects, especially bees, visit the flowers early in the day to glean this fluid.  Twenty-one species of native bees are known to visit Ohio Spiderwort flowers in the Chicago region. (information mainly from Flora of the Chicago Region by Wilhelm and Rericha)

The formal name of Ohio Spiderwort is Tradescantia ohiensis, and it is in the Spiderwort Family (Commelinaceae).  This native plant may form hybrids with at least nine other species of Tradescandia.