Our Little Green Friends

You might be one of the many folks who struggle with plant names. Most of us do! For the select few who can rattle off a full list of nomenclature, I suspect good, careful observation combined with a gentle affection for our photosynthetic friends really helps out. What follows are fun tidbits about the new flowers at Nature Boardwalk.

Black-eyed Susan
For such a cheery, bright summer bloomer, I have to admit this plant has an unfortunate name. I can’t shake the image of an accident-prone young girl. However, as a prairie native, Rudebeckia hirta is a classic in gardens for its dependable blooming, reasonable use as a cut flower and overall garden hardiness. You might find Miss Susan and her Gloriosa daisy sisters useful a touch back from the border of a garden, as the flowers can reach to 3 feet.

Wild Quinine
My quirky way to remember this plant associates tonic water and malaria with its overall vigorous health. Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) has a collection of a glowing white head of flowers atop 2–3-foot tall stalks rising out of a rosette of rough textured-and-muted green leaves. This one loves the heat and does well in all-day sun. Once you recognize it, you’ll start seeing it all over the place.

Blue Pickerel
Oddly, a pickerel is a fish, which might help you make the leap to this plant growing in the water. Blue pickerel is planted as an aquatic just below the surface. Full sun is absolutely necessary for good blooming, but the fleshy leaves are bold, shiny and attractive even without the flowers. Often one sees Pontederia cordata in someone’s pond at home as a single plant. Down at Nature Boardwalk, you’ll see masses of it around the water’s edge.

Purple Prairie Clover
I’ll admit Petalostemon purpureus is an intimidating name. “Purpureus” is easy, as the flower really does have a purple skirt of sorts around a central cone. “Petalostemon” requires rote memorization, and to make matters worse, this plant used to be called “Dalea” as a genus. That said, the flowers are charming and appear delicate. The leaves are finely textured, and the stalks jut out from the ground once the plant is fully established. Like many members of the pea family, its roots can be tricky to establish, but once they’re in, the purple prairie clover does very well.

Side Oats Grama
The distinction between weeds and grasses can be blurry for some. You’ll see side oats grama flowering now with oats that do form on the side of the stalk. Like most prairie natives, this grass is investing in a large root system all of this year and into the next as well. You have to say this name out loud to appreciate its rhythm: Bouteloua curtipendula. I can’t help but think of some 50s dance I missed.

Filamentous Algae (Our Shaggy Guest)
Much like dust, algae is going to show up whether invited it’s or not. At the slope’s edge, where the water is more still and warm, algae is finding a home during these summer months. We’re expecting the other shoreline plants to fill in and hog the free nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) to reduce the algae’s growth into next year. In the meantime, the ducks and geese are getting some lunch, and we’ve been able to add algae to our compost pile!

Brian Houck


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