Friends of the Wild Flower Garden
Late Spring is a time period that varies widely from year-to-year depending on each season's weather clock. When winter leaves early, these five plants could be blooming in early May. In another season it could be early June before you see them. In any event, they precede the summer solstice. Here is a selection of five that you might not find at the local nursery - but in the Garden? YES. The link on the plant name takes you to a full information page with more photos of that plant..
Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia L.) Or sometimes called 'Pride of Ohio'.
As one of the first upland garden plants to flower, it makes a conspicuous show with flowers - which can be pink, lilac, white and shades of all - that are nodding in an umbel held way above the leaves. The flower lobes turned backward and upward from the flower, resembling a shooting star - which gives the flower it's name. Why it it also called Pride of Ohio is more murky as it is not the Ohio state flower. It is not indigenous to the Garden but was first planted by Eloise Butler in 1910 with plants she got from Jewell’s Nursery in Lake City, MN.
While rare in the wild in Minnesota, Dodecatheon meadia is sometimes available from nurseries and plant specialists that grow native plants. It will do well in sunny spots of the home garden where the soils are well drained. Native populations in Minnesota are now known only from Mower county. The plant is listed on the Minnesota "endangered" list by The Department of Natural Resources.
There is a more common species in Minnesota, the Dark-throat Shooting Star, Dodecatheon amethystinum, where the flowers are a deep rose color.
American Vetch (Vicia americana Muhl. ex Willd.)
If you don't like planting Garden Peas every year, try this perennial. This is one of few late May - early June blooming plants in the Upland Garden. American Vetch is a perennial vine with branching tendrils for climbing but it rarely grows longer than 3 feet and has a single stem. The pinkish-bluish irregular flowers are similar to most peas in appearance but grow in a loose arranged raceme containing 3 to 10 flowers with individual flowers on short stalks.
Flowers mature to a linear seed pod resembling the garden pea, but flat, containing two or more brown seeds. It grows well in open woods, prairies and semi-shaded areas. The plant spreads by rootstocks (rhizomes) and like most vetches, care should be taken in planting this in the home garden.
This is a native plant in Minnesota and indigenous to the Garden. The plant has characteristics similar to the Veiny Pea, Lathyrus venosus. Frances Densmore reported that the Minnesota Chippewa used the roots of the wild peas to control convulsions and as a poultice to stop bleeding from wounds. In view of these beliefs about the root's benefits it is not surprising that the dried root was also considered as a charm and was carried on the person to insure successful outcome of difficulties (and if difficulties resulted in wounds - one had the medicine at hand)
Upright Carrion Flower (Smilax ecirrhata S.Watson)
This is a perennial with annual stems, few or no tendrils, to 3 feet high, most leaves in the upper half of the stems, and producing a ball-like flower umbel about 1-1/2 inches wide containing many flowers - all of the same sex. The umbel rises from small bracts on the lower stem. For pollination there must be both male and female plants close by. Fertilized flower heads produce a tight cluster of 3/8 inch berries that are first green, then a beautiful blue, before turning to a dark blue-black.
The plant is native to Minnesota, but not indigenous to the Garden. These plants are relatives of the Greenbriars which are also in this same genus and are also climbing vines. The Minnesota Chippewa used the roots of a Carrion Flower that grew in their area to treat digestive and urinary problems.
The common name of the plant is in reference to the fragrance of the flowers. Edwin Way Teale said it best: "It fills the air around it with its own particular perfume - the overpowering dead-mouse smell of decaying flesh. Its name is ... the eminently appropriate common name is carrion flower. In rounded sprays of small greenish-tinged flowers, the blooms appear on a vine that is related to the Catbriar. Small flies and beetles, I notice, are attracted to them." from A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm. 1974
Yellow Goatsbeard (Tragopogon pratensis L.) or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon
Goatsbeards are a close relation to the Hawkweeds. This species' alternate common name refers to the flower closing by noon each day except when it is cloudy. "Goatsbeard" refers to the fuzzy seed head.
The plant is biennial, forming a rosette the first year and then the leafy stem the second year. The large flower heads have long outer yellow rays with fringed tips while the shorter inner rays are offset in color by the black anthers of the stamens. The closed flower will change quickly to a fluffy seed head. The feathery down on each seed is on a long stalk and interlaced forming a tall narrow cup-like structure. This structure is easily taken up by the wind resulting in the plant self-seeding. Click the link for a view of the seed head.
While it is indigenous to the Garden, it is a European import, quite common in the British Isles. Gerard had this to say in his Herball: "It shutteth itselfe at twelve of the clocke, and sheweth not his face open until the next daies Sunne do make it flower anew. Where-upon it was called go-to-bed-at-noone; when these flowers be come to their full maturitie and ripenesse it groweth into a downie blowe-ball like those of Dandelion, that is carried awaie with the winde. The seede is long, having at the ende one peece of that downie matter hanging at it."
Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata (L.) Nutt ) or Star Toadflax
'Bastard' is a bit strong - False Toadflax may be better, as the plant is not a toadflax, not even in the same plant family. This is the only member of the Sandlewood Plant family represented in the Garden. Its a short stubby erect plant with terminal flower clusters that open in a star shape so maybe we should call it ‘Star False-toadflax’.
Fertilized flowers produce a dry berry containing a seed, but the plant reproduces mostly from the roots, which give the plant its claim to fame - which is - that it is parasitic. It grows from a horizontal rhizome and sends out underground suckers to parasitize nearby plants and it is not too choosy about which species either. It is only partly parasitic (called hemiparasitic) as it also produces food via photosynthesis in the leaves.
Another issue with the plant is that it is an alternate host to the Cronartium comandrae, a fungus which causes Comandra Pine Blister Rust on pines in North America
So, why would you want it? Well, the flowers are pretty. It is native to Minnesota but not to the Garden area. Martha Crone liked it and brought it in in 1937. Another claim to fame is that Former Eloise Butler Gardener Cary George said that of all the plant identification signs that he made, the sign for this plant was one of two signs most often stolen, the other being "NO PICKING". Perhaps it was the interesting name the thieves preferred.