AUGUST – The “Dog Days of Summer” received that distinction from ancient Greek astronomers as they noticed that the “Dog” star called Sirius was in the same area of the sky as our sun. Sirius is the brightest star in our nighttime sky, in part due to its “relatively” (astronomically speaking) close proximity to earth at a mere 8.6 light-years, or approximately 48 trillion miles. The Greeks theorized that the heat from the sun, along with the heat from Sirius, was enough to cause plants to wilt and men to weaken. Fortunately, using a watering can, collected rainwater in the rain barrels, and a drip irrigation system, my vegetable plants have remained hydrated; however, I did lose a small blueberry plant purchased last year. The native plants, on the other hand, are adapted to the summer conditions here in the heartland, and little extra care is required of them. The following plants might be a consideration if a replacement is needed in your landscape.

Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium)

A member of the aster family, I have learned to cut this back in June to suppress its final height. Mine is located next to the driveway and has a tendency to flop over and obscure the pathway into the garage. It may reach a height close to seven feet. Its numerous blooms last far into the season and benefit a wide variety of insects. 

Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)

This herbaceous perennial will grow from 3 to 7 feet and prefers full sun and moist to wet conditions. An excellent addition to a rain garden, deadhead the raceme flower heads to extend the length of blooming action. Attracts butterflies as well as hummingbirds.

Gray headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)

This long-flowering perennial showcases a dull-gray central disk-shaped as an elongated cylinder. Growing 3 to 5 feet tall, the plant tolerates poor, dry soils and is drought resistant. Its distinctive downward-pointing, yellow flower petals make it easily recognizable from a distance and from other coneflowers.

American beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma)

The small white clusters of flowers on this low-growing shrub appear rather drab compared to some of the other perennial heavyweights, such as the Rose mallow. With patience, the payoff occurs in the fall and early winter both to the human eye and the fauna seeking its colorful fruit. The spread of 4 to 5 feet often exceeds its height of 3 to 4 feet. Mulching of a few inches may be needed to ensure winter survival, but my experience is that it does just fine. The plant should be considered as a substitute for non-native stock, in part because multiple new plants will emerge in late spring, allowing the homeowner to multiply the investment.

The berries are striking and typically last after the leaves have fallen (Adobe Stock Image)

For nature watchers, you might just be rewarded finding a Cedar waxwing munching on the berries. (Adobe Stock Image)

Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum)

The tallest of our plants in our little bit of prairie (may reach up to 8 feet), it towers over the late-blooming asters and goldenrod. It is happy with wet and rich soils but is okay with clay and well-drained soils once established. A member of the aster family, its 3 inch wide flowers and square-shaped, rough stems set it apart from other asters. It can be used in rain gardens.

Cup plant has leaves that hug the stem and hold water, therefore the name.

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)

One of my favorites in the rain garden, the Cardinal flower, is often found along stream banks in the wild. From full sun to partial shade, it consistently needs moist soil and can withstand temporary flooding. From 2 to 4 feet high and up to 18 inches wide, it will slowly spread under the right conditions—a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies.

Recently I tried to capture a Ruby Throated hummingbird at the Cardinal flower, with mixed success. Hummingbirds are fun to watch as they dart in and out (they are the only bird that can fly backward). The other day while I was standing by our prairie, a hummingbird quickly zipped in front of me at eye level and stopped mid-air. It looked at me for a second, then left in a flash. I was able to trace its movement and what it did next made me laugh.

As if looking for nectar, it hovered at not one but two of our colored patio lights before speeding off.

Compass plant (Silphium laciniatum)

Iconic of prairies, Compass plants may reach up to 8 feet in height. The name originates from the plant’s ability to orient its leaves along a north-south axis. Given the right growing conditions, they have been known to live over 100 years.

The leaves are large and distinctive in shape—a sunflower like no other.

Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis)

Few (plants) that we encounter do not flower, and for some of those that do, the flowers are not too showy. Grasses generally fall into that category. In the case of the Prairie dropseed, it was selected for its function versus style. On the south side of the home, lawn grass was being scorched each summer. The area thrives with a mix of dropseed and liatris.

Dropseed can be used as a ground cover.

The dropseed attracts an array of seed-eating birds, of which many do not even wait for the seeds to drop from the stalks. Comically, they perch on the stems, which bend to the ground under the weight of the avian creature. 

Plenty of seeds persist to the delight of the juncos that return during winter. The clumping growth of the plant persists through the winter months and provides cover for animals. Natural fires in prairies can stimulate the plant’s growth.

Rose mallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpos)

Punctuating the late summer scene is a prominent member of the hibiscus family, the Rose mallow. With blossoms up to five inches wide, they greet the morning sun and close up as the sun makes its way towards the horizon. The open, welcoming flowers attract all kinds of winged visitors, and bumblebees can often be seen wallowing away. A great addition to a rain garden (the soil it grows in must remain moist), it needs plenty of sun and probably should be planted at the rear because it may reach a height of six feet. The leaves are large and ovate-shaped, which may help identify unwanted “volunteers” that may show up elsewhere in the landscape the following spring.

The next two flowering plants are not native but deserve an honorable mention.

Surprise lily (Lycoris squamigera)

Prominent in many Kansas City yards this time of year, the Surprise, or Resurrection lily is a member of the amaryllis family known for its eruptive flowering action. Seemingly producing a stalk and flower overnight, it sprouts from where the springtime leaves had died back in June. It is believed to have come from Asia.

Another common sight in Kansas City is the many varieties of hostas often found in the shade of large trees. Native to northeast Asia, it is a widely cultivated foliage plant tolerant of shade. This particular one is thriving despite its traveling past. Transplanted from my grandmother’s home in Columbus, Ohio, by my cousin, it went to Memphis, Tennesse, then to Mississippi, then near Colorado Springs. 

At an elevation of 7,500 feet and the somewhat arid leeward side of the Colorado Rockies, it did not farewell. Once transplanted in the shady, rich soils of Kansas City, it is now flourishing and expanding.

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 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

Other resources:

This website provides tips on the growing trend of native landscaping

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

The new American homestead: sustainable, self-sufficient living in the country or in the city,” by John H. Tullock.

Grow native: bringing natural beauty to your garden,” by Lynn M. Steiner.