Scutellaria: The Exploding Skullcaps

The genus Scutellaria is composed of over 300 species that occur all around the world.  It’s in the mint family, so it has the characteristic square stem and recursive leaf veins that are so common among mints.  The latin name means “little dish” and refers to the covering of the calyx, which I guess if you look at it from the right angle resembles a small plate or bowl.  I prefer the common name, “Skullcap,” it just sounds cool.  It refers to the fact that the flowers resemble helmets worn by medieval soldiers.   Scutt_nerv

 We have 2 of these species in cultivation at Beech Hollow at the moment.  One has pink flowers, Scutellaria nervosa (above), while the other has blue flowers, Scutellaria incana (below).  Scutt_incana

Regardless of flower color, after the blooms fade another interesting phenomenon occurs. The seed pod forms where that “little plate” is located at the base of the flower.  The pod has two parts with a seam running all the way around it.  It starts green, but as it matures it fades to a brown color and as the pod dries out it begins to contract.  Eventually this leads to a breaking point and the pod splits along that seam and ejects the seeds, often sending them several feet from the parent plant.


 These upper pods are about ready to pop. It’s a little easier to see the “little dish” in this picture.  We joke about Scutellaria being an invasive species in the nursery because any other pots within about 5 feet of them will end up with Scutellaria seedlings in it.  Despite their prolific seed production and dispersal, I have only seen a few of these plants in the wild.  The plants in this genus are said to have sedative and anti-anxiety properties, and a Chinese cousin, Scutellaria baicalensis, has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine.  With such pretty flowers and possible health benefits this plant needs to be more common in the landscape.  And the bumblebees love it too!

Whats Blooming: My yard edition

   Of course there’s always something blooming on the farm, but I thought it might be fun to share some pictures of what’s blooming in my yard. IMG_2 

 This is just to grab your attention.  Two Agopenstemon bees (aka sweat bees), and possibly a digger bee, on one of my sunflowers.  This is an open pollinated sunflower variety originally cultivated by the Tarahumara tribe that I got from Seed Saver’s Exchange.  Sunflowers were domesticated in what is now the Southeastern US or in what is now Mexico, possibly both simultaneously, before 2300 BCE when the first examples of domesticated sunflowers show up in the archaeological record.  Which is a great segue to the fact that I’m pretty new at this native plant game.  I studied Anthropology and worked as an Archaeologist for 5 years until I wound up in Georgia and started working with and learning about the native plants.IMG_3941

      Here is another bloom in my yard.  Great Blue Lobelia, or Lobelia siphilitica,
got its unfortunate Latin name because people used to think that this plant was a cure for venereal disease.  Life was tough before the discovery of antibiotics.  Most people relied on plants or extracts of plant parts for recovering their health.IMG_3936

 A close cousin, Downy Lobelia, or Lobelia puberula, has fine hairs on its leaves and tends to have a more pastel violet bloom.


Just to round out the hat trick, here’s number three: Cardinal Flower, or Lobelia cardinalis. It’s hard to miss those bright red blooms, especially if you happen to be a hummingbird.IMG_3934

 Coreopsis grandiflora, or Largeflower Tickseed.  This subspecies (var. saxicola) gets nearly four feet tall if supported.  These are climbing my tomato cages.  Tomatoes are how I got into growing plants in the first place.  All of the native plants pictured above have been in my yard for less than two years.  If you do your research and get a good mix of plants that bloom in each season, you can have flowers blooming somewhere in your yard for 9 months of the year or more.  I’ve probably covered about April to November in my yard and, like I said I’ve only been at this for about two years.

IMG_3940   I leave you with a bee taking refuge in a Hibiscus bloom.  Hibiscus blooms were my grandmother’s favorite flower, so it seems appropriate to round out my personal history with this one.  Planting season is just around the corner. You too can have a yard full of blooms next year if you start now.