October in the prairie brings on a rush of flowering activity. Many late season species of plants are just getting cranked up about now, making their way to flowering before first frost arrives. Likewise, activity of pollinators increases as so many species of flowering plants come into peak bloom and availability of nectar becomes abundant.
Here on the Gulf coast where our growing season is spread out for such a long duration, spring and summer flowering plants have long finished, stepping aside for the prairie crescendo triggered by the shortening of days.
False Foxglove, a fairly common Louisiana plant
A white colored form of Gerardia shows up occasionally.
And so do the caterpillars of the Common Buckeye Butterfly. Its not uncommon to find one or more of these on each plant.
The hallmark of the fall prairie aesthetic along with late blooming Salvia, Asters, Goldenrods, Blazing stars, and so many other species, are the grasses, the vibrant bones of the prairie. Light refracting grasses shine in the fall and winter season, providing structure and form, beauty and robustness; exuberance.
Here in the Gulf coastal plain, prairie is a year-round feature for man and creature.
In the ecology of restored prairies that are grown from seed, grasses are the part of the landscape that densely covers the ground and is the least hospitable toward weedy species – old field weeds. The southern native prairie grass doubles as a nurse crop for perennial prairie wildflowers. All find their niche – and grow and fight for space, nutrients and moisture, root zone – a real fight for individual survival.
Its so fun and exciting each year to see and feel the liveliness of all the activity in a garden such as this.
False Foxglove is a great plant to try from seed. So easy. Its almost a guarantee you’ll get a stand of plants from a tiny bag of seed. It thrives with a little disturbance. Just collect seed by stripping the stalks with your hands any time, now until first frost. Put them in a paper bag and keep dry. Sow the seed whenever, in crudely prepared soil. They’ll grow!
Repentance Park, City of Baton Rouge, La., an urban park with a grassy flair!
Indian grass, it turns out, happens to be an effective low maintenance groundcover for an extreme-slope large scale landscape condition.
above, the foliage of Indian grass is blue green, a stark contrast to the dark green canopy of Southern Magnolia.
click to enlarge photos
Golden yellow flowering heads of Yellow Indian Grass – of local, Louisiana genes. BR Convention Center on left. Different grasses species and different horticultural selections of some grasses have varying characteristics that can be exploited, useful for many horticultural applications. 3500 Indian grass plants were grown as one-year-old plugs for this garden planting, planted three years ago.
Baton Rouge’s City Hall looms in the distance as Indian grass solidly solves slippery slope erosion issue, while making a great color and texture contrast with Carissa Holly, bottom right – Repentance Park gardens, designed by Reed-Hilderbrand, Landscape Architects/ Reich, Associates, Landscape Architects/ Pastorek Habitats, llc.
Louisiana Department of Transportation/ University of Louisiana at Lafayette prairie planting is rockin’
This La DOT prairie garden is about two acres in size, just west of New Iberia, Louisiana, at Highway 90. September 27, 2016. It was planted in November of last year – still a whippersnapper, yet.
above, January 16, 2016, google earth
above, May 6, 2016, google earth
September 27, 2016 – Ryan Duhon, DOT Supervisor and project partners UL Prof Jim Foret and Mark Simon stand in the shade of “Mr. Al”, the giant transplanted Live Oak tree, surrounded by lush first year prairie growth. We saw many nice maturing flowering clumps of Little Bluestem grass everywhere – some fistulosa Bee Balm, Hyssop Leafed Thoroughwort (HLT), and a few very hip Clustered Bushmint that were scattered here and yonder. There were lots of Boltonia aster – typical for a first-year seeding. And there were a few hundred giant cloud-puffs of Late Flowering Thoroughwort (LFT) Eupatorium serotinum (the white flowering plant in the photo) – I guess you could say LFT looks a little weedy but its one of our best butterfly plants and it happens that it blooms just in the window of time for Monarch butterfly migration, late Sept to late October. Such a great pollinator plant! You gotta get you some, folks!
In prairie ecology from seed, LFT is replaced by through natural succession, a lack of soil disturbance. With planting (soil disturbance), LFT fills the site and over time it fades as LFT colonizes.
LFT is a gangly fellow, four to six feet tall while LFT is typically about two or three feet short.
Eupatorium serotinum, a generalist species, is associated as much with woodlands as it is with prairie. A commonly found disturbance-oriented plant considered to be an exceptional late season butterfly nectar source – a worthy pollinator species. map, BONAP
Eup hyssoppifolium is limited to high quality herbaceous grasslands of the Gulf and Atlantic coastal plain, etc. From seed it establishes easily and is prolific seed (plant) producer.
Eup Serotinum is found easily in every Parish in Louisiana, a very common roadside plant- Eup Hyssop, is not so easily found, limited to high quality, generally fire managed, sites. (above images Allen and Thomas – Vascular Flora of Louisiana)
Eupatoriums are an important part of our native flora with 40 plus species and subspecies found in Louisiana. In a prairie you’ll often find many species growing together. Valuable plants they are.
After our visit with Ryan, Mark, Jim and I went out to Cade Farm, the ULL, School of Geosciences Living Laboratory to see the new seed storage and educational facilities being built and to see the site of the new four acre prairie garden, to be planted this November. Nice.
National Guard prairie making hay while the sun shines
Pretty fun to walk the fields at the National Guard facility in Franklinton last week. There are acres of cover crop of Sida, Zinnia, Purple Basil, brown-top Millet with lots of Buckeyes, Sulfurs, Fritillaries and Swallowtail butterflies a-fluttering about – many many butterflies. Sida rhombifolia is an amazing early succession weedy plant that really brings in the butterflies, skippers and what have you. Lots of pollinator activity there, ya’ll – how fun!
Sida is anything but a good ornamental plant. Its a weed, really. From ten feet away, you can’t see the tee-tinesy flower, but a closer look at the flower and you can see how it might be related to the hibiscus family.
The stems of the plant are tough stuff, nearly unbreakable, by hand. Its a disturbance oriented plant but declines and eventually disappears from prairie managed landscapes due to intense plant competition and from the lack of soil disturbance in managed prairie.
LaDOT eastbound I-20 Rest Area pollinator garden at Tremont is showing signs of progress in spite of a late planting date. Who would have thunk?
Four months after planting, we have some good looking identifiable inflorescences of a few of the Little Bluestem plants, above. Seeing the Bluestem plants with flower stalks helps develop a search image to identify seedlings without flowering stalks, below. Its really hard to ID grasses without flowering, fruiting parts.
Go Team Blue!
Perennials are generally super slow to grow and prairie garden is made mostly with perennials; grasses and all. Seedlings like these take time, to make enough roots to mature, to make a flower and then fruit. It takes a few years to develop a dense prairie sod from seed. So what are you waiting for?
cool prairie plants that double as outdoor ornamentals and indoor arrangements!
A few prairie plants I’ve enjoyed so much this year – natives and nonnatives – consider them for ornamental plantings. Find yourself some Rudbeckia subtomentosa, Sweet Coneflower, and you’ll have a plant worthy of the finest spot in your garden.
Rudbeckia subtomentosa has a long bloom period, two full months. Here it is in flower with Wendy’s Wish Salvia and Amastad Salvia, Mikania (not in flower), in a semi shade spot in my garden in Covington, last week. Its been in flower since August 1. Sweet coneflower takes mixed shade or sun and is tough as nails, an evergreen ground cover in winter.
cool, dude “Henry Eiller” Rudbeckia subtomentosa, a northern selection, northern genes, of R. sub. I’ve been admiring this plant in my friend Gail’s garden for years. Very unique indeed, no?
Kosteletskya (Hibiscus) virginica var. ‘Immaculate”, the white flowering form of Coastal Hibiscus, one found by Landscape Architect/ plantsman John Mayronne in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, in the 1990’s. Its now a common specialty garden plant. Notice Rudbeckia subtomentosa in flower, in the background, Indian Grass in foreground. Plants purchased from Rick Webb’s Louisiana Growers Nursery (wholesale). A six footer, Immaculate is upright and flowers in late September. Flowers open at night and finish up when the afternoon heat arrives.
One of the most exciting and fun plants I’ve had the chance to grow this year is African Basil, Blue Basil, a non-native. Over the years I’ve dabbled in Basil cultivation – really like to use Sweet Basil and Thai Basil and of course purple leafed Sweet Basil, etc., etc. but planted this year about 20 or so pots, from Stelz Nursery, and how amazing is this plant, constantly full of Bumble Bees and even Hummingbirds taking a sip every now and then. Some Bumble bees even bed down at night right on the foliage – they can’t seem to get enough of the stuff! wow. amazing plant for sure.
Cacalia ovata in hand in a cool seed field – Tangipoahoa Parish, La.
sweet prairie in all its subtle glory, above
NATIVE PLANTS, URBAN ECOLOGY & SMART GROWTH PLANNING
When: Wednesday, November 2nd, 1:15pm-2:45pm
Where: Hartley/Vey Studio, Shaw Center for the Arts
Marc Pastorek, Founding Partner and Landscape Designer, Pastorek Habitats, LLC
Robert Seemann, Program Director, Baton Rouge Green
MODERATOR: Ryan Benton, Designer, CPEX
for native plant and ecology events email Dr Allen at email@example.com
the genus Sida, Louisiana
by Charles Allen
The genus Sida (teaweed) includes five native herbaceous annuals or perennial species in the Malvaceae. The stems are tough, and the plants are distinctly tap-rooted. The leaves are alternate and simple, with pinnate major veins and obvious stipules. The inflorescences are axillary and solitary flowers with pedicels that vary in length. The flowers are perfect and regular, with five sepals, five orange-yellow to yellow petals, and numerous stamens that are united into a tube around the ovary. The ovary is superior, and the fruit is a ring of five to ten carpels that separate at maturity. The caterpillars of common and tropical checkered skipper plus the gray hairstreak use Sida plants for food. The plants are also host to the caterpillars of four moth species including the tersa sphinx.
A. Mericarps, styles, and stigmas 5; stem with a spine subtending each leaf; leaves usually truncate to subcordate at the base……………………………………………………………………………………………. S. spinosa
A Mericarps, styles, and stigmas (6-) avg. 10 (-14); stem lacking spines subtending the leaves; leaves usually cuneate to rounded at base…………………………………………………………………………………………..B
B(A). Leaves narrowly elliptic to linear, (3-) 4-20× as long as wide…………………………..C
B. Leaves elliptic-rhombic, mostly 2-3 times as long as wide…………………………………….D C.(B) Pedicels shorter than 2 cm ……………………………………………………………………… S. elliottii
C Pedicels 2-6 cm long ………………………………………………………………………………S. lindheimeri
D(B). Leaves and branches borne distichously; stipules usually falcate, several-veined.. …………………………………………………………………………………………… S. acuta
D. Leaves and branches borne spirally; stipules linear, 1 (-3)-veined .S. rhombifolia
The most common and widespread species is common teaweed (Sida rhombifolia) also known as ironweed and Cuban jute. It is a somewhat dark color and very common with reports from all 64 parishes.
The second most common Sida is spiny teaweed with a short spine subtending each leaf. It is yellow green and fairly widespread in agricultural areas. It is reported from 56 parishes and these are the eight parishes where it is not reported: Acadia, Avoyelles, Beauregard, Sabine, St Helena, St. James, Tangipahoa, and Washington.
The other three species are uncommon to rare. Sida acuta (common wireweed) is reported from East Baton Rouge, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Plaquemines parishes. Sida elliottii (Elliott’s fanpetals) is reported only from Cameron, East Baton Rouge, and St. Tammany parishes and Sida lindheimeri (showy fanpetals) only from Cameron and East Feliciana parishes.