On July 28, my life and the timing of my What’s Blooming blog were severely disrupted. That morning while commuting to work on my bicycle, a teenage driver turned onto a one-way street going the opposite direction colliding with me. As I convalesced at home for 14 weeks with fractures in my neck and face, the plants in our yard kept growing. I took some pictures of the flowering action, which primarily occurred in the late summer. Following is the last “What’s Blooming “article for 2021.

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) provides an important source of nectar for Monarchs making their way to overwinter in Mexico. I have learned to cut the plants back about 50% before July; otherwise, they will grow taller than I like (they can grow up to five feet tall). In addition, they are known to spread profusely, as I discovered hundreds of aster seeds that successfully germinated this past spring. This fall, I cut off the spent flowers to try and reduce new asters from getting established throughout our landscape next year. 

Goldenrod (Solidago spp) “According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, “There are 23 species of goldenrods recorded from Missouri. They can be difficult to identify to species. As a group, however, the goldenrods are common and nearly unmistakable. To separate the species, specialists note details of the flowerheads and clusters of flower heads, and of the basal, lower stem, and upper stem leaves” Canada goldenrod is a very common species found throughout the Kansas City region. Goldenrods are in the Asteraceae family, along with sunflowers and daisies. I did not do the taxonomy to determine the species of the goldenrod above.

However, I do know the name of the goldenrod species pictured in the two photographs below. We purchased the Cliff goldenrod (Solidago drummondii) specifically for the growing habit of the plant. Although the rock wall is not very high, you’ll notice how foliage drapes over the stone embankment. The species is found primarily in the Ozarks along rock outcroppings and ledges.

To provide some interest and separation between our prairie area and raised garden beds, we lined up about a dozen Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) bunch grasses. Little bluestem can grow up to four feet tall, and the distinct blue shading of the plant begins to change to a coppery color with the onset of fall.

Aromatic asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) may appear to just be a dull, colored version of the New England aster, but it is a distinct species. The Aromatic is not as tall as the New England, but the bloom period is the same, late summer to early fall. It derives its name not from flower odors but from when the foliage is crushed. It is an excellent addition to floral arrangements and does well in clay and poor soils.

Adobe Stock Image

The Rose turtlehead (Chelone obliqua) is another fun flower to watch as pollinators wrestle with the various flower parts to get to the nectar inside. Growing two to three feet tall, it prefers moist, rich, organic soil in full sun to partial shade. The plant has a reputation for being a good addition to rain gardens; as such, rain garden plant lists will often contain Rose turtlehead.  It may self-seed in moist, rich soil or be propagated by dividing. Each year I have a challenge in finding our two plants in our rain garden, as it develops later than many of our other rain garden species. It is time I divide them up and put them in more noticeable locations. 

Our Downy skullcap (Scutellaria incana) is another plant of the rain garden. The skullcap, along with the Culver’s root, often hides the Rose turtlehead. Like the turtlehead, it has orchid-like flowers, however much smaller in size. The openness of the flower attracts many pollinators as well as hummingbirds. Its opposite leaves and square stem are a dead giveaway indicating it is related to mint plants. In the wild, it is often found along streambanks in partial shade. Year after year, this plant has delivered an abundance of flowers, and recently something spectacular (at least to me). Keep reading to find out what special thing it delivered.

Tight-lipped is one way you might describe the flowering characteristic of the (Gentiana andrewsii) Bottle gentian. This beautiful blue, native wildflower does a good job of attracting insects, but many fly away in frustration. The flower petals must be pried open to get to the contents inside; therefore, bumblebees are the most likely to succeed. It is most often found in wet thickets, moist woods, and low wooded areas. In the photo, you may notice two stems of side oats gramma, which was one of our first additions to our prairie.

Honorable mentions

I have a habit of trying to save and revive every plant that shows up in the yard. Over the years, canna plants have gotten established, and I like seeing them feeding a passing hummingbird. These tropical/sub-tropical plants require some extra care prior to wintertime, as the tuberous roots will not survive in the ground under typical Kansas City winter conditions. Winter storage requires the rhizomes to be placed in peat (or similar medium) and stored in a cool, dry place above 40 degrees. They may need to be misted to prevent them from totally drying out during their winter storage. If successful, they can be replanted in the spring after the danger of frost has passed.

Canna – Cannaceae family

Chrysanthemum, or garden mums, are herbaceous perennial that, if given the proper treatment and care, may just make it the following year. The finicky nature of the plant is the reason many nurseries and stores advertise and sell them as annuals versus perennials. Deer and rabbit resistant, others claim a few mums around the garden will keep the squirrels from eating your tomatoes.

Follow up

In the June edition of What’s Blooming (https://kckplprograms.org/2021/06/14/whats-blooming-the-june-edition/), I introduced readers to the winterberry bush. Pictured above is the shrub in flowering mode, and below is the successful generation of berries by the three plants at the front of our house. Likely, you have seen winterberry used in holiday decorations as it is a perennial favorite.

And the American beautyberry (featured in the August What’s Blooming” blog https://kckplprograms.org/2021/08/21/whats-blooming-the-august-edition/) turned in a command performance as well, in the flowerbed just a few feet away from the winterberry.

Gaining in popularity for backyard gardens are Bee Houses (offered at many nurseries or online), such as the one pictured. This is the first year I put a bee house up, hoping to provide nesting opportunities for solitary bee species and other pollinators that do not use hives. 

Looking closely, you can see five of the bamboo tubes that have been plugged up on each side of the house. A sixth one appeared after the picture was taken. 

I wasn’t sure what type of success I would have, as I did not place it in the best setting. Only time will tell next spring when the eggs should hatch and the insects emerge. 

Surprise November “Flower”

On Friday, November 26, the first hard frost happened in my Waldo neighborhood and, along with it, my first ever sighting of Frost Flowers.  

Surprising was that I did not find the frost flowers on one of the native plants known for manufacturing the icy sculptures, but instead, they were occurring at the base of our Downy Skullcap. Ironically, there were no frost flowers on our native wingstem wildflower plants, the species I had been checking on for the last several years and known for frost flowers. 

The flowers vary in size and can be up to three inches across, commonly appearing at the base of the stems of the host plants.

In the July edition of my What’s Blooming blog (https://kckplprograms.org/2021/07/07/whats-blooming-the-july-edition/),

I wrote about frost flowers and provided a link on how they form. Little did I know that I would be rewarded with my very own crop a few months later. 

Likely, your chance of seeing a frost flower has elapsed this year. Although they are not rare, they are rarely seen, as one must be in the right place at the right time (typically lasting just a few hours). I invite you to try, and happy hunting! May your discovery happen sooner than mine.

If you have read each of the “What’s Blooming” blog articles this past season, I thank you. My wife and I have over 70 native plant species in our yard and are tempted to add more.  

Like life, gardening is very much an experiment. 

Using native plants, you are more likely to be successful. I wish you the best of luck. 

Steve Oakes

For more of my writing about Frost Flowers, check out my nature note https://kckplprograms.org/2021/12/06/nature-note/

Photos by the author unless otherwise noted

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

The following website provides tips on the growing trend of native landscaping www.grownative.org.

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

The Midwest native plant primer : 225 plants for an earth-friendly garden by Alan Branhagen

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

Go native! : gardening with native plants and wildflowers in the lower Midwest by Carolyn Harstad

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

Nature’s best hope : a new approach to conservation that starts in your yard by Douglas W. Tallamy 

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

Bringing nature home : how you can sustain wildlife with native plants by Douglas W. Tallamy

100 easy-to-grow native plants for northern American gardens by Lorraine Johnson