Some Like It Hot

by Cindy Gilberg

Gone are the wildflowers of spring that were so welcome after the long winter. Now nature is cranking up the heat and with that comes a whole new array of flowering native plants. Bees and other pollinating insects are actively searching for pollen and nectar.

Birds are busy pursuing many of these and other insects to feed their young. It is a time of abundance and the natural world is buzzing with activity and is full of color provided by flowers, butterflies and birds.

Plan a walk at Shaw Nature Reserves and explore all the habitats it has to offer—prairie, glade, wetland and woodland. The Whitmire Wildflower Garden offers a glimpse of many native plants in an easily accessible five acre area complete with meandering paths and benches to enjoy. Take along not only water but a field guide to flowers as well as a set of binoculars for observing shy birds and other wildlife. Many of the plants you will see can be added to home landscapes by matching the light and soil requirements (wet vs. dry or shade vs. sun).

In the woodlands, large patches of soft pink tall phlox (Phlox paniculata) lend a mild sweet fragrance to the air. Complementing the scene are the blooms of purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and blue skullcap (Scuttelaria incana). Here and there are the tall white spikes of black cohosh (Cimicifuga)and tall blue larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum). Both of these are striking accents, resembling exclamation points that stand tall and sway in summer breezes. Early blooming elm-leaf goldenrods are beginning to show their bright yellow sprays of flowers by the end of July, tempting all sorts of pollinating insects to come visit. All of this visual display is set against the lush green foliage of woodland sedges and ferns.

A walk through the prairie or glade is best done early in the morning to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and exquisite morning light. Amongst the prairie grasses are the round flowers of rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) and pink-lavender spikes of prairie blazing star (Liatris pychnostachya). Butterflies are attracted to these as well as the orange clusters of butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), yellow coneflowers (Rudbeckia/Ratibida) and sunflowers (Helianthus/Heliopsis) that brighten the scene.

Occasionally one can spot the shorter wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) with its pale lavender flowers or the white flowers of wild quinine (Parthenium).

These too will fade away in time and fall-blooming goldenrods, asters and sunflowers will finish the parade of native flowers that marches through the seasons. Plan to take a walk to see what blooms in all the seasons — this is the best way to add much needed color and habitat value to your own garden.

Cindy Gilberg is a Missouri native and horticulturist whose work includes design and consulting, teaching and writing. Much of her work focuses on native plants, habitat gardens and rain gardens. Cindy’s projects include work at Shaw Nature Reserve and its Native Plant School, the Shaw Profes-sional Landscape Series and the Deer Creek Watershed Alliance. You can ontact Cindy at 314-630-1004 or cindy.gilberg@gmail.com.