I want a mimosa. Not the kind you drink but the elegant blooming small tree that appears lovely but out of place. The Mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin, pictured above) is native to southwestern and eastern Asia. Also known as the pink silk tree, it grows from 20 to 40 feet in height. 

My wife and I knew that it might be a challenge to grow one in this environment, but we decided to give it a try several years ago. Alas, it did not make it through the first midwestern winter. Other neighbors have had better luck, and the tree is a striking addition to any landscape once it becomes established. We do have somewhat of a miniature version in our yard. And since it is native, it is doing quite well. Pictured below are several Illinois Bundle flowers. Both the flower and leaves are similar to the mimosa, which is no surprise since they are both in the legume, bean, or pea family (take your pick).

mimosa tree leaves

Another prominent (pictured below) non-native is the Rose of Sharon or Althea (Hibiscus syriacus). Grown as a shrub or small tree, depending on the variety, this native of Korea and China seems to also thrive in the midwest. 

Rose of Sharon or Althea (Hibiscus syriacus)

The Latin name provides it with yet another more common name Hibiscus. Hibiscus is known for its large flowers, commonly four or more inches across, and they certainly stand out this time of year. Hibiscus is not just limited to imported flora, and one would be hard-pressed to distinguish between the non-native and native. Pictured directly below is a variety of Althea, while the second photo is of the native Rose Mallow.

Rose of Sharon or Althea (Hibiscus syriacus)
Rose mallow flower
white Datura flower

For several years I passed by this flower in the neighborhood, not knowing what it was. Finally, I used an app on my phone to learn what it probably is. Using the app called “Leaf Snap,” it most certainly is a Datura and most likely a Hairy Thorn apple. The elongated flowers stretch a good four to five inches from the base. The trumpet-like flowers might be considered an attractive nuisance as the plant belongs to the Nightshade family and is considered poisonous.

Green hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
Oak Leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

In areas that receive some shade during the day, one may stumble upon a flowering hydrangea plant. The Green hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla, top) or Oak Leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) below can become rather large flowering bushes. The Green hydrangea can often be found in floral arrangements; therefore, it is also called “florist’s hydrangea.”

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a perennial herbaceous herb that belongs to the mint family. With its square stem and opposite leaves as identifiers, it may be wise to use those clues to remove it from other areas of your yard or garden if you do not want it to spread. I have mine in a large pot. It will grow up to two feet tall. It does have medicinal value. Now naturalized in North America and common in many parts of the “Old World.”

Dill (Anethem graveolensas)

It is not uncommon to plant some flora that serves multiple purposes. Dill (Anethem graveolensas) possesses a distinctive smell and, as an herb, is used in numerous recipes. This annual is easy to grow from seed, simply scatter it on the ground and scratch it into the soil. It does not transplant easily, and the young shoots of this celery family plant appear to be a favorite of browsing bunnies.

Female Eastern Swallowtail - Photo USGS Elizabet A. Sellers
Female Eastern Swallowtail – Photo USGS Elizabet A. Sellers

And it also will serve as a host plant of Swallowtail butterflies, as I have joyfully discovered.

swallowtail caterpillars on a dill plant

Swallowtails also enjoy parsley plants, and this season I saw up to nine swallowtail caterpillars (five are in the photo) munching away. Fortunately, it was a large plant.

Oh no, it’s Bindweed.  Convolvulus arvensis should not be confused with Morning glory, but it is in the same family that has over 250 species in North America. Bindweed is a perennial vine, whereas Morning glory is an annual flower. Bindweed is aggressive and difficult to get rid of. If not all of the root is removed, the plant will re-emerge. Likewise, do not try to compost the leaves and roots as a portion of the root may survive, and if the compost is spread about, the weed may also be spread.

Bindweed. Convolvulus arvensis
Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans)

This native wildflower is not adored by all due to its aggressive growth habit. It is a vining plant that will climb trellises, telephone poles, fences, and other upright objects quite easily and up to 35 feet in height. It is easy to see how readily Trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans) got its name. The flowers grow to about three and a half inches and produce seed pods up to six inches in length.

Prairie Sage (Artemisia ludoviciana)

Look closely, and you might just see the tiny yellow flowers of the Prairie Sage (Artemisia ludoviciana). Also known as white sagebrush, it will grow to about three feet tall. Like other sage plants, it will spread considerably by root runners if not contained. Running your hand over the foliage, one will get the herbal aroma sage is known for. You are more likely to see Russian sage (Salvia yangii)

Russian sage (Salvia yangii)

on your walkabout around the neighborhood. There are several cultivars of this imported plant with distinctive lavender-colored flowers. It has become popular as a landscape addition due to its drought tolerance and low maintenance. This hardy perennial blooms late summer and well into the fall.


Common wheat (Triticum aestivum)

I nearly pulled this unusual-looking weed growing in one of my raised garden beds earlier this year. But as it got taller, I thought the shape was somewhat familiar. Turns out it was. I used cardboard set behind the subject to isolate it for this photo. As it matured, I thought, “it sure looks like wheat.” Indeed it was, and I sure didn’t plant it. The seed was probably transported by a bird that came from my backyard neighbor’s bird feeder. Common wheat (Triticum aestivum) is actually a grass that has been cultivated since 9,600 BCE, according to Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea)
Photo – University of Missouri, Division of Plant Sciences

If you have a gravel driveway, you may be special in a couple of different ways. For one, not many people in the urban/suburban environment have a gravel driveway, and secondly, you may have a plant that originated in Asia within your mix of pebbles. Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea) is now widespread throughout North America. I have found it in Kansas and Missouri, Ohio, and even when I lived in Alaska. It is also known as wild chamomile and has been used to make tea. The cone-shaped flower heads will exude the aroma of pineapple when crushed.

Pineappleweed (Matricaria discoidea)

Well past its flowering prime, I was shocked to see these four feet tall pineappleweed plants (above) when visiting my daughter in northern Minnesota within sight of Lake Superior. In the plant descriptions I have read, they reference it as being a low-lying, small plant. Perhaps I should not have been surprised as the flora is a member of the sunflower family. On all occasions of seeing the plant, I have discovered them in poor, gravelly soil conditions. It is an annual.

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus)

On a recent visit to my in-laws home in Kansas City, Kansas, I came across a Chicory flower (pictured above and below) at the edge of their sidewalk. It was another case of “how did it get there,” as it is often not found within a maintained turf lawn. Like Pineappleweed, it typically grows in poor soils and waste places such as along roadsides and utility right-of-ways. 

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus) is cultivated and has a variety of uses. During World War II, the roasted roots were used as a coffee extender. Chicory coffee is still being produced to this day and is commonly served in New Orleans and other areas of the south. At one point in my Kansas City tenure, I did spot a coffee brand at the grocery store that listed chicory as one of the ingredients. My tasting experience of the drink was pleasant, with a unique flavor. It has been described as strong, toasty, and nutty, with suggestions of burned sugar.

The mystery of how the chicory may have gotten to the lawn was the discovery of several of the plants at the other end of the in-laws cul-de-sac. The photo below captures a few of the plants which may grow a couple of feet tall. The property also abuts the I-670 right-of-way, so to find this aster family perennial flower amongst the turf grasses is not all that surprising after all.

Common chicory (Cichorium intybus)
dew drops aligned along the edges of cucumber plant leaves

Totally unexpected one morning while touring the yard was the arrangement of dew drops on the outside edges of my cucumber plants. I don’t recall seeing this phenomenon before, and I am not convinced that the limited research I did references what was happening. One possible explanation is a process known as guttation. The following Wikipedia link provides a description of the process https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guttation. What do you think?

small bat hanging under the overhang of a roof

Not totally unexpected, above the door leading into our garage was this furry flying mammal, a bat. When I was an interpretive park ranger at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, I learned a considerable amount about the order of “Chiroptera.” At the main cave, named after the nearby town (within the boundary of the park, there are over 100 limestone caves), there is a population of free-tailed bats in the range of 200,000 to 500,000 bats that exit the mouth of the cave on summer evenings. An interpretive ranger will give a nightly talk about bats prior to their emergence, and that was one of my duties. As a result of that knowledge, I have welcomed the bat, knowing it may eat up to 500 mosquitoes per hour. For some reason, we did not have a bat roosting last year after several years of temporary occupancy prior.

Photos by the author unless otherwise noted

About the author – Steve Oakes is a retired Main library associate and a former National Park Ranger at Denali, Carlsbad, and Cuyahoga Valley National Parks. Oakes and his wife enjoy hiking, backpacking, bicycle touring, canoeing, and other outdoor adventures, including gardening and native plant landscaping.

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.

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

© Steve Oakes