first frost heralds climactic end to long prairie season

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.

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False Foxglove, a fairly common Louisiana plant

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A white colored form of Gerardia shows up occasionally.

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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.

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above, the foliage of Indian grass is blue green, a stark contrast to the dark green canopy of Southern Magnolia.

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click to enlarge photos

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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.

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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.

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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.

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above, January 16, 2016, google earth

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above, May 6, 2016, google earth

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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sida-cordifolia

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.

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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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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http://www.nichegardens.com/catalog/item.php?id=1558&PHPSESSID=4dfc8ef8a53ffd7b7311adfbd37d6ca2

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.

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Cacalia ovata in hand in a cool seed field – Tangipoahoa Parish, La.

sweet prairie in all its subtle glory, above

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October 13, 2016 Marc Pastorek Presentation to City Council on status of prairie garden, City of Mandeville, 6:00, at Community Center across from City Hall
October 17, 2016 – Master Gardeners of Greater New Orleans – Prairie Gardening for pollinators via seed – East Bank Regional Library 4747 West Napoleon Ave., Metairie, LA 70001.
November 2, 2016 – 2016 Smart Growth Summit, Baton Rouge Louisiana –
Session Details
NATIVE PLANTS, URBAN ECOLOGY & SMART GROWTH PLANNING
When: Wednesday, November 2nd, 1:15pm-2:45pm
Where: Hartley/Vey Studio, Shaw Center for the Arts
Speakers:
Marc Pastorek, Founding Partner and Landscape Designer, Pastorek Habitats, LLC
Robert Seemann, Program Director, Baton Rouge Green
MODERATOR: Ryan Benton, Designer, CPEX
December 2, 2016 – Master Naturalist Urban Ecology workshop, New Orleans City Park

 

http://summit.cpex.org/2016-agenda/

for native plant and ecology events email Dr Allen at native@camtel.net

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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.

 

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https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-biggest-missed-opportunity-in-dc/2016/09/16/93993ed8-79e1-11e6-bd86-b7bbd53d2b5d_story.html?utm_term=.2c25e7883bd7

central Gulf South Silphiums

Rosin Weeds are not weeds at all. They are really fine ornamental herbs that provide for substantial wildlife activity and add lots of pizzaz to a garden. Silphiums are some of the more shining, luminous jewels you can incorporated into your prairie-meadow if you’ve got one. Several Silphium species are native to our region and all are easily grown, adaptable, dependable, and extremely persistent garden plants. That is, if you can find them in the nursery trade available for purchase or …if can get some seed. Most all of mine were originally grown from seed.

Silphiums are no minor player when it comes to garden boldness. My friend Gail calls them “tall boys”, and puts them in the same category as Joe Pye Weed, Iron Weed and Big Bluestem. All are adaptable, long to establish but long-lived, and permanent plants that almost never need care.

They’re exquisitely beautiful organisms. Excellent garden plants, no doubt. They have a huge capacity in the landscape for specialized ecological function. They feed good-weird bugs and stuff (they’re highly attractive to butterflies and other very specialized pollinators, y’all).

I’ve heard some of my northern gardener-friends say that they are weedy, but I have not had that kind of luck yet. In the fifteen years or more I’ve grown Silphiums, I have never had enough show up via re-seeding and they have rarely become prolific in a planting, only somewhat, maybe. But they seem to be more than prolific above the Mason-Dixon line. Dumb luck, I guess.

Rosinweeds are for royalty. They are for refined gardens and wildscapes, too! They are horticultural clout. Vertical botanical bling! Some of Europe’s most visited gardens have American Silphiums in them. The Brits Dunnett and Hitchmough use them in their famous wildflower work. And where we live they are tame, yet seductive.

Most Silphiums grow as large-leaved herbaceous plants, big leafy rosettes with tall terminal stalks laden up-top with big butter-yellow ‘ray and disk’ flowers. In the best conditions, during the best year for rain, the tallest ones, the Compass Plant and Prairie Dock, both can grow flower stalks to eight or ten feet tall.

Who wants an eight foot tall herb in their garden? Me, that’s who!!!!

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above: a single flower of Will Fleming’s awesome “curly leafed” Rosin Weed, almost five inches across. not too shabby.

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Actually, Rosinweeds are just foliage clumps in the landscape for months in the spring and early summer until the plant prepares to bloom, sending stalks skyward. The photo above,(click it to enlarge it) taken by Jovonn Hill, of the Pulliam prairie landscape in Chickasaw County, Mississippi, with Prairie Dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum, just emerging in April, after a controlled burn. Cool thing is you can see right through the stalks of Silphiums when they bloom, like, the stalks almost become invisible.

Here are the Silphiums I have grown for some years now, in my gardens.

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above: Silphium laciniata, the Compass Plant, emerging after burn in spring in the Covington garden. 🙂

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Compass Plant in flower and fruit, Eunice, Louisiana

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Gail and UWA student Colton stand amongst hundreds of ancient Compass Plants at the oh-so-amazing Epes, Alabama chalk glade.

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above: seedling of Compass Plant from hand-harvest seed from Epes, growing at the Black Belt Prairie Garden, University of Western Alabama, Livingston, Alabama, May, 2014.

link to cool photos of Compass plant

http://www.missouriplants.com/Yellowalt/Silphium_laciniatum_page.html

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S. gracile or Slender Rosin Weed’s distribution range, above, a plant found both in Pine forests and Prairies in Louisiana. Lush rosettes, entire leaves, high-oil seed makes for an excellent wildlife plant. Gracile is a real southerner with a red-neck attitude, often kind of slouchy and grinning. No, really, its a very plant with a good attitude. Niche Gardens, a specialty native plant nursery in Chapel Hill, N.C offers this species for sale.

S. simpsonii, Simpson’s or Tall Rosin Weed is a non-Louisiana Native given to me by Texan nurseryman Peter Loos in the mid 1990’s. Good-naturalizing, adaptable, seed excellent for wildlife. Looks very similar to gracile.

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early growth of Silphium simpsoni, above

S. integrifolium, Prairie Rosin Weed, is found associated with inland prairies of Louisiana and the Jackson Belt prairies of Mississippi. Its a Rosin Weed with conspicuous leaf arrangement. A vertically attractive course-textured plant.

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above: the burly-tough rigid stem and leaves of Silphium integrifolium

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above, Silphium integrifolia in full-glory, Harrell Prairie Botanical Area, Bienville National Forest, Scott County, Mississippi

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S. terebinthinaceum, Prairie Rosin Weed (above), is not found naturally occurring in Louisiana and is only found in one county in Mississippi and one in Alabama. Its at the southern end of its range here in the GS. The largest leafed Silphium, by far. Awesome. Tony Avant of Plant Delights nursery in Chapel Hill grows and offers it for sale. Mine hasn’t bloomed yet and it is at least five years old but the leaves are very large and showy without flowers. It may have a lot to do with the seed coming from clay-specific soils to acid soils here in Covington, duh.

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above: S. perfoliatum, The Cup Plant, is an uncommon plant in Louisiana, with records in only one Parish. More commonly found in much of the eastern U.S (minus Texas), this guy has the distinction of forming “cups”, where water collects where the ‘perforated’ leaves join the stem. Bold and strongly structural architecture.

S. asteriscus, Starry Rosin Weed, is one I have only grown for four or five years now. It seems to be very floriferous and a bit shorter than most other species.

Silphium (origin, Will Fleming) is a curly margined form of a yet-unidentified (um, I forget) species with a distinctive leaf form. I’ve grown this plant for five or so years. A worthy ornamental.

Propagation of these species is fairly easy if you have some good, viable seed. Just sow the seed in a good soil mix and barely cover the seed, enough to keep it moist. Germination will come pretty quickly unless its the dead of winter. Field grown Silphium seed is a horse of a different color. Seed I sowed of laciniata, in 1998 and 99 didn’t show up for several years, being out-competed and beat-up by unwanted competition. So eliminate competition in the field before sowing and maybe save yourself some years of waiting and wondering.

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actual flowers of Silphium

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after flowering, seed setting

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The oily seed of Silphium is covered by a wafer-like coating

 

Get down, get tall, get Silphium, and get with it, folks!!!!

 

the link below is the short version of the Flora of Pulliam Prairie paper.

Click to access Campbell___Seymour_2011b.pdf