Dog Day Blooms

It’s HOT.  We’ve had some good thundershowers recently, so it’s not a drought at least.  Next week’s forecast of mid-90’s highs every day with little chance of rain means you should probably water your shrubs a bit this weekend.  Our potted plants at the farm are being watered twice daily.

The spring bloomers are looking pretty ragged at this point as they seem to just shrivel under the weight of the hot air, but the summer and fall bloomers have put on some robust growth and beautiful flowers.  I hope you have a minute, there’s lots of pretty pictures:IMG_5229

 First, a Downy Lobelia (Lobelia puberula) bloom in the greenhouse with an Agapostemon bee on it.  There are lots of species in that genus, but they are all commonly known as ‘sweat bees.’  One of our many native ground-nesting bees, there have been several in the greenhouse for the past week or two.  There is a lot of open, parched ground around the greenhouse’s compacted clay foundation and that just happens to be just what ground nesting bees look for in real estate. 

Out in the nursery another Lobelia is also blooming:IMG_5246

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is gorgeous as usual. IMG_5244

 A Phlox species that we think might be Phlox maculatum? 

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Large Flowered Coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora) blooming in pots! This plant looks like a marigold on steroids in the ground, but always did poorly in pots until I stuck them on the highest, driest, sunniest spot in the nursery.IMG_5237

 Family resemblance of the day: Joe Pye and Boneset.  These both used to be in the same genus (Eupatorium) until recently, but are both still in the family Asteraceae (subfamily Asteroideae, supertribe Helianthodae, tribe Eupatorieae……there are A LOT of Asters).  Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) on the left has pinkish flowers, and Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)  on the right has white blooms.

IMG_5236Spotted Horse Mint (Monarda punctata) isn’t even technically blooming yet and is already eye-catching.  The flowers are those little green parts clustered around the stem, the seemingly painted-on colors are modified leaf-like bracts. 

All of the previous pictures are of flowers formed by plants in pots.  If you were to install them in your yard they would be twice as big (at least), more floriferous, and you’d get to walk past them every day.

IMG_5266  Out in the propagation beds you can see what I mean. Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) with hundreds of blooms as opposed to the ones in pots with only a dozen or so.

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Blue Skullcap (Scutellaria incana) is also loving the heat.

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 Passion Vine (Passiflora incarnata) does have some of the most unique blooms you’ll find this far away from the Equator, and it makes little edible fruits commonly known as Maypops. You can see one forming on the left.IMG_5162

Finally, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).  It really is a workhorse of a pollinator plant.  I tried to focus in on the tiny individual flowers in between the spikes.  Those little dark tubes with the yellow star-like stamens sticking out are the fertile flowers that the bees and butterflies want. IMG_5152

 It’s like a giant counter full of delicious smoothies, and you have a built in straw. Also, it’s guarded by massive spikes to keep those pesky mammals from just eating the whole thing.  Echino- is the Latin for “spiny; prickly.” Sea Urchins and Star Fish are “Echinoderms.”  IMG_5254

 Despite being larger than the whole flower head this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (as well as most other butterflies) has a very long, thin, retractable, tube-like tongue which it methodically moves from each tiny flower to the next to extract the nectar.

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 Trying to get these two guys in the same frame took a minute.  They don’t like sudden movements.

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 I think that this is a female Tiger Swallowtail, so we should have plenty of caterpillars soon!


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.

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 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!