Native Plant Spotlight: Jewelweed

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You know what they say about assuming.

For years, running along this boardwalk- nearly weekly- based on some of the plants before me – the Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), Phragmites & purple loosestrife, I assumed that all the plants that congregated in this marshy area at the head of the Alewife Brook were invasive.  I ran right by a beautiful little treasure that I want to highlight today.  A wonderful native annual that is in the same family as a common annual you may have in your yard or in a container on your porch.

Impatiens capensis or Jewelweed.

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Jewelweed gets it’s common name from how drops of dew collect and shimmer like jewels on this marshy-loving annual’s leaves.  It’s orangy-yellow bilateral flowers bloom through most of the summer.  They hang under the leaves and don’t look much at all like it’s well known cousin- Impatiens walleriana.  But the impatien family is vast and the shady planter box favorite is just one of many in this geographically well distributed genus.  (Also above- a little swamp milkweed for fun)

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However, when you pick one of jewelweed’s slender seed pods and give it a little squeeze, you are immediately reminded of the common nursery annual.  The pods burst with gusto, inverting into a swirly shape- sending seeds out in every-which-way.

So thank you jewelweed.  Thank you for reminding me to look carefully and look twice.  Even in human disturbed areas saturated with invasives, wonderful native specimens may be holding their own.  I will no longer assume!

Have you encountered any unexpected floral treasures when you looked twice?  Or like me, is there a patch near you full of invasives that you want to give a second look to?

 

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Native Garden Inspiration: Alewife Brook Reservation

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A little way down the bike path from my house is a great bit of urban wild- the Alewife Brook Reservation.  Nestled on the borders of Arlington & Cambridge MA- between a rail line and a highway.  Doesn’t sound idyllic, but it is.  The state put in a lot of effort to improve storm water run-off in the rivers that ultimately feed into Massachusetts Bay.  Part of that project was to install bioswales & other water management features, along with an awesome year round beautiful native plant park- complete with boardwalks over the marsh, trails for running, granite amphitheater and informational signs about the plants and animals that call this area home.

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This morning I went for a run along the reservation, to see what had changed since the last time I was there about a month ago.  Everything has changed!  And I can’t seem to pick a favorite time of year here!  In the above picture you can see that the goldenrod is popping or about to pop (I can’t ever identify Solidago species… they all look the same to me).  Behind that the purple clouds are New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) looking like a boss.  Also some rudbekia, common primrose and boneset (I think Eupatorium perfoliatum).

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Each step requires closer inspection.  The monarda have lost their flowers, but the heads still look nice.  And even closer still reveals…

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A bumble having a grand old time on a partridge pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.

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More boneset in the foreground, with some GIANT Joe Pye Weed in the background & left.  And some red berried bush… I can’t identify because I’m terrible with shrubs.  But it was everywhere and looking fine.

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Maybe you can see the flashes of white above?  Beautiful swamp rose mallows (Hibiscus mosechuetos) in white and pale pink.  Also, I need to learn more about grasses, because I love all of these grasses.

Everywhere you look there is a wonderful and natural tangle.  An ever changing cast of characters.  Such is the glory of a native space.  This area was intentionally planted about 5 years ago, but now mostly left alone save some chopping back.  The year round interest and layers of plants is truly inspiring.  I can’t replicate this all in my garden- I don’t have that much sun nor is my yard partially a marsh! But I can take some cues.  I wonder what I’ll find during my next run through!

August Pollinator Favorites

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For many of us, August is the beginning of the end.  Of summer!  Here in Boston, MA (zone 5b) the profusion of blooms belays a secret.  Fall is just around the corner.  Late summer can be high-time for flowers, if you strategically choose late bloomers and long bloomers.  Below is a not in anyway exhaustive list of my favorite ‘native’ and ‘native-ish’ perennials beloved by bees in temperate East Coast USA.

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Gaillardia x gradiflora reward bees from June to September in my neck of the woods.  They are some of the first ‘summer’ flowers to bloom and keep blooming, prolifically, without deadheading for eons.  Besides the sunflowers, which do not bloom as long, they are the most visited flowers in the garden.  Sweat bees and bumble bees both get their fill from the gaillardia.

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When pollinators find something they like, that they can really sink their uh…teeth?  tongue?  into, they want to stay a while and get a lot of it.  That’s why it is good to plant largeish clumps of the same flower- about 3-5 feet wide.  Or flowers that are prolific.  Rudbekia hirta and Helianthus maximiliani both fit those bills.  Rudbekia species (both hirta and fulgida) both look best when planted as a big ole clump, and for doing so you and the bees will be rewarded with months of bright happy yellow flowers.  Rudbekia also tend to last longer (at least in my yard) than coneflower species.  Helianthus  are prolific vertically (many flowers coming off a shoot, like hollyhocks) and horizontally (you can divide them practically every year).  I see the most Monarchs on the coneflowers and sunflowers this time of year.

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Phaseolus coccineus, the scarlet runner bean, is a native to Central America.  My intention for this guys was purely as a bean crop, and thus it trellises (like a bully) up alongside my Waltham Butternut.  But my bean-set has been mediocre at best, apparently it is a very heavy feeder.  But beans or no beans the flowers are prolific, and have been going on for a long time now.  I will for sure plant these again, but maybe not in the garden- maybe twining up my deck railing.  Bilateral flowers like beans are great for supporting bumble bee populations.  Bumbles are often the only pollinators strong enough to nudge in there to reach the pollen and nectar inside.  Bumble bees and Miner Bees also have long tongues, which are crucial for getting in there.  While bumble bees will happily forage at most of your flowers, they will have little competition at some of these more difficult to reach pollen and nectar sources.  Hummingbirds love these too, but I haven’t seen any this year!  Other great bilateral flowers this time of year that help bumbles are obediant plant (Physostegia virginiana, Monarda species (the bee balms/bergamots- I grow Mondara fistulosa & Monarda didyma)

Asters are always a safe bet.  Their delicate petals and easy to access pollen are a good choice for every bug in your garden.  I grow Showy-Top Aster and New England Aster finds it’s way into beds in drifts and nooks. Goldenrod is a classic late summer to fall flower often heavy with pollen.  Asters and Goldenrods are super important pollen sources that can carry bees through winter.  But as they are not quite all out in August I will mention them more in a later post.

The most important thing to note when wanting to grow pollinator-supportive flowers is to choose a variety of flower types and colors that are native or nearly native to your region.  By selecting a variety, you’ll ensure no bee or bug is neglected.  By selecting plants from your ecoregion, not only will they be more likely to thrive, the fauna that lives in your neck of the woods are adapted to succeed on those pollen and nectar sources.

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The Late Summer Garden

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Really I should call this the atypical late summer garden.  No, the toys above are very typical… what’s not typical is how green everything is.  I mean the grass is lush, verdant, and in need of mowing (I mowed a few hours after this picture was taken).  Halfway through August here in Boston-adjacent land we found ourselves already with more than our typical monthly allotment of precip and it is still coming.  I’m writing this post right now from my covered back deck while a steady rain comes down.  It certainly has led to some atypical garden behaviors this summer- but some pretty average observations as well.  Mainly- this time of year things get a little out of hand- a little explosive- and whether it’s the August heat or the declining light (it’s getting fairly dark by the time the kiddo is in bed, which is when I can find time to tend to the garden) the garden can get a little derelict…a little gangly.

Not that I mind.  Something about the profusion of life is very gratifying.  The squash vine that grows 3 feet while you’re at work.  The sunflowers covered in bees.  The Monarda that started as a small plug just months before that is now something that sprawls every which way.

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And this super-sized and sprawling perrenials look is going to really benefit me come September.  As I mentioned not long ago, we are ripping out our small front lawn and replacing it with a garden.  Many of the plants from this process will come from dividing existing plants from around our yard.  So robust growth will enable me to split things more ways, or transplant larger splits.  The plants above, which include Columbine, Shasta Daisy, Dianthus, Rudbekia fulgida and coneflower were started 4 years ago from small hacked off bits from my mom’s garden.  Before that, when we moved in there were three mostly dead azalea.  It’s time for these guys to be divided for their health and to make way for the Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey Tea) that I planted from Prairie Moon early this summer.

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The one aspect of garden gone wild that I don’t like is when plants flop into the grass.  It makes mowing hard and lots of times the best blooms become hidden.  The floppiness of plants is very apparent this time of year.  You can see it in this picture and the one below.  The hard rain beats them down (our raspberries are now sprawling like a giant octopus across the yard after the rain), but also lack of support plays a role.  Early in the season I staked some goldenrod & aster that always flop.  That has kept them looking fine.  Trying to stake floppy plants, like those Gaillardia after the damage is done is losing battle.

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And while I love looking out my dining room window to this wall of sunflowers, I probably don’t need this many next year.  The flop makes this narrow side yard impassable.  The sunflowers in their voracious reach for sun are shading out some of my new milkweed varieties that I planted this year like Asclepia incarnata (rose/swamp milkweed) and Asclepia viridis (spider milkweed).  But nothing bullies the common milkweed.  It is the very definition of a weed.

Right below my feet in the above picture were several juicy mushrooms.  That is an atypical late summer garden feature.  Especially in this side yard garden that is usually baked and crispy this time of year.  These mushrooms were massive.

Massive perennials?  Flopping plants every which way?  Totally a normal summer garden.

Green grass?  Mushrooms popping up?  Not a regular occurrence.

And thus why we do it my friends.  The ever changing newness of each year.  Our plants generally adapt year after year and so, do we.