JULY – This summer, ample rainfall has produced a prolific abundance of flowers. Benefiting from the surplus are the 70 plus native plant species in the landscape of Main library associate Steve Oakes and his wife. Check out the following plants that you may also find in your neighborhood, a nearby park, or a conservation area such as the FL Schlagle Library.

Clasping coneflower (Dracopis amplexicaulis)

I am not sure how this annual native wildflower ended up in our yard, but I am glad that it did. As coneflowers go, it is not very tall, only growing twelve to eighteen inches in height. The leaf characteristics are unique, as they form a small cup where the base of the leaf joins the stem in a clasping fashion, thus the common name. Its free-ranging style in seed dispersal almost guarantees it will show up in surrounding beds and exposed areas from year to year. Deadhead the flowers to promote more blooms or leave them to provide American gold (or House or Purple) finches’ quest for seeds. As the finches cling to the slender coneflower stems, their weight may nearly bend the plant down to the ground. The mature seed heads generally last until the purple coneflower seeds have developed, ensuring finches return for food for weeks on end.

The Clasping coneflower will self-seed; however, one must learn what the plant looks like in the spring so that it does not get weeded out in surrounding beds.

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

This popular “purpurea” is a long-lasting, tall flower (from 2 to 5 feet) found in many gardens, landscape applications, open prairies, and dry woodlands throughout the region. The two to four-inch-wide flowers are prominent and attract many pollinators. The mature flower heads provide seeds for finches and other songbirds too. The erect stems and flowers work well as a cut flower in bloom, in flower arrangements. In the wild, its range is extensive, stretching from Colorado to the east coast and south into Florida. This hardy perennial will spread and delight for years on end.

Native Americans used coneflower for a variety of medicinal applications.
Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

When we planted our tree as a sapling six years ago, it stood at 14 inches in height. By the end of the year, it had grown to 58 inches. In season two, it nearly doubled in size, topping out at 110 inches. The third year continued with another round of good growth as it ascended to 175 inches (from about 9 feet to 14 feet in height). This past year saw another season of nearly doubling, hitting 26 feet. Indeed, Tulip trees are known for their rapid growth and straight trunks. No wonder they are a favorite of forestry professionals and timber companies.

The distinctive shape of the Tulip tree leaf is the reason for its name. The flowers are equally impressive, and this year I was hoping for it to finally bloom. 

I was tricked several times as the emergent leaves started off yellowish in color and suggested a flower was to follow but to no avail.

Side note: According to an old Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.”

The phenomenal Tulip tree flower. Maybe next year… – Adobe Stock Image
Texas Green Eyes (Berlandiera betonicifolia)

Pollinators rejoice at the sight of this flower from early June on into the first frost of fall. A member of the aster family, it grows easily in well-drained soils under full sun to partial shade. It can grow up to five or six feet, so I have learned to prune the plant back in early summer for a more compact plant.

Purple Prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) Adobe Stock Image

This dainty flowering plant may need protection early in the growing season if you have rabbits nibbling at night. Found in the Great Plains and prairie ecosystems, it is a legume that fixes nitrogen in the soil and has been used in revegetation efforts on reclaimed land. It grows better in the open, therefore, does not tolerate a shady environment.

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Originally from temperate areas of Europe and Asia, it has become naturalized in North America and Australia. A common name for the plant is wild carrot, and indeed the root is edible on a young plant. Older plants will have a “woodier” root, making consumption less desirable. “Domesticated” carrots of farms and fields are derived from this plant. Daucus carota is similar in appearance to poison hemlock, so if sampling the root, make sure it has a distinctive carrot smell. 

Want to amaze the kids or grandkids? Take a freshly cut Queen Anne’s Lace flower and place it in a tall glass of colored water, and with the miracle of capillary action, the flower will take on the color of the dyed water.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Resembling Queen Anne’s Lace, yarrow has finer leaves, and the flowers are arranged in clusters, whereas Queen Anne’s Lace has a central umbel. Yarrow can be found as yellow, white, or purple and are members of the aster family. Native Americans used the plant for a wide range of maladies ranging from headaches, cuts, abrasions, reducing pain, or aid in sleeping. Eighteen to twenty-four inches is typical of the height for yarrow. Yarrow will spread by rhizomes; both the white and purple (pink) variety inhabit our prairie area.

Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia compressa)

Growing up, I thought cactus plants were confined to desert areas only to learn later they exist virtually in every US state. The prickly pear is the most common, growing in the wild from New Mexico to Montana, east to Massachusetts, and down to Florida. It is easily grown and tolerant of many growing conditions. Propagating is easy too. Just cut off a pad and place it on bare soil. Roots will grow where the pad touches the ground. At the base of the flower, the red fruits commonly called “tunas” will appear. They can be candied and eaten, although I have not tried to do so.

The flowers open up with the light of day.
A Rudbeckia (Rudbeckia hirta) sits among the blue-gray leaves of Prairie sage.

Black-eyed Susan is a common name many apply to Rudbeckia members of the aster family.  Rudbeckia hirta has spread throughout the contiguous 48 states of the United States. Locally, one can find the Rudbekia missouriensis (Missouri coneflower) and other coneflowers with related characteristics. Distinguishing between the several varieties often requires knowledge of botanical features.

Bottlebrush Blazing star (Liatris mucronata

This Liatris is a drought-tolerant native of open rocky habitat, bluffs, and glades of the central US, from Kansas south into Texas. Typical growth is up to 3 feet high and 18 inches wide. It does not like moist, rich soils. There are several other species of Liatris with similar characteristics and many with Blazing Star or Gayfeather in their names, such as Texas Blazing Star or plains gayfeather.

Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

I have yet to find a rattlesnake (or any other creature for that matter) mesmerized or hypnotized by this uniquely shaped and growing native wildflower. It is, however, a favorite of my wife’s because of the peculiar characteristics of the plant. The green flower heads pose a problem if you are trying to determine if it is flowering. The obvious way to indicate it is in bloom is if it is being visited by a pollinator (it attracts a variety of insects). Common to prairies, it enjoys full sun and will grow from four to five feet in height. It has a long taproot and transplants poorly. The hotter and drier the conditions, the more it seems to thrive.

Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) Adobe Stock Image

Another favorite plant of my wife, the Buttonbush, is a deciduous shrub of low-lying, wet areas of the Mid-west. Its rounded shape may occupy a space of ten to twelve feet in height, to a similar size in spread. The whimsical flowering buttons attract a multitude of nectar feeders and pollinators. It grows well in standing water and rain gardens. 

Illinois Bundle flower (Desmanthus illinoensis)

With a flower that looks much like that of the Buttonbush (preceding plant), the Illinois Bundle flower is in a whole different family in the taxonomic order of flora (Fabaceae, versus Rubiaceae for the Buttonbush) and is a legume with nitrogen-fixing capabilities. If you are familiar with Mimosa trees, you will see the resemblance. Indeed, a common name for Desmanthus illinoensis is prairie-mimosa (and is in the same family). Typically, it can be found alongside roads with plenty of sun and plenty of water. This small perennial shrub often grows from one to three feet in height and sometimes up to five feet. Their seeds are unusual and will be featured in a future edition.

Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare)

A plant from … you guessed it, the Mediterranean, is recognized as being naturalized in the temperate region of North America. A member of the mint family, the favorable leaves of this herbaceous plant are used for seasoning. As with other mints, it spreads easily and might best be planted in a container. The variety of insects swirling about the flowers has astonished me, from small flies and wasps to bumblebees.

Yellow Crownbeard (Verbesina helianthoides)

One of the most amazing properties of this plant occurs long after the flowers have bloomed and the petals have dropped. Around the time of the first hard freezes, the base of the plant may surprise you with an icy swirl called a “frost flower.” 

Very few plants have the capability to present us with such wonders, and the Yellow Crownbeard (also called wingstem) is one. This sunflower can reach heights up to four feet.

Photo Missouri Department of Conservation

For a full description of this fascinating natural wonder, try this link from the Missouri Department of Conservation https://mdc.mo.gov/wildflower-grass-facts/frost-flowers.

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Another member of the mint family, wild bergamot is also called bee balm, oswega tea, or horsemint, has a long recorded history of medicinal uses by both Native Americans and European settlers. Like other mints, the lanceolate leaves are oppositely aligned along a square stem. 

Preferring moist, rich soils with full to partial sun, the plant is widespread below 5,000 feet in elevation. In addition to attracting bees, it will attract hummingbirds as well.

May article follow-up: 

From these blueberry blossoms….

To this…

Our blueberries have never been so plump!

Side Note: To make sure you have berries to pick, you will need to cover your plants with bird netting (I learned the hard way, thanks to the neighborhood robins and other avian creatures!)

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. Be sure to check out the butterfly garden as well.

All the plants pictured in this blog are perennials (except the self-seeding annual Clasping coneflower) 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

To view one of the native prairie ecosystems nearby (there are several), travel to the Olathe Prairie Center – Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism. Their website provides directions and amenities for this nearby natural area https://ksoutdoors.com/KDWP-Info/Locations/Museums-and-Nature-Centers/Olathe-Prairie-Center.

Other resources:

This website provides tips on the growing trend of native landscaping – www.grownative.org.

A few of the books from the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, may be of interest.

The Midwestern native garden : native alternatives to nonnative flowers and plants : an illustrated guide BY Charlotte Adelman and Bernard L. Schwartz

Native plants of the Midwest : a comprehensive guide to the best 500 species for the garden by Alan Branhagen

© Steve Oakes