June – As the temperature increases, so does the number of flowering plants in Main Library associate Steve Oakes’s native landscaping. Check out what the neighborhood pollinators are visiting this month in Steve’s yard.

Foxglove Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) with its tube-like flowers will delight hummingbirds coming to your yard.  It prefers well-drained acidic loam soil with some shade, but not exactly to those conditions.  Equally beneficial to bumblebees and other pollinators. Propagation is by seed, root division, and softwood cuttings.

The size and shape of the flower seems to be a perfect fit for a bumblebee!

A Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa) got established next to the front step leading up to my porch.  It did quite well and would spread out onto the sidewalk. After a couple of years, I decided I wanted to relocate it.  My attempt to dig up the plant with the roots intact resulted in a disaster.  At least, that is what I thought as my efforts did not produce a significant amount of root along with the foliage and way too much eviscerated root still left in the ground.  Regardless, I transplanted what remained of the tattered flora and kept it well-watered in hopes it might survive.  To my surprise, not only did it live, it thrived, producing an abundance of flowers.  Also, what little of the root mass that was left behind came back to life as new foliage emerged.  I have now relinquished the thought of ridding the primrose next to the steps and will embrace its beauty.  The plant does best at the front of a rock garden (or next to your front steps!), where it will bloom profusely.  However, each individual bloom lasts but a short time.

Soapweed, or Soapweed Yucca (Yucca glauca), is a native that, in Missouri, is found only in the northwestern corner of the state (Holt and Atchison counties) and in Kansas, primarily in the western 3/4ths of the state. The roots may extend up to 30 feet horizontally.  If the flower stalk looks familiar, think of asparagus, for it is in the Asparagus family.  As the name implies, when the root or stalk of the plant is ground up and mixed with water, a slippery, sudsy lather will appear.

When first planted several years ago, the base of the leaf stalks were at ground level.

The semi-woody stalk of the plant has grown taller each year.

The growing pattern of the plant reminded me of what I came across outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico, in White Sands National Park.  In the expanse of the white gypsum dunes, a small amount of vegetation has taken hold.  Long taproots and extensive root systems are needed to survive in that arid environment. 

The massive extent of dunes (275 square miles, which also include the White Sands missile range) are subject to significant shifting.  The plant roots hold the sand in place resulting in an apparent vestige or compacted mass of organic matter after the whipping winds remove the gypsum crystals around the plant.  The outcome can be quite striking.

Shade-loving Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), commonly called three-leaved stonecrop or whorled stonecrop, is a small, spreading, native perennial that typically occurs in damp locations along stream banks, bluff bases, and stony ledges. To start a new plant, snip off a bit of the succulent and place it on shaded, bare soil and keep it moist until it becomes established.   

Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) is a legume and member of the pea family. In shady conditions, it may need to be staked as it may grow 3 to 4 feet in height and spread.  It produces dark brown seedpods that, when ripened and dried, will rattle from the seeds within.

Sand Phlox (Phlox bifida) is naturally found in dry or sandy areas, or on rock outcrops, and limestone glades.  The star-shaped flowers and clumping growing habit provides visual interest to this casual ground cover.

Purple Poppy Mallow (Callirhoe involucrate)

This perennial powerhouse packs a punch.  It is one of the first flowers of the season and will keep flowering throughout the growing season.  In our yard, it occupies what we call the devil strip, the area between the sidewalk and the road at the front of the house.  It tolerates a variety of growing conditions (but prefers a sunny aspect) and handles the midwestern heat with ease.  Its spindly, vining attribute does well to spread and cover an area quickly. 

When the neighborhood preschool employees take the kids for their daily outing, I give them my permission to pick the vibrant production because “we have plenty, as you can plainly see.”  The only drawback, if you would call it that, escapees will show up in the adjoining beds and turf in seasons to come. Surprisingly though, the plant does not transplant well once it greens up.


Copper Iris (Iris fulva) is a small-statured iris that grows 12 to 18 inches in height.  The dainty stems support the flowering head quite well and grow wonderfully in the rain garden (as demonstrated by the standing water that frequented the area this past spring).  It is a rhizomatous perennial that has delighted my co-workers that have benefitted from the multiple times I have had to thin out the iris and pass along.

Pictured is our rain garden under construction.  The dimensions are notable for the size of the yard.  The length is twenty-one feet long and fourteen feet wide and up to two feet deep.  Four-inch corrugated pipe connects with two downspouts on the north side of the house significantly reducing the occurrence of water in the basement.

Not all rain gardens need to be so elaborate. A simple depression in the landscape that happens to pool water, will do.  A rain garden is also defined by how quickly the pooled rainwater percolates into the soil.  If it disappears in less than 24 hours, then the area qualifies. Assisting with the absorption is the use of water-tolerant plants.  Our garden has ten different “rain garden” plant species.

Palm Sedge (Carex muskingumensis) demonstrates that not all flowering plants are so glamorous.  This plant also is in our rain garden and has proliferated over the years.

Flat Leaf Parsley (Petroselinum neapolitanum) is a biennial herb not only grown for cooking but as a host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies.  Despite the voracious appetite of the caterpillars, there will be plenty of leaves left for your culinary creations.

Buffalo Grass (Buchloe dactyloides) is the only native grass to North America. It has both male and female plants (pictured are the male plants in “bloom”) and grows six to eight inches in height.  It spreads from runners called stolons or by seed.  It will remain green during periods of drought, facilitated by roots that extend up to fifteen feet underground.  The turf in my front yard is primarily Buffalo grass that I mow two or three times a year. I may need to replace it in a few years as the shade from the Gala apple tree and Overcup oak is producing enough shade that it is impacting the integrity of the sun-loving Buffalo.

Shade is affecting parts of the Buffalo Grass cover in the front yard.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) is one of three milkweed species in our landscape.  Most summers, I have been able to collect a Monarch larva and share it with one of the kids in the neighborhood along with the other necessary elements for it to mature, form a chrysalis and emerge as an adult butterfly.  The yard could easily pass as a Monarch Waystation as defined by the Monarch Watch organization. I appreciate that the Butterfly milkweed is not as aggressive as the common milkweed when it comes to spreading. 

Check out the new butterfly book referenced at the end of this article.  It is very informative and written by Kansas City, Kansas native Sara Dykman!

Growing two to three feet tall, Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) will proliferate if given the chance. Being from the Buckeye state, I can’t imagine a plant with blue and gold flower parts with Ohio in its name.

The Lance Leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolate) is a member of the sunflower family and tolerates the hot and dry Kansas City growing climate, readily. In the wild, it can be found in prairies, fields, and glades. Belonging to a group of flowers known as tickseeds, it is one of the most common.  It grows to about two feet in height.

A few days later and boing!!!  The coreopsis does great in cut flower arrangements.

Many shrubs have inconspicuous tiny flowers.  The Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is no exception.  It makes up for its lack of springtime showiness in two ways.  For one, it is dioecious, with both male and female plants and requiring each in close proximity to provide the wintertime food favorite berries of robins and other winged friends.  Above is female Winterberry.

There is a suggested ratio of one Winterberry male plant (pictured above) to every six female plants.

Not only do the berries provide winter interest, they provide a valuable food source for wildlife.  Branches with the berries intact are used in flora arrangements and holiday decorations. (Adobe Stock Image)

Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) is another grass-like plant with non-descript flowers (note the brown pistillates at the end of several shafts).  Growing six to twelve inches, it spreads by rhizomes and sometimes seeds.  The plant will work in rain gardens and moist soils, but not exclusively.  Can be an effective ground cover once established.

Help! My patio has been invaded. Pictured above is how the recycled granite-piece lounge area looked, soon after completion.  Around the same time, a single potted Rock Pink (Phemeranthus calycinus) flower came into our possession.  I was delighted when I found a few escapees the following summer.  Now they are prolific!!!

Taking over the creviced patio is not surprising as they naturally occupy rocky glades and outcroppings. As a succulent, they do not possess a lot of root mass and they transplant easily.

The patio mimics the Rock Pink’s natural environment.

Rock Pink, also known as flame flower, is a fun potted plant as well.  Each night the flowers close up, only to re-open after noon the next day.

Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica) prefers full to partial shade and rich organic soil.  Its range includes the southeastern corner of Missouri. The unique shape of the flower reminds me of a tropical plant along with its rich green leaves.  Propagation can be done by separating some of the roots from the clump-forming flora.

All the plants pictured in this blog are perennials (except the flat leaf parsley) and do well in the Kansas City climate when planted under the right conditions (shade or sun, moist or dry, etc.).

All photos (except where otherwise noted) by the author or from the author’s collection.

Photo MDC

A great place to see native plant landscaping in action is the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center.  Located at 4750 Troost Ave, KCMO, “the Gorman Discovery Center offers eight acres of natural areas with short paved and natural trails through forest, woodland, wetland, and prairie habitats. The area has demonstration beds showcasing how native plants can be used for home landscaping and Sycamore Station, a children’s natural play area,” according to the website.

Within a block of the Discovery Center is another haven of natural beauty, albeit a highly manicured floral showcase where native plants are not the focal point, but beautiful, the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden.  The address of the garden is 4800 Rockhill Rd, KCMO.  Both the gardens and Discovery Center are free and open to the public.

For more information on planting native wildflowers in your landscape and the benefits thereof, visit the FL Schlagle branch of your own Kansas City Kansas, Public Library at Wyandotte County Lake Park, 4501 West Dr., Kansas City, KS 66109.  There, you too, can see what’s in bloom.  And check out the butterfly garden as well.

This website provides tips on the growing trend of native landscaping.  

Bicycling with Butterflies by Kansas City, KS native Sara Dykman.  Sara chronicles her 10-month bike journey of 10,201 miles, following the migration path of the Monarch from Mexico, to Canada and back to Mexico.

And the following are just a few of the books from the Kansas City Kansas, Public Library, that may be of interest.

Go Native!: Gardening with Native Plants and Wildflowers in the Lower Midwest by Carolyn Harstad; photographs by Carolyn Harstad ; drawings by Jeanette Ming.

Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas W. Tallamy

© Steve Oakes