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[ Gray-Headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) | Posted on December 11, 2015 ]

This was one of my surprises this summer, blooming outside of the border of our prairie to be. I am not a fan of yellow composite flowers, but the overall shape of the flower with its droopy petals does make this flower stand out among the rest. Besides Gray-headed Coneflower and Yellow Coneflower as common names, the lesser-known Weary Susan more aptly describes this plant and does not confuse any into thinking this to be an Echinacea species.

This plant is native to the United States, but I like this plant moreso because it's a food source for the birds. It was the birds that helped me find the seeds when I did not think they would be easy to harvest.

[ Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) | Posted on October 30, 2015 ]

This milkweed does not seem to be a favorite for some people, but I find the flowers as interesting as any other milkweed. We've had some growing in our pasture ever since we stopped mowing it, but I also find some closer to the house. An interesting location is under what I believe is a Scots pine. It's been there the last two years, but it still has not bloomed. It still provides food for the insects, so I am not overly concerned.

Because I was discouraged by earlier failed attempts to grow other types of Milkweed, I ordered several plugs of the Common Milkweed to put near the house. I placed some in full sun and others in part shade. Then, after I got these, my other milkweeds thrived.

Because of its toxicity, mammals will avoid eating this plant. The only aphid I have seen on the Common (or any other) Milkweed is the Oleander Aphid. This is not a native species. It was accidentally introduced with a shipment of the Oleander shrubs from the Mediterranean area.

[ Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) | Posted on October 11, 2015 ]

This plant is native to much of North America, except for a handful of south-eastern states and a portion of northern Canada. It is one of the more aggressive Goldenrods. In prairie restorations it easily can take over.

This plant is often blamed for allergy sufferers' misery. It is not the Goldenrod's fault, but the Ragweed that also blooms at the same time. Goldenrod needs insects for pollination, but the Ragweed is wind pollinated.

This is a later-blooming plant, so it is an important food source for a variety of bees, wasps, and other beneficial insects. The wasps and soldier beetles attracted to this plant help control many pest insects. The nectar feeds many butterflies and moths. Birds and small mammals eat the seeds. Deer and rabbits will on occasion eat the foliage.

We planted a patch of native seeds this spring, and kept it mowed down. This plant grew so much faster than anything else, so we mowed around this plant. It was unidentified for much of the summer, until I noticed some red aphids of varying sizes on it. Those Red Goldenrod aphids ended up helping us give this plant a name. They are a native species of aphids, so we let them go and watched what happened. The plant was large enough that we figured it could sustain any damage. It did this and more. It bloomed profusely late in August, creating such a beautiful display.

I grew up in Nebraska and heard of the state flower, Goldenrod. The most I knew, it was a color in a box of Crayons. It wasn't until moving to Iowa that I gained an appreciation for this flower and the large amount of life it attracts.

[ Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra) | Posted on October 9, 2015 ]

This plant is native to the North-eastern portion of the United States and is considered an obligate wetland plant; this means it will almost always be found in the Wetlands. The Queen of the Prairie is considered Threatened in Iowa and Michigan; Endangered in Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina. In areas where it is found naturally, it is an indication of high quality habitat.

I planted several bare roots in early spring of 2015. I placed them in the areas that would get field run off and at times have standing water. I enjoyed watching the emerging leaves come up. I hoped to see flowers, but tried telling myself that it may take time. As the season progressed and we did not get as much rain, I noticed the plants started drooping. We save rain water, so gave them plenty of that between rainfalls. Some late season rains helped this plant a lot.

This plant is a real fighter. One of my patches was mowed early July. Oh! I was devastated; I could not even look for a day. I had someone else dump water on the area. I braced myself the next day and found there were only a few old leaves left. I poured gallon after gallon of water in the spot and new life showed itself. I was so relieved.

Beginning in September, buds started forming on one that had been mowed. That was not expected at all. They usually bloom in the heat of the summer. With the first frost approaching, I really did not think they would open, but they did! What a glorious surprise!

Though seemingly unrelated, this plant belongs to the Rose Family. For insects seeking nectar, they will be disappointed as the only food it supplies is pollen. Deer and other mammals seem to leave the foliage alone.

I plant my natives with the thought they can go where they will, either by seed or underground. For those who like a neat garden, this may not be the one for you. It can be rather lively in smaller areas as it spreads by rhizomes.

[ White Lettuce (Nabalus albus) | Posted on October 7, 2015 ]

The Lion's Foot, also called White Lettuce, is native to the the Northeast portion of the United States, extending into the eastern portion of the Dakotas. It is also native to Eastern Canada, as far west as Saskatchewan.

This plant grows best in dappled sunlight in fertile, loamy soil, but can tolerate rocky soils. It likes average moisture.

My plant did well in nearly full shade, only getting early morning sunlight. The soil is not the best, but this is one of the few things that has actually succeeded growing in this spot. The only rain it received is what the Lord provided.

It formed many buds and the first flowers opened in mid-August. They continued blooming for a while before stopping. To my surprise, in early October it is opening more flowers. Unlike the early flowers that had straight stamens, these are curled up, giving this a unique appearance. For some reason, the Pink-spotted Ladybeetles are drawn to this plant right now, covering the flowers and buds.

[ Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) | Posted on September 28, 2015 ]

No one in our family has ragweed allergies, so I can view this plant more favorably than those who suffer. In restoration settings, it is considered a pioneer plant. An area becomes disturbed and the Giant Ragweed will readily fill in empty spaces. As more desirable plants starting popping up, this one will decrease. This plant prefers wetter areas, so in years of drought it will not thrive.

It does not attract many pollinating insects because this is wind pollinated. The larvae of several moths consume the leaves, stems, flowers and seeds. Because of its hard shell, the birds do not readily consume the seeds. Cattle and deer will graze on the foliage.

This plant is truly a giant, which makes it a fun place for the children to hide and run around in. The only time it wasn't so much fun was when they were startled by a family of Pheasants that also found it a nice hiding spot.

This fall I had my first trek through all the ragweed. Oh, it was amazing! I felt like I was walking through a forest. I found the developing seed heads quite fascinating. Birds may not eat the seeds, but they do like foraging for insects among the stems and leaves. I have seen far fewer birds at my feeders... well, this is where they are!

[ Plantain (Plantago major) | Posted on September 2, 2015 ]

This plant is native to Europe and parts of Asia, but has readily naturalized in other areas. This US non-native is one I have come to appreciate. A visitor once pointed out how good this plant is medicinally. I will still yank them out of places I do not want them, but in areas like the lawn, I just leave them alone.

When the growth is fairly new, I use it in my homegrown salads along with garden lettuce, chickweed, and lamb's quarter. I also collect and dry the nicer leaves before the plants develop their flowers. I use this to wrap around cuts and burns as this helps with the pain after simmering in water.

In a pinch, I've taken a fresh leaf, smashed it to bruise it a little, and had a child wrap it around his finger where he had a minor cut. He went from tears to no pain in a matter of minutes. Maybe it was more of a placebo effect, but I had a happy boy. When the wounds are more extensive, I do not rely on the plantain only. They are first cleaned out and the bleeding is stopped. We strive for natural means, yet if something is beyond our means, we will go to a doctor. We are blessed to not have to do this often.

[ Sweet Indian Plantain (Hasteola suaveolens) | Posted on September 2, 2015 ]

This plant is native to many states north-east of the Missouri River, though in some states that range is very limited. It is listed as Endangered in Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, and New York; Threatened in Iowa and Tennessee; Historical (presumed extinct) in Rhode Island. In Minnesota, for one example, there are only 15 known occurrences, yet according to their DNR "No conservation efforts have been undertaken specifically on behalf of this species." Threats to this plant are the damming of rivers, draining and filling of wetlands, browsing by deer, invading noxious weeds, and development.

This risk of extinction is why I chose the plant when I saw it on special where I order many natives. Because the county plants natives in our ditches, I do not worry if this spreads outside my property. That risk seems small, though, because it is not aggressive, and it may require more water than the amount that flows down the ditches.

Standing water is good for this plant. Mine is planted in a low spot, which does help when there are heavy rains and field run off, but it is not quite enough. I have to give ours a dose of collected rain water now and again as they will look droopy when they begin to dry out.

The flowers are not all that impressive, but the leaf size and the possible height of up to 7-8 feet are! This will work in landscaping conditions, but it does need room for its large size and plenty of watering. Because of its conservation status in different areas, it may be illegal to take seeds or to dig up any that are growing in the wild, so make sure to buy from a company that sells from their own stock.

Some plants are made to be resilient and can come back after abuse. This is one of them! And it is the reason I now have to use bright orange flags to mark my plants. Someone who didn't remember this patch mowed it down to lawn height. Other than a few scraggly mature leaves, nothing remained. But within a handful of days and with plenty of water, they bounced back. They are now rewarding me with some flowers.

Even though it is named Plantain, it is not closely related to the weedy non-native Plantain (Plantago major).

[ Leadplant (Amorpha canescens) | Posted on August 27, 2015 ]

This small shrub is native to the Central United States, found in well-drained prairies and open woodlands. The 1-3 foot height above ground is shorter than its 4-foot or longer root. I like a lesser known common name, Prairie Shoestring, which possibly refers to the laced shoestring look of the leaves.

Of the many natives I have planted as bare roots or plugs, this is one of the slowest growers. Several have become lost because of the faster growing grasses around them. They do not tolerate a lot of moisture, doing much better without any additional watering from me. The Leadplant is listed in seed mixes we have purchased, but we have not yet found any in our prairie patches.

Deer and other mammals will eat the leaves and berries. One way to deter the rabbits and deer is to grow strong-scented plants nearby. They need to smell when a predator is coming, and plants such as Monarda will mask that scent. This is not foolproof, as a hungry deer may eat anything, but so far it has worked for us.

[ Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) | Posted on August 27, 2015 ]

This plant is part of a group called "distaff thistle," native to the arid regions of Europe, Asia, and North Africa that receive only seasonal rain. It is these growing conditions that allowed a portion of our bird seed to grow and thrive the summer of 2012.

Spring started like any other, bringing needed rains to the area, but then we went into a drought cycle. It was a hard time for people and animals, but not for this plant. This was a mouthful of seed sown by a ground squirrel in the front yard, so the plants did not get as large as they otherwise could have in a cultivated field. This may have been caused by a lack of fertilizer, and they didn't receive enough sun.

Because it is a type of thistle, it will have the characteristic prickles. Those sharp points kept me from gathering the dried seed later in the year. I just left them in place for the birds.

The safflower has not turned into a weed here, even with the many ground squirrel plantings. Most of the time we are too wet for this to thrive, even if it does germinate.

[ Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) | Posted on August 24, 2015 ]

This was a surprise plant near our prairie patch this spring (2015). We had sown a seed mix the fall of 2013 and had to keep it mowed down the first year. Because of that mowing, very little went to seed and this was out of bounds of that area. We are not sure where this one came from, but are thrilled to have it.

As mentioned in another comment, this is the native host for the Black Swallowtailed butterfly larvae. If you plant dill or parsley for the butterfly, rather than food for yourself, I would encourage you to switch some or all of that to the Golden Alexanders, if it is native to your area. Because of its earlier flowering time, it is also an important food source for pollinating insects.

From experience, our growing season of dill did not time well with egg laying of Black Swallowtail. The dill had already flowered, and was beginning to fade when the caterpillars emerged; there was just not enough food. But the Golden Alexanders are still putting out fresh leaves, even though the flowering is already done for the year. Now, we have several young Zizias growing around the house in preparation for next year.

The flowers look like the invasive Wild Parsnip. The easiest way to know the plant is Zizia aurea is the bloom time. Here on our property, the plant begins blooming in early May. The Wild Parsnip is seen flowering mid-summer. If you start Golden Alexanders from seed, they do not look like dill, but resemble the rounded leaf of Common Mallow, another non-native plant.

This plant can handle a wide variety of growing conditions, except for very wet and very dry. It can tolerate a lot of shade, but does better with some sun.

[ Surprise Lily (Lycoris squamigera) | Posted on August 19, 2015 ]

I prefer the common name Resurrection Lily for this plant. As a Christian, I believe this has significance to me. I have only known it by this name, so was surprised at the other name when I saw this plant come up on one of the Randoms.

When we moved into our current home, this was one of the surprises growing here. We saw the leaves in the spring, but they died down. We did not really think about it since we were not into gardening at the time. Later was the real surprise. They are a very pretty flower.

The last two or three years, the greens have been coming up thick as usual, but we've had no flowers. Because of their location, the area doesn't get mowed much. Maybe this is why?? We've never fed this or most other plants, except for what is food for our table. This could be another reason.

Our usual habit is to dig up alien ornamentals and replace them with something native. For one, I haven't thought of what might go well there. Two, for an ornamental, it is said they attract a variety of pollinators. It has use for wild life. Three, it may resurrect once again.

[ Hoary Vervain (Verbena stricta) | Posted on August 15, 2015 ]

I was first introduced to this plant in a nature area when we first started birding. The name given was "Dame's Rocket". I accepted that at the time, because I knew nothing about plants. And though this comment is about the Vervain, the DR blooms much earlier in the year. I often saw this as a roadside weed. There was nothing to appreciate about it.

Last summer, I noticed thin purple flowers in our pasture that resembled those in the road. For some reason, I got a second opinion. I am glad I did! It is the Hoary Vervain. It is a freely growing plant in drier areas and is drought tolerant. Its relation, Blue Vervain, likes wetter conditions. Not all of the small flowers bloom at once, but they work their way up the stalk, so they may not be considered showy by some. I think some flowers were made like this to lengthen the amount of time a plant provides food.

I winter sowed some Hoary Vervain seeds last fall and they are doing well this summer. They have deep root systems. I tried pulling a couple to give more room to another native, but they wouldn't let me. Ah, well. They prefer full sun, but I have some strays in an area that only gets sun the first part of the day, and they also flowered.

The flowers are used by Sulphur butterflies and several bees. The leaves are enjoyed by grasshoppers, but not mammals because these leaves are hairy and bitter. The seeds can be eaten by Cardinals and native Sparrows in the winter.

[ Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) | Posted on August 13, 2015 ]

I wish I could say that I am really enjoying this tree, but I cannot. It died. It very easily could have been something we did or did not do.

This spring, we purchased a very nice specimen that already had buds on it. The buds opened, fell off, and that was it. No leaves formed. When breaking off branches, they are what we call, "Dead dead." In spite of this setback, I want to give it another try in another location. Those trees are beautiful in the spring and it is such a fun name to say over and over.... Redbud, Redbud.

[ Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) | Posted on August 13, 2015 ]

I have a sign just outside my kitchen door that says, "Warning: House plants die within these doors. Save a plant and keep them from these premises." I could give you a long list of the plants that have died under my care.

But this Christmas Cactus is an oddity. Not only has it grown, it has thrived. The winter I purchased it, the not-yet-opened flowers fell right off after bringing it home. That was disappointing! Later I found out that the cold draft will do this. It would have gotten cold from the store to the car and the car to the house.

It not only blooms at the normal time in December, but I've also had blossoms in the spring or in the fall along with the standard bloom time. I have heard that people can force flowerings. I have done nothing but be amazed. I am not sure how I do it. About all I can think is that I have moved the plant around, so maybe the lighting change has something to do with this.

I barely remember to water it, and maybe once or twice a year I give it cooled leftover coffee. That is only about as often as I will ever have leftover coffee.

Last year, I did overwater. I think it was because I actually had some remembers working. I noticed when I was about to water it last summer that the soil was saturated. I took it to the plant doctor at the local nursery. He gave me some great advice. One, in the summer, they do not need to be watered every week. And two, he said take the plant out, soil and all; set it up in front of a fan on low to allow the water to evaporate. I've not had a problem since and it still continues growing.

[ Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) | Posted on August 12, 2015 ]

I planted some of this in a shaded area next to the house, spring of 2014. The dormant roots grew and even flowered that first year. This year, I seemed to have lost some and I never found any flowers. A friend told me to just give it time, and I may end up with too many.

I enjoy native plants, but this is a special one. You have to get down low to find the unusual blossoms. I like the family name of this plant, Birthwort. This might come from the fact that the juice from the stem was used long ago for inducing childbirth.

[ Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) | Posted on August 12, 2015 ]

A conflicted plant, according to the USDA web page. In Massachusetts, it is classified as Threatened; Rhode Island has it listed as Special Concern, yet in Nebraska and in the South it is considered weedy.

I discovered the plant for the first time along our gravel road this summer. Even before knowing its name, I recognized that special Milkweed flower with a skirt. Because it is growing right where the grater grates, I pulled one up and quickly got it into the ground with similar conditions. Since that time, many more white flowers, which to the untrained eye would be easy to overlook, have bloomed next to the road. Small white flowers, nothing really special.

I am watching this plant to see whether any pods will form in the hope that I will later find some in my prairie area.

About this plant's use for Monarchs, I cannot say that they won't use this, but in my limited experience I have yet to see any signs of the butterflies or the larvae feeding off this. The leaves are rather small compared to the Common and Swamp. If there is a large patch of it, there'd be plenty to consume. Some months ago, I read an article saying that scientists are studying which Milkweed plants the Monarchs favour. I hope they come up with good conclusions, so more people will plant what the declining insect needs.

[ Illinois Tick Trefoil (Desmodium illinoense) | Posted on August 12, 2015 ]

This pretty little flower is a member of the pea family. It attracts bumblebees and leaf-cutter beesm which pollinate it, and a wide variety of insects that will eat the leaves, stems, and seeds. The seeds are a food source for quail and turkey, and the leaves are eaten by rabbits, deer, and other mammals. In the wild this plant will be more often found in prairies, unlike its cousin, the Showy Tick Trefoil, which can be found in wooded areas. I have both plants, so I hope the different preferred habitats will prevent too many hybrids from running around.

I like the name and its seed distribution system. The seeds act like ticks, attaching themselves to whatever creature passes by.

[ Rough Blazing Star (Liatris aspera) | Posted on August 11, 2015 ]

This plant is a butterfly magnet! It would be glorious to see if the whole plant would bloom all at once, but it starts at the top and works its way down. This is ideal because it provides food for a longer period of time.

This site says they get up to 36 inches tall, which matches the description offered by the company I get most of my plants from. In my case, some of the plants have gotten as tall as I, and I am a little under 5 and a half feet. Many of mine are in part shade and we have mesic soil in those areas. The plant likes to expand, so this may be a concern for those who have a small space.

[ American Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana) | Posted on August 9, 2015 ]

This is a US native vine that can grow in sunny or part sun locations. For the plant to go to seed, you need both male and female plants. This is what I consider the plant's glory, those amazing seed heads! We have eight of these in hopes there will be at least one of each gender. This we will find out the first time they flower.

We dug up an alien clematis to make room for one pair. Two were put in as dormant roots last fall; one did not make it. I ordered seven more plants. Most are in part shade, but a couple are along a fence line that gets sun all day. They started out slow this spring, but then they really took off as the season progressed.

Unlike alien Clematis, which the rabbits have eaten down to the ground, this is poisonous to mammals. I really do not like having to chicken wire plants to keep the rabbits out. The only feeders so far, are whatever insects nibble on leaves and there is no heavy infestation.

Edited to add: How can I forget the other common names I appreciate more than these listed on this page? Old Man's Beard (Admittedly, which is used for other plants as well.) and Prairie Smoke on a Rope.

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